Sunday, April 22, 2012

Variety in every bite

One of the benefits to cooking -- and I think especially to cooking new recipes -- is a lack of homogeneity within each dish.

I have become a fan of green beans and black quinoa salad.  Well, I use regular quinoa rather than black, but the basic plan is the same.  By using fresh green beans and preparing the dressing myself, I am assured that each bite will be slightly different.  Some beans are crunchier, others are sweeter.  Some bites are more garlicky while in others the balsamic vinegar is more prominent.  Not every bite includes green onion.  It is a lovely little adventure to keep eating in order to see what the next bite may bring.

Plus, it is a lovely starting point.  Since my first experience with the recipe, I have prepared it with zucchini instead of green beans, and I am pretty sure that there is an asparagus variation in my near future as asparagus was on sale at the grocery store (and early spring is asparagus season).

Cooking classes tell you that you want to cut up ingredients into equally-sized pieces so that everything cooks evenly.  That reasoning is all well and good, and perhaps with practice I will eventually achieve uniformly cut potatoes or carrots or celery or whatever, but until that day I plan to enjoy my inconsistent, varied results.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The post:
Susanna is officially convinced that the FDA is more interested in the health of pharmaceutical companies and industrial farming than the people ingesting the products of said companies. From the milk carton label: "FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone." Seriously?!?

The comment:
What are we supposed to do when Congress and all the regulatory agencies are bought? If you have any insight, I'd really like to know.

The insight (or lack thereof):
The way I see it, there are two choices -- we can rail against the machine, or we can remove ourselves from it.  (And there is likely a third choice of finding some balance or happy medium between the two extremes, but I have never been much good at balance.)

We can become activists, educate ourselves as to what is really going on and why (i.e. follow the money), write to our government representatives -- local, state and national -- telling them what is wrong and asking them what they are going to do about it so that we don't elect someone else the next time around.  We can get involved and encourage and corral others to do the same.  Go to meetings and rallies.  Vote every chance we get.  Write letters to editors.

To me, however, that sounds a lot like becoming part of the noise which causes me to not watch, read or listen to news, and I would worry about getting lost in the crowd.

My current plan runs more along the lines of removing myself from the machine, or at least significantly reducing its influence on my life.  I have been reading about food and cooking for the last several years.  This year, I am shifting more toward learning about where food comes from.  I already know about the horrors of industrial agriculture -- turkeys that can't walk (or, as I have recently learned, reproduce on their own), egg-laying hens that never see the light of day, dairy cows living in boxes, hooked up to machines -- but, on the other hand, I don't really know what "organic" means, especially if it still comes in a box or wrapped in plastic, or the difference between cage free, free range and cruelty free.

In the last year, I have made an effort to shop smaller in general, and now I am focusing on being much more aware of what is in my food and where it comes from.  I am being helped along with this year's reading list, which has thus far included The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and, most recently This Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball.

I am educating myself, and discussing what I read and the affects and influences it is having on the choices I make with people who have similar interests and concerns.  It's not hard to find common ground.  After all, everyone has to eat, and most people like food quite a bit.

I grew up in a household of ingredients, for the most part.  Despite the urban setting, there were gardens in the back yard.  There were weekly visits to the farmers' market.  Fish was fresh, rather than breaded and frozen. Veggies could be frozen, but I don't remember anything other than tomatoes coming out of a can.  Bread was homemade rather than store bought.  Cheese was purchased cut from a wheel or block and wrapped in butcher paper rather than cellophane wrapped in individual squares.  For a long time, yogurt was homemade.

I want to get back to being a household of ingredients.  And I want to know where those ingredients come from.  I watch my co-workers eat microwaved frozen meals.  The ingredient list takes up a whole end of the box.  Meanwhile, last week *my* frozen meals were fennel, spinach and split pea soup (also including onions, garlic, a few herbs, water and white wine) topped with a bit of sour cream.

On Saturday I bought a bag full of leafy greens from an organic farmer twenty miles from my house.  It was a bit of an adventure to get there, but I managed not to get lost, and today I made lasagna with the spinach I bought from him, ricotta cheese I made myself (though I can't quite vouch for the source of the milk), marinara sauce I made myself, and an egg from a cage free, organically fed chicken.  The pasta, mozzarella and herbs are of unknown origin, but I feel pretty good about it all the same.  For one thing, it tastes good.  For another, the ingredients -- even the not so local ones -- are pretty basic.  For a third, I am helping sustain local farms.

In short, while I am not currently willing to take on the FDA, I am willing to take on my own kitchen where I know that the choices and changes I make will really count for something.  In fact, they already have.