Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

Its always easier to like and recommend a book when it summarizes what you already believe.  I had a good friend comment (while we were chowing down at a party) “you’re so thin, you can eat anything”.   I didn’t say anything, but I’m thin because I DON'T just eat anything; I work to eat things that taste good and are good for you (and if not, don’t eat it!).   I quit using margarine probably 25 years ago (I had a good job and could afford “real” butter), I stopped drinking (and never started eating) stuff with artificial sweeteners 10 years ago,  discovered farmers markets 15 years ago in California, and over the last few years, have eliminated High Fructose Corn Syrup and trans-fats from my diet (so I use all butter in my piecrust instead of shortening).  I consider myself  lucky in that I like vegetables (always have), I like to cook, don't have a big sweet tooth, and grew up eating meals consisting of real food, with a minimum of junk food (thanks Mom).  So, I recommend reading this book, but realize its going to be harder for others to swallow than it was for me.

In Defense of Food builds on Michael Pollan’s first book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.   This book goes to the next step, successfully explaining how things have become so confused, and why people on the typical American diet have so many overwhelming health issues that are directly attributed to what they eat.  He cuts through the blather of what we hear (low-fat, high-fiber, no-cholesterol!) with a simple fact: the information on nutrition is simply missing a lot of data. Most of the studies are fundamentally flawed (such as relying on what individuals remember what they ate, or believing that they can isolate one food element without regard to other elements, some of which they don’t even know exist). On top of that, marketing organizations ("pork...the other white meat") further distort the data and influence governments and other large organizations to serve their bottom line, not our waist line. The solid data available is pretty limited:  trans-fats are bad, large amounts of highly refined carbohydrates are bad, vegetables are good. The best studies have shown that returning to diets that were typical of 100 years or more ago (before we started “refining” food) substantially improved health.   And that results in the manifesto: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.   One of the things that I liked about The Omnivore's Dilemma  that he did not prescribe a solution, he (tried) to stay objective to the subject of discussing where the food came from.  Here he delves into how to fix it… good information, but I’m not sure that it’s persuasive enough to get people to change.  He does give some good tips (“eat food your great-grandmother would recognize”). And its good to keep me on the path that I’m on.   

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New and improved: Linguine with Clams and Pancetta

With the new year and some time on my hands, I have been going through the closets and getting rid of stuff that I don’t use or is broke.  Although I don’t consider myself a real pack rat, I do sometimes have trouble getting rid of stuff.  I like to use things until they are worn out, or use something and be done with it (like a book) and pass it on.  Just getting rid of something because I made a bad decision to buy it bothers me (ok, so I’m a cheapskate!).   But something I like to do  is get rid of old recipes (especially ones that aren't getting used anymore) and replace with new and better.  Although there is some trial and error involved, it usually doesn’t contribute to the trash.  

One recipe I have recently tossed is  my old Linguine with Clam Sauce which (horrors) used Jack Cheese.  The new version uses pancetta (Italian bacon), plus some red pepper flakes which makes it work with canned clams. Pancetta can be a bit hard to find, but you can freeze it (just like bacon), and use a slice or two at a time as needed.    And don't hesitate to mess with the recipe!   This also works with regular bacon, or with the addition of a handful of chopped spinach. 

Linguine with Clams and Pancetta

Serves 2-3

½ pound linguine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 oz pancetta, sliced and cut into ½ inch squares
2 shallots, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 6 ½ oz cans chopped clams
1 cup white wine
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Put a large pot of water on to boil for pasta, when it comes to a boil, add salt and cook pasta.   Goal is to have the sauce (below) ready to add the al dente pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil (medium or medium high heat), add pancetta, cook until just starting to crisp.  Add shallots, garlic, and crushed red pepper, cook about 3 minutes.   Add clam juice and wine, bring to a boil and cook for a few more minutes at rapid boil.  Add the clams, then add the cooked linguine (best just to take directly from the pasta pot with large tongs, ok if some pasta water comes along).  If sauce is dry, add some more pasta water.   Cook for another minute or so, then add parsley, pepper and additional salt if needed (taste first – you likely have enough salt from clams and pasta water).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table Hop Like a Pro (Almost) by Adam D. Roberts

I really hated this book.  I hated it so much I finished it to figure out why.  The premise is to teach people raised on chain restaurants and frozen dinners how to be gourmets, through a series of chapters of stories about shopping/chopping/table hopping with friends (non-gourmets) or experts (gourmets).   The book was preceded by a successful blog, but is not the Julia / Julie project!   I was interested in this because I too hope to persuade people that they can do better when it comes to eating, with more “real/good food” in their diets.   So… why do I hate it?  First, the term gourmet is off-putting, so I checked Widipedia to better understand the definition.  I think this sentence summed it up:  “The term and the practice may have negative connotations of elitism or snobbery, but is often used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion”..  I guess its OK to be called a gourmet, but not consider yourself a gourmet.  Next, his instructions to chop an onion went on for 2 pages, and I had to read it 3 times for it to make sense.  And I know how to chop and onion.   This would be hopeless to anyone who really wanted to learn.  Last, he has that self-centered, NYC writers affliction.   I don’t know where or why I picked up this bias against male NY writers (and the lead name of this list is Garrison Keillor). Female NYC authors like Julia Powell and Elizabeth Gilbert don’t seem to have this problem.

My next book is In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan…  Hopefully it will be better (he lives in California).