Friday, February 27, 2009

The Oiling of America

Last week I saw a pretty interesting talk in New York given by Sally Fallon, the President of the Weston Price Foundation. She was there to speak about our nation's addiction to oil - not the kind the fuels our cars, but rather the vegetable oils in our food supply.

I saw Fallon previously when I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and knew she was a proponent of high quality animal products. Still I was surprised by her belief that there is nothing to worry when it comes to high cholesterol. In fact there were several people in the audience with levels over 300, and she didn't seem the slightest bit concerned.

To understand this, we must first combat the myth that cholesterol is a 'bad' thing. Fallon believes the science linking heart disease and cholesterol to be poor. And to her credit she demonstrated several studies in which the science was doctored to the benefit of drug companies and the food industry.

According to Fallon, cholesterol is in fact an antioxidant. Yes, the same antioxidants found in colorful foods like berries and red wine. Our bodies naturally produce cholesterol to reduce the toxic load that comes from both food and the environment. It is also secreted in order to deal with stress.

So what about vegetable oils? She warns specifically against polyunsaturated oils (corn, sunflower) that are unstable, especially when heated. Try cooking with butter and ghee. And if you're up for it lard and duck fat.

And what about those with low cholesterol? Do they deserve to be shining examples of good health? Hardly the case. These individuals have a high tendency towards stroke, suicide, and reproductive problems - leading to the natural selection of the wise, Sallon joked. Yes, even health nuts can have a sense of humor.

Sally Fallon is the author of Nourishing Traditions

Monday, February 23, 2009

Slumdog-inspired dishes and more

At last night's Oscar Party, guests were greeted with warm chai and several dishes inspired by this year's Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire.

I prepared some Black Eyed Peas Masala Patties, served with plum chutney

Swati made some chaat. A common snack / street food in India. Using rice chips, chickpeas, cilantro chutney, apple buter chutney, cilantro, and spices.

Our friend Mentha joined in our enthusiasm. She prepared a Bombay Cheese Ball using cream cheese, curry powder, nuts and raisins.


Other creative dishes inspired by this year's nominated films include:

Cheese pastry puffs
Inspired by Philippe Petit, the puffy-shirted, French tightrope walker in Man on Wire

Roasted 'Button' Mushrooms with Veggie Sausage

Mashed Potatoes
Inspired by Wall-E (when all food was pureed)

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Inspired by the end of Wall-E, when hope forms around seeds

Carrot Halwa
A Slumdog-inpired dessert made from grated carrots, ghee, cardamom and sugar
Prepared by our friends Annie and Matt

'Frost'-ed Banana Cupcakes

Brownies, Cookies and 'Milk'

Swati and I had a great time. What a great way to come together and share our passion for food and movies. I have a feeling we'll be doing it again next year.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oscar Party Potluck Ideas

On Sunday, I will be hosting an Oscar Party Potluck at my home in Brooklyn. I've asked guests to bring a dish inspired by one of this year's nominated films.

I was inspired this morning after receiving a Vegetarian Times newsletter that I am not the only one who has Oscar-themed potluck ambitions this Sunday. I thought I'd take a moment this morning to brainstorm some ideas. Here's what I got:
  • Slumdog 'Sloppy Joes' - featuring Pav Bhaji, the Indian vegetarian equivalent. A popular street food in Mumbai.
I also love the idea of Homemade Twinkies from Planet Green, inspired by the film Milk and its "twinkie defense." Although, I'm not all that excited about eating them.

Would you happen to have any creative ideas? I'd love to hear them!

*Photo by Daniel Krieger

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Soy yum - tips for great marinated tofu

Tofu is one of those foods that found me later in life. I never ate it much growing up, but now it is something I always seem to have in the kitchen.

Since it's a great source of vegetarian protein, I thought I'd share a few thoughts and a recipe on how to make really great tofu.

Here are my thoughts:

1. Buy the good stuff. The secret to all good cooking starts with good ingredients. I choose Bridge Tofu, which is made by hand in Connecticut using a kettle cooking process. Look for organic or non-GMO soy.

2. Use a cast iron skillet. I bought one on Amazon some time ago for under $20 and it is probably the best investment I've made for my kitchen. I've used it countless times and it browns tofu and other foods very well. Be warned it is likely you may develop an addiction - eating the tofu right out the pan.

3. It's all about the marinade. Tofu alone doesn't have much flavor, but absorbs that of the marinade. I like to go with Asian flavors and mix up a quick marinade using tamari, maple syrup, turmeric, garlic, and Sriracha hot sauce.

Here's my recipe - great eaten on its own or over a stir fry.

1 block firm tofu, patted dry
2 tbsp tamari
1 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 squirt Sriracha sauce
1 tbsp coconut oil

Cut tofu block into quarters lengthwise. Slice into thin rectangles (1/2 inch in width).

In large bowl mix tamari, maple syrup, turmeric, garlic, and Sriracha sauce. Add tofu and mix until well coated. Let sit for 20 minutes.

After tofu is done marinating, heat coconut oil in cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add tofu. Cook for about 7 minutes on each side, until brown. Remove from heat.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From NYT: A farming story, in numbers

If you've ever pondered a more simple existence, moving to the country and growing your own food, you're not alone. Just don't quit your day job.

On Sunday, the NY Times ran a story "Farm Living (Subsidized by a Job Elsewhere)," publishing figures that support this trend. From 2002 to 2007, the total number of farms increased (4 percent), as did the number of farmers reporting an additional income (65 percent). There were also loads of other interesting stories in the numbers, some good some sad.

Encouraging signs:
  • The number of organic farms increased by 50 percent from 2002 to 2007
  • American farmers are becoming more diverse - female farmers increased 30 percent and Hispanic farmers increased 10 percent from 2002 to 2007
Yet, it's clear there is also another story in this article - farming is a tough business:
  • Of our nation's 2.2 million farms, 900,000 reported income of less than $2,500
  • 5 percent of our total farms produce 75 percent of our agricultural output
  • The average farmer is 57 years old!
I think it is essential that we support our small farmers. For anyone who's shopped at a farmers market, it is clear that they bring more than better tasting fruits and vegetables to the table. They also foster a sense of community. I literally think New Yorkers who take up arms if the city ever threatened to close down the Union Square Greenmarket.

Small farmers are also stewards of our agricultural traditions and heirloom varieties. As someone who use to work for a large food company, I am certain the possibility of 'one tomato to feed them all' is highly possibly if we let the suits takeover. Let's not forget the potato famine in Ireland was caused by growing only one strain of potato.

I support my local farmer by buying from local Greenmarkets, the Park Slope Food Co-op, and my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Anyone else feel strongly about the need to support our local farmers? What else can we do to support them?

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Few Good Oils

Our choice of cooking oil is perhaps one of the most important decisions we make when it comes to the health of our food. Yet, it seems to be one area we've gotten totally wrong.

In New York City we've recently banned trans fats. Still most of the oils used in our restaurants are still far from healthy.

I was reminded of this when dining in Williamsburg yesterday. I ordered one of my favorite dishes - fish tacos. I suppose I imagined them to be grilled or broiled, similar to the ones I make at home. Instead, I looked down at a plate of deep fried fish, cooked in what I'd guess is a combination of genetically modified canola or soy oils.

I assumed full responsibility. I hadn't asked the waiter for more specifics. I ate what was in front of me, but my body wasn't happy. My skin became irritated.

I was experiencing a symptom of inflammation, which is a result of consuming food that is cooked at high temperatures with polyunsaturated oils (e.g. corn, soy, canola oils). Inflammation also manifests itself in the form of heart disease, join pain, asthma. Lots of good stuff.

It's almost impossible to avoid these oils when eating out, especially when eating fast, convenient food. The best way to control the oils that go into your body is to cook at home.

Here are the oils that I always have on hand. Make sure to buy cold or expeller pressed versions from your health foods store. Unrefined too!
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – My primary oil. I use it for everything from sauteeing to salad dressings. Avoid using for high heat cooking as this oil has a low smoke point. Avoid mass produced olive oil brands, and look for those that are cold pressed and unrefined (e.g. Flora and Bionaturae).
  • Virgin Coconut Oil – A great high heat cooking oil. I use it for stir frys, even baking. It is one of the few plant-based sources of saturated fat - which is a stable fat and something [surprise] we actually need in our diet. Should be solid at room temperature.
  • Sesame Oil – Great for flavoring with Asian dishes. I usually add towards the end of a stir fry or in a noodle salad.
  • Flax Oil – High in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Not to be cooked! It is great as a salad dressing (especially in those with fruits). I also add a spoonful to my steel cut oats.
If you're interested in learning more about the role of oils in our diet, I suggest attending Sally Fallon's upcoming lecture: The Oiling of America in New York City on February 20 from 7 to 9 pm.

Let me know if you plan to attend. I should be there.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

FoodMatters: A must-see film

The makers of FoodMatters sure know their audience.

In addition to being passionate about holistic health and nutrition, I must admit I am a sucker for a good corporate conspiracy flick.

Yet it is rare that a film on food and health comes out that isn't more than just a lecture. FoodMatters presents a truly watchable film, that I have no doubt you will enjoy (especially if you are reading this blog).

I was invited to a private screening by my friend Simone in Manhattan and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. You'd think I would have heard it all before, but for some reason I needed to watch this film.

When you're living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and are surrounded by a community of eco-conscious folks that are into healthy eating, it is easy to forget about the importance of it all.

We spend billions of dollars in pharmaceuticals and health care, yet our hospitals continue to serve white bread and Jell-o.

We advocate eating more fruits and vegetables, yet the products sold on the market today contain a fraction of the nutrition content of those sold thirty years ago.

If you're interested in learning 'why' I strongly suggest watching this film. Other films to throw into the Netflix queue: The Corporation and The Real Dirt on Farmer John

Integrative Nutrition