Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Make Homemade Iced Tea

Making homemade iced tea is easy and cheap, and the flavor far outshines any store-bought variety.

The idea is straightforward: make a tea concentrate (right in photo), mix a small amount of concentrate with water and ice, and sweeten with a simple syrup (left in photo).

The tea concentrate and simple syrup can stay in the refrigerator, so making larger quantities will make your life easier. The following directions will yield about four pitchers of iced tea.

  • For the concentrate, boil four cups of water and pour over four tea bags. Let tea bags steep for about 10 minutes. (Add a handful of fresh mint leaves for addition flavor, if desired.)
  • For the simple syrup, combine a ½ cup of cold water with a ½ cup of sugar in a small pot. Over low heat, stir until the sugar dissolves.
  • In a two-quart pitcher, combine six ounces of concentrate with six cups of cold water. Add two or three tablespoons of simple syrup (depending on your palate), mix, taste, add more simple syrup, if necessary.
  • Add a handful of ice and some mint (for flavor and garnish) and enjoy.
You may start to avoid pre-made iced teas.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How to Make an Easy Avocado-Based Dressing

I made a string bean, corn and tomato salad last week, which was an overwhelming success. Sure, the vegetables were farm fresh, but the hit of the salad was the dressing, which anyone can replicate at home.

All I did was cut up a ripe avocado and added it to the vegetables. I also added olive oil, fresh lemon juice, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper before mixing everything together. The key is to use a ripe avocado, which will add luxuriant creaminess (helped by the olive oil) to the final product.

Don't only try this using string beans, corn and tomatoes; substitute vegetables (or beans, animal protein, etc.) freely. For a salad using lettuces, I recommend mixing the avocado in a bowl with the olive oil and other seasonings before combining with the greens; there's no reason to punish the delicate lettuces.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rodale's Primer on Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Cows

Many people are becoming more familiar with the health benefits—favorable fats, antioxidants, carotenoids—of grass-fed meat and dairy products, which are different animals (literally and figuratively) than the corn- and soy-fed animals raised on commercial feedlots with the help of hormones and antibiotics. just posted a photo gallery that is a great primer for the subject. Click here to view.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Buy Ginger and How to Store Ginger

Ginger adds great flavor to many foods, including a host of Asian dishes, carrot soup and apple sauce.

Like most herbs and spices, ginger has more flavor when fresh, not dried. Fresh ginger is available by the pound in most food stores, so smaller pieces can be snapped off. Look for ginger that has smooth skin; avoid ginger that has shriveled skin.

If you are left with extra, or always want to have some on hand, simply store the ginger unwrapped in the refrigerator. It'll stay for a couple weeks.

And don't worry about the exposed areas where you cut or snap the ginger. A protective layer (almost like a scab) will form, as seen above to the right. To the left is a newly-exposed area.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

KFC Drops Toys in Kids' Meals in Australia

While McDonald's reformulates its Happy Meals but keeps the toys that accompany them, other fast food companies are slowly moving away from being purveyors of play time.

Breaking news from Australia, courtesy of The Daily Telegraph:

"KFC Australia will today announce it is removing toys from its children's meals in all 600 stores across the country.

"It comes three years after the chicken giant committed to stop advertising or actively promoting its kids menu.

"KFC corporate affairs manager Zac Rich said management decided removing toys from children's meals was now 'the right thing to do' despite the fact it is expected to have a negative effect on profits."
Not to be a pessimist, but this is a great marketing ploy. I have a feeling that any "negative effect on profits" will be offset by the tens of millions of dollars of free publicity that KFC will receive in the next several days. Plus, I imagine the number of parents who stop taking their kids to KFC because there are no more toys is very, very small.

Rich, though, is saying all the right things:

  • "From KFC's point of view it is definitely time to move on."
  • "We think the idea of toys being given away with meals has had its day and we're pleased to be taking the lead in removing them."
  • "This is the next step in removing so-called pester power at our stores altogether. We hope this decision today will support parents in making dietary decisions on behalf of their children which aren't influenced in any way by pressure to choose the meal that has a toy."
This really is a phenomenal play on KFC's part; the fact that the company gets to say "dietary decisions" with a straight face is worth its weight in pastured chickens.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Upside of Strange Things in Your Refrigerator

The benefits of growing one's food or buying at farmers' markets are well-known (including longer shelf life, which we discussed yesterday), but there are also negatives: finding really strange-looking bugs and worms in your refrigerator amidst your just-picked vegetables.

Then again, I guess there's a plus involved: whatever this thing is never would have survived a typical pesticide application.

Pass the salt!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to Lower Food Costs: Fresher Food Lasts Longer

In response to Mark Bittman's most recent column in The New York Times, a reader left a comment providing another reason—one that I had never considered—that further dispels the prevailing belief that organic and healthy food is prohibitively expensive: longer shelf life.
"Mr. Bittman, Ref. the relatively high price of organic produce: it ain't so! I shop weekly at Blooming Hills Farm in the Hudson Valley. The food is so fresh that it generally lasts far, far longer in the refrigerator than anything that I can buy at the supermarket (including the fancy supermarkets). Food picked somewhere else long ago is not only less healthy, it ends up in the waste bin. And that's no bargain."
Sure enough, a couple days after reading the above, I rediscovered some dinosaur (aka Lacinato) kale in my refrigerator that I had cut from my garden 10 days before but had somehow forgotten about. Save for a few yellowing leaves, the kale looked vibrant and was comparable to anything available in the supermarket. As to the reader's point, when you factor in shipping, storage and shelf time, 10 days may be the average age for supermarket kale.

Here's a video that will help you extend the life of dark leafy greens, lettuces and herbs, whether home garden-grown or store-bought.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Leeks Grow

Here's a video showing how leeks grow:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jack LaLanne: Better Food for Farm Animals or Farm Family?

Our monthly dose of Jack LaLanne focuses on Jack's trip to a friend's farm for dinner. I'm not sure farm animals are treated as well now as Jack describes, but Jack was on to something in regard to what his friends were eating.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Growth of Young People Farming Sustainably

May as well keep the feel-good stories flowing.

On the heels of yesterday's discussion about the rebirth of cooking from scratch in school cafeterias, Mark Bittman's column this week in the digital edition of The New York Times ("New Farmers Find Their Footing") touches upon the sustainable farming movement in Maine.

More and more young people are electing to farm by choice. Sure, there's something nostalgic about inheriting a generations-old family farm, but creating a new homestead has an added romantic (some would say quixotic) feel.

This shift is on display at New York City's farmers' markets, where the number of people producing high-quality and chemical-free food (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, bread, yogurt, milk, etc.) is growing weekly.

For example, grass-fed beef used to be a specialty item; a lot of the beef for sale was raised (at least partially) on corn and soy. Now, it's difficult to find anything but 100 percent grass-fed, and its availability is widespread. Even the smaller satellite markets—not just gargantuan Union Square—have grass-fed meat for sale.

(To read about the health benefits of grass-fed meat and dairy products, click here.)

And, to paraphrase Bittman, the more farmers growing sustainable food, the better our society will be.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Rebirth of Cooking School Lunches from Scratch

Sure, stories about Big Food's malfeasance are as common as tomatoes in home gardens (Cargill's ground turkey recall is just one example), but positive developments in the food world are also abundant.

While the move to healthier food in schools is now a no-brainer (see "School Meal Programs Shaping Up Nationwide" from today's Food Safety News), a nascent component of this is the rebirth of real cooking in school cafeteria kitchens.

Today's New York Times features a great article, "School Districts Rediscover Value of Fresh Cooking," on this development. If we are lucky, what's happening in Greeley, a small city in Colorado, will become the norm in school districts nationwide.

"Greeley’s schools will be cooking from scratch about 75 percent of the time on the opening day, with a goal of reaching 100 percent by this time next year, when ovens and dough mixers for whole wheat pizza crust will be up and running. But already, the number of ingredients in an average meal — not to mention the ones that sound like they came from chemistry class — is plummeting."

Consider the bean burrito: last year, in arriving from the factory wrapped in cellophane, each one had more than 35 ingredients, including things like potassium citrate and zinc oxide. This year: 12, including real cheddar cheese. Italian salad dressing went from 19 ingredients to 9, with sodium reduced by almost three-fourths and sugar — the fourth ingredient in the factory blend — eliminated entirely."
There probably will be some resistance from the kids, but isn't teaching and learning the point of school?

Elida Martinez, a 32-year veteran of Greeley's kitchens, sums it up perfectly:
"'We're going to teach children how to eat again.'"

I'll leave well enough alone, but wouldn't it be great if we taught our kids about the dangers of Cargill's commercial feedlots as well?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nature's Path Organic Rice Puffs and Corn Puffs Cereals

In November I wrote about Nature's Path Organic Heritage O's, a delicious multi-grain cereal with no refined sugars that is a great alternative to Cheerios.

I recently discovered other Nature's Path organic cereals—namely Rice Puffs and Corn Puffs—that can replace the more popular Rice Krispies and Corn Pops, which are manufactured using denatured, genetically engineered ingredients that are sprayed with pesticides.

To replace the missing sugars of the more popular brands, try mixing some honey or maple syrup into your milk before adding cereal to the bowl. A shake of cinnamon or cardamom can provide additional flavor.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Energy Conversation in Schools Goes Mainstream

There's a great article in today's New York Times about the energy-saving strategies schools are taking to save boatloads of money. Click here to read "With Post-Its and Checklists, Schools Cut Their Energy Bills." An excerpt:
"Schools, once known as energy wasters, are embracing conservation in increasing numbers. A desire to practice the environmentally friendly principles discussed in classrooms has been heightened by soaring energy costs and tighter budgets. With the help of a growing industry of energy consultants, school officials are evaluating every detail of their daily operations, like the temperature of the swimming pool and the amount of electricity the cafeteria ovens use, and are replacing energy-guzzling equipment with more efficient models."
The practice-what-you-preach idea is similar to the changes we're seeing in schools in regard to food and nutrition. It's all for the better!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Imprelis, DuPont's Tree-Killing Herbicide, Banned by the E.P.A.

DuPont. Harmless weeds. Chemicals. Stock price. "Environmentally friendly" new product (Imprelis). Initial E.P.A. approval. Marketing campaign. Application of Imprelis. Dead balsam fir trees. Dead Norway spruce trees. Dead white pine trees. Lawsuits. Corporate marketing spin. Suspension of sales. Banning by E.P.A.

I'll let the E.P.A.'s press release tell the story:

EPA Issues Stop Sale Order to DuPont on Sale and Distribution of Imprelis Herbicide

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued an order to E.I. DuPont de Nemours (DuPont) directing the company to immediately halt the sale, use or distribution of Imprelis, an herbicide marketed to control weeds that has been reported to be harming a large number of trees, including Norway spruce and white pine. The order, issued under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), requires DuPont to stop the sale and distribution of Imprelis in the U.S. and outlines specific conditions to ensure that the removal of Imprelis from the market meets legal requirements.

This action follows EPA’s investigation into why a large number of evergreens and other trees have been harmed following the use of the herbicide. In its evaluation, EPA is investigating whether these incidents are the result of product misuse, inadequate warnings and use directions on the product’s label, persistence in soil and plant material, uptake of the product through the root systems and absorbed into the plant tissue, environmental factors, potential runoff issues or other possible causes. On June 17, 2011, DuPont issued a letter to professional applicators cautioning against the use of Imprelis where Norway spruce or white pine trees are present on, or in close proximity to, the property being treated.

On July 27, 2011, DuPont acknowledged to the EPA that there has been damage to trees associated with Imprelis use and the company had developed an internet web page to provide information and updates concerning Imprelis use.

On August 4, 2011, DuPont voluntarily suspended sales of Imprelis and announced that it will soon conduct a product return and refund program.

FIFRA is a federal law that requires the registration of pesticide products and pesticide-production facilities, and the proper labeling of pesticides. This requirement protects public health and the environment by ensuring safe production, handling, and application of pesticides and by preventing false or misleading product claims.

Information about today's order:

Information about EPA’s investigation into Imprelis and damage to trees:

# # #

(For those who want to become even more incensed about the absolutely unnecessary spraying of our green spaces, click here for today's New York Times article about the banning of Imprelis.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Study: Poultry Farms that Go Organic Have Fewer Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Last week our friends at Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey that may be contaminated with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. There's a good chance the pathogens are resistant to our normal course of antibiotic treatment because of the micro dosages of antibiotics that are administered to our farm animals (usually via their feed).

(I've discussed this issue before, as has Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.)

This week a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows how much damage this practice is causing.

From the University of Maryland's School of Public Health:

"Poultry farms that have adopted organic practices and ceased using antibiotics have significantly lower levels of drug-resistant enterococci bacteria that can potentially spread to humans, according to a groundbreaking new study led by a researcher in the University of Maryland's School of Public Health.

"The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives (online August 10, 2011), is the first to demonstrate lower levels of drug-resistant bacteria on newly organic farms in the United States and suggests that removing antibiotic use from large-scale U.S. poultry farms can result in immediate and significant reductions in antibiotic resistance for some bacteria."
I'm very, very confident that Big Food will counter with a grand public relations barrage pontificating about the need for antibiotics, but none us should buy it (or the meat sold by Big Food).

Remember, antibiotics aren't allowed to be given to healthy animals in the European Union and South Korea; food supplies in those countries haven't collapsed.

At what point will this nonsense stop in the United States? I don't mean to be cruel, but who do we need to die for action to be taken? A superstar athlete? A politician's relative? The CEO of Cargill?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Yin and Yang of Urban Community Gardens

Home gardening continues to spread as people try to make ends meet and/or partially opt out of our compromised food supply chain.

Even in urban areas, the trend is on the upswing, as seen in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the growing number of community gardens in the once-neglected Bronx.
"The 2.5-acre plot is actually a working farm in the heart of the Bronx called La Finca del Sur, yielding 30 pounds of produce a week at peak harvest. Wedged between Metro North tracks, the Major Deegan and the Grand Concourse, it is the largest of a growing network of farms across the Bronx that health and government officials say will soon rival Brooklyn and Manhattan's more celebrated web of local food producers."
Unfortunately, stealing fruits and vegetables from others' gardens is a pastime for some, according to The New York Times:

"At the 700 community gardens sprinkled through the city like little Edens, the first commandment should be obvious: Thou shalt not covet, much less steal, thy neighbor’s tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers. But people do."
Click here to read "Pilfered Peppers in City Gardens; Tomatoes, Too."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Easy Cooking 101: Shredded Beet and Carrot Salad

Here's an easy, delicious way to take advantage of summer's vegetables, without turning on the oven or stove:

Using the shredder attachment of a food processor (or a hand grater), grate one or two raw beets (peeled) and a like amount of raw carrots. Combine in a bowl with some chopped herbs, such as parsley or basil. Add a dressing; one that I've been showing people quite often lately is a simple mixture of plain yogurt and Dijon mustard, plus a little lemon or lime juice, a bit of honey, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

As is usually the case, I'm not giving exact proportions. The number of beets, carrots and parsley you use doesn't really matter (but do realize you'll get a lot from two medium-sized beets and carrots). For the dressing, I use equal parts yogurt and Dijon, but tinker according to your taste buds.

Oh, I added a little paprika to the last dressing I made. Why? I saw the paprika in my spice cabinet when I was grabbing the salt and pepper. Cooking does not have to be (and shouldn't be) difficult, stressful or expensive.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kerrygold: Just Another Big Company?

Unfortunately, it seems like it's not just the American public that is getting screwed by the big food companies.

This comment was just left on a recent post I wrote about Kerrygold butter:
A pity that in the UK, softer 100% butter is no longer available for spreading (though it is in Ireland).

They want us to buy this crap instead:

Kerrygold Spreadable with Irish Butter & Olive Oil 500g:

Butter (69%), Vegetable Oils (20%), Water, Olive Oil (5%), Buttermilk, Salt (1.3%), Milk Proteins, Vitamin E, Colour (Carotenes).

69% butter = bigger profits.

They've lost the plot!
The Kerrygold websites (different sites for different countries) confirm the different formulations for the softer, spreadable butter available in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, the UK description mentions only butter and olive oil as ingredients, leaving out the other items mentioned by the commenter above.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Don't Waste Stems from Dark Leafy Greens; Cook Them!

A way to help combat rising food prices is by using all components of the food we buy or grow. For example, carrot tops are great thrown into a chicken soup or when making stock.

Also, think about using the stems of dark leafy greens. Yesterday for lunch I sautéed a bunch of vegetables (scallions, garlic, zucchini, carrots, string beans) and threw i
n the stems (chopped) from purple kale (photo, right) as well. Better there than in the garbage!
The previous day, I sautéed chopped broccoli leaf stems (photo, left). Seasoned with a little unrefined sea salt, fresh ground pepper and lemon juice, they made a great side dish.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Big Food's Self-Regulation is a Sham

Last week I briefly discussed McDonald's blatant public relations ploy of reformulating Happy Meals. Many described the change as a small step in the right direction, but does anyone really think McDonald's—even after seven million small steps—will be offering grass-fed beef and organic potatoes anytime this millennium?

Mark Bittman, in today's New York Times, further discusses Big Food's attempt at self-regulation, via industry-supported groups with names such as Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and The Sensible Food Policy Coalition. The whole project is a sham and we should all know that we are guinea pigs in Big Food's attempt to keep profits flowing.

Writes Bittman:
"Self-regulation may be immediate, non-threatening and magical, but it doesn’t work. A study published earlier this week in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine by Dr. Lisa Powell and other researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago tracked changes in exposure for all food, beverage and restaurant TV ads seen by kids from 2 to 11 years old, from 2003 to 2009. It found that, overall, daily exposure to the ads declined but the percentage among companies that had pledged to self-regulate was higher than those that didn’t. And in 2009, 86 percent of these ads still featured unhealthy foods."
Click here to read "Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How Okra Grows

Okra grows on plants that can reach five feet tall. The plants love hot weather and can produce dozens of pods each during the growing season. A look at okra in my garden:

Monday, August 1, 2011

All Empires Come to an End

I received the following press release on Friday from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hopefully, despite our seemingly inexorable march to fiscal idiocy, programs such as the one described below don't go the way of the liberal politician who has some balls (but doesn't show them off on Twitter).

When will we care and understand what is happening to our society? When the water at the White House and Monsanto's corporate headquarters is undrinkable because of contamination? When Senators and billionaires experience serious health concerns related to pesticides and other chemicals? When any thought about the greater good ceases to exist (if it hasn't already)?

(New York, N.Y. – July 29, 2011) Over the past six years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has plugged close to 300 abandoned – and in some cases leaking – oil wells in Western New York in an effort to prevent any remaining oil that may be in the wells from reaching nearby lakes, rivers and streams. The abandoned wells, many of which no longer have owners, have not been maintained for decades, and are gradually deteriorating to the point at which crude oil could leak from broken well casings, pipes and storage tanks. To prevent future leaks, EPA has had the wells filled with concrete and a fine clay substance called bentonite to immobilize any remaining oil. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation referred the abandoned oil wells to EPA for cleanup.

"Oil is one of the worst water pollutants, and the abandoned oil wells like the ones that EPA has cleaned up represent a threat to our most vital natural resource – clean water," said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. "By plugging hundreds of abandoned oil wells, we’re protecting public health and the environment, and fixing a problem that had been decades in the making.”