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Archive for the ‘Food Evangelism’ Category

I am so excited to announce the launch of my new website and business: Real Life Delicious! Since I am still a food evangelist (of course), my blog will continue on the new site. Now it will focus even more on helping and inspiring busy people to buy, cook, and eat real (and delicious!) food. The new website address is:

www.RealLifeDelicious.com

I hope you’ll head over there right now! While you’re there, definitely make sure and SIGN UP for my regular email updates. In addition to having my blog posts delivered right to your email, you will also receive a FREE copy of my new e-cookbook, Easy Recipes from Real Food, which I gotta say is fantastic — it’s basically a roundup, with full-color photos, of the recipes I seem to make over again — and did I mention it’s free?

The reason for this change is simple: I wanted to create a space where I could expand on some of the ideas I’ve explored in this blog as well as showcase the other things I’m working on. So, in addition to my regular blog posts and articles, I am now offering private kitchen consulting sessions and group classes. These programs are designed to help you reboot your family’s eating habits in a practical, real-life way. They are really amazing — super fun, informative, and inspiring. There’s a lot more info about all my programs at reallifedelicious.com, so please check it out.

Thanks so much for reading this blog for the last year and a half, and I hope you’ll continue with me on this journey toward a healthy, real, easy, and always delicious way to eat!

— Bevin Wallace

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Apparently no one really knows the answer to that question. And therein lies the rub, if you ask me. When I first read Robyn O’Brien’s book, The Unhealthy Truth — which convincingly argues that eating GM foods can be linked to all kinds of health issues, including cancer and the rise of childhood allergies and autism — I immediately decided that GMOs (genetically modified organisms, including animals, crops, and milk) are the worst example of corporate greed and malevolence in recorded history and vowed never to put another morsel of GM food into my or my family’s mouths. So there, Monsanto.

For those of you who don’t follow the GMO controversy, here’s a little primer on the subject: A genetically modified organism (GMO) is one who’s genes have been altered in a lab using genetic engineering — essentially the DNA molecules from different sources are combined to create a new set of genes, which is then inserted into another organism such as a plant seed or animal. This can be done for a variety of reasons, for instance to create a breed of corn that is resistant to chemical herbicides or higher-yielding wheat crops. The US company Monsanto creates “Roundup-Ready” seeds that are resistant to the chemicals in Roundup herbicide, which allows farmers to grow more corn using more pesticides (and the company even patents these seeds). Today the USDA says that over 81% of all corn and over 88% of all soybeans grown in the US are GM. This is controversial for several reasons, including concerns that GM foods are unsafe and growing them threatens biodiversity and the environment. If you read studies like this one, you’ll get a feel for the arguments against GMOs. GMOs have been banned in 27 countries, including all of Europe, by the way.

But then I read Nina Federoff’s Op-ed in The New York Times extolling the benefits and safety of GM crops while explaining why the world truly needs more, not less, of them — which kinda made me mad but also made me think. What if GMO crops really can eliminate world hunger? What if scientists really could create more nutritious wheat? Hmmm, that’s not so bad, right? Except, it’s not clear that those GMO promises are panning out. And there’s alarmingly little non-biased research and information out there about GMOs. Many non-GMO activists feel that the seed companies like Monsanto thwart efforts to conduct truly independent research. This article explains how the corporations basically have veto power over which tests get conducted and also which data gets reported. It’s pretty icky. And, well, you gotta wonder what they’ve got to hide, right?

Which I guess brings me back to the beginning. I don’t know if eating GMOs will give you cancer, alter your kid’s brain chemistry, or make hair grow on your tongue (like it apparently did to some hamsters in Russia). And neither does anybody else. So, for now I’m sticking with my non-GMO stance. Which goes something like this: Whenever possible and reasonable, avoid foods that have been genetically altered in any way.

In case you’re wondering how to do that, it’s simple:
1. Buy organic. Foods that are certified organic cannot by law (knowingly) contain GM ingredients.
2. Buy local. You’re pretty safe buying from farmer’s markets because most GM crops are grown by large, industrial farms not your local mom-and-pop.
3. Avoid the four top GM crops: corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed. If you do buy these, buy organic. This is one very good reason to avoid processed, packaged foods; if you read the label on a typical box of cookies, you’ll find several corn derivatives and probably soy and canola, too.
4. Look for the Non-GMO Project label. This is not widely used yet, but it’s worth knowing about and supporting. Here’s what it looks like:

So, what we’re left with is…real food. Hey, what a concept.

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So what if my mosquito bites are gone, the pool bag has been replaced by book bags, and our weekends have been taken over by football — it’s still summer, dammit, and I for one am not so ready to let go. Okay sure, we have to get up at 6:30 in the morning, so the al fresco dinners at the pool are probably not such a good idea. But, even though we have homework and soccer practice, we can still have picnic suppers and make homemade popsicles, can’t we?

One of the things I’ve tried to do with this blog is show that family meals don’t have to be painful exercises in cajoling and whine-endurance. And never is that more true than in the summertime, when meals can involve campfires and interludes of skateboarding. But once we get into the grind of after-school activities and math worksheets, it’s easy to understand how we leave all that summer fun behind and find ourselves in a dinnertime rut. But I contend it doesn’t have to be that way — at least not all the time, and at least not yet. And yes, if you think I’m writing this for myself as much as anyone, you’re right.

So, in the spirit of keeping summer alive — if only for the food — here are some strategies that seem to be working for me.

Pick one night this week to have a family picnic.
Pack your supper in a basket (the cuter the better) and bring it to a park. It’s amazing what kids will eat when it’s been pulled out of a picnic basket, plus you really don’t have to cook — which is nice, seeing as how it’s still summer. We did this the other night, and this is what we brought: one rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, one dry sausage (I used to get these at Napa Style, but they don’t have them anymore, so I now order from Il Mondo Vecchio in Denver; the Vero y Pepe Salami is incredible.), raspberries, cheese (Rembrandt aged Gouda), grapes, a chocolate bar, and of course a baguette. Oh and a bottle of Bandol. Don’t forget: knife, plate or cutting board, and napkins.

Go to the farmer’s market. We think of this as a family activity, but even though the kids are in school and playing sports on Saturdays, I still try to swing by and pick up my summer food trifecta: corn, tomatoes, and peaches. These three items are at their peak of perfection as I write this. How can it not be summer when we’re grilling ears of corn and making peach ice cream, right?

Cook outside. Not revolutionary, I know. In the summer, we do this almost every night because our house in not air conditioned — and sometimes if I’m cooking inside I tend to get a little cranky. Then, as soon as school starts, it’s tempting to boil pasta instead of grill fish. But I am resisting as long as possible; the pasta days will be here soon enough. I suggest eating outside, too. A little bit of backyard skateboarding or baseball throwing during the meal is okay (since it’s summer).

Grill peaches. The peaches are perfect right now in case you hadn’t notices, and it’s too hot to bake a pie or cobbler. Grilled peaches make a perfect, relatively healthy dessert — they caramelize and sweeten into something satisfying and really, really delicious. Here’s the recipe:

Grilled Peaches
Ingredients

6 Peaches (they should be ripe but not overly ripe; they should also be organic because peaches are one of the Dirty Dozen)
1-2 tbs. balsamic vinegar to taste
Brown sugar
Olive oil (not the fancy oil you drizzle on salads; basic olive oil is best as it adds less flavor to the already perfect-tasting peaches)

Preheat your grill if it’s not already hot from dinner. Rinse and dry the peaches. Cut them in half and remove the pit. Pour the vinegar in a small bowl and brush onto peaches with a pastry brush or paintbrush. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Brush the grill with a light amount of oil. Place peach halves on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes. Turn over and cook for a few more minutes until very soft but not falling apart. Serve with ice cream. Or not. Swoon.

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A few weeks ago I started making a list of all my favorite things to eat. I was doing this partly because I had thought of including it on the “about me” page on my new website (which is coming very soon, yay!) and partly because I love making lists, especially food-related lists. And partly because I was probably hungry. But instead of throwing the whole list up on a page where it would languish uselessly, I decided to blog about my food loves instead. So consider this post about strawberries the first in a series. Each post will sing the praises of some food I happen to love (or am loving that week) and include at least one recipe for said food.

Of course my Foods-I-Love list is a seasonal one. While I love cassoulet and creamy potato-leek soup, I don’t think about them much this time of year. Right now I love strawberries. The big, fat, perfectly sweet-tart berries you can only get in the summer. I love strawberries because they’re delicious but also because they really make me feel great. In addition to 100 g. of vitamin C per cup, which is almost as mush as in OJ, strawberries are high in fiber, calcium, magnesium, folate, and potassium — all good things, especially in hot weather. Recent studies have linked eating strawberries to improved memory function and reduced risk of heart attack and cancer. All that, at about 50 calories per cup.

During both my pregnancies I craved strawberries. I bought them in bulk at the farmer’s market (Both my kids were born in the fall, so I had perfect strawberries to offset the fact that I was carrying around 40 extra pounds during 100-degree weather.), and I got very creative with them, as only a pregnant woman can. I would stack strawberries on my toast, use slices of them for mini Parmesan sandwiches or in wraps with cream cheese and turkey, eat them by the handful as a snack with almonds, and of course plop them in my drinks (they were something to look forward to at the bottom of yet another glass of mineral water or iced herbal tea). During that time, I came up with several strawberry recipes that have withstood the test of (less-hormonal) times. While I don’t make too many turkey-strawberry wraps anymore, I do still occasionally make strawberry-pecan pancakes on weekends, and my strawberry salad has become a family favorite.

There are plenty of versions of strawberry salad out there, but I think mine is different enough to be worth trying. This recipe is on the menu of my husband’s and my fantasy restaurant — a place that would serve all the favorite meals we make at home just the way we like them, without messing up our kitchen. Like with all great dishes, the fresh ingredients each speak for themselves and also blend together perfectly. It’s simple to make and easy to adapt to your family’s tastes (Don’t like spinach? It’s also delicious with romaine or green leaf lettuce. I use spinach because it’s also in season and so awesome right now. Goat cheese would be a nice change, too.) Oh, and this salad is also easy to disassemble for kids who don’t like their foods to touch. I should know.

One last note: I can’t write about strawberries without a reminder that strawberries are one of the “Dirty Dozen,” in fact I just checked and they are currently ranked #3 on the list of conventional produce that is the most contaminated by pesticides. As if that weren’t bad enough, the state of California (where about 90% of U.S. strawberries are grown) just approved the use of methyl iodide, which has been called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” as a fumigant in strawberry fields. Whether or not the methyl iodide seeps into the berries themselves seems to be up for debate, but I don’t like the sound of it. Buy organic strawberries. Please. As much as I love them, I’d rather go without strawberries than eat conventional ones. This time of year, organic strawberries are plentiful and are really no more expensive than the pesticide-soaked ones.

Summer Strawberry Salad
1 large bunch fresh spinach (I know the bagged spinach is convenient, but I don’t think it tastes nearly as good. Buy a bunch of organic spinach — #5 on the Dirty Dozen, btw — fill your sink with cold water, give the spinach a good bath and rinse under running water, then put in salad spinner.)
1 pint organic strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup shaved hard cheese, such as Dutch Parrano

Red Wine Vinaigrette
3 tbs. red wine vinegar
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tbs. honey
3 tbs. olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper

To make the vinaigrette, put all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well. Assemble the salad and toss with the dressing. If you want to get fancy, you can toast the pine nuts on the stove: Put in a skillet on medium-low heat and cook until they start to smell toasty; this only takes a few minutes so don’t take your eyes off them or they’ll burn.

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Thanks Dad

My parents were divorced when I was very young. After my dad moved out, my sister and I would spend most weekends with him and his roommate (a single college buddy with a grand piano) at their condo on the other side of town.

As far as I know, my dad was never much of a cook before splitting up from my mom. And I guess he wasn’t much of one afterward either. However, he did acquire some decent skills; bachelorhood will do that I guess. And Dad is a total gourmet in the sense that he knows and appreciates what’s good.

My dad is also not shy about sharing his opinions. Whether it was in his brown linoleum kitchen, around many campfires, or in the backseat of one of his overly cool vehicles (most likely the doorless Jeep or the Porsche; I believe the Ferrari didn’t have a backseat…um, mid-life crisis), I learned a lot of things worth knowing about food from my dad. Here are some nuggets of his culinary wisdom.

1) To cook freshly caught Brook trout, wrap the whole fish in tin foil with salt, butter, and onion slices and throw the bundle in the coals of a campfire. Put on some heavy deerskin gloves to pull the packets out of the fire. Eat the delicious steamy fish with your fingers.

2) Throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it’s done. I’m not certain this actually works, but it sure is fun.

3) There is a big difference between Brie and Camembert.

4) The very best picnic food is baby new potatoes that have been boiled then cooled and smeared with butter and salt.

5) A slab of cheese, hard sausage, and a few apple slices makes a perfectly acceptable supper.

6) If you’re going to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, get the Original Recipe.

7) Escargot are not disgusting.

And last but definitely not least: Real Coca-Cola and real Oreos are better than RC and those light brown store-brand cookies. Get the real thing and treat it as a treat.

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The other morning, while I was trying to coax breakfast orders out of my groggy six- and nine-year-olds, my husband said, “When I was a kid, unless it was my birthday and I got to pick out a box of cereal, my mother never once asked me what I wanted for breakfast.” Now that I think of it, neither did mine. Of course I want my kids to enjoy their food and therefore — at least theoretically — eat a balanced, healthy breakfast. But do I really have to be a short-order cook at 7 a.m.?

So I decided to just make something, put it in front of them, and see how it goes. So far my experiment — i.e. “it’s smoothies and boiled eggs today” — has gone over really well. In fact, I don’t even think the kids have noticed. 

I know breakfast, especially during the school week, can be a pain. But we all know how important it is. I think of breakfast as one of the only meals that I can completely control. I am not naive enough to think (for one minute) that the healthy lunches I’m packing every day are really exactly what my kids eat for lunch every day. For example, recently my son let it slip that he traded his (nitrate-free, organic turkey on whole wheat) sandwich for his buddy’s (GMO-laden, highly processed) Lunchables Ham & American Cracker Stackers. While the food evangelist in me cringes, the mom and former kid in me understands.

What about dinner? Well, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am a big believer in family dinner — for about ten thousand reasons. One of the main reasons is that when we eat together, I can make sure there’s a nice pile of sliced veggies and lean, hormone-free protein on the plate. And we do eat together as often as we can. Which is certainly not every night. This is not because I’ve got a good excuse like a high-powered job or long commute; it’s simply reality. We try, but we’re busy. I do pack healthy on-the-go meals for my kids when they have after-school activities. But the truth remains that breakfast is my best shot at consistently getting real food into my kids’ mouths.

So, now I’m in charge of breakfast, which is less painful than trying to communicate about breakfast choices with a cranky kid (“Sweetie, we have the same kind of yogurt we had yesterday.”) — but also requires me to come up with something to feed them every day. Because I’ve read several studies that say eating protein at breakfast reduces cravings for unhealthy sugars and fats later in the day, I cook a lot of eggs. One egg has about 6 grams of high-quality protein and is a naturally good source of vitamin D, something a lot of us are deficient in. Not all eggs are created equal though. If you can’t get farm-fresh eggs, go for the next best thing, which is organic eggs from truly free-roaming chickens. There is an unbelievable difference in taste as well as health benefits: Pastured eggs have been shown to contain far less cholesterol and saturated fat but more vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and beta carotene. My kids like them almost hard-boiled, so I cook them for 9 minutes and serve them in darling little egg cups with chicken feet.

Another big hit has been PB & J’s. My son sits at a nut-free table at school, so this is his only chance to have what I think is close to a perfect meal. The key, of course, to a healthy PB & J is getting the right ingredients. First, you need organic (to ensure you’re not eating GMO wheat) whole wheat bread. We love Rudy’s Honey Sweet Whole Wheat (the Whole Foods version is also good and is less expensive). Peanut butter is a very personal thing, so go with the brand you and your kids love. Of course I recommend going organic and avoiding the brands that add weird oils, sugar, or any unpronounceable ingredients to an item that really should contain one thing: peanuts (okay and maybe a little salt). As for the jelly, in order to keep it healthy, watch the sugar. (My banana jam is fabulous, if I do say so myself, and is actually quite low in sugar.) Otherwise, I buy Crofters Just Fruit Spread, which has 8 grams per tablespoon, compared to Smucker’s Raspberry Jam, which has 12 g. Another great idea is to sub out the jam for chopped and slightly smooshed fresh berries. When they’re good (like right now), this is beyond delicious, and nobody misses the preserves.

Next post will be a couple great smoothie recipes, because those are another staple around here. Hey, What’s your kid’s favorite breakfast?

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Oven-roasted mushrooms and asparagus.

This post is long overdue. Well, as you know, Easter came — and with it a ridiculous brunch featuring bacon, ham, and several roasts. After six weeks of abstaining from all meat, it was surreal stabbing into a slab of prime rib (thankfully, there were mimosas to go with it), and I couldn’t really eat it. More than anything, I just felt my usual brunch-is-so-wasteful guilt — but times ten.

Still, it’s been nice to be a carnivore again, mostly because I don’t have to think quite so much about what to make for dinner; I never realized how much I depend on chicken in my mealtime repertoire.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the things I discovered by giving up meat for 40 days.

Even though I was training for a marathon and really depleting my energy stores, I never felt especially hungry or weak due to my lack of meat. I think it’s a myth that we truly need meat for optimal nutrition — even protein. (My kids loved the Greek yogurt and almond butter smoothies I made for breakfast.)

It’s a fun challenge to experiment with substitutes for things like taco meat (add a little cornmeal to your beans before mashing) and chicken salad sandwiches (egg salad with curry powder and olive oil mayo on toasted Ezekiel bread, mmmm). Since the pasta-rice-potato rotation got old very quickly, I was forced to be creative with main dish veggies — like my favorite oven-roasted eggplant — and protein-packed vegetable soups like this one.

I also found that having limited choices is easier in a way, especially at restaurants, where three vegetarian options is about the norm.

My overall impression is that eating less meat is a really good idea — for your family’s health, for the environment (cows being one of the main sources of greenhouse gasses), and for your wallet. And it’s actually pretty easy to do. Here are a few tips for becoming a less-meatatarian:

1. Start by going veg one day a week. You’ve probably heard of Meatless Mondays, but if Mondays don’t work (maybe that’s the day you’re eating leftover roast chicken from Sunday dinner), then pick another day. It can be a different day each week. If once a week freaks you out, go for once every other week.

Arugula with avocado and roasted potatoes.

2. Instead of focusing on the meat you can’t eat, focus on all the delicious foods you can eat. This time of year, the vegetables are especially enticing. I recommend visiting the farmer’s market or join a CSA; you’ll be drooling over all the gorgeous produce you’ll get. And don’t forget super satisfying starches like pasta (I know, how could you forget pasta?), sushi rice, and roasted new potatoes. An arugula salad topped with warm roasted potatoes and a lemony vinaigrette is definitely as delicious as a chicken breast.

3. Eat real food. I’m not a big fan of fake meat. It’s usually very highly processed, full of salt, and made from weird things like hydrolyzed soy protein. I know I might sound a little harsh, but I bet we can all live without sausage patties for one day a week.

4. Try new recipes. There are some good vegetarian recipes here (Have you tried the farro risotto yet? Italian Vegetable Soup?), but beyond these, definitely branch out and try some new stuff. If you still equate vegetarian cooking to the starchy funkiness in the Moosewood cookbooks, I suggest treating yourself to a new(er) vegetarian cookbook, like The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook or Mark Bittman’s encyclopedic How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Both of these books are very inspiring and are well used around here, even on our meat-eating days.

5. Enjoy what you’re eating. It’s okay to feel a little deprived once in a while, but you shouldn’t be miserable. Plant-based foods can be every bit as satisfying and delicious as meat, even more so when you think about it. All it takes is a little positive spin — and of course some tasty recipes. While a pile of steamed kale might not satisfy your cravings, maybe some delicious oven-roasted mushrooms would? Not feeling inspired by your pot of pasta and summer squash? Toss it with some cheesy basil pesto. The fruit bowl isn’t enticing you? May I suggest making (fresh strawberry) lemonade?

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