Cookbook Roundup

As I’ve said, I’m not super fond of recipes, but I love cookbooks.  (And novels, and textbooks, and magazines, and reading shampoo bottles, and CNN Headline News.  Reading is FUNdamental.)  Also, one of the best ways to get to a point where you don’t need recipes is to read recipes.  It helps you get used to flavor combinations, ingredient ratios, and cooking techniques.  I find it pretty hard to buy cookbooks online, unless I’m looking for a particular author or title.  The bargain section of most bookstores is brimming with cookbooks.  Flip through.  Do you like the paper?  The pictures?  Is it a cuisine you’ve been curious about?  Does it just seem delicious?  There’s no reason to spend lots of money (unless you want to).  You’re just going to get food on it anyway.  Read the recipes.  Try them out.  No, your food probably won’t look like the pictures.  That’s okay.  Do it anyway.  Here are a few of my favorite titles to get you started.

Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook

This is my favorite favorite.  Basic vegan cooking that doesn’t always seem vegan.  Looking to add more veggies to your life without feeling like you’re missing out?  This is your book.  Unless you don’t like cussing.  The subtitle is Eat Like You Give a F**k, which you should.  It’s totally worth it to just get a sharpie and redact it yourself.

Anything by Bryant Terry

Bryant Terry’s books are also vegan (you know I love my veggies).  But his emphasis is on the foods of the African diaspora.  The soul food and Caribbean favorites you might be familiar with are transformed, and the vegetables brought to the center of the table.  Terry’s books are also great reads.  He talks about food justice, music, and movies all in the context of delicious, healthy food.

Culinary Artistry

This isn’t a cookbook, exactly.  It has recipes (very good ones from a collection of top chefs), but its focus is on flavors and textures.  There’s a section devoted to simple charts of the representative flavors and ingredients of different types of cuisine.  Want something to taste Armenian?  Parsley and yogurt.  Canadian?  Maple syrup.  You can also look up ingredients and see what they go well with.  What to do with all those plums from the CSA basket?  Walnut Tart of Warmed Plums with Mascarpone Souffle?  Alrighty then.

What’s your favorite cookbook?  My mom likes Betty Crocker.  Leave a comment!


Season Your Food!! (Get out out of Recipe Jail Pt.2)

Okay, I don’t mean to start out yelling at you, but seriously, this is a problem.  It’s probably one of the biggest problems I hear when people start cooking at home or start “eating healthy.”

Friend 1: “Healthy food doesn’t taste good.”

Client 42: “Vegetables don’t taste good.”

Family member 37: “I don’t know what I did to it.”

Me: “What’d you put on it?”

All: <blank stare>

Me: “Salt?  Pepper?”

I might get a nod here.  Often followed by a concern about using too much salt.  Turn over the package of your favorite packaged food, and check out the percent daily value of sodium.  I’ll wait.  Don’t forget to check the serving size.  Are you eating that whole bag of chips?  Do the multiplication.  I’ll wait.  You’ll also find that there’s kind of a shocking amount of sodium in a lot of packaged sweets.  And a crazy amount of sugar in your packaged salty snacks.  But that’s kind of a different post.  My point is, you (almost) can’t put too much salt in your homecooked food.

The food needs to taste good, and that means you have to season it, and that means you need some salt.

So, the basics of seasoning, especially vegetables, are salt, pepper, and fat.  I know that includes two scary words for people trying to be healthier, but trust me, please.

Salt is a flavor enhancer.  It helps to bring out the natural flavors in things.  It also helps draw the water out of “wet” veggies like squash, eggplant, and tomatoes.  Water makes things taste, you know watery, instead of having concentrated flavor.  If you’re making the switch from packaged foods to fresh foods, you might have to use more salt than you feel comfortable with.  It’s okay.  It’s probably still less than the packaged things you’re used to.  Measure the salt (start with 1/2 teaspoon for a regular dish of four servings), taste the food, and add more salt, if you need it.  Make sure to measure for reference.  If you want to reduce the salt in your diet, start out with the amount that makes the food taste good to you, and every week, cut it back a little.  That will help you get used to the reduced sodium without feeling like you’re missing out.

Fat is also a flavor enhancer.  A little goes a long way.  So don’t feel bad cooking in oil or butter, or finishing with a little cream or cheese, if that’s your jam.  Fat also makes you feel full longer, and creates a feeling of satisfaction, which is really important if you’re incorporating more veggies after living a life of fast food.

Honestly, pepper’s mostly habit.  It does what it does, and if you like that, put it in.

Some other good seasonings to play with:

Citrus – the acidic nature of lemon, lime, and orange juice brings out the best in most veggies.  Squeeze a little into sauteed spinach or greens, or over roasted carrots.

Vinegar – a different acidic profile, but much the same thought.  A little apple cider vinegar tones down the bitterness of a pot of braised collard greens or kale.

Sugar – another thing we tend to be scared of, but a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in a pot of peas and carrots, greens, or even beans brings out their natural sweetness.  Your grandma knew what she was doing.

Condiments – soy sauce, hot sauce, Asian hot sauce, salsa, ranch (why the hell not?).  The point is to make the food taste good so you’ll eat it.  Once you get used to eating at home, you can start worrying about “healthy” cooking.  You’re more than halfway there.

Leave a comment.  Are you afraid of seasoning?  Do you have a favorite seasoning, or spice you use for everything?



Be the Change You Want to See

The 2016 Rio Olympics are over.  I know a lot of people just don’t care about sports, but I love them.  I know a lot of people think there are more important things in the world.  Of course there are.  There are floods in Louisiana, and the horrible presidential race.  Not to mention the “controversies” of the games themselves.

“Controversies?”  Zika, sewage in the streets, polluted bay, crime.  These things weren’t necessarily controversial until American and European athletes were going to be exposed to them.  The 6.3 million inhabitants of Rio experience these things every day.  Some people argue that a country where about 26 percent of people live below the poverty line shouldn’t spend the money to host the games.  Does that mean that the Olympics should only be held in Europe and North America?  Does that protect poor people from indiscriminate spending, or does it just protect the rest of us from having to see poor people?  The first Brazilian to win a gold medal in these games was Rafaela Silva, a judo athlete from a dangerous favela.  Would her victory have had the same meaning in Paris or Los Angeles?

If you missed the opening ceremonies, the creative team put together a beautiful production that told the story of how colonialism, slavery, immigration, and climate change have shaped the culture and environment in Brazil.

What does all this have to do with you?  Or food?  A lot, it turns out.  If you found yourself offended or inspired by reports of the conditions in Rio de Janeiro, try making these 4 easy changes to reduce your negative impact on the world.

Use Less Plastic

Use reusable bags when you grocery shop (including produce bags).  Don’t buy plastic water bottles or other disposable plastic items.  Reuse any plastic things you do have as many times as possible.  It’s easy to forget that plastic is a petroleum product, and its manufacture and use contributes to global warming.  Plastics are also a big part of the litter problem is most places.  Plastics don’t break down in the environment, and are very hard to recycle.  Avoid them as much as possible.

Buy Local, In Season Food

Check the labels on the things you buy in grocery store, or visit your local farmer’s market.  Most food travels 1500 miles before we buy it.  This contributes to global climate change.  Also, many poor countries destroy their forests and other natural habitats in order to plant commodities to export to other countries.  The destruction leads to climate change, species extinction, and the loss of local economies.  Remember the story of the Irish potato famine, where crops were being exported while an entire population starved because their staple crop failed?  That’s still happening all over the world.  Local food systems help everyone stay fed.

Eat Less Meat

Meat production is very labor and resource intensive.  The food system is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock production is responsible for 80% of that.  In addition, forests are often clear-cut to make room for grazing land, further contributing to the damage.

Reduce Food Waste

Food waste costs the average American family $1500 per year.  Plan your meals and shopping trips.  Check the refrigerator and pantry before shopping.  Learn to decipher “best buy” labels. (Hint: they’re mostly lies.)  Learn to use less than perfect produce.  (Yes, a post is coming, but you can get started today.)  When you toss out food from your refrigerator, you’re also tossing all the water, fertilizer, and other inputs that went into producing that food.

Do you have other ideas for reducing your negative impact in the world?  How about improving your positive impact?  Did you take anything else from watching the 2016 Rio games?  Leave a comment!

The Hard Way

Often, when people are having difficulty with their health (or anything) that needs work, they’ll say the tasks or changes are too “hard.”

“Eating right is so hard.”

“Going to the gym is so hard.”

“I’ll just make Timmy a separate dinner every night for the rest of our lives, because getting him to eat regular food is too hard.”

Seriously?  Cooking two (or more) dinners every night for your whole life is EASIER!?  Your definition of easy is sure different from mine.

Yeah, the gym is hard.  I’ll give you that one.  But making dinner doesn’t really take any longer than the drive-through.  Especially if you just make the one dinner.

So, is eating right, or having your family eat the same meal together really easier?  Or is it just quieter?

Now, I understand that quiet is a unique and beautiful resource, especially in a family or household situation.  But is it worth sacrificing your family’s health?

When your little one (or big one) throws tantrums at the mere site of green food, it’s easier to just give them some nuggets and restore peace and quiet.  Right?  What about next time?  Oh wait, you won’t have a next time, because you’ll spend the rest of your life making two dinners.

And what did your little one get?  Bad nutrition, and a round about lesson in shutting the hell up.

Was that what you meant to teach them?

How often do you tell your kids to shut up?

Not often, I hope.

But how do you think they feel when you shut them up with food, or toys, or busy activities?  How do you really feel when you shut yourself up with food, or alcohol, or busy activities?

Sure, it’s nice and quiet.  But what are you teaching them?  Let them know that a tantrum isn’t going to change the food on the table, and that you’re just trying to give them the best food you can.  Let them know they don’t have to eat it.  They’re entitled to their opinions, if they’re expressed politely.  And we’ll listen.  Politely.  And sometimes, you might have nuggets, and a side of broccoli, and some peace and quiet.

Do you use food or busy work to shut yourself up?  Your kids?  Did your parents do it to you?  Leave a comment!



‘Round the Way


Link round up time!  Here are some things that caught my eye the past few weeks that I thought I’d share with you guys.

First, a podcast about dealing with the hormonal effects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).  PCOS is an often painful condition that can cause fatigue and weight gain, and is associated with insulin resistance.  This podcast from Eat to Perform discusses some coping mechanisms and the importance of sleep and exercise in dealing with this condition.

Depression is a depressingly common problem (see what I did there).  Most everyone will struggle with it at some point in life, and one of the most effective non-medical treatments is exercise.  But if you’ve ever been depressed, you know that even getting out of bed can be a struggle.  Putting on workout clothes, being in public, and then showering can be impossible.  This post puts some perspective on the issue, and offers lots of advice for moving when you’re too depressed to move.

Think canned salmon is for 50’s housewives?  Think again.  Check out this story about the insanely sustainable fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and how buying their canned salmon helps preserve both the species and the local culture.  Also, there are seriously places in NYC where people pay for a spread of canned fish?  I didn’t realize I was a Green Acres-style yokel until I read that.  Don’t know what to do with canned salmon.  I got you here.

Lastly, some schools and nutrition educators are using colorful cartoons to get kids to eat more fruits and veggies.  Count Chocula’s known this for years, but broccoli’s just catching up.



Gone Fishin’

So, you’ve decided to increase your Omega-3 intake, but you go to the store, and wild caught salmon costs the same as a month’s worth of day care, and it kind of seems like it’s worth it for your kid to forego that brain food.  That’s what she goes to day care for anyway, right?  Here are a couple of recipes using canned salmon.  Still look for wild caught, and know that the Sockeye fisheries in Alaska are sustainable, and support Native Alaskan cultures.  A skin-on, bone-in brand like Natural Sea is healthier.  I usually take the skin off, but leave the bones in (the canning process cooks and softens them.  You can break them easily with your fingers, or take them out). Eat on.

Salmon Salad

1 can (14 oz) salmon

1/2 red onion

2 Tablespoons chopped pickles or relish (sweet or not, up to you)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Mix it all together, season with salt and pepper.  Put it on toast, or crackers, or salad, or whatever you do with tuna salad.


Salmon Cakes

This is something my dad used to make all the time.  And listen Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

1 can (14 oz) salmon

2 cups mashed potatoes (use whatever leftovers you have)

1/2 red onion

2 Tablespoons oil

Mix the salmon, mashed potatoes, and red onion in a bowl, using your hands or a potato masher.  Season with salt and pepper.  Shape into patties about the size of the palm of your hand.  Heat a pan over medium heat and add the oil. Carefully place the salmon cakes in the oil.  Don’t crowd the pan, you may have to do multiple batches.  Cook, without disturbing, for about 4-5 minutes, or until brown.  Flip carefully with a spatula.     Cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until brown.  If the cakes start to fall apart, add a little more oil to the pan, and let them get a good crust on the bottom.  Serve with a salad or veggies on the side.

Teach Your Children Well

I recently got to hear Chef Jacques Pepin speak here in Austin.  (I ❤ tiny old men.) It was a fun and interesting question and answer session, facilitated by his daughter, Claudette.  I learned a lot, but the moment that connected to me most was when Claudette read a question about how to get kids to eat new foods.  Claudette said she encourages her daughter to eat a variety of foods, and uses the “all, some, meh” approach.  Eat all the veggies and some of the meat on the plate, and anything else is up to you.  “I don’t do the clean plate club, though,” she said.  Chef Pepin threw his hands in the air.  “Eh, you eat what’s on the table,” he said in his thick French accent.

I work with teenagers, young adults, and young families with children.  This question comes up all the time.  How do we get our kids to eat something besides nuggets?  Should they clean their plates?  How do we get OURSELVES to eat healthier foods?  All of these questions are based in a few myths about how children eat and learn to eat.  So, let’s explore.

Myth #1 – “My kid only eats nuggets (or fries, or pizza, or whatever bland brown or white thing), and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

This is the big myth that leads to most of the others.  Starting with the myth that your kids go to the store and buy their own food.  Your three-year old is strong-willed and independent, but not that independent.  If they eat nuggets three times a day, it’s because you give them nuggets.  You need to change your mindset, and take responsibility for the foods you offer.  They (mostly) only  eat the foods you give them at this point.  Which leads to…

Myth #2 – “But what if they starve?”

Humans are magnificent beings, with amazing wills.  As you know, because your little ones (or your big ones, because I know some grown-ass nugget freaks) are throwing fits and refusing to eat.  But the flip side of that is that it’s really hard to starve oneself to death.  Occasionally, you hear of yogis and political prisoners refusing to eat, but they have enlightenment to achieve, or a cause to fight for.  Your toddler’s really not that motivated, or rather, their motivation is to live, not starve themselves.  Offer them a variety of foods (including foods they already like), and let them eat what they want.  Gently encourage them to try new things, but don’t force it.

Myth #3 – “They’re wasting so much food!”

First off, it’s not wasted; it’s an educational opportunity.  Studies have shown that it can take 10 to 50 (fifty!) exposures to a new food before a child will try it.  (Think about how many it might take for an adult with “fully developed” preferences!) That’s not even times putting the food in their mouths.  It’s times seeing the food.  But cooks often give up serving something new after three tries.  I know rejection’s hard, but keep trying.  Second, serve less.  Especially when you’re introducing new things.  Serve something familiar and liked, and also serve a vegetable.  Maybe only a teaspoon full.  Let the child decide what, and how much, to eat from the plate.  Just keep trying.

Myth #4 – “Kids HATE vegetables!”

Do they?  Do they really?  Take your kid to the produce section.  Take YOURSELF to the produce section.  Honestly, how often do you go there, and really look around, with an open mind?  Look at all the colors!  Smell the smells!  Is there something new on the shelves?  Let your children pick out a fruit or vegetable each week.  Find a recipe online.  Hate it?  Try a new recipe.  Scared of wasting food and money?  See Myth #3.

Myth #5 – “I only eat nuggets and soda, but I want my kids to be healthier than me, so I’m going to make them eat healthy food.”

No, you are not.  If you’re concerned about your kids’ health, you need to set an example.  This also applies to your friends, relatives, and significant others whose health you’re concerned about.  One, you can’t make anyone eat anything they don’t want to.  (Cue screaming three-year old.)  Two, you need to set the example.  Your kids want to be like you.  If you want them to try new things, and eat healthy food, you need to do the same.  Hate vegetables?  See myths 3 and 4.  You can grow and learn together.  It’ll be fun.  Mostly.  Put a vegetable on everyone’s plate every time you eat.  When I was a kid, we always got fast food to go, and when we got home, my mom would open a can of veggies to go with our burgers and fries.  Commitment.

Is it easy to raise kids who eat healthy food?  Maybe not, but there’s not much easy about raising kids.  Change your mindset, and don’t buy into the belief that kids (or reluctant adults) don’t enjoy fruits, veggies, and other healthy choices.  It’s worth the extra time and effort to cultivate healthy, adventurous eaters.

Can you think of other myths you were told about eating or feeding your children?  Do you have great eaters you want to brag on?  Leave a comment!