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Friday, March 27, 2009

Blameless Salad

What is a salad? A mixture of foods, usually including vegetables, with a bit of crunch and a bit of a sour taste, raw or not.
A salad always seems to be the innocent choice. I make a meal of a salad most every day, usually lunch on one of those glorious days when I can eat it luxuriously on my back deck, ideally while leafing through a luscious cookbook. Mostly it is my choice for brown-bagging it, too, packed into my silly but handy (and regrettably, plastic) Salad Shaker which keeps it cool with an insertable ice pack and crisp due to the clever dressing dispenser in the lid. The best greens are from the garden, the other veggies assorted, and an astonishing variety of leftovers can go into the mix. Always either beans, cheese or nuts to give it staying power. And the dressing is vital. The favorite for months running now I've made with walnut oil, local, expeller-pressed and a significant source of omega-3's.

Trouble in salad-land? Every salad-lover knows the greatest boon to the salad-eater of the last few years has been pre-washed salad greens. Earthbound farms of the Salinas valley popularized them and they are big sellers nationwide. You might remember Micheal Pollan's visit to Earthbound farms in The Omnivore's Dilemma. There are problems with growing salad greens for the nation year-round, organic or no. We've come to expect leafy greens at all times in every climate. But recently, in the aftermath of the great e. coli spinach scare of 2006, even more horrible things have been taking place in the fields where these salads are grown. In the interests of keeping the fields sanitary, a set of guidelines has been established by the buyers of greens grown in California which are based on the idea that a sterile farm is a safe farm. In particular, the goal of these practices is to keep wildlife out of the fields. I read about it at Ethicurean at: I was first alerted to this in last month's issue of Sierra magazine: What caught my eye was the heart wrenching quote from Diana Stuart, ag grad student at UCSC: "Do people know when they buy bagged salad, frogs are being poisoned in their ponds?"

OK, what's a salad-lover to do? Bust out the salad spinner, of course. Grow your own, possible all year in our climate. A friend keeps herself in salad with a raised bed in an old bathtub. The shorter the distance from the dirt to your table, the more nutrition your salad contains. And once again, shop the Farmer's market to buy direct from farmers so they don't have to follow these abhorrent practices to satisfy the middlemen.

We seem to be at a crossroads right now with our food supply, as the best way to ensure its safety and sustainability is debated throughout the land.

And another thing, the blameless accompaniment to the blameless salad: tap water. I filter it, hoping to get rid of the drug residues, for one thing, that still plague our generally wonderful water from EBMUD. I have been known to spring for bottles of high-mineral Gerolsteiner on occasion, but I've stopped since recently reading the excellent Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It by Elizabeth Royte. She brings up points I've never pondered before about bottled water, like how it plays into the current trend of hyperindividualism.
“It was becoming normal to pay high prices for things that used to cost little, or nothing….instead of collectively fighting problems—such as bad service or bad quality—we accept them and move on: to the private lets those who can afford to opt out—whether from public schools, mass transit or tap water—to further isolate themselves, in style” (44-45).

Garolsteiner didn't seem so bad--after all we buy imported wine, is imported water (in a nifty reusable glass bottle) much different? But the book reminded me that water is really part of the commons, something that humanity shares collectively. It is intrinsically wrong to profit off of something that flows from the earth, unlike wine, for example, which takes a great deal of art and science to produce. So I'll stick with tap and get my bubbles from homemade sodas. The Gerolsteiner bottles are great for making these. And my lemon verbena bush is blooming at the same time as the lemon tree is finally rockin' so it looks like a batch of lactofermented lemon soda is in order. Maybe I'll enter it into the fermenting contest at the "Ferment Change," an upcoming benefit for the rad City Slicker Farms at the Humanist hall in Oakland on April 3rd. Find more info on Sandor Katz' blog here:, and, while you are at it dig around for some ideas on how to ferment some change for yourself on his site.
Omega-3 Vinaigrette

1 tsp. Dijon-type mustard
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon umeboshi plum vinegar
¼ cup expeller-pressed walnut oil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons expeller-pressed flax oil

Place the mustard in a 1 pint or larger glass jar. Add the vinegars, put the lid on, and shake to combine. Add the oils and shake again to emulsify. Store in the fridge and use to dress salads of all types.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Raw and the Cooked

People often ask me about raw food. Raw food diets enjoy periodic surges in popularity, while traditional diets contain at least some raw foods worldwide. Chinese medicine has traditionally warned against consuming too much cold and raw food, which is said to be weakening to the digestive system. Some portion of this concern no doubt stems from the context in which Chinese medicine evolved—the vast majority of people were subsistence farmers and there were very real concerns about sanitation. The admonishment against eating raw food was no doubt protective against food-borne illness. In TCM, raw food is viewed as cleansing and cooling, which is usually undesirable for undernourished people but often desirable for overnourished people, such as the vast majority of Americans today. In modern America, improved sanitation had reduced the risk of pathogens carried by water, but problematic factory farming practices continue to threaten the safety of the food supply and pose a potential threat to eaters of raw foods. Consider the disturbing thought that the strain of e.coli that sickened many eaters of bagged spinach is one that exists primarily in grain-fed (therefore sick) feedlot cattle.

Current interest in raw foods stems in part from the recognition of their intact enzyme content and the fact that some vitamins are lost in cooking. The cooling and detoxifying effects of raw foods are desirable for many of us, and as the weather warms into spring, it is balancing to begin to incorporate more raw food into the diet, especially for the robust, meat-eating, ruddy, “excess” type of person. Cold, fatigued people with weak digestion or who are prone to diarrhea will do better with less raw food. Everyone can benefit from eating some fermented foods, which are traditionally served as condiments to accompany a meal.

While no traditional diet depended solely on raw foods—even in tropical climates, people consume mostly cooked foods—they include some raw foods, especially fermented foods. Raw animal products are almost universal. Before you say “yuck” to the idea of raw animal foods, remember the concentrated flavor of real parmesan cheese, the tender bite of a good ceviche, or the voluptuousness of steak tartare. Raw animal foods are excellent sources of vitamin B6, which is damaged by cooking. Raw animal products are being demonized in modern America. Sales of raw milk are banned in almost every state (and our right to buy raw milk is in need of constant defense in CA), our access to raw cheese is in jeopardy, and many restaurants are putting warning labels on menus when dishes, such salad dressing, contain raw eggs. I feel confident in eating raw animal products when I know the source, like the friendly farmers at Kaki and Clark Summit farms. Now there is real accountability. If I were to get sick, I would be able to go to the farmers directly.

Grass-fed Steak Tartare

On Valentine's day, we indulged in a sensuous pile of raw grass-fed beef. Raw beef contains lots of vitamin B6 and zinc, known to enhance sexual potency. It worked, too!

1lb. grass-fed ribeye, frozen for 14 days and then thawed for maximum safety
1 t. Spanish paprika
1 T capers, chopped
2 T finely sliced green onions
2 T minced parsley
1 T diced shallot
2 T olive oil
2 T mustard
1 small jar anchovies
1 pastured egg

Chop the steak as finely as possible. Mix in the next 7 ingredients, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Mound on a plate and garnish with anchovies, dropping an egg yolk into an indentation in the center of the mound. Serve as a first course with toasted bread.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Feed Kids Real Food!

This is a salad bar in a public school in San Francisco. Not bad. A lot better than what was offered in the public schools I attended. I brown bagged it, and remember being soundly mocked for my "rabbit food" lunches: tuna curry salad with chopped apple and sprouts on a whole wheat English muffin. In case you missed out workshop on food for kids this weekend, the following is the handout I prepared:

Feeding our children healthfully and teaching them to feed themselves are among a parent’s most important responsibilities. We have a tremendous opportunity to support our children in building vibrant bodies and minds as they grow, to teach them to enjoy a lifetime of healthy cooking and eating, and to shape the world they will grow up into with our conscientious food choices.

Parents’ Top Ten Tips on Eating Better with Your Children
1. Strive to eat as healthfully as possible yourselves, and you are a model for your kids. In general, kids over two can eat what adults eat, in smaller portions and sometimes with simpler preparations.
2. Eat real food. Processed, packaged food comes with the hidden price of additives, colorings, flavorings, GMO’s and more, or even if organic, with an inevitable nutrient loss from processing.
3. Keep trying. According to Marion Nestle, “research consistently shows that a child’s willingness to accept an unfamiliar food depends on the number of times a food is offered. You might have to over a food at 20 meals before a child will taste it.”
4. Kids will eat when they are hungry. Your job is to offer a variety of healthy foods, and your child’s role is to select what and how much they will eat. Take advantage of times of hunger. I like to put out a plate of raw veggies, sometimes with chunks of raw cheese, hummus or nut butter dips, to munch in the late afternoon while making dinner.
5. Vegetables are a common challenge. It can be hard to get kids (and some adults) to eat leafy greens, for example. Be reassured that fruit contains all the vitamins and minerals that vegetables contain, with the exception that most fruit doesn’t contain much calcium. Also, animal foods from animals feeding on grass or seaweed will contain many of the nutrients of the plants they eat. Most kids will happily eat grass-fed raw or whole milk or yogurt, cheese, butter and meats.
6. Stealth is effective. A lot of nutrition can go into a smoothie, vegetables can go into pancakes or muffins, minced parsley can go into anything. Diced vegetables in soups with beans, meat or pasta often go down better than plain veggies
7. Kids need fat. Go for the best possible sources of fat—cold-pressed, organic, grass-fed, and sustainable—as much as you can. Avoid trans fats and fried foods. Getting enough healthy fats in diet can help curb sugar cravings. Many folks in the nutrition community think the USDA advice that kids over 2 should switch to skim milk is very bad advice. Consider raw milk, optimal sources of fat-soluble vitamins, enzymes and probiotics.
8. Sugar. Outright bans seem to backfire. Stick with sweets that have some nutritional value, making your own with maple syrup, honey, succanat, etc. Go back to the idea that treats are a rare treat, not a daily occurrence.
9. Involve kids in shopping, farmer’s market trips, coop shifts, growing and producing food, and meal planning and cooking.
10. Start teaching them to be wise consumers. Children are a market niche. Tremendous amounts of money are spent by the food industry in shaping their tastes.
11. Choose most nutritious versions possible of staple foods. Truly pastured eggs from the Farmer’s market are worth the higher price to me because of the vastly superior nutrition. Lots of families enjoy making their own muffins, granola, breads, etc. for maximum fun, flavor and nutrition.
Websites: Weston Price Foundation’s excellent resources on feeding kids based on the principles of holistic, traditional nutrition. Look for the great article on packing lunch boxes. Ultra-mainstream nutrition advice from the USDA, but not entirely worthless. Nice short article on feeding kids from a holistic MD.

Kid-Tested Recipes:

Zucchini Bread-Muffins
Thanks to Alene Pearson, mother of a finicky kid

3 eggs
1 cup olive oil OR half cup oil and half cup applesauce
1/3 cup white sugar or evaporated cane juice
1/3 cup brown sugar, Rapadura or Succanat
2 cups grated zucchini, or try a mix of carrots, zucchini and apple, etc.
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour, rice flour, or barley flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup raisins

350 degree oven. Mix wet together. Mix dry together. Mix wet and dry together. Add raisins at end. Don’t over mix.
Can be made into muffins (18) or loaves (2). Line or butter muffin tins/butter loaf pan. Muffins cook for about 30 minutes (check for doneness w/toothpick). Loaves cook for about an hour (check for doneness…)

Ondine Gibbs, foodie mom par excellence, shares these ideas: “One thing I've used a whole lot when talking about nutritious kid-friendly food is this awesome "rainbow pancake" recipe I created for my kids. I start by soaking whole grains overnight (usually buckwheat & millet but there are endless possibilities here. I suppose you could also sub any kind of flour too, but I'm all for less processed if time permits), then in the morning, blending them w/banana, egg (could sub applesauce), baking powder, milk (any type, cow, soy, nut etc) a little melted butter or coco oil, cinnamon & nutmeg & a bit of maple syrup or agave or orange juice & then, the rainbow part comes when you incorporate the colorful veggies--steamed carrots or beets or greens-kale or spinach (you have to do them individually to get the colors--usually I just stick to one color per batch but you could go for the whole rainbow if you have time). You can put most of the batter ingredients in the blender the night before, then just add the soaked grains in the AM & they're actually pretty quick to make. For a while, I would make a whole bunch of mini-cakes and I froze half and used the rest for my kids as snacks, rather than just breakfast...they're awesome for kids who are learning to feed themselves too as they're easy finger food.I actually got interviewed once by Parents Mag on a "Quick and Yummy Power breakfast" for kids article and they published this "rainbow pancake" idea. I didn't give them any recipe, just hinted at what to do, but they came up with their own, and I've never actually tried it w/ their measurements, but I'd assume (and HOPE) that they tested it--and I highly doubt they talk about soaking grains!! You can find it at

One more thing that's fun & healthy for my kids is something they can help out making--sushi (GO Nori!!) with more seaweed salad inside, &/or other fillings (possibilities are endless here). I always cook my short grain brown rice with either Amaranth, millet or quinoa to add depth to flavor and nutrition. I usually do 50/50 with whatever grains I'm using. Again, the rainbow concept works here--getting as much color on the plate is my motto when it comes to kids and adults. Rainbows make sense to kids--so I always encourage the "eating the rainbow" concept.

Bliss Balls
Adapted from The Nutrient-Dense Eating Plan by Douglas Margel. Depending on how fancy you get with these, they are a great snack or luscious dessert. You can find expensive versions at Whole Foods and the like.

½ cup almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds
½ cup raisins, dates or both
¼ cup coconut oil
¼-1/2 cup carob or cocoa powder
Cover nuts or seeds and fruit with water and soak overnight. Drain. Melt the coconut oil over low heat. Grind the nuts in a food processor, next add the raisins/dates, the coconut oil and finally enough carob powder to get a consistency you like. Roll into balls, then finishing by rolling in more carob powder (or coconut?) Season with sea salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. if desired. If they aren’t sweet enough for you, try some maple syrup, stevia or agave nectar. Store in the fridge. Lots of variations: add spirulina or bee pollen, dip in melted chocolate, vary the fruits and nuts, etc.

Carrot Salad
Adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food

Grate 1 lb carrots (I never peel carrots--why lose nutrients and fiber?)
Make the vinaigrette by stirring together in a small bowl:
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Whisk in ¼ cup olive oil
Taste and adjust as necessary. Toss the carrots with the dressing and: 2 Tbs. chopped parsley. Serve and enjoy!