Archive for the ‘Real food nutrition’ Category

A pan to love

March 21, 2011

Writer and respected food expert Jim Harrison once was quoted as saying ”Why should I spend $7,000 for a stove when I could spend $7,000 on food?” And I must agree.

However, there are some kitchen tools that I do find worth the expense. At the risk of appearing a food nerd, have I mentioned how much I love my new skillet?

This one’s a Bialetti Aeternum, which I purchased for about $35 on sale at King Soopers, of all places. It is perhaps one of the most incredible pieces of cookware ever to grace my stove, which, like Harrison’s, falls well below the $7,000 mark.

Pan-browned organic chicken thighs cooked with one tablespoon butter in my Bialetti Aeternum skillet.

I’ve always shied from non-stick cookware, which generally contains the toxins and potential carcinogens perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and polytetra-fluoroethylene (PTFE). The risk of these pans is that tiny particles may flake off into your food over time, and when heated they also may release fluorocarbon gases into the air. Not good.

Still, non-stick pans do things in the kitchen that are difficult to achieve with safer stainless-steel and porcelain-coated cast iron cookware, like scrambled eggs and pan-seared meats. Not to mention the easy cleanup.

Enter the Aeternum cookware, which according to Bialetti features a new “nano-ceramic” water-based coating made of titanium and suspended silicate micro-particles (the main component of glass), touted as one of the purest and most ecological materials in nature. This material resists scratches, abrasions and offers a smooth, compact and uniform surface that makes it easy to clean, while being free of PFOA, PTFE and cadmium.

I bought my 12-inch Aeternum skillet for about the price of one Alaska king crab dinner, but I’ve already gotten my money’s worth in the two weeks I’ve owned it. Eggs, chicken, fish all turn out amazingly in this pan. And it’s even less sticky than traditional non-stick cookware. If you’re really lazy you can clean it by simply wiping with a paper towel.

My only complaint is that this cookware is made in China, but then you can’t get a pan like this that is made in the USA.

I’m with Harrison on the stove, but even he needs one of these skillets.

They’re still playing with our food

December 11, 2010

The news this week is that the “Food Safety and Modernization Act” remains alive. Lawmakers have quietly attached it to the Continuing Resolution, which funds the entire government for most of the following year, and so it now appears the bill will pass.

As mentioned in my previous post, part of the problem with this bill is sorting fact from fiction, and how it will truly affect small farm and food operations. One interpretation is that it would even require those making goods, like jelly, for fairs “to submit three years of financials, documentation of hazard control plans, and all local licenses.”

That makes me feel safer already.

Another is that even farms and facilities deemed “exempt” from the bill would be required to submit a ton of paperwork.

That’s just plain stupid.

As previously noted, the bill will cost about $1.4 billion, part of which appears will go toward hiring 4,000 new FDA agents to enforce these new rules.

As someone who supports small farms and farmers markets as much as possible, I find it very disappointing that this bill will probably become law.

Oddly, the law won’t make any difference in our grassfed beef operation as it apparently does not apply to meat producers at all.

But fresh local fruits and vegetables may be in peril, as may be the lifestyles that produce this food.

When real food is outlawed, only outlaws will eat real food.

Here are some links to more information on this bill:

Congress shouldn’t play with our food

December 5, 2010

“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”

— Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, who just days ago was surely spinning beneath the Monticello sod over Senate passage of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, must now be smiling as the bill has hit a serious snag.

You see, Jefferson had the notion that this was to be a nation of small farmers, and he also was a fan of the U.S. Constitution, intentionally designed to make it rather difficult to pass new laws.

The Food Safety and Modernization Act, a $1.4 billion dose of doublespeak if I’ve ever heard one, is hung up because its authors were apparently unschooled in congressional procedure, a separate problem entirely. And it’s now become a bizarre political football for those who want to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. There’s actually a good chance this bill will become compost by year’s end.


A big problem with the food safety bill is that there is not enough straight-up information about it. Most news stories offer only shallow overviews. Internet posts range from the hysterical paranoia that Homeland Security stormtroopers will be busting down doors of people who saved last year’s pumpkin seeds, to the wildly absurd notion that this bill will actually make food safer.

Backers of the measure range from seed cartel Monsanto and processed food giants Kraft and General Mills, to locavore advocate and author Michael Pollan. Go figure. Most local food organizations and small farm groups oppose it.

The bill itself seems to be written in some strange language, and contains enough vague wording and obvious loopholes that interpretation may require legal assistance. Even the amendment to exempt small farms making less than $500,000 annually contains apparent exemptions to the exemption.

In short, this thing was ill-conceived, unclear, and would likely tilt the planting fields in favor of industrial farms. Jefferson was right — congress has no business telling us what to eat.

Little pumpkins with big flavor

November 24, 2010

A few weeks ago at the Cel Dor Asado wood-fired grill restaurant in Westcliffe a stuffed miniature pumpkin was offered as a side vegetable.

Of course I’d seen these little pumpkins in stores over the years, and have always thought they were more a decorative vegetable, like a gourd or something. So the chance to actually eat one was just too much to resist.

I was not disappointed. The Cel Dor mini pumpkin was so good in fact that I made a mental note to try cooking these myself. And while the vegetarian version roasted over an open fire would be difficult to improve upon, I knew deep in my soul that pork products were the answer.

Today I found some mini-pumpkins in the local grocery and made them in my oven. Here’s how I cooked four of them.

First, wash the pumpkins well, then cut a top into them just like you were carving a pumpkin for Halloween. Scrape out the seeds and then place them with the tops at the side in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté 1 chopped onion, 2 cups mushrooms and 1 red pepper in some olive oil. I also added 1 small bunch of spinach for color, and 3 cloves garlic for flavor. But here’s the kicker — I stirred in about 2 cups browned Larga Vista Ranch ground pork.

Stuff the pumpkins with this mixture, add the tops for effect, and put them back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes until the skin is tender.

I think it’s best to let these set for a few minutes before serving. I like to cut them with a steak knife and eat them skins and all.

One note: While the photograph shows one pumpkin that’s some sort of multi-colored squash (upper left), I don’t recommend using these. I found they simply don’t have the flavor or texture of the regular orange mini-pumpkins.

Chicken soup for the flu

November 16, 2010

I had  touch of the flu over the weekend so decided to make chicken soup. It’s easy though a tad time-consuming. Here’s how.

Simmer one whole chicken (I favor Maverick Ranch brand even to most organic varieties) covered in water with sea salt, pepper, 2 bay leaves. Cook until chicken is thoroughly done, about 3 hours, then pull it and set aside to cool.

Run a strainer through the broth, then add: 1 big chopped onion, 6 carrots sliced fairly thin, 3 chard stalks sliced, the leaves from the chard chopped, 4 celery stalks, about 1 cup of chopped parsley, 8 oz. organic chicken broth. Simmer.

Continually check for taste and season accordingly. Keep in mind that you can always add more but you can’t take any back out.

Debone the cooled chicken and add the meat back to the soup. Also add the leg and thigh bones, and the ribcage if you wish (you can pull these out later). Simmer, simmer, simmer. The longer the better.

Now, you could simply leave this as is and have pretty good chicken soup. I served it like this the first night, then the next day added more chicken broth, more carrots, more celery, frozen green peas and cut green beans to the leftovers for a different twist on the same soup.


Somewhere over China

November 7, 2010

Recently I’ve been asked if I’ve read a book called “The China Study.” I haven’t, and I don’t intend to. Why? Because I already know it’s an entire book making the case for vegetarianism and veganism, and that’s all I really need to know about it.

Now I want to be clear this is not intended to criticize or offend my vegan and vegetarian friends. If it works for you, and you are truly healthier and happier with that choice, that’s great. While I completely respect individual diet/nutrition beliefs, I should feel comfortable and free to explain my beliefs as well.

First off, what I do like about “The China Study” is that it promotes a diet high in whole plant foods — vegetables and fruits. We should all try to eat 10 servings or more daily. This is not some far-out notion and very few people can eat too much of these foods.

The China Study also asserts there is a corporate conspiracy to sell you unhealthy foods, and I also believe that to be the case. I just don’t think it’s necessarily all about animal products.

I view “The China Study” the same way I view a long line of other sensational diet plans, starting with the Pritikin books in the 1980s, and leading up more recently to “The Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.” Oddly, no book called “The Balanced Diet” ever seems to make the bestseller list.

A major premise of “The China Study” is that consuming animal foods raises cholesterol, and therefore increases the risk for disease. This is not a scientific slam-dunk — in fact, the largest and longest-running medical study ever conducted on actual human beings, The Framingham Heart Study, actually found those who ate the most cholesterol and saturated fat had the lowest serum cholesterol levels, weighed the least and were the most physically active. Additionally, studies have shown high-carbohydrate programs actually can raise cholesterol levels.

Attributing higher rates of disease in Americans to the fact that Americans eat more meat and animal foods than rural Chinese people does not take into account many other factors. Americans also eat much more sugar, wheat, corn, soy, and much higher levels of omega-6 fats like vegetable, corn, soy and safflower oils. Americans also eat fewer vegetables and fruits and are largely more sedentary than rural Chinese residents.

In our society, while rates of disease have increased, consumption of animal foods has actually decreased over the decades since the 1930s. Consumption of cereal grain foods and sugar however has increased. Perhaps more importantly, consumption of omega-6 vegetable fats has increased a whopping 400 percent by some estimates.

Consuming high levels of omega-6 fats has been linked to almost every disease we know, mainly because it contributes to increased chronic inflammation and free-radical oxidation in the body.

There’s an omega-6 twist to animal food products as well. Americans eat animal foods almost exclusively from animals fed high amounts of grain in factory farming facilities. Feeding grain to animals such as cattle radically changes the fat profile, raising the level of omega-6 fat to 10 times higher than normal.

Animals raised exclusively on grass and other forage, on the other hand, contain much lower levels of omega-6 fat, and also much higher levels of health-enhancing omega-3 fat, known to reduce inflammation.

Another premise of “The China Study” is that animal-based foods feed cancer cells and tumors. Vegans know the body can build complete protein, just like that from animal foods, from various amino acids found in plant foods. So animal protein feeds cancer but identical protein made from plants doesn’t? I fail to see the logic.

While some people can do well on a vegetarian diet, it’s difficult for many people to meet individual protein needs from plant foods without overeating from the carbohydrate group. For example, to get 8 grams of protein from bread, you have to eat more than 50 grams of carbohydrate. Typically, about half of carbohydrates consumed are directly converted to fat and stored. For those who are insulin resistant, the amount may be even higher.

Many also turn to soy foods to meet protein needs, and the many potential health problems associated with eating large amounts of soy products, especially highly processed soy, are now evident.

I have many friends who are longtime vegetarians. Some have functional health problems. A few have battled serious health issues, ranging from macular degeneration to thyroid cancer. It’s clear none of this was caused by eating meat.

The root of most dysfunction is imbalance. What’s worked for me for many years has been a diet high in vegetables and fruit. I also eat high-quality animal-based foods including eggs, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, wild game, wild fish, yogurt and cheese, and whole cream. I keep grain-based and soy foods to a minimum, especially things made from refined grains. And I avoid omega-6 vegetable oils.

Diet is a powerful component in staying healthy, but it’s only part of the equation. Physical exercise, managing stress levels and especially environmental factors also play big roles. In fact, if someone wants to do another “China Study,” the relationship of disease to all the plastic stuff we import from there might tell us more.

Peppers are a bushel bag of nutrition

October 12, 2010

These are some of the mixed Italian variety peppers I recently picked at Larga Vista Ranch near Avondale. Owners Kim and Doug allow me to traipse through their fields and pick what I want.

Red peppers are a bushel bag full of nutrition, high in vitamin C and beta carotene, as well as bioflavonoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. They also contain capsaicin, a powerful anti-inflammatory. Actually, as a humorous side note, some have more than others. We’ve found a few of these sweet peppers that were apparently cross-pollinated with nearby chili peppers and are quite hot.

I’ve picked, washed, cleaned and bagged about two bushels for the freezer. I just slice them in half, remove the seeds, and put them in ziplock bags. It’ll be great to get these out of the freezer this winter when organic red peppers are $8 a pound or more at the store. They’re super for oven-roasting, stuffing or in stews and chili.

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

April 28, 2010

The Environmental Working Group is ready to issue its newest “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” and has leaked the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” to Hardscrabble Times.

Oddly, for the first time in the many years I’ve followed this, blueberries are ranked as the 5th most highly contaminated with pesticides. In previous years blueberries never placed in the Top 10. This is also the first year I’ve seen celery take top pesticide honors, though it’s always been near the top.

The EWG’s ranking is a very useful tool for those who want to eat healthier but who for one reason or another can’t buy everything organic. Sometimes it’s too expensive. Sometimes organic produce is not as fresh as conventional — I think sometimes it sits on shelves longer because it’s more expensive.

Sometimes what you want or need for a recipe is not available in organic — it’s nice to know that a conventional eggplant, for example, falls into the “Clean 15.”

If you’re on a budget, buy organic versions of those foods in the “Dirty Dozen,” and save money by buying conventional foods from the “Clean 15.”

Check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s video on this topic.

Yesterday in Pueblo I mentioned to a local business owner that I was running the usual errands — groceries, feed store, etc. He asked where I did my shopping and I told him I actually did a fair amount of it at the Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers. There are some items I get there that I simply can’t find anywhere else locally, plus I like their prices on some organic produce items.

“Yeah, they say it’s organic,” was his reply.

I thought about his comment for a while. I’m naturally a skeptic. And I know enough about the USDA Organic program to know there are some problems with it.

But it’s the only organic program we have. And honestly, if we’re skeptical about the organic program, then maybe we should be even more skeptical about conventional foods, especially those that fall in the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen.”

Simple arugula salad; Marines deploy longears

April 12, 2010

I try to eat a salad every day, but recently I’ve been bored with the same old leafy routines. So I decided to invent some new salads that are nutritious and simple.

This one’s simply baby arugula and kiwi fruit. Wash and dry the arugula leaves and place in salad bowls. Under running water take a paring knife and scrape the fuzz off the kiwi fruits, retaining the brown skin which contains valuable tocotrienols. These are hard-to-find components of the vitamin E complex that are generally not available in vitamin pills. Slice the kiwis crosswise and serve over the arugula.  I like to dress this with lemon-flavored flax oil.

• • •

I try to avoid the news because I believe it is bad for your health, brain-wave function and general outlook on life. It’s also addictive. Especially, I tune out opiniontainment channels. However, someone recently sent this Fox report about the Marine’s use of donkeys and mules in Afghanistan. There’s also a video clip mid-story. Interesting in this age of high-tech warfare that we turn to mules and donkeys for back-country transportation when the going gets rugged.

Warm up with butternut squash soup

February 3, 2010

Winter squash can be made into a delicious soup — and a bowl full of beta-carotene and other nutrients. It’s simple to make. You’ll need squash, an onion, about a quart of chicken broth, sea salt and pepper.

First, roast one medium or two small butternut squash. You’ll want to cut them in half and remove the seeds. About 50 minutes to an hour at 375 degrees should do it. Let the squash cool a bit before peeling.

Dice one medium onion and sauté in about 1 tablespoon of butter, and season with sea salt and pepper until golden brown. A medium porcelain-coated cast-iron kettle works great for this. When the onion is golden, deglaze the pan with about a cup of chicken broth.

Place the peeled squash in a food processor and pureé with about 2 cups of chicken broth. Also add the onions and broth from the pan, and process until smooth.

Now add the whole thing back to the pan and stir in the rest of the broth. If the soup is too thick add a little water.  Simmer until it’s hot but don’t let it boil hard.

This soup is great seasoned with just sea salt and pepper, or add a little cayenne for a kick. It also can be spiced with either curry or chipotle chili.