Monday, April 30, 2012

Mmm Mmm Monday: Sweet Success

This past Saturday was the Great American Bake Sale.  Bloggers from all across New York City joined together to sell their baked goods and raise money for No Kid Hungry.  Our goal was to raise $2000.  At the end of the day we succeeded in raising $3400!  Almost twice our goal!  Raffles are open until the end of today, so you still have a chance to support the cause.  Thank you to everyone who came out!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hunger Hits Home

Tomorrow is the Great American Bake Sale in NYC: a charity event set up to benefit Share Our Strength's "No Kid Hungry" campaign, set up to end childhood hunger by 2015.  The Food Network, in partnership with Share Our Strength, aired a moving documentary on the subject called "Hunger Hits Home".  The film follows various people touched by hunger both in the past and present.  A single father struggles to feed his son, while a NYC couple desperately attempt to feed their young children who are constantly sick due to malnourishment.   Another father says, "The biggest misconception that someone can have is that when a person works...they're not going to go hungry."

It is not only the homeless and the jobless who go hungry.  There are people who work long hours everyday, but still do not make enough money to properly feed their children.  In the documentary, Effie Davis shows the camera crew how her food stamps will only buy her one small bag of vegetables -- not enough to feed her family of four for one meal, let alone an entire week.  She walks us through her local grocery store where there is not one ounce of fresh produce.  The shelves are lined with sugary cereals and overly processed, preservative-rich "food".

I myself once saw an acquaintance eating potato chips for dinner.  When I asked why he would waste his money on junk food he said, "It's all I could afford."  When I checked out the food stores in his neighborhood afterward -- sure enough -- the only produce available was extremely expensive. 

In New York City, the poorer the neighborhood, the harder it is to get fresh, nutritious food.  Children deal with chronic illnesses while their parents battle diabetes and heart disease.  Kids go to school hungry and then can't concentrate on their work because they are fatigued or in pain.  If you can't concentrate, you can't learn.  If you can't learn, you can't graduate.  If you can't graduate, you're condemned to lead the same life your parents did: always struggling, always hungry.

To make matters worse, Congress voted to cut funding for SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assitance Program (commonly known as food stamps) yesterday.  SNAP applications have skyrocketed since the recession hit in 2008. Born in the Great Depression, SNAP was created to ease this very situation: many people out of work and unable to feed their children.  Yes, we are cutting funding to a social program because too many people need help.  Congress cites abuse of the entitlement as a reason to cut funding.  I will not, however, point out that they are punishing the many for the sins of the few.

Congress has until September to make their final adjustments on the SNAP issue. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exciting News!

I'm sure you've noticed that updates have been somewhat sparse this week.  I am excited to report that I have begun working on a series of scripts that will be featured every week on Fun Fact Friday.  It's going to take me a few weeks to get the ball rolling, but it'll be fun.  

In the meantime we have the NYC Bake Sale happening this Saturday (April 28th), Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day on Saturday, May 19th and the Great GoogaMooga on May 19th-20th.  I will be attending GoogaMooga on Saturday and reporting on it for everybody who couldn't get a ticket.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wino Wednesday: Polka Dot Riesling

In case you haven't noticed, I am a big fan of Riesling.  This week's wine comes from Pfalz, Germany.  Vinted in 2010, this Riesling is much sweeter than last week's Dr. Loosen.  Whereas last week's wine was very bright, this one is more subdued with a definitive apple aftertaste.  Which did I prefer?  As an unpaired drink, the Loosen had a little more personality, but this Polka Dot might make for an interesting pairing with either chicken or dessert.  Sweet enough for its presence to be known, but not overpowering. Quite enjoyable.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Smoothie Fail

Today's post was going to be on a yummy berry and kale smoothie, but my blender is being temperamental so all I can post is the recipe I created and not any input on whether or not it was, in fact, yummy.

12 large ice cubes
2 leaves of kale - finely chopped
5 oz. greek yogurt (plain or honey flavored)
8 oz. strawberries
6 oz. blueberries
banana - optional

If you have a functional blender and are willing to try this, please let me know how it turned out!  The berries are really needed to cut through the smell of the kale.  No one wants to feel like they're drinking a glass full of yard clippings.  

I'll try this again when I get a new blender.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mmm Mmm Monday: Truth Bombs

I love clicking around the internet and finding amusing/cute pictures.  Occasionally this involves cats or penguins, but then I come across a posting that is truly relevant to my life and which makes me look back at myself and question why I am the way I am.  Today's post is brought to you by one of my favorite online comics: XKCD.
This is why I've adopted my new Waste Not/Want Not approach to food shopping.  I am not allowed to buy food if I have ingredients in my house.  I am perfectly capable of cooking.  There's no reason not to.  

Though it does make me feel better that I'm not the only one whose fallen into this cycle.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dying to Have Known: A Review

It's late.  You're tired, but your car needs gas.  So you pull up to the station and sleepily pump a tank full.  Except you accidentally put premium into your regular tank.  Now your engine is knocking and the car is slowly destroying itself.

"Dying to Have Known" is a documentary about the Gerson Method, a diet centered around plant-based foods that reportedly cures most degenerative diseases, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis.  The reasoning behind it is much like the example above about the car.  Humans are putting the wrong gasoline in their tanks.  We're filling up with diesel when we only need regular.

The statistics presented are absolutely disturbing.  Cancer rates have exploded.  Men in the US have a 45% chance of developing cancer in their life with women trailing at 38%.  That's 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women who will develop cancer.  1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women will die of their cancer.  

The accepted method for treating cancer is chemotherapy.  Chemotheraphy is like washing your hands with sulfuric acid.  The idea is that radiation will kill the cancerous cells.  But radiation doesn't specifically target cancerous cells, it targets every cell.  Hair loss, weight loss, and a diminished immune system are just the average side effects to this treatment-- similar to the side effects of poisoning.  The Gerson Method suggests that diet and elimination can cure cancer without poisoning the body.  The idea is that a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients will boost the immune system enough to fight off any disease.

It makes sense.  Eat organic foods that nature created for us, have a body functioning as nature intended.  Eat a fatty, preservative-rich diet of processed foods that don't occur in nature, get sick.  Bring obesity and diseases like diabetes into the mix, and the point of nutrition affecting health could not be more obvious.  So why do doctors recommend pills over food?  Simple, they don't know about nutrition.

It's not the doctor's fault.  The National Academy of Sciences recommends 25 hours of nutrition education as a requirement to receive a medical degree.  To put that in perspective, I have spent more than 25 hours researching nutrition to write my blog posts from the past month.  Unfortunately, the National Academy of Sciences cannot force universities to change their curriculum, so some schools make nutrition courses optional.

That partially explains why the skeptical doctors in "Dying to Have Known" refused to believe the successes of the Gerson Method.  If something contradicts everything you've ever been told, then of course you'll assume said non-sequitor is a quack.  Doctors study medicine, they study ailments and the medications that fix them.  They study what to do when things go wrong, not how to keep things going right.

Nutrition education is limited at best and completely absent from most curricula.  There is a shocking gap in our national intelligence that needs to be filled lest our hearts and bodies reap the unfortunate fruits of ignorance.  "Dying to Have Known" is an excellent medium of primary sources of the effect of nutrition on our health.

Source: American Cancer Society, NY Times

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Milk: A Personal Story

If you knew me when I was little, you'd know that 1) I was the pickiest eater on the face of the earth and 2) I was always very sad.  Quick to cry, I was possibly the only little girl to see Phantom of the Opera and turn, hysterically crying to her mother after the show saying, "I'm the Phantom.  I know how he feels."

Heartbreaking, I know.  Admittedly, I still get that sadness from time to time, but it wasn't until I had a rather thorough blood panel done this year where we found the culprit.  All my other tests came up perfectly normal except my vitamin D.  In women my age, vitamin D levels should be between 30-50.  My level was 6.

I actually laughed out loud when my doctor told me.

How did my levels get so comically low?  Well, look at my diet.  I never eat dairy or cereal, rarely intake fish oil, and the tests were done during the winter so there was no sun to absorb ultraviolet rays.

"...high levels of vitamin [D] help the body maintain high levels of serotonin." (TLC) Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter "thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness." (Wikipedia)  Thus, being deficient in vitamin D prevented my body from maintaining serotonin levels, leading to a constant feeling of malaise.

It's moments like these that make me realize just how important diet really is to our lives.  The "nutrition" I was taught in school was basically, "Don't eat fatty foods or else you'll get fat and then you'll feel bad about yourself."  I had no idea how diet, or physical health, actually related to emotional health beyond flabbiness and acne making you hate yourself.

Our bodies are machines that need the right raw materials input in order to function the way we need.  As Johnny 5 would say, "Need input!"

For anyone living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or with a severe vitamin D deficiency (though these two conditions are generally linked) you can buy a special light to sit under during the winter months so that your body can get the right amount of vitamin D.  Changing your diet and taking supplements is one way to increase your intake, but for some reason my body isn't a fan of the pills, so that wasn't really an option for me.  Our bodies also get 90% of our vitamin D from the sun.  Very few foods contain vitamin D naturally and the foods fortified with the vitamin generally don't have enough.  Milk, for example, does not naturally contain vitamin D, but it is fortified with it.  One glass of milk contains 10% of your daily recommended intake of the vitamin, so you just need to drink 10 glasses of milk a day.  Or you could sit in the sun for 15 minutes.

Source: TLC, Wikipedia
Picture: Ben Mills

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

I was so happy to bring joy to a breakfast party today with some blueberry muffins.  The recipe is from the Food Network, so I'll direct you to their site rather than repeat a recipe that isn't my own, but I did make one substitution: soy milk for the whole milk.  This was purely on an as needed basis (since I needed to make these and didn't have whole milk in my fridge), but it did work!  It was really interesting to incorporate lemon zest in the mix as well.  I only got a tiny taste, but it definitely added an interesting element to the muffins.

The ooey, gooey blueberries exploded as the muffins baked, releasing their sticky sweetness.  These muffins are a fun way to get your antioxidants though there's a lot of fat, so not necessarily the best choice for breakfast or a snack, but better than say, Lucky Charms?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wino Wednesday: at Lillie's

For today's Wino Wednesday, I ventured over to Lillie's Victorian Establishment in Times Square.  The place was packed with Happy Hour-goers, but I was able to carry on a conversation with my friend while we slowly sipped our wines and enjoyed the ambience.  The Victorian theme is conveyed to its fullest extent from the ample busts displayed all around to the be-cherubed ceilings down to the delicately decorated floral china pattern on every plate.  I was only there for drinks, but felt a great pang of envy as the people next to me received their mountainous order of nachos (okay, so the food doesn't really play into the Victorian theme 100%).

But enough about the atmosphere, let's talk vino!  I ordered the Dr. Loosen Riesling from Mosel, Germany and it was hands down the best wine experience I have ever had.  It was bright, easy on the palate, with a subtle sweet taste.  Absolutely delicious.  I will definitely be looking for a bottle to keep at home.  My friend had the Langtry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and we were both less than thrilled with it.  It had an almost ostentatious acidic aroma that made me actually pause when putting the glass to my lips and say, "I'm not sure I want to try this."  Then, nothing.  The wine was DOA.  A bit upsetting, but at least I had the Riesling to drink for the rest of the night.  Try the Riesling.  You will not regret it!

Thank you to Lillie's for creating such a great place to drink and relax and to my friend for keeping me company through my many slightly inebriated giggle fits.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Scaredy Cat Cooks: Spinach & Mushroom Egg White "Omelette"

I'm not a morning person.  I think we've established this.  So I miss breakfast a lot.  Luckily, I'm a big proponent of breakfast for dinner.  So here's my yummy dinner omelette.

1 tbsp olive oil
4 oz. button mushroom
1 tomato
1 clove garlic
1 cup spinach
4 egg whites
dash of salt & pepper

Add oil to a skillet and heat at a medium setting.
Fry mushrooms until brown and add tomatoes.
Stir in garlic and a dash of oregano.
Add spinach and mix until the leaves are wilted.
In a second pan with a greased bottom (oil or butter) heat egg whites.
Add the dash of salt & pepper to the top of the eggs while cooking.
When done, transfer eggs to a plate.  Spoon mushroom and spinach mixture on top of the eggs and fold together (or, if you're like me and broke your eggs, go ahead and just put the mixture on top).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mmm Mmm Monday: Felafel

Lunch today is some homemade felafel.  Mmm mmm mmm!

Felafel is typically deep-fried balls of chickpea and spices, served in a pita, and topped with salad and tahini sauce. Pictured left, these felafel patties were pan-fried. 

While wandering through Israel last October, I saw signs everywhere advertising felafel.  Knowing nothing of the food's history, I simply assumed it was an Israeli treat.  How wrong I was.

This dish, this "mush of legumes" predates most modern countries in the Middle East.  Originally an Arab food, felafel has become a symbol: "The newly arrived Jews needed a cuisine to suit their new identities and surroundings."  The felafel represents their new (old?) home.

But some Arabs are upset by this "culture theft".  They see it not as a relish of local food, but another culture stealing from their cuisine and claiming it as its own. 

Arab or Israeli, felafel is damn good.

Source: NYT

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Importance of Being H2O

I've said it before.  You've heard it before.  Our bodies are 60% water, but most people are not getting nearly enough of this important compound.

What Does Water Do For Us?

  • Water aids filtration in the body through urination and elimination.  Without water we would not be able to expel toxins, creating a poisonous environment within our bodies.  
  • Water is a key component in sweat, which helps regulate body temperature.
  • Blood plasma is 93% water as well as lymph (a fluid that flows through the lymphatic system).
  • On a cellular level, functionality completely ceases with the absence of water.

Dehyrdation is the excessive loss of body fluid.  Basically, more water is going out than in.  It can cause a slowing of our metabolism, increase in blood pressure, and a decrease in sweating.  With just 5-6% water loss, grogginess, headache, and nausea can occur.  At 10-15% fluid loss, muscles spasm, skin shrivels, and delirium begins.

884 million people all over the world do not have clean drinking water.  Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America are the most affected by this problem, but do not think this is a third world problem.  Even in America communities lack clean drinking water.  

I hear the question forming in your head.  "But isn't 71% of Earth covered in water?"

It is!  But that's salt water and drinking salt water will make you sick.  We need fresh water to survive and, unfortunately, only 4% of the Earth's water is fresh and 66% of that fresh water is frozen in glaciers and ice caps.

Due to this scarcity, 3.575 million people die of water-related diseases each year.  That's 3,575,000 or the entire population of Los Angeles.

Well, what can I do about it?
You can donate to a charity like

Not into giving without getting?  Check out the shop at MyCharity.

Maya Angelou said, "A joyful spirit is evidence of a grateful heart."  Be grateful for the wonderful things you have: indoor plumbing, clean water on command, and enough food to eat because things could just as easily have turned out very different for us all.

Sources: CDC, Kids Health, Blood Plasma Wiki, Lymph Wiki, Dehydration Wiki
Photo Credit: Juhanson

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A New Perspective

I decide what I'm making for dinner while I'm at work, which means I'm running to the grocery store almost daily, picking up things I didn't think of on my big haul earlier in the week.  Whether it's olives, peppers, cumin, or bread, I'm spending a lot of money on each meal individually.  I'm also creating a lot of waste.  I won't finish all the milk I buy or my bread will go stale before I've eaten enough sandwiches.

Purely out of frustration, I (and my wallet) are going on a diet.

I WILL NOT buy an ingredient and only use it for one meal.
I WILL use everything I buy.
I WILL cook every day.
I WILL only go to the store once a week...okay twice.  (Hey, you try carrying a week's worth of groceries  a half mile and then up a walk-up!)

These are the new rules of engagement in my kitchen.  I'll post my shopping list, amount spent, and will be adding a new feature to the blog.  I will take an accounting of how much each recipe cost to make.  I'll also be posting pictures on my Facebook page in an album called: Keeping Me Honest.  I'll update it everyday with what I made so you can see that I'm sticking to this challenge.

Wish me luck!

Friday, April 13, 2012

(Not so) Fun Fact Friday: Hunger's Never Far

I live in New York City where restaurants don't even blink at charging over $30 for a hamburger.  In all honesty, I can't remember the last time I bought food and my bill was under $10 -- and that''s just for a no-frills sandwich.  While there are plenty of reminders all around that times are tough, it's easy to forget how real hunger is.

  • 15.7 million children (21.6%) in America live in poverty.  That's more than 1 out of every 5 children.
  • In 2010, illnesses linked to hunger and malnourishment cost Americans $130.5 billion.  To get a better image of it, that's $130,500,000,000 -- or well more than everyone I have ever met will make in their entire lives, combined.  And that's just one year.
Where's this all coming from?

My mother taught me something this winter that stuck with me.  We were talking about Halal and Kosher foods when I mentioned that the closest Christians came to a food tradition was giving up meat on Fridays during Lent.  "Do you know why we do that?" my mom asked.  To be honest, I had never questioned it.  I just accepted it as a quirk of the religion.  The answer, as it turns out, is really beautiful.

Instead of buying meat on Fridays, Christians would donate the money they would have spent on themselves to the poor.  Such a simple answer.  To go without for one day so that other people can live.   Not starving yourself, you can still eat, just doing with a little less.  That's something I can get behind.

So I did some digging and found so many great charities set up in New York City (and around the country) that are working to end hunger.  

I'm proud to report that on April 28, "Dinner's in the Details" will be donating cookies to the Great American Bake Sale, benefitting Share Our Strength, a non-profit formed to end childhood hunger by 2015.  If you're going to be in the NYC area that Saturday, stop by, buy a baked good, and do something good for the country.

If you're interested in other charities, please see the list below:

New York City
City Harvest
NYC Coalition Against Hunger

Slow Food USA

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Out to Lunch: Hummus and Pita Co.

There are tons of restaurants and delis near my office, but finding a healthy bite on the go seems like a tall order for my neighborhood.  So I decided to branch out and take a hike...literally.

I walked just under 2 miles, roundtrip, to head to the Hummus and Pita Co. as I've had such a hankering for felafel for a while now. 

And they totally delivered.  Well, they have delivery, but I walked.  I got felafel on a whole wheat pita with original hummus lettuce and pickle.  I love pickle.  Not the wisest choice on this particular sandwich though.  Otherwise it was perfection!  I also picked up an Izze Sparkling Clementine to drink and felt satisfied without being sick.  Such a great choice though, a word of warning: they have a sort of assembly line set up so be ready with your order or you'll be that guy holding up the line...and no one likes that guy.

Give it a try!  You won't be disappointed.  The photo above is from their website.  Sorry there are no pictures of my lunch.  I just looked at it and, suddenly, it was in my stomach.  I don't know what happened.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wino Wednesday: Minervois Syrah 2008

Today's wine comes from France!

"Onctuous, sensual, intense berry fruit flavors dominated by the rich and peppery Syrah, this wine is exceptionally soft with silky fruitiness coming from the Grenache."

Agreed!  Unassuming, this wine is subtle and delicious.  Not particularly tenacious in the tannin department, H&B's syrah tickles the tongue and leaves a hint of pepper in the aftertaste.  I'm definitely pleased with this purchase.  This wine would be great with dinner, especially a meaty meal.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Scaredy Cat Cooks: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Alright, it doesn't sound very brave, but I'll have you know there was a 50/50 chance these cookies would have been a pan full of mush.  I had no confidence in this recipe as it was going into the oven and I'm just happy they came out in cookie form.

This recipe is a mix of a regular oatmeal raisin cookie recipe and a vegan one I've used.  The vegan one uses banana instead of the egg, but I never particularly cared for the interaction of the apple and banana.  I think it minimized the oatmeal and raisins which are supposed to be the stars of the show.  This "half vegan" recipe cuts out a lot of the fats while maintaining the oatmeal taste.  I think it could have stood at least 1/4 cup light brown sugar so if you're feeling brave, try that out.  If not, these are yummy little, almost-guilt-free cookies.

Just a warning: I got a different type of oat than I normally use and the cookies turned out crunchy.  I'm not sure if it's from the oat itself or they just needed to soak a little more.  The original recipe called for the batter to soak for 4 hours or overnight so maybe I should have actually, y'know...done that.  Again, if you're feeling brave, give it a try and send pics.  I'll post your results here!

1 1/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup applesauce
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Combine oats, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Mix applesauce, sugar, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Stir dry mixture into wet mixture.  Add raisins.

Using a spoon, drop cookies onto a cookie sheet (I didn't have to grease mine, but you can line yours so there is minimal clean up).   Bake for 15 minutes or until brown. *

*Note: the version I made didn't turn out too brown.  The bottoms certainly were though.

Better pictures to come once my camera stops being a jerk!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mmm Mmm Monday: Hungry Monday

Have you ever eaten a big meal and then, shortly after, felt like you needed to eat again?  Inspired by this past holiday I decided to look into the matter and found some pretty interesting facts.

The biggest contributors to that feeling of hunger after eating are leptin inhibitors and blood sugar spikes.

Leptin -- not the Iced Tea
Leptin is a protein hormone in charge of regulating energy intake and expenditure, including appetite and metabolism.  Its job is to counteract neurotransmitters such as Neuropeptide Y and Anandamide, which tell the brain to keep eating.  Leptin also promotes the production of alpha-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone. (Yup, the hormone that effects the color of your hair [Melanin] is also in charge of suppressing your appetite!)

So we have this great chemical that stops our body from overindulging, but what we eat can stop the process in its tracks:

"Consuming too much fructose -- a sugar found in foods ranging from cookies to candies and soda -- can block the appetite-controlling hormone leptin from doing its job and increase the risk of obesity..."
-ABC News

Let's remember that fructose is a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in fruits.  Fructose isn't the problem here, it's high fructose ingredients like the corn syrup found in sodas, sugary drinks, and processed sweets.  Please don't stop eating apples because you think they'll make you hungry later.  The fiber in an apple allows the body to absorb carbohydrates with minimal impact to your blood sugar levels.

Blood Sugar
In 2011, the American Diabetes Association found that 8.3% of the US population has diabetes.  With the incidence of obesity and diabetes ever increasing, we have to look carefully at the foods we put in our bodies.

Processed sugars like cakes and candies give us an immediate rush of energy, but shortly thereafter, make us fall into a "sugar coma".  This is a prime example of a blood sugar spike.  Too much sugar absorbed too quickly.

For food to be useful to us, we need the energy intake to be more gradual so that it will sustain us through the day rather than in energetic bursts.  Dietary fiber is the key to this slowed absorption.

Where can I get my fiber?

Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables!  Have a snack of air-popped popcorn, munch on baby carrots, or make a very berry smoothie (I'll post a recipe on that one soon!).  It's so easy to give your body what it needs!

             a-MSH Wiki, Anandamide Wiki, Neuropeptide Y Wiki
             ABC News, ADA, Dietary Fiber Wiki, Livestrong
Picture Credit: Vossman

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

I woke up this morning to the smell of cupcakes cooling atop the stove.  There's really nothing better than that!

The frosting turned out a little more neon than I believe was first expected.  When mixing food coloring (and any paint for that matter) go easy on the darker color.  It is much easier to darken a color than lighten.  The jellybeans are adorable on top and go great with the funfetti insides.

This isn't one of my confections, but I thought I'd share a little of my mom's handiwork.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book Review: On The Future of Food

I picked up a copy of The Prince's Speech: On the Future of Food by HRH the Prince of Wales (that's His Royal Highness Prince Charles for my American buddies).  The 33 page booklet was taken from a speech Prince Charles delivered on May 4, 2011 at Georgetown University.  While nothing said in the text is really new information there are a lot of facts thrown in that were fun to learn: first and foremost that the Prince of Wales has been an avid farmer/food activist for the past 26 years.

The body of the text focuses on sustainability and how our current means of production in agriculture are not providing the yeild we need to feed the world.

"Yield increases for staple food crops are declining.  They have dropped from 3% in the 1960s to 1% today."

Meanwhile, our population increases by 219,000 people a day.  Yes, a day!
Another point he touches on is the issue of gasoline.
"In the United States...four out of every ten bushels of corn are now grown to fuel motor vehicles."
I'm so glad that we've figured out that whole hunger thing and now have so much food we need to shove it in our gas tank. 

Sarcasm aside, I really enjoyed not only the knowledge imparted in this book, but the positive reinforcement of seeing someone in such a high political position taking a stand against agricultural wrongdoings.  I don't want to give everything away, but I definitely recommend any food crusader picking up a copy!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: Know Your Carbs!

There are a lot of diets out there spurning carbohydrates as the fruits of the devil, but if my memory of high school biology serves, our body needs carbs to survive.  Carbohydrates supply the energy our cells need to function, so a diet without carbs is like putting bread in your toaster, but not plugging it in.

Let's get biological!

Yes, carbohydrates are sugars (or rather, sugars are carbohydrates) and everyone's first reaction to the word sugar is, "Eek!  Sugar!  Fat!  Get it away!"  Chill people, we're not talking about Mike and Ike's or Amazing Fruit here.  Your DNA is made out of sugar for Pete's sake!  (Deoxyribose is a key component in deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA].)

So let's forget our prejudice of sugar as a fat-inducing monster and think of it simply as an organic compound naturally found in such healthy things as fruits and vegetables!

Chemically, carbohydrates are just compounds that contain only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (with hydrogen and oxygen in a 2:1 ratio, as in water [H2O]).  When you think about it, we are carbon-based life forms that are made up of 60% water so hating carbs is like hating yourself.

Have some self-esteem!

The No-Carb Diet
The science, and reasoning, behind the No-Carb diet is based on a survival mechanism in the body to fight against starvation.  Without carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, the body turns to gluconeogenesis: a process where the body creates glucose (a carbohydrate!) from non-carbohydrate substrates such as stored fats.  Yes, your body will break down fat stores and when those are exhausted, go to protein stores (e.g. muscles).  The muscle bit is in extreme cases of starvation, of course, but remember that this is merely a survival mode for the body.  To avoid gaining weight, you wouldn't be able to eat carbohydrates again.  Ever.   And a world without birthday cake is not worth living in. least in my opinion.

Arguments for the No-Carb diet are that gluconeogenesis is a naturally occurring process and that carbohydrates do not actually provide anything that lipids and proteins cannot provide. 

This is questionable since proteins, for example, contain no carbon.  They have nitrogen instead.  So there's one thing carbs can give you that proteins can't!

The anthropological answer is that the Inuits eat a similar diet of protein and fat with very little to no carbs and hey look...they're still alive!  Except they have the "worst longevity statistics in North America." (Joel Fuhrman, 

So...there's that!

There are a thousand diets out there.  Why would you pick the one that says vegetables are bad? 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Some Like it Hot: Guacamole

This recipe is based on a long-since lost  cookbook that I had way back when.

3 avocados
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tomatoes
1/2 large red onion
2 jalepeno peppers
1/2 cup black olives
1/2 cup black beans

Soak the avocados in the lime juice while you chop the tomatoes, onion, peppers, and olives.  Mash the avocado and add the spices.  Mix in your chopped veggies and and black beans.  Enjoy!

I ate my guacamole with blue corn tortilla chips.  The saltiness of the chip really complimented the spiciness of the guac.  This is definitely one of my favorite recipes!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wino Wednesday: Palmer's Pinot Blanc

"Palmer Pinot Blanc is an elegant white wine offering subtle flavors of vanilla and melon, with a crisp, clean finish.  An excellent companion with seafood and white meats, it may also be enjoyed as an aperitif before meals."

I was so excited for this wine.  It's from the rocky north shore of Long Island (just like me) and came  highly recommended from my local wine shop, but I'd have to say Palmer Vineyards severely overestimates their Pinot Blanc.

I bought a 2010 vintage and it has absolutely no aroma whatsoever.  And since taste is seventy percent smell, I'm sorry to report that this is just sparkling grape juice that'll get you drunk.  The vanilla and grapes battle for dominance, but neither wins.  No, we're only left the casualties, creating a dull, lifeless libation that makes you yearn for water.  Save your $18.

Vino.  Vidi.  Vici.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As Promised: Pizza Sauce

Stop the presses: pizza is not Italian.

Okay, well it really depends on how you define pizza.  The baking of flatbreads dates back to 500 BC in the Middle East, but these didn't have toppings.  The Greeks were actually the first to dress their bread with various toppings such as oils, herbs, and cheese (called plakountos).  It is also noteworthy that Naples, the birthplace of modern pizza, was founded by the Greeks (called Neopolis).

"The culture of poverty and hunger in Italy created a folk cuisine in which a few ingredients were skillfully blended to create a variety of tastes."
-Carol Helstosky, Pizza: a Global History

Pizza was developed as an easy and affordable way to get nutrition.  Eaten primarily by peasants, pizza was regarded as an unrefined dish.  It hardly had the esteem we give it today where people make pilgrimages to Naples in order to taste "authentic" pizza.

The authentic pie we think of today is the Margherita, named in honor of Queen Margherita in the late 1800s.  The pie was fashioned to resemble the Italian flag (red, white, and green).  Once it came to America, we made it our own.  Between Brooklyn and Chicago, we truly are a (Pizza) Nation, divided.

So, as I promised, here is the recipe for my favorite pizza sauce.

6 oz. tomato paste
1/4 cup water
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste...I like my sauce spicy!)

Stir together the tomato paste and water.  Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.
Let the sauce sit so that the herbs can really set in.

Be wary in choosing your ingredients.  Fresh tomato is always preferable to tomato paste, but for a lack of great tomatoes, I turned to the latter.  I used Cento Tomato Paste as it was the only paste whose ingredients were purely tomato.  Everything else had an additive, so be sure to read what you're buying especially since some of the tomato pastes are sold pre-seasoned!

Sources: Passion-4-Pizza, Wikipedia, Pizza: a Global History
Photo Credit: Scott Bauer

Monday, April 2, 2012

Broccoli: Our Cross to Bear

As I was heading into work today, I read a little factoid saying broccoli has been found to boost the immune system.  Having a stuffy nose and being all-around a curious kitten, I decided to dive into some research on the subject. 

According to Science Daily, the chemical responsible for this immune boost is sulforaphane.  Sulforaphane is an organosulfur (an organic compound containing sulfur) compound found in all cruciferous vegetables.  It is produced upon damage (chewing or chopping) as a defense mechanism of the plant through the hydrolysis of glucosinolates, namely glucoraphanine.  This is called the myrosinase-glucosinolate defense system. 

How is this a defense?

This enzymatic process is what produces the bitter aftertaste associated with most cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and brussel sprouts.  The plant is telling you not to eat it.  Most animals would taste the bitterness and move on to friendlier plants.  But not us!  Slap some garlic and butter on that puppy and we're good to go!     

What does Sulforaphane do?

In our popcorn post, we talked a bit about free radicals.  

"Free radicals play an important role in a number of biological processes. Some of 
these are necessary for life, such as the intracellular killing of bacteria by phagocytic cells such as 
granulocytes and macrophages. Researchers have also implicated free 
radicals in certain cell signalling processes. This is dubbed redox signalling."

We need free radicals for our cells to function properly, but, as is always the case, there must be a balance.  Scientists argue that free radicals, especially Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) like superoxide (O2), eventually lead to cell injury and death.  This cellular slaughter contributes to the development of diseases such as cancer, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson's, senility, Alzheimer's, hemochromatosis, and other major medical problems. 

Antioxidants neutralize these free radicals-- and it just so happens that sulforaphane is pretty good at releasing these bad boys.

"...the UCLA group confirmed that sulforaphane interacts with a protein called Nrf2, 
which serves as a master regulator of the body's overall antioxidant response and is 
capable of switching on hundreds of antioxidant and rejuvenating genes and enzymes."
-Science Daily
So your cells are safe with a little help from your cruciferous veggies, but be careful when preparing them.  The chemical reactions don't fare well with too much heat, so cooking (and easily overcooking) your vegetables will only release the foul smell of sulfur with no health benefits.  These guys are best served raw -- and well washed!

Click here for a list of other cruciferous vegetables. 

Further Reading: Science Daily, Natural News, WebMD, 
                          Myrosinase Wiki, Radicals Wiki, Sulforaphane Wiki

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Look at Wine, Part One: Tannins

I've realized that my simple post on grapes and wine has evolved into a rather lengthy essay on the subject, so to avoid being dry and long-winded I decided to break up the conversation into smaller, easier to digest -- pardon the pun -- morsels.

First up on our plate is tannins.

Chemically, tannins are polyphenolic compounds, which will bind with other compounds and molecules to create proteins and other organic compounds.  Tannins are responsible for giving red wine that bitter, mouth-puckering taste.  This is why highly-tannic wines (such as Cabernet Sauvignon) are typically paired with red meat.  Meats high in protein minimize the astringency introduced by tannins.

Where do tannins come from?

Tannins are found in the stem, seed, and skin of the grape plant.  They are produced by enzymes during the metabolic processes of the plant.  If you think back to Biology class you'll remember that enzymes were responsible for breaking down proteins, which explains why tannins are so quick to link up with amino acids again.

The tannins found in wine are known as proanthocyanidins and are the reason doctors say a glass of red wine is good for the heart.  These proanthocyanidins suppress the body's production of endothelin-1, which constricts and hardens blood vessels, leading to vascular disease.  Wines from the south of France and Sardinia have the highest concentration of proanthocyanidins.

Don't be mistaken though.  White wines have tannins as well, but in a lower concentration.  Winemakers may ferment their grapes with the skin, seed, and stems present in order to up the amount of tannins in the wine.

The age of a grape will also play a part in its taste for obvious reasons.  The longer a grape is on the vine, the longer the enzymes have had to break down the tannin, creating a softer, less acidic taste.   Immature grapes will have higher acidity.

Further Reading: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Tannic Acid