Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Could those intelligent design folks be on to something?

I just ate a passionfruit and it got me to wondering how such a fantastic plant could be. It's hideously ugly when ripe, the pulp looks like snot surrounding weevils, and tastes unbelievably beautiful. How could something so delightful be a chance of evolution, and not the work of some devine hand?

Now if only said devine hand would make the vines hardy to -50C and produce in a short and cool growing season, that would truly be a miracle.

"convenience" food

The other day on Sue's website there was a spirited discussion (and I'll admit, I started it!) about convenience foods. Related thoughts have been running around in my head since then so I thought I would write a bit about my feelings on convenience foods here.

The food in question was Swiss Chalet chicken. My thought: ick. I posted something to that effect, saying a home-roasted, organic free-range chicken would be soooo much tastier. Someone else said sure, but it's nowhere near as convenient. (I think that's arguable, given how little time it takes to prep a chicken for the oven, but ok...)

So the problem du jour is, is convenience a justifiable rationale for a food choice? I think that's debatable, but it depends on the food. I guess a better question is, is convenience a justifiable rationale for a food choice that's bad in pretty much every other way? (ie, nutrition, general ethics.)

Last night I experimented with this idea. We are getting ready for a camping trip and I was tired and didn't feel like cooking much, so I stopped by the deli counter at Thrifty's. I picked up 2 chicken legs, some macaroni salad, some marinated veggies and some greek baked beans. So, not terribly heinous choices, nutrition-wise. It couldn't have been any faster, since I had to pick up some groceries anyway. And it was relatively inexpensive. But was it worth it?

Well, the chicken was god-awful. Cooked the right amount, I'll give them that, but the skin was too salty, the flesh completely tasteless, and it was tough and chewy to boot. Bleh. The macaroni salad tasted good for the first few bites and then left a nasty, almost metallic aftertaste that required significant dosing with potato chips to banish. The vegetables were fine, nothing to complain about but nothing to be excited about either. The greek baked beans were initially tasty, but the sauce got too strong the more I ate them, although I did like the dill in them.

I would not make that choice again, I think. Even with nutrition out of the picture, I still don't think I could justify doing that sort of damage to my tastebuds for the sake of convenience again. I will remember that, and I will remember that Stirling can always take chicken out of the freezer in the afternoon, and it takes about 5 minutes to chop up some rosemary, lemon zest and garlic, toss it with the chicken and throw it in the oven. And maybe then I could easily justify the "convenience" of forgoing a salad in favour of throwing some frozen peas in some water, and cooking white rice instead of brown because it's faster.

Now, as for people who justify eating at McDonald's because it's convenient, that's just complete crap. I'm not going to get into that.

I guess the lesson for the day is that there are three factors in every decision: cheap, fast and good. With food, as with most other things in life, the most you will get is 2 out of 3. Personally, I will opt for any combination that includes "good", but good also has to encompass taste AND nutrition. So there will be no more deli-counter meals for me (except maybe from La Collina. Which is not cheap.)

Friday, June 10, 2005

southwesternish meal recipes

These are great summer recipes:

Chipotle smoked chicken

1 whole chicken
1/4-1/3 cup butter
1/2 can chipotles in adobo sauce

You will also need an electric smoker and some hickory or mesquite chips.

Brine chicken for at least 5 hours first. Pat dry and stick chicken in smoker. Don't forget to turn it on. Leave the chicken in the smoker for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove chicken from smoker, combine softened butter and chopped chipotles (the seeds are the hot part. leaving them all in makes the chicken pretty spicy. Taking them all out makes it not spicy at all. You choose) and stuff the resulting mess under the chicken's skin. Then pop it into a 325F oven until done (will vary depending on size of chicken).

Corn Salsa Salad

This is a super-easy salad to make, contains zero fat and is extremely tasty.


2-3 ears fresh corn
4-6 roma tomatoes
1 large mango
1 jalapeño pepper
3 tbsp or so chopped cilantro leaves
juice of 2-3 limes

With a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corn cobs. Some will spang around your kitchen, so it helps to have a clean-up dog around. The best way to minimize this is to hold the corn at an acute angle to the cutting board and cut on the underside, so the kernels don't have as far to fall and are less inclined to bounce. Watch your fingers though. Put kernels in a mixing bowl.

De-seed the romas and dice into approximately corn-kernel sized pieces. Add these to the bowl.

Dice the mango into approximately corn-kernel sized pieces (in 2 dimensions, they'll be longer in the third, don't worry about it.) Add these to the bowl.

De-seed the jalapeño and dice it as teensily as you can. Add to bowl.

Chop cilantro and add to bowl.

Juice limes over bowl, no need to get fancy and measure or anything.

Add about 1/2 tsp salt, sprinkling all over.

Stir well and taste. It might need more salt.

This salad improves in the fridge but is fine to eat right off the bat. Optionally, you can add avocado and/or red or green onion.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

who knew I was such a radical freak?

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. And sorry if you wanted a recipe post, because this one is going to be more of a rant. Go read Rachel's wine blog if you're not up for pregnant-lady rantings.

So I've been perusing the available literature on the web regarding infant care and feeding and so on, and have come to the conclusion that Western culture is not only more focused on the parent than the child, but also heavily influenced by large food producers, particularly cereal producers. Almost every single site I have visited has stressed ways to make parents' lives easier, not babies' lives better, and has advocated cereals as the first food for babies.

Before I go any further I should also point out that I did visit one website that had the very reassuring and very true statement (I'm paraphrasing a bit here) "There are thousands of different ways to feed an infant, and the human race is surviving nicely despite all of them." This is completely true; humans are well-adapted omnivores that can eat practically anything, much like rats. That having been said, those of us in priviledged circumstances tend to want to give our children the best possible start in life. But who exactly thought that had to be cereals?

First, baby cereals are almost always made from refined grains - that's right, the bad stuff that causes all sorts of health problems in adults. Why refined grains? Because babies can't readily digest whole grains. Because grains in large amounts are not so natural a food for humans. Because you can't really get a whole lot of grains out of the wild, you need to grow them yourself, and we've only been doing that for a few thousand years (unless you're of middle eastern descent in which case you can claim 10,000 years - either way, not so long from an evolutionary perspective.)

Giving a kid a few grains of well-cooked barley or oats or rice before age 1 now and then is fine, but starting them on cereal? Silly. Oh, but cereals are fortified with iron! Um, sure they are. So how come 15-30% (depending which stats you read) of Canadian 1-year-olds are still iron-deficient? Bioavailability of iron is much better with iron from heme sources. Adult vegetarians can improve the bioavailability of their iron by combining foods, but a cereal-only diet won't do that, and the citrus/acidic foods that help so much with non-heme iron bioavailability aren't recommended for kids under a year of age. (If I were vegetarian though I'd be inclined to ignore that recommendation, and I suspect that the iron-deficient kids are the ones not getting enough veggies that are high in Vitamic C (ascorbic acid))

My parents quite sensibly didn't feed us any grain products until we were over a year old. None of us has ever, in infancy or now, had any problems with iron levels (ie, anemia). We ate - gasp - meat. Not tons of it, but enough. Egg yolks. Probably even liver, although my mom wouldn't admit to feeding it to me when I ask, because I'd blame my current lasting hatred of large herbivore liver on that. Fish eyes even. (strangely enough, I couldn't find any entry in the USDA nutient database for those though.)

I have flirted with the "Paleo" diet in the past, and I think that it's probably extremely good for you but not so much fun unless you have a wilderness preserve that you can hunt in at your doorstep. I'm not anti-grain, I like grains. But I like them in whole form and now studies back me up on this - the food with the highest glycemic index (ie bad for blood sugar spikes) is white bread (worse than cola even) and people who don't eat whole grains tend to be fatter around the middle, which is bad news from more than an aesthetic viewpoint. So I totally don't get why I should feed my baby refined cereal products when I wouldn't eat them myself. Especially since there are plenty of non-cereal sources of iron around.

So I will not feed my baby cereals, except perhaps the odd nibble of mom's oatmeal or a few bits of barley from a stew. And all my friends and Stirling's family will think I am crazy and far too radical. But it just doesn't make sense to me.

And just for the record - I don't think parents are necessarily harming kids by feeding them cereals. I just don't think it's the BEST way to go. And I don't think that cereals should be pushed as baby's first food, either. What's wrong with vegetables??? They are less allergenic than cereals and tastier too. Oh, but they don't have huge marketing conglomerates behind them, right...

Thursday, June 02, 2005


If you're bored of conventional beef burgers, try this:

3/4 lb ground lamb
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
ground pepper

Mix all of the above in a bowl and form into patties. Cook like normal hamburgers, either on a grill or in a pan. Serve on whole wheat buns with the regular accompaniments.