Monday, January 25, 2010

Food Matters: A Reverse Book Review

After a brief hiatus, I'm back with lots of new information and ideas to get more veggies into your life!

First though, I want you to go get yourself a snack and something to drink and settle in for an entertaining and enlightening half hour of Mark Bittman discussing his new book, Food Matters. Click here for the video. (If you don't have 30 minutes, you can also listen to selected bits of it, which run in roughly 5 minute chunks.)

Bittman, a longtime food writer for the New York Times, says that, "shifting the balance of what we eat is the top priority." The typical American eats half a pound of meat every day -- and an additional one-and-a-half pounds of animal products, such as butter, eggs, and milk. Taken together, this amounts to two-thirds of the American diet originating with animals.

With animal agriculture comes a host of catastrophic problems: increased emission of greenhouse gases; animal cruelty; and numerous diseases of over-nutrition, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. All are part and parcel of a society that eats primarily animal products.

To Bittman, the key to heading off these dire consequences is shifting the balance. Reducing our animal consumption by 10 percent, would reduce greenhouse emissions and diet-induced disease by 10 percent each. As I've said before in this blog, it's not an all-or-nothing. Big changes are the result of many, many small changes. Skip the burger once a week and replace it with a slice of veggie pizza and you're making a difference. Really.

Along those lines, Bittman promotes what he terms "less-meat-terianism." This means that you don't have to bite off more than you can chew, so to speak, of the vegetarian lifestyle. Do what you can, one meal at a time. Bittman himself follows a diet he calls "vegan-til-6;" that is, he eats vegan and eliminates the junk in his diet until 6 pm. In the evening, he eats whatever he wants.

Bittman is exceptionally articulate, easy to follow, and an entertaining listen. I look forward to reading Food Matters.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Remorse

I have found it debilitating to follow the coverage of Haiti's earthquake. How can we begin to comprehend the suffering and the sheer chaos of the situation? To raise funds for the recovery effort, I'm planning to compile an e-book of Haitian and/or Creole recipes, which are surprisingly few and far between -- at least in my cookbook collection. If you have any recipes, I'd love to see them. Don't worry if they contain meat; I'll find a way to veg-ize them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Ultimate Winter Salad

Salads in winter? Absolutely! But at this time of year, I don't base my salads on lettuce. Last night, I improvised a delicious, crunchy first course built upon a foundation of fennel.

Fennel is a delicious vegetable that looks and has a texture similar to celery, but is more fibrous. I love its mild licorice taste. The trick to fennel is cutting it paper thin -- think 1/16" or less. Much thicker and you'll feel like a cow chewing its never-ending cud.
The best tool for the job is the mandoline. Mine is an oxo and truthfully, I don't use it very often. However, when I need it, there is really no other utensil that can do the job. You can pay whatever you want for a mandoline, from about $20 dollars up to several hundred dollars. Because it isn't a high-use item in my kitchen, I'm wasn't compelled to go for the high end. My mandoline, which I received as a gift, retails for about $60 dollars
The salad couldn't be simpler. Here's the recipe:

Cyn's Fennel Salad
1 large bulb fennel
6 or 7 mandarin oranges
1 ripe avocado
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Use a mandoline or very sharp knife to cut the fennel bulb into paper-thin slices. You won't need the stalks or the pretty fronds, so put them aside.

Peel the mandarins and half-heartedly squeeze them into a bowl with the fennel. You want to express some, but not all of the juice because you put the sections into the salad, too, and you don't want tasteless segments.

So your bowl now contains the slivered fennel and the mandarin segments and juice.

Chop the avocado into small, 1/2" or so cubes. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Toss and devour!

You'll never miss the lettuce!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

First Farmer's Market of 2010

In California, the farmers' markets run at full tilt all year. Today's crowd was as dense as any summer
Sunday -- only the produce is different.

In January, you'll find citrus...

and mushrooms...

How about some nuts?

Fresh eggs are available all year. The green things to the right of the eggs are green tomatoes. Only in January would the farmers give up and pick the tomatoes before they were ripe.