You may have looked into the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms. I did a few years ago and I learned that I don’t want to consume anything that is GMO. The fight to have GMO labeling has raged on over the years and is still going, the United States and Canada banning GMO labeling so you can’t know what you’re eating.
The GMO issue can be a little overwhelming for people. I think it’s because there is a lot of misunderstanding of what “genetically modified” means and because of the scientific nature of the process of modifying something genetically, it’s not a very exciting subject for some of us.
It is also overwhelming because we are told that GMO is everywhere. That mainstay crops such as soy and corn are ALL genetically modified (not true) and that even if you grow organically, the pollen from nearby GMO crops can blow right on over to your field. (True). The media and vested interests make it sound like there is nothing you can do about it.
There is nothing like a more personal story to help bring an issue to light and I just saw a film about GMO that does just that. It’s called “Modified” and I saw it on Friday night on the show Documentary Showcase on the Scientology Network. Documentary Showcase features excellent work by various documentary filmmakers around the world.
What I don’t know about coffee could apparently fill a small encyclopedia. That is not particularly surprising. Like most people, I did realize there are many types of coffee beans from all over the tropical world and each has its own unique and subtle qualities. But I couldn’t have told you which kind had which qualities. For me, coffee came from 7-Eleven or Starbucks. And I don’t like either of those. I mainly brew my own coffee at home in my french press. But that doesn’t resolve the fact that I hardly know one bean from the other. I take that back . . .there’s decaf and regular, conventional and organic.
For decades coffee has been described like fine wine. It has “hints,” “tones,” “notes” and “characteristics.” This is where I get lost. I see coffee from Ethiopia (where it is said coffee was first discovered), Guatemala, Vietnam and of course–as the coffee ads from my childhood taught me–Columbia. I still have no idea what I like or dislike about these. I just want my coffee to taste smooth and have a good flavor.
Then I went with my family to have coffee and decided to write this post about it and the door to coffee cuisine finally cracked open for me. For instance, I’m often drawn to a description of coffee that says it has notes of chocolate. I like chocolate! Mocha Java sounds good to me! But I never quite seem to detect the note of chocolate in the coffee as I sip it.
Hmmm. I started searching for descriptions of coffee flavors and found out that coffee has two main categories of descriptors–flavor and aroma. So far so good. Then I saw the Coffee Flavor Wheel published by coffeeandhealth.org and what do you know?. Chocolate is an aroma, not a flavor! I should have been sniffing while sipping!
I kept looking around and found that many coffee “experts” have this thing about chocolate mixed up. In fact, this coffee wheel explains a lot and has many coffee flavor descriptions I’ve seen. I felt much more at ease with this when I saw the flavors were based on the basic flavors salty, bitter, sweet and sour that I’ve known for years and have used as a guide to the qualities and benefits of foods in teaching cooking .
There is truly an entire universe of coffee connoisseurs, coffee associations, coffee research and coffee roasting and coffee brewing methods. Online there is everything from Consumer Reports explaining the most basic information about coffee including a handy glossary, to Coffee and Health (the flavor wheel people) who are devoted to scientific research about coffee and health. You can even earn a certificate from the Specialty Coffee Association, a non-profit boasting a global membership devoted to every aspect of expanding a sustainable, equitable specialty coffee industry.
Coffee has it all! It’s gourmet, it’s art, it’s got global social influence and it’s a science.
Brewing coffee isn’t a matter of choosing percolated, electric drip or french press. It isn’t only a high-tech machine to make your lattes. Some brewing looks like a chemistry experiment!
Case in point, Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I visited there with my family from out of town recently. Have a look at this coffee maker!
The Michael Thomas barristas take their coffee very seriously. Their slow bar selection is outstanding and the results are the best tasting and smoothest coffee I’ve ever had. What is a slow bar? It is slow. The barristas take their time weighing and measuring beans for your cup, grinding your beans, brewing your individual cup of coffee and educating you about the coffee if you desire it. Slow bar has been a trend for several years.
And that brings me to something else I’ve learned about the coffee industry called “the third wave,” an American term coined in 1999. The third wave refers to a movement that started in the ’90’s to produce very high quality coffee with attention to every aspect from growing, harvesting, importing, roasting and brewing. The third wave made coffee an artisanal creation rather than just a commodity. Coffee made it into the ranks of wine, beer and chocolate. And like microbrewing which is a huge trend, there is microroasting where places like Michael Thomas import their own beans and roast them on the premises and deliver not only freshly brewed, but freshly roasted coffee one cup at a time.
And what of waves one and two? The first wave was probably the chain of events starting in the late 19th century that eventually brought canned, ground coffee into the grocery store branded Maxwell House or Folgers. The second wave developed in the ’60’s with Peet’s and then that first coffee shop in Seattle where you could order something called a latte. You could go to a coffee cafe and get Italian coffee instead of making your regular brand at home in your percolator. Soon your coffee stopped being served by the cup and now you had a choice of tall, grande and venti.
Today a fourth wave in the coffee industry is emerging. The focus is on production and the people involved. It encompasses concern for the economic and environmental stabilization of coffee producing countries and the people who farm coffee there and understanding the social responsibilities of developing the industry.
An example is the term “Fair Trade Certified” coffee that I see in stores and coffee shops. Consumer Reports tells us Fair Trade Certified means that the product was given a thumbs up by “a non-profit international organization that advocates sustainable production and fair prices for farmers. TransFair USA, the certifying organization, also works for safe working conditions (and no forced child labor), limits the use of harmful pesticides, and supports credit plans and training for farm workers.”
As American as a Cup of Joe is, the big business of specialty coffee certainly relies on a global community of coffee growers and how we continue to develop our relationship with them in a sustainable and meaningful way.
That makes your next cup of specialty coffee even more special.
Fad Diets have existed since I can remember and I’m sure they have a much longer history than that. Why do we have fad diets?
One reason might be that new discoveries about how the body works were made and these led to new theories about diet. Or, someone claims to have found a better theory than the previous ones based on the results. In either case, we really need to know about the research and how it was conducted and who sponsored it.
Another reason for diet fads is that someone popularizes a theory so they can cash in on the false data that is circulated in order to take advantage of people’s desire to improve their health and physical condition. The key term is usually CASH IN.
For instance, I wonder how many people know that gluten is the protein part of the plant? Funny that many say gluten is “bad,” yet we push for high protein. Which industries have a vested interest in promoting high protein and gluten free?
Dietary approaches to real medical conditions can turn into diet fads
Diet theories are often about weight-loss, but they can also be about things like diabetes, Celiac disease or other medical conditions that require a certain eating regimen. One example is gluten intolerance. I’m no expert, but I do know that one condition alone has created a Pandora’s box of theories, opinions and marketing ploys.
For example, there are people who truly have a gluten intolerance. They can’t digest gluten and get sick when they consume it. I know someone like that. A very small percent of people truly can’t consume gluten. Like my friend, if you have Celiac disease or allergies to wheat and other foods containing gluten, you really do have to be vigilant about avoiding gluten.
The Gluten-free Fad
But what about the rest of the gluten-free crowd? Why is “Gluten-Free” one of today’s biggest fads? You see a growing list of packaging marked gluten-free, restaurant menus with gluten-free choices, books and articles about the evils of gluten. For the small percent with real gluten intolerance, this is very helpful. But what about the rest of us? Gluten has gotten a very bad rap in modern society.
“. . . 86 percent of individuals who believed they were gluten sensitive could tolerate it. Individuals with Celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune condition that affects about 3 million Americans, or roughly 1 percent of the population, must avoid gluten. Those with extremely rare wheat allergies must also remove gluten from their diet. In addition, those with gluten sensitivity, a condition that affects 6 percent of the population (18 million individuals), should also avoid gluten.”
According to this study thirty percent of shoppers are choosing gluten-free products and a whopping forty-one percent of U.S. adults believe “gluten-free” foods are good for them and for everyone else. They don’t really know if it is or isn’t good, but they believe it.
This makes no sense at all! Gluten-free foods are usually higher in sugar, sodium and fat. Most of these consumers are not claiming to have Celiac disease, but many decide they are sensitive to wheat and gluten. Where did this thinking come from?
“Because this condition is so non-specific, my guess is that most of these people are simply sick from their unhealthful diet of meat, dairy foods, vegetable oils, and other junk food. Blaming gluten or wheat is wrong, and as a result, their efforts on gluten-free eating are misplaced. Benefits seen while attempting any new more restrictive diet regimen are from simply removing foods recognized to be unhealthful, irrelevant to their containing gluten or not.”
There have been many popular publications, such as the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis that took off like a rocket and influenced people to blame wheat and/or gluten on their unhealthy physical conditions.
The truth is that eating a gluten-free diet can be a cause for weight-gain, obesity and reduced health caused by lack of essential whole foods because it steers people away from starches. Yet it is promoted as a healthy weight-loss regimen.
Starches satisfy the appetite and lack of starches easily leads to overeating. If you’re not eating starches such as whole grains and starchy vegetables then you are likely going to choose diet fads that are based on eating “low-carb” i.e. Atkins, Paleo or Keto. Or, you have read about Atkins, Paleo and Keto, you decided to follow them, and your decision is boosted by the gluten-free fad.
It is circular reasoning and doesn’t lead to any stable, knowledgeable and correct conclusions. As many have said before me, people love to hear good news about their bad habits.
Know how the Human Body Works
The key to understanding what is true and what is not true about food and diets is to understand how the body works. Understand what the true history of the human species is regarding food. Were we hunters or gatherers? What is the evidence?
When you read one of these fad diet theories, did you understand the research and did you understand how it was done and who had a vested interest in making you believe the conclusions? Did the conclusions make sense according to how the human body really works?
When you practice the program, is it highly workable in the short term and the long term? You’ve heard all about the benefits. What about negative effects if any. Again, if you know the basics of how your body works, you will be better able to make a wise decision.
I would love to hear your opinion about this. Let’s get the conversation started about fad diets!
I have started this post four or five times. Each time I tried to work out an approach to what I wanted to say and each time it got really complicated really fast and then I didn’t want to finish it.
New approach. Cut to the chase.
No matter what your dietary habits are, or what diet you are trying to follow, you aren’t eating enough vegetables.
I’m on a lot of social network pages, YouTube, and blogs about healthy food and healthy cooking. Everyone likes to post a special dessert, or a bread that doesn’t have this or that in it, or a hearty thick soup or stew. Anything rich and usually heavier in calorie density than veggies. That is “what sells.” That is what people are looking for.
Keto? My keto friends are all about the meat, the butter, the cheese, the fat, the protein. What else is recommended by those promoting keto diets? Lots and lots of vegetables. And there are some awesome vegetable and salad dishes in keto cookbooks!
I would never do keto because it is the opposite of healthy in my opinion. But what makes it REALLY bad is when keto is practiced without enough vegetables. I have one friend who told me her keto guru recommends seven servings of veggies a day. I would think you would have to eat at least that many veggies in order to survive keto at all!
Keto without enough vegetables is downright dangerous.
Even the whole food plant based, vegan and macrobiotic people are shy in the vegetable department. I see it all the time.
I am not saying “vegetables are more important than grains, fruits, legumes, etc.” I’m simply saying we aren’t eating enough vegetables!
If you are any kind of healthy food enthusiast at all, I’m sure you can name half a dozen qualities that vegetables bring to the table. Fiber. Phytonutrients. Minerals. Vitamins. Chlorophyll (if they’re green). Energy. Life. Crunch.
I’m guilty too. When I’m hungry and getting some leftovers out of my refrigerator, I’m not usually reaching for the steamed kale, the cucumber salad or the stir-fried veggies. I started thinking back over each day and looking at what vegetables I actually did eat. It is never enough. I will find myself going for the other stuff, getting too full and the vegetables come home in the container they were in that morning.
What about a vegetable smoothie? Better than no vegetables at all, but you are going to lose that crunch factor and you won’t get the same benefit from the fiber, even with high powered blenders that pulverize whole veggies.
Who needs crunch? Everybody.
Why? because chewing is so important! Chewing is the start of digestion as the food is mixed with saliva. It prepares the food for proper absorption. It signals the stomach for what’s coming down the hatch. It is a key element of great health. My sister and mother used to say, “Eat your liquids and drink your food.” They were right! But hardly anybody chews that well. You watch people and see.
Even the United States government recommends eating five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The US says a “serving” is a cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 2 cups of leafy vegetables. It is fantastic that they are saying this! I never thought I’d see the day! There is no one who wouldn’t benefit from eating even the minimum five servings every single day.
Challenge: For the next week, honestly take a count of how many servings of vegetables you are eating each day. I’ll do the same and we can compare notes.
We’ve been flirting with springtime for several weeks here in New Mexico. I’ve been lightening up the menu since early February, accented by the occasional heavier stew or soup when needed.
Now we are about to touch upon some much warmer days and I know that May will usher in a long and lovely hot summer. But no matter how hot it gets, I am a dedicated, all-season soup lover!
The secret to great soup is the broth.
A warm weather soup can be more challenging than autumn’s squash bisque or winter’s hearty bean and root veggie soup. A summer soup calls for a broth that is both light and deeply flavorful. A successful soup broth will rend a delightful soup.
Umami for you, umami for me.
I have heard this word “umami” a lot in the past few years and decided to check out what it really is. Believe it or not, there is a website called “The Umami Information Center” which was enlightening. Seems the Japanese word “umami” has to do with the taste imparted by glutamate.
I react to that piece of information as if they said a bad word. Glutamate? As in Mono Sodium Glutamate? No way I’m using that in my food!
Turns out glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods which can be used in cooking to create the coveted Umami flavor. Some of the foods on the list I absolutely knew were umami-rich. Others, I hadn’t thought of before.
“Wow!” I thought, “This is enough to keep me souping in my kitchen all summer long!”
Without a doubt, the best umami, the best food, the best meal comes from your own kitchen. Even if you are a novice.
Okay I will get to the soup recipe. I promise! But I’ve gotta take a little side trip here. I’m going to make a umami-rich broth made with real food ingredients and condiments. It is not difficult and it can even be considered economical because one way to get a highly-flavored soup broth is to save the cooking water from boiling or steaming other veggies and voila! you have umami. Or, you can consciously decide to create umami from specific foods that you choose just for your soup recipe.
Either way, the point is–cooking for yourself with real food in your own kitchen wins flavor-wise and health-wise every single time over buying soup in the store (natural food store or not) or ordering it in a restaurant. Forty plus years of savoring my own cooking versus even the best dishes in the best restaurants has taught me that.
Lemon Fennel Soup
Making the umami-rich broth:
2 quarts spring water
4-6 inch piece of kombu seaweed
1 head of nappa cabbage (sometimes called Chinese cabbage)
Naturally brewed soy sauce (“Nama” brand is far and away the best flavor and the most umamiful.)
Quickly clean the dried kombu by brushing it off with a clean, damp paper towel or vegetable brush. Place the kombu in the bottom of a large pot and add all the water. Bring this to a boil.
Meanwhile wash a head of nappa cabbage, cut it in half and again in quarters. The core may be cut out and separately sliced fine. Cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces. If you don’t want to use all the cabbage at once, just use the amount you will probably eat. The cabbage itself will not wind up in the soup. It will be served separately as a lightly boiled salad.
Put the cabbage in the boiling water and cook for just about a minute or until the green parts become bright green. This may take less than a minute! Immediately remove the cabbage into a colander to cool.
Continue allowing the broth to simmer with the kombu for about 15 minutes, then remove the kombu. (Save the kombu for another use or to slice up and add to another dish.
Strain the soup broth so there are no solids in it.
You now have a light, flavorful broth that delivers umami flavor.
Putting the soup together
1 large fennel bulb
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
chili flakes (optional)
Wash the fennel and separate the bulb from the rest. Save the feathery fronds for garnish. Thinly slice the fennel, about 1/4 inch slices.
Slice the shallot
Heat a pan of your choice (I use cast iron) and add the sesame oil.
When the oil is hot add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until they soften.
Add the fennel slices and another pinch of salt and continue sauteing until the fennel is well-cooked.
Put the sautéed fennel and shallot into the soup broth. Season lightly with soy sauce, add and let it all simmer a few minutes.
Just before serving, zest your lemon and add to the soup. I use a zester that produces thin little slices of zest. In that case I’m going to add about 2 Tablespoons of this. If you are zesting your lemon with a microplane that produces grated zest, you may want to use less. Experiment with this!
Serve the soup garnished with fennel fronds and a few drops of lemon juice.
Some more soup broth tips:
Keep in mind that some veggies, like carrots, have a very definite flavor and color. Others, such as white daikon radish taste very different when cooked than when raw. Think with the flavors to get the broth you want. Sometimes you just want lots of flavor and it doesn’t matter too much what you use. If you make a vegetable soup, you can add all kinds of things together. But if you are going for a more delicate taste like the fennel soup, then choose ingredients for the broth that will enhance but not interfere with your finished product.
Sauteing vegetables helps bring out their flavor and sweetness. Decide, however, what oil you will use based on the flavors of that oil. At first I was going to use toasted sesame oil to saute the fennel and shallots but that would definitely have brought in a flavor that might have taken over too much.
Dried vegetables, such as dried shiitake mushrooms have a concentrated flavor that provides a lot of umami, even though you will reconstitute them by soaking first. See more about shiitake and kombu in my 2013 post, “Rejuvenation and Dashi.”
Apparently tomatoes are considered to yield a very high level of umami. Hmm, sun-dried tomatoes. Gotta play with that!
To all of you who have ventured over here to My Cooking Life and especially to any of you who are still willing to do so!
My own Cooking Life has taken quite a turn since I last posted something original for New Year’s 2015. I think my story is like many others’ whose lives get so full and busy that producing decent meals for yourself and family becomes nearly impossible.
My Hat is off to all food bloggers!
I did get very busy lately, but actually that was true before when I was blogging. What I ran into besides lack of time to cook food, was lack of time and desire to create something new and “photogenic” and then set the dish up in a good display and take the pictures. Then I needed to work out the recipe–something I myself NEVER use–because I thought other people needed and wanted a recipe. (You know, in the event there was anyone actually reading this.)
This is what food bloggers do, and more. My hat is off to all food bloggers no matter how many readers they have or not! Food blogging is challenging and the photography alone takes a high level of creativity and know-how. Despite this, there are a gazillion food bloggers out there!
But competition with other food bloggers was never my focus. What really got me blogging in the first place is my desire to write. Cooking was and still is a very apt subject for me to write about.
But not all the time.
My life is “cooking” in many ways! And sometimes I want to write about it. So here’s to the great freedom and latitude of blogging!
And we’ll see where we end up. For those who actually like my recipes and healthy dishes, no worries! Those will still show up every now and then.
Thanks to all who took the time to read my posts in 2014 and for your encouraging comments which really, truly help keep me going. Wishing you and yours the best year yet in 2015. Let’s flourish and prosper and help our fellow citizens of this planet do the same!
When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Hoppin’ John was a very popular dish for New Year’s Day. Every year there would be a big Food section article about it in the Journal-Constitution. I started making it not because I was a “Southern Girl” (I wasn’t) but because I loved making and serving beans and rice and wanted to try it.
Hoppin’ John is traditionally made from black-eyed peas and rice and is an extremely simple dish. So why do people make it? Is it because they drank so much champagne the night before on New Year’s Eve and need something plain to settle down with? That seems sensible and valid. My own New Year’s Eve Garlic Habit is one reason I enjoy simple, uncomplicated Hoppin’ John the next day. Just check out the roasted garlic post and you’ll see why!
Popular lore about Hoppin’ John varies but basically says serving this…
How do you make the upside down come upside right?
Though I am not much of a baker, birthdays are the exception and we recently celebrated my Hubbin’s with his favorite—pineapple upside down cake. I’m not one to indulge in a normal cake what with all the icing and sugar. Not that I am never tempted by sugar desserts but I really don’t like all that cloying sweetness in a cake.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
One batch of yellow cake recipe (But we are going to make a few changes for this recipe. Keep reading.)
Six pineapple rings. I used organic canned pineapple in water, not syrup.
1 1/2 cups organic pineapple juice
Zest of one lemon
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
3-6 tablespoons arrowroot
The cake mix part is pretty easy. Choose whatever recipe you wish. I use this one from Christina Pirello’s website and then I alter it to suit. My alterations included using 1/2 cup of semolina flour with the cup and a half of whole wheat pastry flour to make a lighter batter; using additional flour because I’m in a high altitude; and I used a bit more baking powder also for lightness. An upside down cake is going to be very moist and heavy so these adjustments are needed. I also added a little tumeric—not enough to affect the flavor but, along with the semolina flour, it made a yellow cake color.
Flavor-wise, I substituted a little pineapple juice in the liquid for flavor and I added zest from a half lemon.
Now for the upside down part. Oil a medium size baking dish or cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (I use unbleached) and arrange pineapple rings on the bottom. In a sauce pan, heat up pineapple juice, sea salt and rice syrup and get it bubbling gently. Mix the arrowroot in cold water and stir it in. Use as much as it takes to make a very thick sauce. Add the lemon juice and zest from the other half of the lemon.
I let this sauce cool a little to make sure it was really thick but not going to turn into a solid gel. I also didn’t want to pour the cake mix over really hot sauce. Once cooled, pour your sauce over the pineapple rings and spread evenly. Then pour your cake mix over that.
Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. This is a little more baking than the basic cake recipe calls for because you’ve got a lot of moisture in the pan and you do want the cake to be done in the middle. The cake will be slightly brown around the edges and will come out clean if you stick a knife into the middle of it (not down to the pineapple part—that should be gooey)
Let the cake cool, loosen the side with a knife and turn it out. Decorate with the cherries or whatever you want to use and voila—Upside down comes right side up!
Since we’re on the subject of water as of my last post, I want to share with you my own water wisdom. I find that plain water with nothing in it is the best for hydrating the body. Once you add a slice of lemon, or any other thing to the water, it becomes something for your body to digest in a different way than how it handles plain water. It’s my opinion that plain water requires little work for the body to take in compared to other liquids, teas, infusions or beverages.
That said, I want to give you a recipe that I suppose is technically a tea. It is another mix of water and vegetables and it definitely has an effect on your body. This is a beverage that helps you satisfy a craving for sugar and sweets by providing the naturally sweet taste of vegetables. This is really great for anyone who is trying to get off a sugar habit.
Sweet vegetable tea is not my own creation. It is something I learned from studying macrobiotic cooking and I’m using it quite a bit right now to assist my husband and myself with sweet cravings we’re having.
No measurements needed here. Just select four or five or more sweet-tasting vegetables, wash them, chop them up, and simmer them in water for about an hour with a pinch of sea salt. Strain out the cooked veggies (no doubt you can find a use for these) and chill the “tea.”
You’ll be amazed how sweet, delicious and satisfying this is. You can drink some of it whenever you are craving sweets and you’ll get the natural sweetness of vegetables!
This is what I used the other day to make Sweet Vegetable Tea: half a small head of cabbage, several thick slices of butternut squash, two stalks of celery, an onion, and a large carrot. Just a pinch of sea salt—no other flavoring. All of it was simmered in about 2 quarts of water and simmered for about an hour yielding a quart of the tea.
You can use other sweet veggies such as parsnips, cauliflower, the stems from collards or broccoli or whatever you like.