Monday, October 31, 2011

How to Let (On-Sale, Organic) Pears Ripen

Unfortunately, most pears sold at food markets are rock hard. But, with a little care, ripe pears can be yours in just a few days.

Whole Foods, which always runs sales on in-season fruits and vegetables, was recently offering organic pears (several varieties) for $1.69, down from the usual $2.49. The pears were far from ripe, but I bought six Bartletts to take advantage of the great price.

To ripen pears, just let them sit at room temperature until they start to soften at the neck, just below the stem. Putting them in a closed paper bag speeds up the maturing process, as ethylene gas produced by the pears (for ripening) gets trapped in the bag. I put mine in a bag and they went from concrete to perfectly ripe (and delicious) in about four days.

Once the pears are ripe, keep them in the refrigerator in an open plastic bag.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In Car with Air Freshener; My Health Now Going to Hell

I was in a car last night, stuck in traffic for several hours. That was the easy part.

The owner, much to my chagrin, was using a hanging car air freshener. Twelve hours later, as I write this, I still have a headache and feel off. (My irritated throat cleared earlier this morning.)

So overpowering were the odors released by the gadget's chemicals that I opted for an open window (and fumes from the stalled traffic) whenever possible. Yet, there was no escaping the smells.

We have been led to believe that the "clean" scents of laundry detergents, surface cleaners and soaps are the natural by-products of cleaning. This, however, couldn't be further from the truth; what we are smelling are powerful chemicals that can harm us and our children.

I'll discuss this further next week; I now need to spend 24 hours in a cleansing chamber.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Can the McRib Move Financial Markets?

Is it me or is there something wrong with our society and/or food system when a three-week appearance of the McRib—McDonald's "pork" sandwich—can cause financial markets to move?

The following, written by Dan Piller, is from the Des Moines Register's Green Fields blog, which focuses on Iowa agriculture and energy.
"Hog futures rose 22 percent in the last six weeks before cooling off slightly this week, a rally that was attributed mainly to a big buying spree by China.

"But McDonald’s could have played a role as well. The fast food giant said Tuesday it is bringing back the McRib sandwich through Nov. 14.

"The McRib was first introduced in 1982 but had been absent from McDonald’s menus since 1994. But when re-introduced last year the sauce-slathered sandwich created such a sensation that it was given partial credit for a 20 percent rally in hog prices in the second half of 2010.

"McDonald’s doesn’t talk about its wholesale buying but the company obviously knows its way around the commodities markets. It’s safe to assume that it already has locked up its pork supplies for the next month to take care of what is expected – based on 2010 response – to be a large surge in McRib consumption.

"Iowa has plenty at stake in any bump in pork consumption; the state is the nation’s number one hog producer with more than 19 million animals. Hog sales will bring $6-$8 billion in cash to the state’s economy this year."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary: A Quick Side Dish

Here's how I made a quick side dish—sautéed potatoes with garlic and rosemary—to accompany last night's dinner.

In a medium sauté pan I heated olive oil (enough to just coat the pan's surface). I added some thinly sliced fingerling potatoes (Ruby Crescent, from the farmers' market). I stirred occasionally and when the potatoes started to soften I added some thinly sliced garlic and some dried rosemary (which I crumbled).

I kept stirring occasionally and when everything was browned I turned off the heat. I seasoned with a little lemon juice plus unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

I made this dish while I was cooking other stuff, which made it time-effective. Try this with different seasonings: paprika or curry powder in lieu of the rosemary are just two ideas.

And don't think you need specialty potatoes for this; make it with whatever type you have. Just make sure the potatoes are thinly cut so they cook quickly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Response to Safe Chemicals Act

I sent an email last week to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), asking about her views on the Safe Chemicals Act, which is being championed by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Here's the reply I received yesterday from Gillibrand; it contains a lot of positives, including her desire that the "chemical industry . . . assume the burden of safety of their products." In addition, the second paragraph sums up the health and economic issues at play

(Click here to find out your Senators' views on the Chemicals Act.)

Dear Rob,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Safe Chemicals Act and your desire to reform the outdated Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). I share your view that TSCA is in need of reform. Protecting Americans, notably vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly, from dangerous toxins is one of my central legislative priorities.

Modernizing our nation's chemical management system will have direct human health and economic benefits across New York. Environmental contaminants are being linked to the ongoing rise in chronic disease, asthma, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems; leading to costly missed days of work and school and prolonged hospital stays. The modernization of our national toxic chemicals policy will not only save lives, improve health, and raise the standard of living for all Americans, but would also save tremendous amounts of money, boosting our economy.

I support Senator Lautenberg's Safe Chemicals Act, and it is a good starting point from which to address TSCA reform, but I feel that there are some key changes that need to be made to ensure that Americans are sufficiently protected from these dangerous chemicals. At the core of TSCA modernization, I believe that new regulatory laws should: require the chemical industry to assume the burden of safety of their products, ensure that safety standards protect vulnerable populations, promote greater interagency coordination, and develop criteria to ensure that chemicals posing the greatest human health hazard are given priority attention.

I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Lautenberg and my other colleagues in Congress to develop a chemicals management system that removes unsafe consumer products and toxic chemicals from commerce, and ensures they do not find their way into our homes and school. As a Member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee I am in a unique position to advance strong policies to modernize our national toxic substances control policy, and I look forward to working on these important issues in the 112th Congress.

Thank you again for writing to express your concerns, and I hope that you keep in touch with my office regarding future legislation. For more information on this and other important issues, please visit my website at and sign up for my e-newsletter.

Sincerely yours,
Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator

Monday, October 24, 2011

One Mom's Experiences with Artificial Colors

Artificial colors are an absolutely unnecessary scourge that are used to brighten processed foods and medicine solely for the purpose of appealing to our innate attraction to vivid hues. (Think about it: Which fruits do we instinctively pick from a tree? Bright and ripe/sweet, or dull and immature/tasteless?)

While some companies are transitioning away from the petroleum-based colorants (click here to read about Pepperidge Farm's move), the colors—which have been scientifically proven to cause Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—are ubiquitous.
A reader, Jennifer, just left a comment on a post, "Artificial Colors in Medicine," that I wrote almost two years ago. Could her experiences be affecting you and your family as well?
"My son and I have an intolerance to these artificial colors. I can tell you for a fact that they affect us. I myself was punching walls and would 'fly' off the handle over the smallest things. My son was having huge melt downs and flipping desks, throwing chairs, and biting himself. They said he had ADHD. I got him off all the artificial colors and he is now getting out of special education in school! I have to watch everything I put in our bodies, but also on! I have to buy him special crayons! I watch laundry soap and fabric softener, toothpaste, perfume, and lotions. They are putting them in everything! Buy organic, the more people that do the more big business will listen to what is trending and the stores will carry it."
Jennifer's last point is extremely important. For the betterment of society (yes, it's still possible!), it is imperative that those of us who understand these issues make our voices heard. Pepperidge Farm did not move away from artificial colors for altruistic purposes. The change was made because people spoke. And because a small percentage of people spoke, millions of kids whose parents don't know what an artificial color is are safer today because of it.

Unhappy to hear that nine of the 10 flavors of Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars contain artificial colors? Call Kellogg's at 1-800-962-1413 to voice your displeasure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jack LaLanne: Mind-Body Connection

Don't think we'd make it through October without our monthly motivation from Jack LaLanne. Jack, with his rambling style, wouldn't last two shows in our modern sound-bite era. Thankfully, his message survives and deserves three minutes once a month!

(If you can't see the video below, click here to watch.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

No Subway Fare to Occupy Wall St.? Send an Email Instead!

I received the following email earlier this week from the Center for Food Safety concerning Monsanto's new genetically engineered corn, which is slated to hit supermarket shelves this fall. It's interesting how the action is trying to play the food producers and supermarkets against each other. I'm curious as to its success.

Click here to perform your own act of occupation today!

Surveys over the past decade have consistently shown that Americans don’t want to eat genetically engineered (GE or GMO) food. Despite the overwhelming opposition to this risky new food technology, the biotech giant Monsanto continues to impose its unlabeled GMO’s onto our dinner plates.

The latest: Monsanto’s new GMO corn, intended for the frozen and/or canned corn market. This experimental corn will not be labeled, so consumers cannot know when they may be eating a GMO food that contains a toxic pesticide in every bite. Monsanto’s corn is a new GMO variety that has been genetically modified for three different traits, to resist two different insects and to withstand heavy spraying with Monsanto's toxic Roundup herbicide. Because there are already varieties of other insect-resistant and Roundup-Ready varieties on the market, federal regulators are not requiring ANY approval process—which means NO public comment on its introduction into our food supply.

CFS has teamed up with the Center for Environmental Health to urge major companies that make frozen and/or canned corn to take action to avoid Monsanto’s new crop. We need tell Del Monte, Bird’s Eye and other major food makers to reject t
his new GMO corn. General Mills (Green Giant, Cascadian Farms) and Trader Joe’s have already indicated that they will not use Monsanto’s new GMO sweet corn in their products—so can the other top companies!

Take action today! Send food makers a message that we don’t want Monsanto’s food experiments!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Store-Bought Stock Is a Waste of Money; Use Water!

Many recipes found in cooking magazines and cookbooks are unfair, in that they often call for unnecessary ingredients that can make cooking at home prohibitively expensive.

Exhibit A is stock—essentially flavored water—which I believe is totally superfl
uous for basic home cooking. Water (free!) works fine, while many stocks (up to $5 for a quart!) are loaded with questionable ingredients. And if I had a dollar for every container of half-used stock left for dead in refrigerators across America, I'd be a very, very rich man.

Rice, quinoa and other grains cooked in water are delicious, while meat stock is replicated when the meat in meat-based stews and braises is cooked in water. (Use your saved money to buy better-quality meat or to pay the new service charges on your debit card.)

If, however, you do need a quick stock (like I did for last night's butternut squash risotto; photo, left), simply throw some vegetables, salt and peppercorns into a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and let cook for about 30 minutes (photo, above right). I used one organic carrot and one organic parsnip, which cost me less than $1, but half an onion, a stalk of celery, some mushrooms or asparagus stalks would work just as well.

An added bonus? Using water or making your own quick vegetable stock will make you the darling of the 99 percent.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Avoid Pesticides, Hormones, Bleached Flour . . . and Slugs!

The following story—"Australia: Man’s Serious Illness Shows the Danger of Daring to Eat a Garden-Variety Slug" by Donald G. McNeil Jr.—appears in today's New York Times and is too mind-boggling to not offer in full, with its accompanying photo. And here I thought eating fruits and vegetables sprayed with pesticides was taking a chance!
"An Australian man has been hospitalized for more than a month in serious condition as a result of eating two garden slugs on a dare, according to Australian news media and ProMED , an online service that tracks disease outbreaks.

"The 21-year-old Sydney man apparently contracted a rat lungworm parasite from the slugs, which pick it up from rodent droppings. The parasite, a nematode called Angiostrongylus cantonensis, can cause fatal brain swelling.

"The ProMED moderator who reported the case said the life cycle of the nematode was described in Australia 50 years ago. It infects not just slugs, rats and humans but also dogs, horses, flying fox bats and marsupials like kangaroos. It can also be caught from unwashed vegetables.

“'We hope this will help to remind others to avoid eating raw slugs,' the moderator, Eskild Petersen, said.

"The disease is more common in Thailand, where koi-hoi, a dish with raw snail meat, is eaten; residents of Hawaii have been infected by eating improperly washed lettuce with tiny slugs on it.

"Escargots — snails baked in a garlic butter sauce — are generally safe, although they can trigger shellfish allergies. Snails 'ranched' for restaurants (like those pictured above) are raised on clean feed and purged. Garden snails may contain poisons, including snail bait. There has been at least one report of people who developed erratic heart rhythms after eating stew made from snails that had eaten oleander leaves, which contain digoxin, a cardiac drug."

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Easy Recipe for Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

Here's a very easy recipe for a delicious banana bread with chocolate chips. It's a basic recipe—nothing fancy at all—that I've been making for years, but over time I've become more cognizant of the ingredients I use.

For example, I use only really ripe organic bananas. Why organic bananas? Click here to learn why.

I use olive oil instead of the more common canola oil; I can't tell a difference in flavor and I avoid the process used to make commercial vegetable oils.

The sugar is organic pure cane sugar and the flour is organic whole wheat. The vanilla extract and chocolate chips are organic as well.
Whether you use all, some or no organic ingredients, this cake will get eaten quickly.

Just remember that the cake will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. There will be a lot of heat trapped inside, so a dried-out cake is a possibility and disappointment. (Hi, mom!).


3 bananas, ripe, mashed
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil (I use olive)
¾ cup sugar
1 teasp. vanilla extract
1¼ cup flour
1 teasp. baking soda
½ cup chocolate chips
1 Tablesp. butter or oil (to coat loaf pan)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat with a large spoon until creamy. Add the bananas and blend well.

2. Add flour, baking soda and chocolate chips and mix.

3. Pour mixture into the buttered or oiled loaf pan and put on middle rack in oven. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes (time will vary depending on your oven). Loaf is done when a toothpick is inserted into the middle and comes out slightly moist. (If you like your cake a little gooey, remove from oven when a little batter still clings to the toothpick.)

4. Place loaf pan on a cooling rack (if you have) and let bread cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully remove bread from pan and let cool further on cooling rack.

5. If there are any leftovers, wrap in foil. Store in refrigerator or at room temperature, depending on personal preference.

Friday, October 14, 2011

World Food Day & Millions Against Monsanto This Sunday

World Food Day is this Sunday and the Organic Consumers Association has spearheaded Millions Against Monsanto, a campaign consisting of dozens of local events nationwide to raise awareness about the corporate control of food supply and to call for the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Click here to find a Millions Against Monsanto event near you.

In addition, two grassroots movements have sprung up in California and Michigan aiming to get mandatory GMO labeling initiatives on those states' ballot in November 2012.

Click here to read about California's ballot initiative against GMOs and click here to read about what's going on in Michigan.

By the way, President Obama
in his more innocent dayscampaigned for the labeling of genetically modified foods. (Click here to watch on YouTube if you do not see the video below.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Immigrant Farmers & Their Immigrant Foods Invade America!

In the New York City farmers' market system there are a handful of immigrant farmers who grow vegetables popular in their native countries that are rarely cultivated here. Fellow countrymen appreciate the tastes of home while others unfamiliar with the foods get to experience new flavors, like I have with sweet potato leaves and green luobo radishes.

This rhythm is playing out elsewhere in the country, as depicted in an article in The New York Times earlier this week:

"At the Saturday farmer’s market in City Heights [San Diego], a major portal for refugees, Khadija Musame, a Somali, arranges her freshly picked pumpkin leaves and lablab beans amid a United Nations of produce, including water spinach grown by a Cambodian refugee and amaranth, a grain harvested by Sarah Salie, who fled rebels in Liberia. Eaten with a touch of lemon by Africans, and coveted by Southeast Asians for soups, this crop is always a sell-out.

"Among the regular customers at the New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home balancing boxes of produce on their heads."
Click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cornucopia's "Cereal Crimes": Chicanery in the Cereal Aisle

Don't be fooled by the word "natural" on food labels and packaging. Despite its homespun appeal, the term doesn't carry any weight in regard to food quality or safety; "natural" foods can be rife with pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

One area of the supermarket where consumer deception is rampant is in the cereal aisle. The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog, exposes the hypocrisy in its just-released report and accompanying video, "Cereal Crimes."

Many varieties of popular "healthy" cereals contain GMOs and food grown with pesticides, which may come as a shock to many. To be sure you are avoiding pesticides and GMOs, you must buy organic. (The Nature's Path brand gets my stamp of approval.) And, as I've shown before, organic doesn't mean "more expensive."

Watch the video below to get a sense of what we are up against. Click here to read the full report.