Stacking Functions Garden


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Goodbye microwave

A few months ago, we got rid of our microwave. I was convinced that I couldn’t live without it, so I moved it to the basement. Turns out, I haven’t missed it a bit.

Many of my favorite food and nutrition bloggers are very against using a microwave to cook foods, and the Weston A Price Foundation recommends against it, since it was never used any traditional societies.

However, I’m having a really hard time finding solid scientific evidence that says, without a doubt, that microwaving food causes real, immediate harm.  But! BUT!  It all depends on how you look at it.

What is true: microwaving food in plastic containers causes the plastic to release toxic chemicals into the food. Also, from one of the more reliable sources I was able to find, scientists don’t all agree on how microwaves actually heat food. There’s also the issue of “popcorn lung,” i.e. highly processed foods specifically made to be microwaved that release airborne chemicals.

Additionally, as everyone knows, microwaves heat food really unevenly and therefore should not be used to cook raw meat or heat up baby bottles, and — let’s face it — microwaved food often just doesn’t taste as good.

What may or may not be true: microwaving food causes cancer, fibromyalgia, and host of other major human diseases. (Here’s a fairly typical article.)

Even if the more extreme assertions aren’t true, what I’ve read was enough to convince me that it’s probably not worth it. Additionally, microwaving food is kinda antithetical to the entire slow foods frame-of-mind — if you want to eat something but are feeling too lazy to cook it properly, maybe you’re not really hungry to begin with!

Our microwave occupied a large part of our kitchen counter.  We got rid of it, put a toaster oven in its place, and haven’t looked back.  Look how much counter space we freed up!

Before:

After:

I’ll be honest: I still use the microwave at work to heat up my soup lunches. (Hey! I’m not perfect!)

Do you feel strongly about microwaves? Know about some really great scientific evidence that they’re dangerous or that they’re safe?  Post it in the comments! Seriously. I’m interested in figuring all this stuff out, and I want to take an even-handed approach and investigate multiple sources.


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Recipe: hot chocolate

hot cocoaLike popcorn, hot chocolate is one of those things that you can make from scratch with the exact same effort as with a mix from the store, and the results are tastier and free of nasty chemicals. See how easy it is — there are endless variations besides these few that come to mind.

1 qt of hot cocoa (4 servings)
2 generous tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
4-6 generous tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

OR

1 single serving of hot cocoa in a mug
1 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa
1-3 teaspoon sugar
1 pinch sea salt (optional)
Couple drops vanilla (optional)

Instructions for either one:
Stir together sugar, cocoa, and salt in a mug or in a quart jar. Fill mug or jar 1/2 – 3/4 full of boiling water.  Stir well. Fill the rest of the way with milk. Add vanilla. DONE.  The less milk you use the hotter it will be. For kids, I usually go 1/2 and 1/2 with milk and boiling water so they can drink it right away. Or if I’m feeling like a really nice mom, I heat up the milk gently on the stove and use just milk.

Play around a bit with the ratio of sugar to cocoa — when I make it just for myself I like it a little bitter.

And now for the funnest part of making your own: the endless variations.

Super creamy and amazingly good hot chocolate in the style of Blue Moon Coffee Cafe in south Minneapolis (thanks for the recipe CJ!)
For a single serving in a mug, mix 1 teaspoon high quality Belgian cocoa and 6 teaspoons sugar (SIX!), then add steamed hot whole milk to fill the mug. Top with whipped cream (WOW).

Pre-mixed hot cocoa mix to give as gifts:
It’s all about the ratio: mix 1 part cocoa to 4 or 5 parts sugar. Place in jars, and instruct gift recipient to mix 3 teaspoons full with hot water and a bit of milk.

Other simple variations:
Replace vanilla extract with almond or peppermint extract.
Add some Kahlua, Baileys, or whatever you like.
Replace milk with egg nog.
Replace sugar with brown sugar, honey (use less), or maple syrup.

Can you think of more variations? Also: Merry Christmas, all of you.

 

 


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BPA in canned foods, continued

I wrote a post just a little over a year ago about our efforts to avoid BPA in canned foods. Since then, a handful of organizations have done actual scientific studies on BPA in can liners.  The most damning of these came from the Journal of the American Medical Association:

Urine samples taken during each week of the experiment found that BPA levels increased by 1,221 percent during the week that the participants had canned soup for lunch.

“The magnitude of the rise in urinary BPA we observed after just one serving of soup was unexpected and may be of concern among individuals who regularly consume foods from cans or drink several canned beverages daily,” said Karin Michels, senior author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, in a prepared statement. “It may be advisable for manufacturers to consider eliminating BPA from can linings.”

(Read the whole article on MinnPost.com)

Now, I posted this article on Facebook and a friend pointed out that an increase of 1221 percent is meaningless if you don’t know the base number.  He’s not wrong, but what concerns me is this: BPA is one of *many* toxic chemicals that are now in our food and water supplies.  Measured individually, each one might come in at a safe/acceptable level, but what about when taken altogether?  No one is studying this, because it would be absolutely impossible to study scientifically. Your research subjects would have to live in a bubble.

Control is such a hard thing. We want to control every aspect of our existence, but we simply can’t. Accepting that can be so hard. I want to follow steps A, B, and C and then get result D. But life has never, ever worked out that way. I can’t do much to control the toxins I take in through the air and even to a large extent, the water.  Food, then, is one of the few areas where I do have a choice.

The study specifically mentioned canned soups; I can’t think of a easier thing to phase out.  I am not much of a cook, but soup is pretty much the easiest thing in the world to make.  Take a crockpot.  Add some water and some veggies, legumes, meat, and/or herbs.  Turn it on and leave it for 8 hours.  Done.  Every time I make soup, I double the recipe and freeze the leftovers in glass pint jars. Fast, BPA-free food.

What do you think, gentle readers?  Are you taking steps to avoid canned food?


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Recipe: collard greens and bacon

It’s been a long time since we bought a new cookbook. Nourishing Traditions was our most recent acquisition, nearly two years ago. That book now informs a lot of the cooking that we do, but we don’t make the actual recipes from it very often. We’ve had some hits and misses.

I do not expect to have any misses from Starting With Ingredients. The book is organized in a novel way — pick an ingredient, then see 4-5 recipes where that ingredient shines. This is not exactly a Betty Crocker cookbook — the recipes are very gourmet with a vigorous nod toward traditional ingredients and methods.  Adam made the glazed carrots recipe recently and it called for duck fat. (And we had it on hand, how awesome is that?)

Anyway, here’s a sample recipe that we modified/simplified a bit. Originally it called for pancetta and a variety of greens including dandelion, but we just used collard greens and bacon.  Keeping it simple, right?

Collard greens with bacon
2 bunches collard greens
1/4 lb bacon (4-5 slices)
1 large onion
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Wash, de-stem, and chop the greens. Steam until wilted. Set aside.

2. Fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the fat and set aside. Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until transparent. Add the greens and apple cider vinegar, toss to coat.  Roughly chop the bacon and sprinkle on top of the greens. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

We served this over risotto, but I think any simple grain would do.  Anytime the three-year-olds eat greens willingly, I call it a successful recipe.


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Recipe: Grass-fed barbacoa

I have a Chipotle weakness. Adam made his own slightly healthier version of their barbacoa tonight.  Here’s his recipe:

Adam’s Barbacoa
1.5 lbs grass-fed beef short ribs
3 T. neutral oil for frying
3 c. stock (beef or chicken is fine)
1 c. canned tomatoes, with liquid
1 onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tsp. chili powder
3 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Season the short ribs with salt & pepper on both sides.  Heat oil in Dutch oven over med-hi heat. Sear meat on both sides, remove meat from pan. Add onion to pan. When the onions start to soften, add the garlic and spices.  Stir for a minute or two, then add stock and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Taste, then add salt & pepper and more spices accordingly.  Add the meat back in, then place the cover on the Dutch oven and bake at 400 degrees for 90 minutes, checking after 60-70 minutes to make sure it’s not too dry.  (You  could add a bit more stock if it seems dry.)  Pull meat apart with a fork.

We ate this on sprouted-grain corn tortillas with grated cheese, simple guacamole, and lacto-fermented banana peppers. And home-brewed beer!  So good, the kids asked for 2nds and 3rds (not of beer, silly).


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A complete takedown of the USDA guidelines

Interested in nutrition, and the new USDA dietary guidelines?  This is a must-read, study-by-study breakdown of the new eating rules the USDA has decided are good for us.  Here’s a quote that spoke to me:

A recent Dutch study showed that full-fat fermented dairy was inversely associated with death from all causes and death from stroke. A large study of Australians, published in 2010, showed that full-fat dairy appears protective against cardiovascular death. Yet another study, this one from 2005, showed a significant inverse association between full-fat dairy consumption and colorectal cancer. Another study still linked vitamin K2 from full-fat cheeses to reduced risk of death from all causes, as well as a reduction in aortic calcification. And a review from 2009, examining 10 different dairy studies, noted that some types of saturated dairy fat have a neutral effect on LDL, and full-fat cheese—compared to other dairy products—seems to have the strongest inverse relationship with heart disease.

And that’s just the section on whether fat-free/lowfat dairy products are your best choice.  Read the whole thing; it’s spectacular. (via Michael Pollan)


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The Grocery Budget, 2010

(Final harvest, October 2010)

I’ve just completed my yearly review of our grocery budget.  Despite my big goal of reducing our grocery expenses in 2010, we actually increased how much we spent.  #sadtrombone

To review:
Total grocery expenditure, 2008: $7,661
Total grocery expenditure, 2009: $7,609
Average for both years: around $640 a month

Now for 2010:
Total grocery expenditure, including CSA: $8,273
Monthly average: around $665

Yikes, that’s $25 more per month!  How did this happen?  A few reasons off the top of my head:

  • We switched to butter from grass-based cows. Sometimes I make it myself, sometimes I buy PastureLand butter.  Either way, it’s both expensive and tasty. And packed with vitamins of course.
  • We bought our meat mostly in the form of meat bundles from the co-op.  You get nicer cuts of meat, like steaks, roasts, etc., for a lower per-pound price.  When we buy meat off the shelf we tend to just get the cheapest cut we can find.  Nobody needs that many drummies.
  • Started buying more non-food items, like soap and toothpaste, at the co-op.  This is partly to avoid going to Target, and also partly to try and support local merchants.  So, I should really run our Target numbers because we probably reduced our monthly Target bill by at least $25.  There.  I feel better already.

SO instead of being unrealistic about 2011, how about this: I will just try to hold the line and not increase again this year.  The only major difference coming up this year is that we are discontinuing our CSA.  I was disappointed in the amount of produce we received in our weekly box.  I also have plans for some major garden expansion this year, so we might be able to grow enough of our own to have plenty to eat and still put some by for next winter.

Here are my grocery budget posts from last year: Part 1 | Part 2