Archive for ‘Get to Know Your Food’

May 8, 2018

It’s Strawberry Season, Now What’s a Shortcake?

It’s strawberry season, now what’s a shortcake?

The farmers market in my neighborhood just opened for the season with a strawberry festival. I love strawberries! As a child, I picked tiny wild ones from my great aunt’s yard. Now I enjoy medium sized locally grown or gigantic shipped-in berries. My favorite way to eat them is right off the stem, but strawberry shortcake makes me happy as well.
strawberries
My grandmother and mother called traditional pie crust sprinkled with sugar shortcake. Thin, flaky, and crisp, it played well against partially mashed, sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. There’s a restaurant in my area that serves this style of shortcake two layers tall. It is divine!

I can’t say crust-based strawberry shortcake is widely known. My grandmother’s house, my mother’s house, and that one restaurant are the only places I’ve eaten it. I suppose in the strictest sense, sweetened crust fits one of the original requirements of shortcake in that it contains fat that has been cut into the flour. The only problem is that it’s not really a cake.

But is shortcake really cake or is it a scone or biscuit? The first recipe for shortcake appeared in an English cookbook in 1588, but I don’t know what it said. That makes it difficult to determine exactly what sort of crumb it had.

A quick scroll through several culinary guides failed to find mention of shortcake. Shortbread is often included, but not shortcake. Perhaps that’s because there are too many versions to narrow down a definition. Or perhaps it’s because perfectly ripened strawberries sweetened and topped with whipped cream are so good they don’t really need any sort of biscuit, cake, or crust. Anything that absorbs and delivers that scrumptious juice will be appreciated and well received.

When shortcake is mentioned in culinary articles, it is often differentiated from sponge cake. This is sort of amusing because I’ve probably been served strawberry shortcake made with sponge cake more often than any other kind.

So what’s a shortcake? Whatever vehicle you prefer to deliver sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. Most of us probably gravitate to the version of shortcake that is most familiar. I prefer pie crust to squishy cake. I’ll take a sweetened biscuit in a pinch. You may prefer a butter-rich cake or corn muffin.

Whatever you place it on, a combination of fresh strawberries and cream sweetened or not, whipped or not, will provide a delicious summer treat!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortcake
http://bakingbites.com/2009/09/what-is-a-shortcake/
http://www.cookthink.com/reference/1990/What_is_shortcake

March 20, 2018

Why Did Your Grandma Make Chicken Soup?

Why did your grandma make chicken soup? Well, she may not have. She may have bought it in a can, but I bet she served you some when you felt under the weather. It’s what grandmas do. Even moms do it. And the good news is, chicken soup really does help you recover from a cold.
soup
Of course, these days grandma may make chicken soup when the grandkids come for a visit because she knows she’ll be needing some. Kids are collectors of viruses that they’re happy to share.

I think DJ recently fed me a poison peach. He had a bite on his fork. He held it out. I leaned in close to say, “Nummy nummy num” and pretend to eat it. With perfect timing as I pursed my lips, he shoved the bite in my mouth. Stupid kid germs! Now I have a really bad cold. I need chicken soup!

So what makes chicken soup good for you when you have a cold?

First, it contains the protein building block carnosine. Carnosine is produced naturally by the body and is important for proper function of the heart, brain, liver, and kidneys. Giving your body an extra boost of this dipeptide molecule may help reduce some stress on the body while it’s fighting a virus. Both homemade soup and store-bought soup contain carnosine.

Some research indicates that chicken soup may slow the gathering of white cells in the lungs in response to a virus. This may help reduce the coughing, sneezing, and stuffy nose symptoms that make a cold so miserable.

Homemade chicken soup can be nutrient rich from the chicken and vegetables you choose to include. Carrots add beta-carotene. Celery adds vitamin C. Onions add antioxidants. Button mushrooms add B vitamins, riboflavin, and niacin. Chicken adds protein. These nutrients support your immune system and give your cells fuel to rebuild.

Chicken soup is often fairly salty. The salt helps carry bacteria away from the mouth, throat, and tonsils much like a saltwater gargle.

Get plenty of fluids is the most common advice given to anyone recovering from a cold. If you have a fever, fluids are especially important to prevent dehydration. They also help flush the body. Consuming chicken soup automatically adds fluids to your daily intake.

The warmth of chicken soup soothes a sore throat. The steam helps cleanse the sinuses. The added touch of grandma’s soothing tones when she serves you warms your soul. Or so they say.

Chicken soup may have been a comforting, loving tradition long before we could scientifically prove it had healing properties. That didn’t make it any less effective. Somehow, we know that comforting, loving traditions have mysterious healing properties.

https://healthybutsmart.com/carnosine/

https://share.upmc.com/2014/12/health-benefits-chicken-noodle-soup/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/good-day-chicken-soup/

March 7, 2018

Well Preserved

When I was growing up, women who looked young for their age were referred to as well preserved. If we really are what we eat, we all should be well preserved. The average American diet is filled with preservatives.

I am a dedicated label reader, but sometimes I buy first and read later. Last week, I grabbed a package of corn tortillas thinking I’d make enchiladas. When I got home and looked at the package, I found methyl paraben (aka methylparaben) listed on the label. That didn’t sound appetizing. Why would I want to eat methyl paraben when I won’t even put it on my skin? They went in the trash.
tortilla
Parabens

Parabens are often used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria. When parabens make their way into the tissue of humans, they may affect the endocrine system, and thereby hormones the body produces. This can in turn affect metabolism and other bodily functions. Some studies also show a correlation between the presence of methyl paraben and breast tumors.

Methyl paraben is only one common preservative. There are other parabens to watch for as well: propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. Believe it or not, the these tortillas also contained propyl paraben, lye, sodium propionate, and sorbic acid. Huh? Are these survivalist tortillas? How long do they really need to last?

Obviously, preservatives mean a longer shelf life in a warehouse, grocery store, or your pantry. That sounds like a good thing. It’s nice to be able to have some staples in the pantry without constantly having to discard them.

The question is whether this convenience is slowly affecting our health. At this point, there are no definitive answers. If you want to be proactive, you may want to limit the products you purchase that contain the following:

BHA & BHT
Common food preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). You can find them in meat, cereal, shortening, beer, or chewing gum. According to Scientific American, large doses of BHA & BHT have been shown to promote the growth of tumors in lab animals, and the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program concludes that BHA can be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Sodium Nitrate
Bacon, jerky, deli meat, and smoked salmon are often preserved with the salt, sodium nitrate. It reduces color changes and prevents botulism. High levels of exposure have been linked to an increased incidence of cancer in adults.

Sodium Benzoate
Used in acidic foods like carbonated beverages, fruit juice, pickles and salsa, sodium benzoate inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. Typically used in small amounts, it is relatively safe. That doesn’t mean it’s always well tolerated. If I consume a diet soda with sodium benzoate, I feel really bad. The feeling is similar to a sudden blood sugar drop and resulting hangover.

Sulfites
Sulfites are found in a wide range of food and beverages like wine, beer, pickles, olives, powdered sugar, fruit juice, cocktail mixes, and processed baked goods. About 1 in 100 people are sensitive to sulfites.

Sorbic Acid
Sorbic acid is an antimicrobial agent originally derived from the berries of the rowan tree used to prevent mold in cheeses, cake, yogurt, dried fruit, and salad dressing. It is FDA approved and generally recognized as safe.

Natamycin
Natamycin is a macrolide used as an antifungal in food and pharmaceuticals. It is in the same family as the antibiotics erythromycin, azithromycin, and clarithromycin. You’ll often see it on the label of cheese, cream cheese spreads, or pimento cheese. While considered safe to consume, it is not immune to intolerance. Macrolides cause a significant reaction in several members of my family.

Potassium Benzoate
Potassium benzoate can be found in carbonated soft drinks, cider, juices, jams, syrups and pickled foods. It is sometimes used in place of sodium benzoate to reduce the sodium content of a food. The US FDA generally recognizes it as safe and has approved it as a preservative and flavoring agent. Through trial and error, I have discovered that I can tolerate potassium benzoate without the adverse reaction I experience with sodium benzoate.

While the farm-to-table movement has brought us restaurant options serving fresh food, rest assured that your fast casual dining experience is filled with additives and preservatives. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily avoid your favorite restaurant chain, but it’s always good to make an informed choice rather than an uninformed choice.

What if I want to avoid preservatives?

Most of us don’t have time to go back to the canning and drying our ancestors did to preserve food. Freezing can still be a good option. Small shifts in habits may be sufficient for limiting the chemicals without adding too much time to your routine.

Here are a dozen examples of small changes that will make a difference over time:
Eat fresh fruit more often than dried fruit.

Instead of serving bread with dinner, substitute a baked potato or sweet potato.

Bake and keep some savory cheese muffins in the freezer to serve instead of rolls.

Use left-over or frozen vegetables, rice, left-over chicken, beef, or pork and your own herbs and spices to create casseroles or one pot meals rather than buying packaged versions or starters.

Remove boxed cereal from your breakfasts. Instead, eat raw nuts for some crunch in the morning. Storing them in the freezer will keep them fresh and increase the crunch. Don’t worry, they won’t break your teeth. Just pull them out of the freezer and chomp away!

Cook oatmeal from a large container rather than using flavored single servings. Store the cooked oatmeal divided into single microwaveable servings in the refrigerator and add your own toppings when you serve it. Sometimes, I like it with just butter, salt, and a splash of milk. Sometimes, I add some coconut crystals and fresh blackberries.

Consider making and freezing your own muffins, pancakes or waffles as convenient breakfast food.

Stir together various combinations of vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and herbs for salad dressing rather than buying bottled dressing. My grandmother kept a cruet full of salad dressing on her kitchen counter. Her combination was pretty routine, but there are all sorts of infused oils and vinegars that can make salad dressing preparation a fun adventure!

Save the pot likker when you cook greens or beans. Use it in place of boxed chicken stock.

Make and/or freeze your own soups. Pomi tomatoes make a great soup base with no chemical preservatives. Pot likker can also be used if you don’t have time to make stock.

Create your own pasta sauce. Pomi tomatoes can be used for red sauce. A combination of milk, butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and some shredded Parmesan cheese can make a delicious white sauce. You can also use sour cream, yogurt, or pesto as a base for pasta sauce. You don’t have to simmer any of these for hours to have a flavorful sauce.

Drink water or unsweet tea rather than soft drinks or sports drinks. Use fresh fruit to flavor water instead of flavor packets. There are lots of cute glass water bottles with fruit infusers built in.

Even as urban gardens flourish, it seems unlikely that we’ll return to home canning any time soon. I can’t think of a single modern house that comes with a root cellar. And I can’t imagine that many of us will give up the convenience of every single food that contains a preservative.

Given that, minimizing exposure with small changes seem most realistic. And even then, we could end up well preserved!

https://www.thedermreview.com/methylparaben/
https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm128042.htm
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bha-and-bht-a-case-for-fresh/
https://www.pomi.us.com/en-us/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/hold-natamycin-please/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/strippaggio-a-tasting-adventure/

September 20, 2017

Can Food Win a War?

save France“Food Will Win the War” was the slogan of the US Food Administration in 1917; can food win a war? I’ve been cleaning out a storage building and a house. I’ve sorted through bags and bags of mail from 1987 to now, disposed of boxes of paper scraps, broken toys, and canned food so old that the cans are leaking. Hidden amid the mountain of junk, I’ve also rescued two baby books, a 1910 teaching contract, antique maps, and a copy of “Food Saving and Sharing” – the 1918 textbook prepared under the direction of The United States Food Administration.

This 102 page book, which was distributed to teachers in schools across the US, provides basic information about food and its function, interweaves cultural myths, and promotes conserving food, cleaning your plate (that probably sounds familiar), and helping the nation and its allies through personal sacrifice. For me, reading this now at a different point in history provides much food for thought.

Food Administration

Established in 1917, the US Food Administration was the agency responsible for the administration of U.S. Army overseas and Allies’ food reserves. The Food Administration’s goals were to provide food for its own troops and those of its Allies in war-torn Europe as well as to feed the American and Allied populations. Although the name sounds similar, this agency was not related to the Food and Drug Administration which was instituted in 1938 to enforce the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Herbert Hoover was tapped by President Woodrow Wilson to lead the organization. As head of the agency, Hoover was quoted as saying, “Our conception of the problem in the United States is that we should assemble the voluntary effort of the people…We propose to mobilize the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice in this country.”

“Food Will Win the War” became the slogan featured on widely disseminated posters, articles, and educational material. Concepts such as “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” were implemented to encourage US citizens to voluntarily conserve food so that more commodities would be available to send to the Allies.

The campaign was successful, resulting in a 15% reduction in domestic food consumption without rationing. In a 12-month period from 1918 to 1919 the US furnished 18,500,000 tons of food to the Allies.

Food Education

About half of the book “Food Saving and Sharing” is food education. I was struck by the accuracy of the information included. With more sophisticated lab technology, years of additional research, and multiple media outlets for disseminating information, it seems that we should have
significantly greater knowledge and be more accurately informed regarding nutrition now than we were 100 years ago. Instead, we have a wealth of confusing, conflicting, misleading information to sort through. It’s tough for most of us to know what to believe.

I recently watched a national TV morning news segment in which an MD stated that yogurt was not a good breakfast food because of all the sugar it contains. She did not qualify that statement in any way and it’s simply not true. Plain yogurt contains no sugar other than lactose from milk. If made at home and processed for 24 hours, even the lactose breaks down.

If milk is a good breakfast food, then yogurt is just as good. Well, actually better for most of us so long as the yogurt contains live bacteria. What’s not so good are yogurts that have sugars, sweeteners, gums, and flavors added. The distinction is important. If that distinction isn’t made, the public is being misinformed. And not just misinformed by misleading advertising (which is constant and bad enough), but misinformed by an authority figure with a national platform presenting the information as fact.

My experience of frequent frustration with current presentation of food and nutrition information, advertising, disinformation, and inaccurately reported research stands in contrast to the simple, clear message delivered a century ago. Reading this book it was interesting to see the food knowledge of 1918.

“Food Saving and Sharing” explains the functions of food and four basic food groups using the imagery of a child shopping for food in an imaginary market. The book explains each food group and why it should be included in the child’s basket. At that time, milk spanned the spectrum of each food group and was considered important for children because of its protein and “lime” (calcium) content.

Here’s what we can learn from the book:

The Functions of Food
1)Fuel to keep us warm and give us energy for work.
2)To build and repair the body.
3)To keep the machinery of the body in good running order.

Food Groups
The first group is fruits and vegetables. (Notice that it was not grains.)
The book states that we need the mineral matter supplied by fruit, vegetables and milk to make teeth and bones. We also need them for vitamins that make us grow. Not much was known about the amount of vitamins needed at that time, but it was known they are important to health.

We also learn that fruits and vegetables contain a lot of water which we also need. Water comprises 60 lbs of every 90 pounds of weight in an adult. (As you can see, this is very close to the 64% water we now estimate the human body to be.) 

While the term fiber is never used in the book, there are repeated references to the “bulk” and “things that are not readily digested” that help move food through the digestive tract.

The second group is proteins.
The word protein means “of the first importance”. Protein is important because it is needed for growth and repair. Children who don’t get enough protein become stunted.

Proteins included in this group are milk, cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, legumes, and meat. Meat is not necessary if we use the right foods in its place. According to this text, if we rely on beans and peas we need some milk, eggs, or meat as well.

The book also encourages us to get over our prejudice about fish stating, “It is foolish and narrow-minded to be afraid to try new kinds.” (I don’t know much about the origin of this fish prejudice, but my father had it and my sister still does.)

The third food group is cereals (grains).
Cereals are presented as the cheapest source of energy. All cereal grains are good producers of starch. They are easy to cook, but must be cooked for a long time, so prepared cereals have been put on the market. For instance, rolled oats are oats steamed, then crushed between heavy rollers.

Wisely, we’re informed that if we eat more peas and beans, we will not need so much bread, and when there’s a shortage of grains, we can eat potatoes instead.

Fourth is the group called sugars and sweets. 
The consumption of sugars is not highly encouraged. While it is asserted that sugar provides quick energy for emergency rations, it is also recognized that: “Sugar is so agreeable that we are often inclined to eat it in too large quantities or at the wrong time.” It will spoil your appetite because it makes you feel as if you don’t care for anything more even though your body may be in need of food.

Further noted are the facts that you can get sugar from fruits and vegetables and that potatoes or bread will provide quick energy as well. 

The rest of the book sings the praises of our troops and allies and encourages us to conserve so we can support those who live in war-torn areas. While the reasons for conservation may now differ, it is still a timely message.

Can Food Win a War Now?

In spite of a long growing season and an agricultural history, my state reports a food insecurity rate of over 25%. Somehow that seems unfathomable when according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills.

Across the nation, the US throws away 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually. We waste between 30 & 40 percent of our food supply while 12.3% of our households (15.6 million) are uncertain of having, or are unable to acquire, at some time during the year, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because of insufficient money or other resources.

Surely we can find a way to win the war on hunger here at home!

Food propaganda? 

“Food Saving and Sharing” seems to only promote the positive aspects of a particular course of action rather than presenting the pros and cons of multiple options. It uses familiar cultural myths to encourage compliance with the course of action it promotes. That sounds like propaganda to 
me. 

Yet oddly, the presentation of the message feels so much more informative, unifying, and positive than the majority of messages bombarding my screens every day, I find myself longing for this kind of straightforward promotion and the message that the US is us.  

The US is us!

With or without this book’s existence, I choose to believe the general premise that each of us makes a difference. Our choices determine whether that difference pulls our families, friends, communities, and institutions forward or leaves someone else with a greater burden. 

Individually, we can choose to leave our fears, recognize our value, and work each day to learn more about nutrition, waste less, face poverty, practice compassion, and make a positive difference. Collectively, we can choose to meet seemingly insurmountable goals.

Food can win this war! We can decide to feed our food insecure. We just need to again mobilize a spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice in this country. We need to embrace the truth that the US is us…ALL of us and we can make a difference!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Food,_Drug,_and_Cosmetic_Act

https://www.archives.gov/fort-worth/finding-aids/rg004-food-administration.html

http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/meatlesswheatless/meatless-wheatless.php?content=two

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Food_Administration

https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/sow-seeds

https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/american-food-waste/491513/

http://www.foodwastemovie.com/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/get-know-food/