Monday, November 30, 2009

Check Yo Chicken

A recent study by Consumer Reports shows that, of 382 whole raw chickens bought at over 100 stores in 22 states, 62% contain a harmful bacteria called campylobacter, 14% had salmonella, and 9% had both. This includes organic and all-natural chicken, too, though I think they fared a bit better in the testing.
But no worries, I think, because apparently normal cooking kills off the bacteria? Still, kind of disconcerting to know that if you undercook a bit or don't clean off your cutting board well enough, you risk getting really sick. (Each year, about 500 Americans die from these bacteria and 25,000 are hospitalized).

Also, I think this says something about the state of our food industry: namely, this is a reflection of the unsanitary conditions that arise when you breed thousands of chickens in cramped quarters with unnatural food and no access to the outdoors.

Some quick facts about factory farmed chicken:
  • Broilers are warehoused in long sheds, called “grower houses,” which typically confine up to 20,000 chickens at a density of approximately 130 square inches of space per bird...A chicken requires 138 square inches just to stretch a wing.
  • Overcrowded confinement also results in the rapid deterioration of air quality within the grower sheds. As the weeks pass, chicken excrement accumulates on the floors. As bacteria break down the litter and droppings, the air becomes polluted with ammonia, dust, bacteria, and fungal spores. High ammonia levels cause painful skin and respiratory problems in the broilers, as well as pulmonary congestion, swelling, hemorrhage, and even blindness. Ammonia destroys the cilia that would otherwise prevent harmful bacteria from being inhaled. As a result, chickens “are inhaling harmful bacteria constantly..."
  • In the 1950s, it took 84 days to raise a five-pound chicken. Due to selective breeding and growth-promoting drugs, it now takes an average of only 45 days...Broilers’ bone growth is outpaced by the growth of their muscles and fat. "We consider that birds might have been bred to grow so fast that they are on the verge of structural collapse.” ...90% of broilers have detectable leg problems...In one study of lame chickens, 20 percent had bacterial infection of the bone, 13 percent had visible leg deformities...At six weeks, broiler chickens have such difficulty supporting their abnormally heavy bodies that they spend 76 to 86 percent of their time lying down.

"Living in their own waste, the birds cannot escape the high levels of ammonia. As a result, their bodies are often scalded by the noxious chemical."

    Well, how's all that for a picker-upper (no pun intended)?

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    "A medium popcorn and soda at the Regal movie theater chain has the calories of three McDonald's Quarter Pounders and 12 pats of butter, a U.S. food group says. ...The movie theater chain's medium popcorn and soda has 1,610 calories and three days' worth -- 60 grams -- of saturated fat."

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Egging It On

    As far as quick meals go, eggs are the shit. I eat them all the time for breakfast and midnight snacks. Yummy breakfasts are a quick way to put me in a good mood and start my day off on a good leg. Plus eggs are fast & easy and make me feel good about eating something other than carbs and getting some protein in my nearly-meatless diet. So here are my 3 favorite ways to make eggs. All of them take less than 15 minutes:

    I know this seems like it should be really self-explanatory, but there's actually a right way to make scrambled eggs, and when done like that, they hit a whole new level of delicious. If done right, they should be one super fluffy mass, not little eggy clumps like regular scrambled eggs, and all a consistent pastel yellow color.

    1. Crack a couple eggs in a bowl, add a teaspoon or so of mayonnaise (this makes them creamy), and whip them up into a frenzy.
    2. Melt a little bit of butter in a skillet over LOW heat.
    3. Pour in the eggs. Stir them pretty much constantly with a wooden spoon until they start to hold their shape but before they get dry and lose all their shininess.
    4. Season as you wish. With these, I usually keep it pretty simple with cracked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

    Total time: Under 10 minutes

    To make it extra fancy, do this first (I made this concoction while stoned one night and fell in love):

    1. Slice up some red pepper and onions and garlic and whatever else you want to put in. I love adding tomatoes.
    2. Turn the heat on med-high and add some butter (I swear by cooking with butter instead of olive oil. It makes everything taste soooo much better).
    3. Toss in the sliced up veggies and sauté them until they get darker, the onions are brown, and all the veggies are tender.
    4. Turn down the heat, let the pan cool down, and then add the eggs and some grated cheese (I usually do sharp cheddar), then continue as above.
    5. When it's all done and in your plate, add a bit of crumbled feta. If you have feta, don't skip this step. It really makes it all like 5 times better.

    Total time: About 15 minutes

    Note: these scrambled eggs weren't made totally right. But cut me some slack, please--I was in another state of mind.

    Over Easy
    This is my typical breakfast egg dish. Filling and delicious.

    1. Take a slice of good bread, or half a bagel (I usually use fresh dumpstered bagels. Soooo good.) and toast it.
    2. Melt some butter in a skillet over med-high heat. Don't let the skillet sit on the flame too long before you go to the next step--the egg shouldn't sizzle when you put it in the pan.
    3. Crack an egg in the pan. Fry it until the bottom sets--it should slide around freely when you wiggle the pan. You don't need a spatula or anything for this.
    4. Once the egg can slide around, gently flip it upside-down by sliding it up the side of the skillet with a flick of the wrist. You can see this guy do it here.
    If you're worried about making a mess when you flip it, it's actually pretty easy. The first time I tried, I had to mop egg yolk off the floor, but the second time, I got it :-P
    5. Fry it on the second side for like 30 sec or so, or until the egg can once again slide around freely.
    6. Slide it over your freshly toasted piece of bread/bagel. I usually season mine with salt, pepper & chili powder. This morning, I added some sautéed tomato slices and some baby swiss before I put on the egg. It was totally delicious.
    This is pretty messy to eat, but who cares. It tastes good.

    Total time: About 7 minutes

    Souffle-type thing

    1. Get the smallest pan you own (unless you're making a lot of eggs).
    2. Put some butter in it and melt it over low heat.
    3. Whisk some eggs and add them to the pan.
    4. Let it sit until it starts to set a little. Then grate some cheese in there. Then let it sit some more, until it's cooked through to the top. Don't stir. You can cook it covered if you want, but I haven't.
    5. Take a spatula and slide it around the edges to loosen the egg from the pan. Then slide your souffle thing onto a plate. I like to put mine on a slice of bread. Maybe with some pesto. Seasoned, as per usual, with salt & pepper. Yummy, and somehow makes me feel very sophisticated.

    Total time: About 10 minutes

    And there we go. Anyone have any of their own favorite ways to cook eggs?

    Chocolate is Good for Mental Health

    Now this is the kind of nutrition I can get behind.

    This article explains so much about why I am so chill all of the time :-P

    That said, I've decided I need to cut a huge amount of sugar out of my diet. I've been letting my sweet tooth totally go and it's starting to show. Maybe a small bar of dark chocolate should become my daily sweets limit...

    Recipes from the Corner: Fast & Easy

    So I know I've been MIA for a couple weeks. Do I have a good excuse? Uhmm....I've actually been making food again? Actually, that's not a very good excuse. And you're about to see why.
    Some of you guys have been saying you'd like to see more quick & simple recipes. Well, I'm about to post a small slew of them. These are pretty quick (which is why they're a bad excuse for me not doing work), very simple, and pretty tasty. Here's some of what I've been whipping up the past couple weeks:

    Steamed sweet potatoes

    1. Take a sweet potato.
    2. Put a couple inches of water and a steam basket in a pot, cover it and let it come to a boil. 
    3. In the meantime, peel the potato (unless it's organic, in which case you don't have to)
          --This is because all of the chemical pesticides and other junk that go into growing our produce get concentrated in the skin
    4. Cut the potato into cubes of about 1/2" each side
    5. Steam them (covered, of course) for about 7 minutes, or until done.
    6. Add salt, pepper, or whatever else you want. If you like them kind of sweet & savory, add things like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc. I always eat mine with sour cream. Mmmmm. Try it!

    Total time: About 12 minutes.

    Roasted asparagus with lemon

    1. Preheat the oven to 350°
    2. Take some asparagus spears and wash them.
    3. Break each one near the bottom. Just bend it until it snaps. Throw away the bottom part -- this is pretty tough and not very fun to chew. It'll break naturally where it becomes tender. 
       --If you're making a bunch of asparagus and don't feel like breaking them all, just break one and use that as a guide to cut the rest
    4. Pour some olive oil on an oven pan and roll the asparagus around in it until it's coated
    5. Sprinkle them with salt & pepper and whatever else you want
    6. Roast them for about 10-15 minutes. I like to do 15 because they come out more tender & flavorful. They should be starting to turn a little brown. 
    7. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over them.

    Total time: About 20 minutes

    Roasted asparagus, steamed sweet potatoes, some homemade borscht courtesy of my parents (!!) and the vastly superior sour cream, Daisy. Sooo good. And it only took about 25 minutes to make it all. Also, it's almost entirely made up of vegetables, which makes me proud, since I usually have a hard time getting those in my diet.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    It's a Cereal War

    Sugary kids' cereals are coming under attack. First Froot Loops, now Cocoa Crispies. Watch out, Cap'n Crunch, you're next!

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    More on Fruit Loops

    I just noticed that they're not even called Fruit Loops. It's Froot Loops. That's very appropriate, since I highly doubt they actually contain any fruit.

    Anyway, some people at Yale just did a comprehensive nutritional study on breakfast cereal. They compared the nutritional value of our breakfast cereal to a UK rating system. Their findings are pretty sad but, of course, not at all surprising.

    Some highlighted points for those who don't feel like reading through all the results:
    • Child cereals contain 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium when compared to adult cereals. In fact, not one cereal that is marketed directly to children in the United States would be allowed to advertise to children on television in the United Kingdom (only cereals with an NPI of over 62 can market to kids in the UK; the vast majority of US child cereals rate under 50)...In addition, 42% contain potentially harmful artificial food dyes.
    • Although General Mills and Kellogg have pledged that they will not advertise to preschoolers directly, the average 2- to 5-year-old viewed more than 500 television ads for child cereals in 2008, and 89% of them were from General Mills and Kellogg.
    • Froot Loops scored lowest (under 40) on the rating system; kids would be better off eating Cocoa Crispies, Cookie Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, or Cap'n Crunch. 
    If Froot Loops, with the lowest rating, are a "Smart Choice," what isn't? Coffee and cigarettes? (Though I'd honestly probably have that for breakfast before Froot Loops...but I really like coffee. And at least I'd know that my breakfast was not a smart choice. I mean, fine, eat your junk food, but at least acknowledge that it's junk.)

    PS I know I keep ragging hardcore on the Froot Loops and other processed foods. But I really hate that stuff. I mean, to me it resembles flavored cardboard much more closely than anything I would actually want to consume. Plus the names ("Cocoa Crispies?") and the Smart Choices system and the hundreds of ads just make me think of Brave New World. It's total brainwashing and it weirds me out and makes me kind of depressed every time I see TV commercials. Anyways, please excuse my ranting. 

    Frustrations and Questions

    So this week, we are to reflect on our blogging frustrations, questions, revelations, etc. Here goes.

    Not too many, honestly.
    I mean, I love food. I don't get sick of writing about it, and I rarely get sick of reading about it. And I most certainly have never neared getting sick of eating it.
    Time and energy, on the other hand, are tossing some hurdles in my path. At the end of a long day, all I want to do is veg on the couch with some friends. Even the relatively simple task of perusing the 20 new updates in my Google Reader food section poses a daunting task. And that doesn't even compare to how tiring it sounds to actually read and respond to any of those articles.
    And for as long as I blankly stare at the Google Reader screen, trying to mentally drag my eyes along the black lines of type, I stare twice as long as the contents of my fridge. Even steaming some veggies sounds like too much work. "Cook? Now? I'm tired, I haven't been home in 12 hours..." (This is about when the chips and salsa come out.)
    So a lot of the time, I'm too tired to find material/write about it.
    But when that isn't an issue, all has been going well.

    Ever since I was about 7, I tried keeping a regular diary. And failed. Like 10 times over 10 years. I could keep it up for maybe 5 days, and that's it. Daily entries would turn to weekly to monthly to whoa-I-forgot-this-journal-even-existed. Finally, in high school, I realized I didn't owe some debt to the cosmic writing gods that required me to write every day, or even on a regular basis. So I chilled out and wrote in my journal only when I felt like it, and things have been going well (if sporadically) since then.
    All this to say, this blog made me realize I can actually keep up with a fairly regular writing schedule. Leave it to food to inspire me to action.
    Also, I'm considering starting a music blog. There are two things that can bring me out of a slump in a moment: (1) good food (2) good music. Musicmusicmusic. I realize I never feel my emotions as strongly until I put a soundtrack to them. So, quite literally, music is my life.

    Obviously, I find my own blog at least somewhat interesting. My only concern is whether or not you guys do.
    So here are the questions I pose to the blogosphere today:
    How are the topics of these posts? Do they interest you? What are your favorite ones (recipes, articles, nutrition)?
    How's my writing voice? Does it bore you? Annoy you? Make you laugh?
    Any other comments or criticisms? Please, don't hold back. I have a tough skin.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    The Veggie Bandit

    "Initially, local villagers reported the incident to the police but the cops refused to register a case against Nazim and laughed it off, as they could not recover any stolen vegetable from him."

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Remember "Smart Choices?"

    About a month ago, I wrote a post questioning the nutritional value of certain processed foods stamped with the green Smart Choices checkmark. Specifically, I wondered how products like Fruit Loops, with their ridiculously high sugar content, or Diet Pepsi, with its dubious ingredient of aspartame, could possibly be considered by anybody to be a healthy choice. I mean, have you ever looked at a Fruit Loop? General rule: if it looks like a crayon-colored foam peanut, it probably isn't all that good for you...

    Anyways, apparently the FDA has finally caught on to what anybody with half a sense for healthy eating has understood from the get-go. Booyah! (Yes, I just said "booyah.")

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Reclaiming My Life

    Life has been super insane ever since G-20. I've barely been sleeping, I haven't cooked anything substantial (with the exception of bread) in weeks, and my homework has been gathering dust. I've been spending all my time with the same people, and not enough time with myself. The past couple days, it started to catch up to me, and I started feeling overwhelmed, and kind of sad (for various reasons), and pretty manic. So last night, I decided it was time to take a mental health break. I'm taking a relative leave of absence from the lifestyle I've been living this past month and re-centering, regrouping, reconnecting. Today was the first day of the week I plan to devote to reclaiming my life. And damn, has it been a good start.

    9:30 - Morning class. Overslept.
    12:00 - Roll groggily out of bed. 9 hrs of sleep. Dance around my room.
    1:00 - Make a fresh batch of my favorite granola for breakfast. Mmmmm.
    2:00 - Hang out with Brendan at The Original table.
    3:00-5:15 - Classes. I actually went to these. (I mostly slept through them, which is kind of odd considering I got such a full night of rest yesterday. I think my body functions better when deprived of sleep.)
    5:15 - Score a decadent and delicious drink at work. Lay on the benches outside the Carnegie, look up at the canopy of trees, smoke a cigarette, listen to Six Organs of Admittance, feel happy and relaxed.
    6:30 - Meet my dear friend Amanda at the GE for some grocery shopping. First time seeing Amanda in a couple weeks. Also first time grocery shopping in a couple weeks. I now have eggs again. And vegetables.
    8:30 - Feel inspired by all my new food and have a majjorrr cookfest while dancing around my kitchen to the Black Keys. On the menu: mashed garlic Yukon gold potatoes and stuffed baby portabellas. Stuffed with what, you ask? Stuffed with Russian sausage, garlic, sauteed onion, bread crumbs, rosemary, oregano, and bleu cheese.

    10:30 - Espresso & smoke break on the porch with my roommate, Colin. We used to have these every couple days, up until about a month ago, when my regular life derailed. Very nice to catch up again. Accompanying coffee was a dessert of my favorite cookies and some dates.
    11:00 - Watch a bit of Goodwill Hunting with my roommates.
    12:00 - Nice hot shower. Until the hot water prematurely ran out (damn you, neighbors!). Then rinsing the suds off cursing like a sailor under my breath.
    Now - About to actually go to sleep at a decent hour (Yes, 2am is a decent hour for me, if that gives you any indication of my past month.) Today was incredibly refreshing. I saw old friends. I did some errands. I COOKED FOOD. Heavenly choirs are singing in my head right now. Time for warm covers and dreams.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Speaking of Apples: The Big Apple

    I just got back from NYC late last night. This was an insane weekend filled with a bunch of very different NewYork-erly experiences (including a free trip to the Guggenheim, sleeping in a surprisingly large Harlem apartment, smoking in Central Park, hanging out in the tiny Chinatown apartment of a crazy twig of a girl with big bleached blonde hair and a Betsey Johnson design internship, and crashing 4 people to one couch in an anarchist warehouse squat in Brooklyn). Here are some noteworthy New York meals that we managed to fit in between all of our ragtag adventures:

    Friday night upon arriving in NYC:
    -The most delicious slice of pizza ever
    Seriously, it was 5:30 in the morning and we get this enormous slice for $4 that has tomatoes and basil and the most delicious cheese and big rounds of melted fresh mozzarella. The crust was thin and crispy and the pizza wasn't greasy at all. Whhhattttt! Pittsburgh, you need to step up your game.
    -(Also worth mentioning, we passed a 24-hr seafood joint while wandering around Harlem looking for Hector's apartment. 24-hr seafood? Really? Maybe I need to relocate...)

    Saturday for lunch:
    -Incredible roasted potatoes from an awesome lunch place near Columbia University
    Crispy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside, & flavorful. Only downside was a little too much oil.
    -Black Russian bread stuffed with onions, also from said place
    A bit dry for my taste, but otherwise, mmmmm--hearty.
    -Part of 1/2 a BBQ roasted chicken, same place
    Even though the sign said half a chicken for $4, I didn't really believe it. Then he actually handed me half a chicken. I kind of ogled it for about 3 minutes, trying to decide how the hell I was going to go about eating half a chicken while standing on a NYC sidewalk, armed with nothing more than one free hand and some plastic utensils. When I finally managed to juggle all of the elements correctly so as to get a piece of said chicken into my mouth, it was pretty yummy. Relatively moist, and the sauce was really good. 
    -All of this came to $8 and lasted me for nearly two meals. Who said everything in New York costs too much?

    Sunday for breakfast:
    -Eggs Zanny breakfast wrap (with the included large coffee) at Zanny's Cafe
    This was pretty delish. Eggs with pesto, onions, tomatoes and cheddar cheese, all conveniently wrapped and grilled for consumption on the go. Where did we go? Central park. Life is good. Also, I only ate one half of the wrap for breakfast. The rest was saved until much later, closer to dinnertime. What's noteworthy about this is that the wrap itself was still dry--even the bottom. Usually, you leave a wrap sitting in the car for 8 hours and it becomes a bit of a soggy mess. This one stayed good, didn't drip all over the place, and tasted just as good cold as it had hot. All around, a success.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Healthy Hedonism: Smoke Your Weed Through an Apple Bong

    Almost entirely off-point: Our hearts pump 1,776 gallons of blood a day. Dear Jesus, imagine that for a second. That's insane! Bodies are so cool.


    Tis the season for apples. Now, I never notice this season too much, because I think apples are pretty delicious year-round. But, it's something I keep in the back of my mind, mostly because I'm still holding out on my dream autumn day of apple-picking followed up by fresh homebaked apple pie and watching a movie cuddled under a blanket drinking apple cider.
    Unfortunately, this has yet to happen. You know how it is with us kids and our grand plans that half the time don't come to fruition (pun intended); you're all pumped and driving to the orchard and then you see a billboard for the world's biggest burger off exit 67, just 12 miles ahead, and there is NO WAY you can pass that up. So, the apples wait another year.
    Well, I still haven't gone apple-picking, unless you count plucking tart half-ripe apples from the orchards in NC and munching down while reading under the tree. Mmmm.
    But I eat apples almost every day and had a fun time making experimental baked apples with JJ a couple nights ago (note: goat cheese and cayenne are really good in baked apples, especially together), so I decided to devote a post to them (specifically, to their health benefits).

    Now, I don't know about you, but I never really think about the health benefits of apples. I mean, I don't think too much about the health benefits of any of the food I eat, beyond trying to make sure that there are some. But I still know that nuts are high in fiber and cranberries are supposed to contain antioxidants, etc etc. As for apples, I just love them because they're fast, filling, healthy and delicious. But I never knew how specifically they were healthy. Until now. And now you will, too.
    • A medium-sized apple contains 15% of your daily fiber. Good to know. 
    • They contain antioxidants (doesn't everything, though?)
    • Eating half a medium-sized apple a day can help lower cholesterol (make a mental note, all those multitudes of overweight middle-aged men reading this right now)
    • There is good evidence suggesting that apples help reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer
    • Here's where it gets interesting: apples have a strong link to lung health. They significantly lower asthma risk and, here's what caught my attention: eating apples every day has been shown to reduce the risk for lung cancer in women. Furthermore, apples are the only fruit that have this beneficial relation to lung cancer. 
      Well, if I didn't already eat apples every day, that would have convinced me. Now that you know why to eat apples, let me offer a suggestion for what apple to eat: the Pink Lady. They're yellow and pink and have this really interesting waxy texture that makes me feel like individual water droplets should stick to them. Also, they're freaking enormous. I'm talking the size of a softball. Pretty sweet and tangy. Basically, they're the crispiest and most delicious apples ever. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative, Jazz apples are pretty similar and I think $1 less per pound?

      Okay, so here's what you've learned today: next time you're getting high and watching Fight Club or whatever, smoke out of an apple. It'll help cancel out some of the effects of all that smoke in yo lungs, AND as a bonus you can eat the apple when you're done and the munchies hit. 

      Tuesday, October 13, 2009

      G-20, You Have Commandeered My Life

      Ever since the summit and my arrest, my life has been entirely consumed by working for G-20 justice.
      Now, if this just took up my time, that'd be one thing.
      But it also has taken the wheel of my mind, and every other responsibility and thought has taken backseat. This includes old friends (fellow G-20 activists are pretty much the only people I see now, which is cool, because I really like all of them), homework, and sadly, cooking.
      Every time I find myself trying to study or read, my thoughts stray and next thing I know, I'm checking the news and/or calling up Nicole or Keith or JJ or Matthew to hang out. I can't concentrate on any of my work because it's like (and this is going to sound cheesy, but it's true) my heart and my mind are stretching out towards all of these new people and towards this greater cause and I just feel such love for them that I can't concentrate on the task at hand. This works like blinders, so that I can't see any other aspect of my life. Out of sight, out of mind.
      How does this relate to my food blog? When every attempt to do homework is thwarted by overwhelming affection, work doesn't get done. And when work doesn't get done, I have a lot of work to do. And when I have a lot of work to do, I have no free time. And to cook, I need free time.
      I don't remember the last time I went out to eat this much. Dinner usually consists either of Sushi Boat if I'm in South Oakland or a slice of bread and cheese with an apple if I'm at home. Two days ago was the first time I had actually made myself dinner in like 5 days.
      Ah, the unmeasured effects of the summit, of my newly one-track mind.

      Monday, October 12, 2009

      Sweet Sourdough Bread

      So a couple weeks ago, I ended up at this guy Ben's house for a Boggle night. And when we got there, lo and behold, Ben had two loaves of sourdough bread rising in the oven.
      As you've all probably figured out by now, I got into bread baking at the farm over the summer. And sourdough is delicioousssss. So I mentioned how awesome it was that he baked it. To which he replied with an offer I couldn't refuse: free 20-year-old starter that his mom had given him.

      So here's the recipe, illustrated with some sporadically taken photos:
      (Keep in mind that this recipe is specifically for my starter, and I don't know if it varies with others, but it's probably a good reference point regardless)

      Feed the starter:  
      1) Add to the starter
          --2 1/2-3 c warm water
          --1 c sugar
          --1/2 c potato flakes OR 2 T flour
      2) Mix it up and let it sit in a warm place for 4-6 hours, or until it gets a bit of a frothy layer on top and starts to smell nice & alcoholic

      Make the dough:
      1) Mix the following
          --2 1/2 c starter
          --1/2 c canola oil (or any other non-olive oil)
          --6 c flour (all-purpose is actually fine here)
          --1 T salt
      2) Pour the rest of the starter into a sealed jar and stick in the fridge

      the leftover starter

      3) Knead the dough until it's smooth and not sticky, adding water or flour as needed
      4) Once you have a nice ball of dough, transfer it into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel
      5) Let the dough sit for however long it takes for it to double in size (mine took about 8 hrs, but my house is kind of cold)

      the risen dough
          --When you can press it with your finger and the dough doesn't heal (spring back), that means it's ready

      Baking the bread:
      1) Punch the dough down (literally) and knead it a little bit more, then cover it until the oven preheats

      punch it, punch it, punch it!

      knead it, knead it, knead it!

      the risen and then kneaded dough

      2) Preheat the oven to 550° and (optional) put a cast-iron skillet on the bottom
      3) Fill a spray bottle of some sort with cold water and a cup with hot water (also optional, but preferred)
      4) Turn out the dough onto a cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with some polenta or greased
      5) When the oven has been preheated, pour the hot water in the skillet, put the dough into the oven, and spray the sides of the oven with the cold water. Spray it again every 30 seconds for 2 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350°

      dough in the oven

      **The hot and cold water bit is optional, but it really gives the bread a nice crunchy crust, so I recommend it. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, don't worry about it--you can just skip that part.**
      6) Bake the bread at 350° for about 30-35 min, or until the bottom crust is solid and sounds hollow when you tap it.

      Yum :)

      the finished product

      The bread didn't come out quite as I expected: it actually was pretty sweet, and not very sour at all. The strange thing about this is that the longer you leave a starter out to proof, the more sour the bread gets. I had my starter sitting out for...about 18 hours, and it still came out pretty sweet. Curious. Maybe next time I'll leave it out for like 2 days, hah. But it's all good, it was still delicious. I also left the bread in the oven for about 5 minutes too long, so the crust was a bit burnt in some spots, but nothing you could really taste. 
      As for the texture, that came out amazing! The loaf rose a lot better than I had expected, and I swear it weighed like 5 lbs. It was suuuupper dense and moist with a crispy crust. When I cut it open, steam rose with a delicious aroma. Mmmm. 

      Try it! Not everyone can score sweet 20-year-old starter, but there are several recipes for it online :-)


      Saturday, October 10, 2009

      Schools Cut the Coke to Prevent Future Incarceration

      They must have read this.

      Their criminal careers start early, pocketing SweetTarts and Twix minis from the Giant Eagle candy line...

      Monday, October 5, 2009

      Sun-Dried Tomato B-Yay-gels

      The best things in life are free.
      Sun-dried tomato bagels are no exception.
      "Oh my gosh," I bet you're wondering, "where are you getting these delectable treats for free?"
      Let me tell you how it works. Late at night, often as a final stop on the way home or as a welcome study break, my roommates and I will hop on our bikes and ride down to our local treasure trove. There, a package awaits us. It is an enormous bag, left behind for us by some faceless ally. It is hidden in plain view, in an enormous box. It overflows with dozens of soft fresh bagels.
      Hidden in plain view? Why doesn't anyone take our gift?
      Sometimes someone else does get to it first, but we are happy to share.
      But most of the one thinks to look in the dumpster.
      Now I can see your face, jaw dropped and nose crinkling, saying, "eww that's naasssttyyy!"

      But is it? I'm not talking about picking half-eaten burgers out of city street trash cans here. Have you ever thrown a plastic shopping bag in the kitchen trash only to realize there's still a plum or something left inside? You fish it out, of course. This is no different. No one has touched these bagels. No trash has even touched them--they sit there, enveloped in the safety of a clear, protective garbage bag, just waiting to be liberated.
      And my roommates and I happily oblige, because there is no nightcap like a midnight bike ride eating soft, chewy bagels with your friends.

      So hopefully, now you're a little less grossed out. Maybe you're even a little bit intrigued. "Where can I get in on this tasty bagel action," you might be wondering.
      Well, I can't tell you.
      It would compromise our spot. Dumpster diving is, after all, illegal.
      Why? By Jove, I wonder the same exact thing every time I go. Why the hell is taking trash illegal? It's already been discarded, after all. It's not like anyone is making any more profit off it.
      The only reason I can think of has corporate America standing scowling right behind it. If people trash-pick things, that means they're not buying them. Whether it's a chair on someone's tree lawn or red peppers in the grocery store dumpster, why would somebody pay Office Max or Giant Eagle if they can get the same thing for free? Exactly.
      Well, in the case of the bagels, you can rest easy, _________. I never used to buy bagels anyway. In fact, your dumpster actually led me inside your establishment one day to buy a cup of coffee and a pastry. I had had a particular craving for one of your tasty menu items and it had happened to still be daylight.

      There is no reason for people to go hungry in America. For some reason, "one man's trash is another man's treasure," is an illegal sentiment in this country. But we live in a wasteful society where a bruise on an apple is sufficient grounds to toss it out back. So trash those bourgeois anxieties and dive in that dumpster. My, is the treasure-trash plentiful.

      I Swear I'm Not This Neurotic

      Reading over this blog, you'd think I was a health nut.
      I'm not.
      I mean, I definitely think fast food and processed foods are shit, and I do believe they have a lot of bad effects that we don't even know about yet.
      But despite the fact that Diet Pepsi probably causes cancer, my favorite gum still contains the oh-so-mysterious aspartame, I love french fries (though not from McDonald's...never from McDonald's), I think pie a la mode is an acceptable snack, I smoke casually, and the only exercise I get is riding my bike everywhere. "The gym" is about as foreign a place to me as the school football stadium or the frat house down the street: I know it exists, and other people go there, but it's kind of just some vague untouchable concept of a different world.
      So yeah.
      My point is, a lot of things are bad for you. As long as you don't subsist on a diet of microwave TV dinners and Antoon's, it's not worth obsessing over. I just think it's all very interesting, hence this blog.
      So please, readers, don't think I'm crazy for preaching death to cereal.

      Sunday, October 4, 2009

      Oh-My-Fucking-God Food: Rosemary Pita

      Oh-My-Fucking-God Foods is a pseudo-regular feature I want to start having on this blog. It's pretty self-explanatory. If something is sooo good that when my friends and I bite into it, our eyes widen, and we can't help but exclaim "oh my fucking god," and then continue to repeat that (or some variation thereof) for several more bites, then that food belongs under this feature.

      I made this rosemary pita about a month ago in a brilliant night of slightly improvised cooking with my friends Ben and Noah. The fact that I'm still thinking about it should be a testament to its greatness. It originated as a pita recipe Grace and I made all the time at the farm. At Ben & Noah's, we lacked several ingredients and had to substitute and bum wheat gluten from the neighbors. We also happened to have fresh rosemary lying around, so we added it. This turned out to be what I have to say is the most magnificent cooking accomplishment in months.

      Rosemary Pita:
      1/4 t yeast
      1 t sugar
      1/3 c warm water

      1) Proof the yeast (i.e. mix all of the above together and let it sit until it starts to get a foamy layer on top)

      2 c white bread flour
      1 c whole wheat flour
      (or 3 c all-purpose flour + 1 t wheat gluten (that stuff rocks!))
      1 1/2 T sugar
      1 t salt

      2) Mix that

      3) Add the yeast mixture, along with:
      1 1/8 c water
      1 T olive oil

      as much fresh rosemary as you see fit

      4) Knead the dough until it's smooth and no longer tacky.
      5) Then, put a little olive oil in a large bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, & cover with plastic wrap.
      6) Let it sit for like 1-4 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
      7) Take it out, cut it into 8 pieces, form them into balls, cover them with a wet towel, and let the dough rise a little more, 10-30 min. Also, preheat the oven to 500˚.
      8) Take a cookie sheet, spread it with a little bit of olive oil & baking soda.
      9) Flatten out the dough balls (best to do this by stretching and slapping them between your palms, so they don't stick to the counter), slap em on the cookie sheet, and bake them for about 5 min on the first side (until they can be taken off the cookie sheet and the bottom is golden brown). Then take them off, flip them, and put them directly on the rack for like another 2 min.


      Monday, September 28, 2009

      I Suppose Smart is a Relative Term

      Really? Since when are Fruit Loops and Diet Pepsi smart nutritional choices?

      I'm with you on this one, Mark. Last time I checked, anything that comes in a cardboard box is generally not a healthy choice. But let's review the specific cases he mentions:

      Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry doesn't contain a single ingredient that I fully know the origins of. What is phosphoric acid? potassium citrate? calcium disodium edta?? It comes close with carbonated water, but I'm not quite sure how water gets to be carbonated, so even this has some mystery behind it.
      Generally, the mystery bag is not a smart choice.

      As for Fruit Loops, I do have to grant that they don't contain high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame. BUT sugar is the #1 ingredient. Again, last time I checked, pouring solid sugar mixed with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and a whole slew of randomly numbered coloring agents into your milk wasn't a healthy choice. Also, it contains something called pyridoxine hydrochloride! Seriously? That sounds terrifying.

      What does Smart Choice mean? It's supposed to point out products with less fat, cholesterol and sodium. It's also supposed to contain nutrients like calcium, fiber and magnesium and certain vitamins like Vitamin A, C and E.
      The Fruit Loops aren't too bad on this front. They do contain about 10% of daily fiber and Vitamin A, and 25% of Vitamin C. 6% of daily sodium and 2% daily fat are also pretty decent, but I'm still not sold on all that sugar.
      Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry is a completely different story. I don't even understand how it made the Smart Choice list. It has more sodium and the same amount of fat (none) as its non-diet counterpart. No vitamins, no minerals. Lots and lots of processed ingredients, including one (aspartame) that is seriously debated as being toxic.

      Companies that participate in the Smart Choice program include Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft and Pepsico. If that right there isn't a tip off that "smart" choice is a very misleading term, I don't know what is.

      Relevant cartoon I found on Ezra Klein's blog:

      Thursday, September 24, 2009

      Food for Thought (Literally)

      You should care about omega-3s. I just learned a bit about them. Like: they make you smart. And keep you from having heart attacks.

      Some interesting facts:
      • Green plants and algae create these essentially fatty acids in their cells.
      • We get these vicariously through the animals we eat. Or at least we used to, back before industrial agriculture perverted our food system so much that it barely resembles what nature intended it to be...(yes, I'm bitter)
        • Factory-farmed animals are fed diets not of grass, which is what they evolved eating, but of a combination of corn, antibiotics and growth hormones, and the animal fat byproducts of slaughterhouses (yes, that steak you had for dinner last night ate cow fat back when it was still a cow...augh). No grass=no green plants=no omega-3s. 
        • One of the reasons we consider fish to be one of the best sources of omega-3s is because a lot of our fish still eat more or less their natural diets. But, there's no telling how long this will last, as scientists are already in the process of teaching factory-farmed salmon to eat corn (or maybe they already have?). It fattens them up faster.
        • Side note about corn: the carb content of corn (about 80% of the calories in corn come from carbs) that makes it so appealing as a diet for our beef cattle doesn't just 'work its magic' on our animals...through their meat, its effects continue within our bodies. So all of those taboos about eating too much red meat aren't really about the meat itself, as much as the unhealthy, fattening diet the meat once consumed.
      • Omega-3s promote healthy neuron growth. But not in a vague this-is-somehow-good-I-guess kind of way. In a damn-are-you-serious kind of way. Consider:
        • Pregnant women who get extra omega-3s have children with higher IQs
        • Kids who don't get enough omega-3s have more learning and behavioral problems
        • Puppies who get a lot of omega-3s are easier to train
        • Low levels of omega-3s have been linked to depression in adults
      • It's not just the amount of omega-3s that we consume that's important, it's also the ratio to another essential fatty acid, omega-6s. Omega-3s thin blood and omega-6s make it clot. Ideally, we should have equal parts each to keep everything in balance.
        • Back when we were hunter-gatherers, we had an equal balance of both fatty acids. Now that we eat so much meat (and corn-fed meat, at that), the ratio is more like 10:1. This is bad. This is very bad. Such a high ratio severely increases the risk of heart disease. Again, so many of the health problems attributed to red meat can be traced back to the corn. 
      All of this is courtesy of The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I'm currently reading. I really like the book, despite it being depressing as hell. I like it because I find all this info on food and nutrition fascinating. I find it depressing because all this info just paints an ever bleaker picture of the state of our agriculture here, and it seems the only way to really eat healthy anymore is to grow all my own food or buy it from farms. And that is just such an inconvenient truth.

      But anyways, now you see the significance of these random little things called omega-3s. They make you smart and happy, and they keep your heart from stopping. Very good things. Unfortunately, very good things that we get very little of because of industrial agriculture's need for faster output (i.e. cows that get very fat very fast).

      Tuesday, September 22, 2009

      Tis the Sneeze-on

      So sick. Oy. It's been one of those days when your nose won't stop running and your ears are plugged so you can't hear well, and your voice keeps getting caught in your throat, and you're kind of just wandering through the day in a haze. It's 11:30 now and I'm thinking I might just crash, though going to bed this early seems outrageous to me; then again, I did only sleep 4 hours last night. Damn English papers.
      Currently fighting the urge to go smoke a cigarette on the front porch. That can't possibly be good for my sore throat. Instead, I've been drinking hot green tea like nobody's business. Which brings me to my point: everyone seems to be getting sick lately, and I've been wondering what foods are supposed to help us all feel better.

      Here's a few I've discovered:

      1) Hot soup (obvious). Hot liquids soothe the throat, but apparently the salt in soup also makes you less likely to dehydrate from a fever. Go figure, and all this time I thought salt was supposed to dry things out...
      It's best to choose broths over creamy soups. Also, apparently there is actually some scientific evidence backing the whole chicken soup remedy.

      2) Vitamin C (also nothing new). There's evidence that this can cut the length of your cold in half. Obvious sources are oranges and OJ, but it's also plentiful in sweet potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli and red peppers.

      3) Speaking of peppers: Hot peppers. You know how when you're sick and stuffed up and you eat something spicy, your nose immediately starts running and clears up for a while? That's due to capsaicin, a natural compound in hot peppers.

      4) Lean meat. Iron helps the immune system. Go for red meat, chicken and fish.

      5) Garlic. This can actually make your cold disappear sooner because it contains antioxidants, as well as a compound called allicin, which helps clear up a stuffy nose. Use it fresh or dried. So this is why my dad would eat a clove of garlic with breakfast every morning...

      6) Oh Honey, you such a sweet thang. We all know this one, I'm sure. It coats your throat, helping a sore throat go away, at least for a little while. Try swallowing 1/2-1 t, especially before bed. It's incredible.

      7) Green tea. Already kind of mentioned this one. It contains anti-oxidants that help the immune system. Also, if it's warm-hot, it soothes your throat. And I like to put my face over the mug and let the steam wash over me for a couple minutes. It relaxes my muscles, which helps my headache, and it clears up my sinuses a bit.

      8) Toddy. This is a combination of whiskey, lemon juice, and hot water. The alcohol can help bring down a fever, the heat (as I mentioned) clears sinuses, and bitter citrus flavors are supposed to be especially good for you. Finally, a semi-valid rationalization for Thirsty Thursday...

      9) Eat less. I know, it sounds backwards. Apparently when you fast, the balance of two immune system-regulating chemicals in your body shifts, which can make your cold go away faster. If you try this, make sure the food you do eat is really nutritious.

      10) Echinacea. Yeah, I've never heard of it either. It's a Chinese herb that Asians have been using for centuries and swear by. Endorsed by the World Health Organization.

      11) Hot water & salt. My parents always made me gargle hot water with some salt in it when I was little. The salt water kills the bacteria, which can shorten the length of the sore throat and of the cold.

      12) Another Russian remedy: Gogol Mogol. This is what my Russian teacher used to call the concoction of warm milk, a raw egg, and honey that she'd try to force down my throat every time I coughed in Russian class. Needless to say, I tried my damndest never to cough. (I have to admit, though, that when I couldn't hold them in any longer, this drink actually did soothe my throat.)

      12) Last but never least, H20. Obviously water is good for us no matter what, but especially when we're sick because it helps reduce headaches and soothe a sore throat. Also, flush out your body.

      (Thanks to The Seattle Times, How to be Fit, and some traditional Russian wisdom for the info)

      So far, I've been sticking with green tea, honey and water. Day 3 since I started sneezing, and symptoms have only gotten worse so far. Hopefully my current state is as bad as it's going to get. Dare I say...swine flu?!

      Anyone else got any remedies?

      Saturday, September 19, 2009

      A Guy Finds More Than He Paid for in His Lung

      And here I thought that was just an ice cube in my milkshake...

      My favorite part:

      "I know I didn't chow down on a spoon!"
      "He explained that there was an object down there, and it had writing on it," Manley said. "It spelled out 'Wendy's' on one side and 'hamburgers' on the other, and I was a little floored."
      So were his relatives, who, when they were telephoned with the news, were eating ... Wendy's.

      Hitchin' Chicken makes it to South America

      A chicken gets to live his life as nature intended...

      Friday, September 18, 2009

      Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

      Carbs (especially complex carbs, like those in whole wheat) are the basis for a healthy diet (despite what Atkins would have you believe) and should make up about half of your daily calories, so here's one of my favorite bread recipe to start this blog out right:

      Two large mixing bowls
      A spatula
      A long, sharp knife
      A baking sheet
      A skillet without any plastic or Teflon (preferably cast-iron)
      Some sort of bottle to spray water (I use a washed out dish soap bottle)

      4 c unbleached bread flour
      2 c whole wheat flour
      2 1/4 t salt
      1 3/4 t instant or active dry yeast
      19-24 oz ice cold water
      1 t sugar (if the yeast isn't instant)
      A tiny bit of cornmeal or polenta

      (1) If the yeast isn't instant, proof it (that means activate it) by mixing it with the sugar and 1/2 c of warm water. Stir it until the yeast is dissolved, then let it sit for a few minutes until you get a foamy layer on top. That means it's been proofed and is ready to use.
      (2) Combine the flours, salt, yeast & 19 oz water (if you proofed the yeast, only add 15 oz) and knead the dough (it might be too sticky to knead by hand, so use a spatula or something) until the dough sticks to the bottom of the bowl but not the sides. Knead in more flour or water if you need to.
      (3) Pour a little bit of olive oil in a really large bowl & swirl it around, then carefully transfer the dough into it. Cover, and refrigerate overnight (at least 8 hrs, not more than 2 days).

      (4) Take the dough out and let it finish rising, covered, until it reaches room temperature (2-3 hrs).

      (5) Preheat the oven to 550° if you can, but if it only goes as high as 500°, that's okay. Put the skillet, nearly filled with water, into the bottom of the oven.
      (6) Carefully turn out the dough onto a floured surface, trying not to deflate it too much. Divide it either into 6 baguettes or 2 larger loaves. When you cut the dough, make sure to use the knife as a wedge instead of a saw. If the dough is too sticky, try running the knife under cold water for a second, then coating it with some flour.
      (7) Sprinkle the baking sheet with a bit of the cornmeal/polenta. Place the loaves/baguettes on the baking sheet and cover them with slightly wet plastic wrap. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
      (8) Fill the spritzer bottle with cold water. Put the bread in the oven and spray the sides of the oven with the cold water. Wait 30 sec, spray it again. Do this twice more, so you've sprayed the sides a total of 4 times.
      The reason for the water is that it creates steam, which, combined with the high temperature for a short time, is going to give you a really nice, crunchy crust.
      (9) Turn the oven down to 450°. Let the bread cook until the bottom crust has hardened enough that you can separate them from the cookie sheet (~7-8 min for the baguettes, ~15-20 min for the loaves).
      (10) Slide the bread straight onto the rack and cook until the bottom crust is solid (tap it to check) and the bread is a nice golden brown (~5 min).
      (11) Let the bread cool & devour shamelessly!

      This bread is an adapted version of a recipe for Pain de l'Ancienne from a bread baking book called The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Pete Reinhart.
      I know it's kind of complicated, but trust me, the result is well worth it.
      I picked it up when I was volunteering on an organic farm in the mountains in NC over the summer. They're building a mud oven in their yard right now. Needless to say, I wish I was there.

      Enjoy :)

      Thursday, September 17, 2009

      Willkommen - Well, Come In

      A statement of purpose:

      When I go to bed at night, I'm often already looking forward to what I'm going to have for breakfast the next morning.

      In class, when I'm zoning out, I'm probably dreaming up a delicious meal for dinner.

      You get the idea. My point is, I love food. A great many of my thoughts center around it. And for damn good reason: you generally eat at least three times a day, and those mealtimes are (sometimes) a social activity, perhaps an exercise in creativity, or, at the very least, sources of health and, hopefully, of pleasure. In short, food is important. Very important. So never let me hear you say, "It's just food." It'll probably leave me speechless.

      That said, you'd think I'd be speechless anyhow--I mean, how much can one person think about food before there's nothing left to say? Believe me, you'd be surprised. My thoughts have yet to run out. If anything, they only seem to increase in number as every question leads to about three more. It's like the damn Hydra.

      One of the most fundamental acts of survival has innumerable levels of complexity. A question as simple as what to have for dinner involves a bunch of variables to take into consideration. What nutrients haven't I gotten today? How much time do I have to cook? How much money can I spend? Should I get organic or regular? How important are all those antioxidants, anyway? Should I be avoiding carbs? And this doesn't even take into account all the finer points, like specific vitamins. Maybe if I'm sick, I should try to get some more Vitamin C. I'm not saying I think of all these things before I eat. Who could? But you get the idea. It's unimaginably complex. And utterly exhausting.

      So this blog is my attempt at delving into some of these issues as they occur to me, and in the process of sorting out my muddled menus, maybe helping some other people pick up some random tidbits, too. Because really, it's fascinating. Like did you know that flavonols, an organic compound that help give fruits and veggies their taste, are a type of metabolite created by plants to ward off bugs and bacteria? That's why organic food often tastes better--no pesticides means veggies have to fend for themselves, which means more flavonols.

      Okay, here I go. Expect to find fun facts, tasty recipes, a whole plethora of whatever random tidbits I happen to come across, and whatever else my meandering ruminations on food may include. Please send me your favorite recipes (or anything else you find of interest)! Seriously. This is too big a topic to tackle alone. Besides, your grandma's oatmeal raisin cookies might be just the thing I need to get me through this week's reading in my Shakespeare class.