January 31, 2012

The Road to RDville: This and That

Hi all! Man, things have been crazy busy around here…in a good way. So busy that I missed a few rounds of The Piglet! Yes, that busy! I’m sad to say Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day lost out to Momofuku Milk Bar in Round Two. Boo-hoo! On the up side, Nigel Slater’s Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (which is on my wish list) won his Round Two matchup, which gives me even more reason to add it to my library. We’ll just ignore that fact that I added the gignormous new The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook tome (2,000 recipes!) to my library this weekend. It followed me home from Costco...what was I supposed to do? (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Anyhoo...do you have young kids? Have they played with Smash Your Food on the Food N' Me website yet? Have you (kids or no kids)? Why ever not?

Last week, Food ‘n Me creator Marta DeWulf spoke to my graduate seminar on Food Marketing. She’s really created an amazing tool for teaching kids about just how much salt, sugar and fat is in many favorite foods…all in a non-judgmental way. She even won an Apps For Healthy Kids award (part of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign). Even better…Smash Your Food will soon be an iPad/iPhone app! She said the full version will debut for $2.99, with a scaled-down version offered for free. She did a demo of it on her iPad, and it looks even cooler than the web version. I don’t buy a lot of apps, but I will be buying this one.

One reason I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been lining up a thesis project, which involved a lot of e-mailing and paperwork. I’ll be working with a childhood obesity researcher, looking at data from a study that just wrapped up. It deals a lot with behavioral health, which is an area I’m deeply interested in. It’s also an area that my graduate program curriculum doesn’t deal with much, so I’ll really be broadening my education. I’m  excited!

I’ve also been in major paper-writing mode. Here’s what I’m working on now:
  • Raw milk (food safety, regulation and the science behind health claims)
  • Conjugated linoleic acid in grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef and dairy + the science behind the health claims
  • Seafood and mercury exposure during pregnancy: Striking a balance between an unhealthy toxin and healthy fatty acids
  • Sub-therapeutic antibiotic use in farm animals: Does it really contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans?
  • GMO’s: The bad and the ugly (this is for a class debate…someone else is arguing the “good”)
  • The 2011 listeria-on-cantaloupe outbreak
  • The CDC’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Program (PowerPoint and handout)
We had a good guest lecture this week on cholesterol, saturated fat and metabolic syndrome. I’m going to try really hard to write a user-friendly post about it this weekend. I also have a ton of good links to share…I just have to get them organized.

Have a great week!

January 18, 2012

Only 3,800 to go

Nigella Lawson has 4,000 cookbooks.

What have I been doing with my time (and money)? I knew I should have skipped that 2009 trip Buenos Aires...and grad school, for that matter.

I kid. I don't need 4,000 cookbooks (although the idea of it makes me a bit giddy). And I understand what Nigella means when she says "A new title is always a fresh excitement." Indeed.

But now to the whole point of this post: The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks has begun! The round one contenders are Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day (aka my favorite cookbook) and Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment. Nigella was the judge for this round, and I won't say who won (you can get the details of the judging here and the full bracket here), but I will say that I put my full support behind Super Natural. I've said it before, and I'll say it again...I love, love, LOVE this cookbook.
I made two favorite recipes from Super Natural already this week: Black Pepper Tempeh and Cabbage with White Beans (the cover recipe). I don't have a lot of time to cook, but I'm keeping the book within reach, because I plan on trying some new recipes from it as the week continues. I love this book for so many reasons, here's a few:
  • The flavors are great, but not too "out there"
  • The ingredient lists are reasonable (especially if you keep a decently stocked pantry)
  • The photos and general design are gorgeous
  • This is a vegetarian cookbook, but the recipes please carnivores, too
  • The recipes are healthy but not at the expense of flavor
When I made Black Pepper Tempeh the other night, Jeff said "I could eat this every day." Of course, he says that about a lot of things (fish tacos, pho, kale salad, salmon burgers), and if he ate ALL of those things every day, he would need to buy bigger pants. But I digress.

I think Heidi's book would be a great addition to any cookbook library, but especially for the libraries of anyone who wants to make healthy, tasty food without complicated cooking techniques AND for any vegetarians who need to cook for a carnivore in their life (or vice versa) and want recipes that will please everyone involved. Now, excuse me while I put the other Piglet contenders on my Amazon wish list...

January 17, 2012

You say it's your birthday?

Well, it's my birthday, too! Or it was, yesterday. I had the day off from school and work, but had a lot of schoolwork to do, so I kept it low key. I requested grilled grassfed steaks (from our beef share in the freezer) and mashed potatoes. Baked kale chips and s sauteed mushrooms rounded out the meal (all the veggies came from Full Circle). We opened a nicer bottle of red wine than we usually have (a nice Pinot), and that was that.
What about a birthday cake? I already had my birthday dessert Friday, at Tutta Bella. This is my third year of having Tutta Bella's tiramisu as my "birthday cake," and it a tradition I plan to continue. (Please note...I didn't eat this all myself...it's meant to serve two fairly generously or four quite sparingly.)
  • The first year, I had barely scratched the surface of all the science prerequisites I had to take before applying to grad school. We stopped by Tutta to pick up a to-go order of tiramisu on our way home from our 6-hour Saturday biology class and lab (a heck of a way to spend a birthday, I tell ya). 
  • The second year, I was taking my second term of biochemistry and trying to finish up my graduate school application. 
  • This year, I'm staring down the barrel of a zillion papers, projects and presentations...in my second term of grad school. What a difference two years makes! Oh, and this year, my tiramisu was free, thanks to a birthday dessert coupon I received for being on Tutta's e-mail list. The waiter even put a candle in it and sang "Happy Birthday." So sweet!
Our singing waiter was about as "exciting" as my birthday weekend got. Which was no problem, because I'm fine with quiet birthdays. If the weather was nicer, I wanted to go to the zoo, but it was decidedly not nicer, so staying at home was just fine with me. Jeff gave me these:
Two books that I won't have time to read for a while (but will fully appreciate once I do), and a ceramic produce basket (nabbed at a big discount from a high-end home store that's going out of business in the trendy South Lake Union neighborhood). I'd idly been wanting one for a while, so it was a perfect gift!

January 15, 2012

Good eats, no shopping required

OK, that "no shopping required" part is a tiny lie. I did stop at our neighborhood natural foods market last weekend to pick up a loaf of sourdough bread, bulk sea salt and a box of our new favorite tea (Celestial Seasoning's Bengal Spice) and today to pick up a cabbage, a few bananas, and several boxes of our new favorite tea (it was on sale!). But we walked the three miles round trip, so it was healthful double duty.

My larger point here is that we had a week of delicious, healthy eating, and 95 percent of it was supplied by our well-stocked freezer, fridge and pantry...with the vital addition of our weekly fresh produce delivery from Full Circle
It's a great strategy to plan meals around what frozen and/or non-perishable goods you have on hand + whatever fresh ingredients are on sale. I've tweaked that slightly, basing meas on whatever produce is available from Full Circle. Most weeks, I don't deviate a lot from the standard offerings, maybe switching an item or two with one of the fruits or veggies on the substitution list. I also watch the prices of items in the Green Grocer section, adding extra kale or whole grain bread or apples when they are at an especially good price.

I count last week as a good eating week because nothing I made was overly ambitious (i.e., eating into my study time), but it was all healthy and tasty. We had plenty of leftovers for lunches and dinners, but not too much that it felt repetitive. It's a good strategy not just for working grad students like me, but for working parents and anyone who just can't (or doesn't want to) spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Here's what we cooked last week, in chronological order:
  • French green lentils, with sauteed garlic and spinach + Dijon mustard mixed in
  • Grilled organic chicken breasts
  • My favorite Russian egg and mushroom salad
  • Beef stew with dried plums (a great Mark Bittman recipe) + mashed potatoes
  • Tuna and (canned) white bean salad with capers, walnuts and homemade vinaigrette

Throughout the week, we roasted Brussels sprouts and broccoli as needed to eat right away or to have in brown-bag lunches. We also ate lots of cooked leafy greens (kale, collards, spinach, chard) and fresh green salads. For fresh fruit, apples, pears, kiwi, satsumas and tangelos were the main players this week. Carrot and celery sticks found their way into lunches and snacks, often with hummus for dipping. Breakfast foods included oatmeal, plain Greek yogurt, eggs, toast and pancakes with peanut butter and fruit compote.
We did have dinner out on Friday (a combination pre-birthday dinner and hooray-I-think-I-found-a-thesis-project dinner) at Tutta Bella.

The beef stew and the egg salad were the only true recipes I made (and I'd made the egg salad several times before, so I only had to double check proportions before throwing it together. Everything else was simple single ingredient cooking (greens, roasted veg, lentils) or no-brainer assembly. 

Other than those few items I specifically mentioned buying, every piece of fresh produce was dropped at my doorstep by Full Circle, and every other item came from our freezer, fridge or pantry, and was purchased on one of our infrequent stock-up shopping trips. Which is fantastic, because if I had to do full-on grocery shopping every week on top of everything else I have going on, I would probably either end up bashing my head against a wall or eating a lot more take-out food. It's a toss up which alternative is less supportive of good health. ;-)

January 10, 2012

Links I Like

Golly, it's been a while since I've done a Links I Like post. I am going to try really, really hard to make this a weekly feature again. Without further ado:

  • I'll admit that I've been a practitioner of moderate-to-high-protein eating plans (most notably when doing the Burn the Fat Challenge two summers ago). So I read with intense interest this post from Marion Nestle about a really rigorous study that adds weight to the argument that calories count more than the specific macronutrient ratio (protein, carbohydrates, fat) of the diet. She also mentions a Washington Post article about the study...you can link to that here.
  • Some awesome new Food Rules from Michael Pollan. Numbers 2 and 4 are my favorites. I need to go buy some flowers...
  • Did you make a New Year's resolution? Here's some encouragement and tips for success from the New York Times. This slightly mitigates the somewhat depressing nature of "The Fat Trap" article from the previous Sunday.
  • Foodborne illness: Badly underreported. This is no lie...the readings I did for my first Food Safety class confirmed that, in somewhat mind-numbing detail.
  • Finally, do you do yoga? So do I. I found the article "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" informative and a bit enlightening. I will no longer fret because I can't do shoulder stands or head stands.

Happy reading, and have a great week!

January 9, 2012

The Road to RDville: And we're off!

Zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds. That's how last week felt! My second term of grad school begain bright and early last Tuesday and all memories of Christmas vacation are just that...memories.

That's fine, though, because my current lineup of classes is already proving interesting and, yes, satisfyingly challenging. This is what will be taking up much of my time between now and mid-March:

  • Public Health Nutrition
  • Nutrition and Metabolism: Lipids
  • Food Safety
  • Graduate seminar on Food Marketing
  • Environmental and Occupational Health

Whereas last term I had lots of quizzes and tests, and relatively few papers, projects and presentations, this term I have only a few tests (although two of them will be endurance-trial take-home exams), lots and lots of papers, a major group project, a debate and three PowerPoint presentations. I started laying the groundwork for some of them this weekend, taking a break to go grab a steaming bowl of Pho:
I'm less than enthused about having to write a group paper for my Environmental Health class (trying to divide writing and research duties between FOUR people is my idea of hell on earth), but I'm working with good people, and I'm excited about the topic (antibiotic resistance and confined animal feeding operations), so there is that. Other topics I'll be researching and writing about this term include raw milk, seafood intake recommendations for women of childbearing age, last year's listeria outbreak on cantaloupes, the CDC's obesity prevention programs, and some lipid-related topic to be determined later (needs to be something I can write 20 pages about and do a nice PowerPoint for). 

My Public Health Nutrition class is doing a term project analyzing survey data and creating reports for the Washington Farm-to-School program. I learned more about the difficulties of introducing change into school lunch programs in two hours on Friday than I did in two seasons of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Hint: When a program receives federal funds, they have very, very tight restrictions on how they spend that money.

It's feels really good to just be able to dive into classes without all the "new student" minutiae taking up mental bandwidth. Have a great Monday!

January 2, 2012

Three things

A few quick things before I head off to watch my beloved Oregon Ducks play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. (One of my nutrition professors is a Wisconsin alum. I have two classes with him Wednesday. Could be interesting.)
  1. I was perusing my January issue of Eating Well this morning, which included quite a bit of content related to eating better and/or losing weight in the New Year (I know...shocking!). Some good tidbits there, but my favorite was the advice to adopt the mantra "Back on track, stat!" and repeat it to yourself if you have a nutrition or fitness slip up. It's an antidote to the "I'll start again on Monday" mindset, which doesn't do anyone any favors.
  2. The New York Times had an excellent article in their Sunday Magazine, "The Fat Trap," about why it's so hard to maintain a weight loss. This is a subject I'm well acquainted with from a personal and now an academic perspective (I wrote pages and pages on the topic for a take-home midterm a few months ago). In a nutshell, there are so many hormones and biochemical pathways in our bodies that work hard to maintain a certain body weight in every individual (this is sort of the "set point" idea, but not exactly). Fluctuating levels in  even one hormone or enzyme can make it hard to maintain weight loss.
    One might think that our bodies, as human organisms, would all naturally strive to nudge our hunger, satiety and activity levels so that we stay at a healthy weight, but sadly that's not always the case. Many people who lose weight, especially a lot of weight, have to work at maintenance pretty much constantly. I certainly do, and while it is frustrating at times (because there are so many other things I'd rather be doing than tracking calories and monitoring weight), I prefer it to the alternative of regaining weight. Instead of viewing this reality as depressing, I view it as life. Sometimes life is hard, it just is. Fortunately, some of the best things in life can come from hard work.
  3. As promised, the posole recipe I made yesterday. It's from the January issue of Bon Appetit, and it practically lept off the page and screamed "make me!" I try to obey those commands. I made it essentially as written, and present it as such below. It's a keeper of a recipe that I look forward to making for company some time. It needs to be started early in the day, but the hands-on time was minimal, which makes me happy. 

Classic Posole
8-10 servings

Pork Ingredients:
1 TBS ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 2-lb boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 red onion, sliced

Posole Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
6 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 28-ounce can undrained pinto beans
1 28-ounce can white hominy, drained
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices, pureed in blender until smooth
1 TBS oregano (preferably Mexican)
2 tsp ground cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
shredded mild cheddar
chopped fresh cilantro
lime wedges
flour tortillas
  1. Pork: Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line a small roasting pan with foil. Mix cumin, garlic powder and smoked paprika in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture all over pork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pork in pan and cover with sliced onion. Pour 1/2 cup water in bottom of pan. Cover tightly with foil and roast until meat is very tender, 5-6 hours. Let pork rest until cool enough to handle.
  2. Using 2 forks, shred pork into bite-size pieces. Skim fat from juices in roasting pan; reserve meat. (Do ahead: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill pork and juices separately.)
  3. Posole: Heat oil in large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced fresh tomatoes and stir until softened, about 2 minutes longer. 
  4. Stir in broth and next 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. 
  5. Add reserved pork to posole. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes longer for flavors to meld. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding reserved juices from roast pork, if desired. Divide among bowls, garnish with shredded cheese, cilantro and lime wedges, and serve with flour tortillas.
Posole is technically a soup, but this made a very thick soup, so it was easy to scoop some of it into pieces of tortilla (a feat I was admittedly doubtful about as I watched it simmer on the stove). Don't skip the squeeze of lime when serving...it really enhances the flavor.

January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then New Year's Day breakfast is the most important meal of the year, right? I had been debating what to make for about two weeks. Scones? Muffins? Quiche? Then all became clear when I was getting my teeth cleaned on Friday. Charlie, my hygienist, was talking about some great oatmeal pancakes he had years and years ago at a restaurant that may or may not still exist in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Yes...I would make oatmeal pancakes.

I arose at a semi-decent hour this morning and started perusing my cookbook collection. I found plenty of great-looking oatmeal pancake recipes that called for cooked oatmeal, but come on...I'd had a bit too much wine and Prosecco last night. I needed my recipe to be simple.

A quick Google search located exactly the recipe I needed on Epicurious (the recipe was from the now defunct Gourmet magazine...sigh). It started with oats soaked in buttermilk for 10 minutes, in which time I was able to easily measure and mix the rest of the ingredients.
I added some blueberries to each pancake, in a homage to my childhood family tradition of having blueberry muffins for New Year's Day breakfast. They were from a box mix, but I happily devoured them as I watched the Rose Parade.
Instead of maple syrup, which I'm out of, we topped our tasty cakes with blueberry compote, also known as a batch of blueberry jam that didn't set right. See, when life hands you runny jam, make pancake topping!

Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes
Makes 12 pancakes

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  1. Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Stir egg, butter, brown sugar, remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and oat mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.
  4. Heat a griddle over medium heat until hot and lightly brush with oil. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown, about 1 minute. Flip with a spatula and cook other side, about 1 minute more. (Lightly oil griddle between batches.)
I hope 2012 is treating everyone well so far. I'm off to enjoy the posole that I've been cooking all day. I'm pretty confident that it will be delicious, so I'll share the recipe tomorrow!