Nello’s Sauce

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Neal McTighe of Nello’s Sauce shared his experience developing a local, food-based business!

The area where I live in central North Carolina is teeming with men and women who are dedicated to bringing people fresh, high quality, locally produced food and improving access to healthy foods. This desire to connect people to good, healthy food has spawned a myriad of small businesses, and I’ll be taking some time to interview them and share what I find about why they do what they do and how they do it.

The first person I met with is Neal “Nello” McTighe, founder of Nello’s Sauce. Nello’s Sauce is based in Raleigh, and is rapidly becoming available at grocery stores across North Carolina. If enthusiasm is a contributing factor to entrepreneurial success, Nello’s Sauce is on its way to greatness.

Inspiration
The journey to Nello’s Sauce began with a college study abroad in Italy that inspired McTighe to help others learn about Italy and Italian culture. Over successive trips to Italy and by studying his own family history, McTighe absorbed everything he could about Italian history and culture. While working a regular 9-5 job, he began (as many of us do) to share his passion for Italy through a blog about Italian culture and cooking. Eventually, he found a wonderful opportunity to teach Italian at a local college. Fortuitously, this new career also gave him the flexibility to begin a new, Italy-focused business.

A Sauce is Born
As McTighe continued exploring Italian cuisine, he developed a reputation among his friends as a most righteous pizza maker. Hmmm…could pizza be his calling? He did some initial feasibility studies, and found that the complexity of making, freezing, delivering and selling frozen pizzas did not bode well for a young startup business. Focusing on one component of that dish–the sauce–had better possibilities and fewer supply chain issues. McTighe began testing and experimenting with the sauces he already loved to make, and Nello’s Sauce was born!

Learning Curves
Every new journey begins with a great deal of learning, and starting a food-based business is no exception. Nello’s Sauce started in McTighe’s kitchen, where he hand-crafted and canned batches of his tomato sauce. He stressed to me the importance of thinking through every detail–How much will ingredients cost per ounce or per unit? What kind of jar is best? What size will the package be? What will the label say? Where will the ingredients come from? What kind of insurance do you need? What requirements do grocery stores, farmers markets, etc have for selling your product? Where will you make your product and how?

The last question is one with big implications. While Neal started creating and canning his sauces in his own kitchen, that quickly became impractical. I mean, could you fit a pallet of canning jars in your kitchen? I know I couldn’t! Leasing commercial kitchen space from a restaurant can be frustrating, inconvenient and expensive. Fortunately, Neal found a commercial kitchen in a nearby town that leases space to small, food-based entrepreneurs. The Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center provides training, regular, convenient access to a large commercial kitchen facility plus storage for pallets of jars and lots and lots of tomatoes.

Also, understand where your ingredients will come from and how they will be cleaned and processed. If you are purchasing vegetables from local farmers, how sustainable is that if your business doubles? Triples? Blanching and peeling tomatoes for 10 quarts of sauce may be okay, but what about for 100 quarts of sauce? In the case of tomatoes, only a few big processing facilities to clean and peel tomatoes exist in the entire country, and guess what? None of them are in North Carolina. Or even in our part of the country. For McTighe, the only way to continue making his sauce locally is to purchase cleaned and peeled tomatoes from one of these large facilities (buying and shipping NC tomatoes to California for processing and sending them back to NC is only do-able if customers are willing to pay something like $20.00 per jar–in other words, NOT do-able). While his sauce is a local product from a local company, North Carolina sadly does not have the infrastructure in place to use local tomatoes. As a business owner, it’s good to have this knowledge in your back pocket, so when your business expands, you are ready.

Giving Back
Neal would be the first to admit that he has learned a tremendous amount in the past few years–some of it through personal connections and research, and some of it the hard way. One thing he understands is that more people need to be involved in healthy, sustainable food production. And while it’s fabulous that Whole Foods is carrying Nello’s Sauce, Neal also realizes that not everyone has access to healthy food. Rather than shrugging and walking away, he came up with a plan to help.

Our Hearts Beat Hunger is a two-pronged initiative to encourage young entrepreneurs and get Nello’s healthy sauce into low-income homes. Started through crowd sourcing, Our Hearts Beat Hunger raised funds to provide a mentorship opportunity for one young dreamer and donate jars of sauce to local food banks. The hope is that as the business expands, so will the philanthropy. For Nello’s, it’s not just about being a business–it’s about being part of a larger community. That spirit is what makes some of our local, food-based businesses so amazing.

Thinking about starting your own business? Here are some tips from Nello!

Some Tips from Nello

  1. Start with what you love. You’re going to spend a LOT of time doing it, so you should have a passion from the beginning.
  2. Start small and get LOTS of feedback on your product. Ask your family. Ask your friends. Ask strangers. And then listen!
  3. Find a unique aspect to your product and go with that. Be able to communicate what separates your product from others on the market.
  4. Research every aspect of your product and process–identify supply chain issues early.
  5. Identify how you might expand your business without losing quality. You probably won’t be cooking in your own kitchen for long, so what’s next?
  6. Understand state and federal guidelines and requirements for food production, storage and labeling (most of this is available online). Requirements vary depending on the type of food and the number of units sold. Having this information upfront will help prevent unpleasant (and potentially expensive) surprises later.
  7. Grow slowly and thoughtfully, and enjoy the journey along the way.

Thanks to Neal McTighe for sharing time with me to talk about Nello’s Sauce and local, food-based businesses! Click HERE for more information about Nello’s Sauce!

Want to see what I did with my Nello’s Sauce? Click HERE for our Aubergine and Lavender Pasta recipe!

Penalizing Healthy Eating at Camp

If you have followed our blog for a while, you know that along our journey we have come across true food heroes and we have come across folks who talk about health, but who really don’t put that into practice. We’ve been through school fundraisers that directly contradict county policy about unhealthy foods and pleas to parents to make healthy post-game snacks. It is frustrating when the issue of childhood obesity and poor health outcomes for the next generation are everywhere, yet in some cases we keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over. I still can’t figure out if this is ignorance, laziness or apathy.

Summer camps are another area where we talk the talk of health, but where most of the time snacks and meals are pretty atrocious. Here is an article originally published on the Huffington Post by First Bites Founder Caron Gremont regarding how we punish or penalize families who want healthier choices.

What do you think about this?

Obesity Is Officially a Disease, So Why Was My Child Diagnosed as a ‘Healthy Eater’?

by Caron Gremont, http://www.firstbites.org

Today, the American Medical Association officially diagnosed obesity as a disease. So why is my daughter’s summer camp sending her to the nurse for being a “healthy eater”?

Next week, my 5-year-old daughter starts summer camp for the first time. As I sat in the parent orientation meeting, the camp director laid out the great activities she will do and reviewed some new data from the American Camp Association (ACA) on the benefits of camp for children. According to the ACA website, “building blocks of self-esteem are belonging, learning, and contributing. Camps offer unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three vital areas.”

It all sounded fantastic — until I saw the snack menu.

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At 3:15 p.m. every day, the camp provides a “camp snack” to all the children (ages range from 5- to 15-years-old). Considering the children swim twice a day and have outdoor play as well as dance and sports almost daily, they need a snack that provides them with energy and carries them from lunch to dinner.

So what is the camp offering?

A daily choice of Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nilla wafers, Cheese Curls, and potato chips. It’s not like the camp has never heard of fruit; they are serving watermelon or grapes once a week. Could they possibly think that these artificial, highly-sweetened, and highly-processed foods are filling, nutritious, and appropriate to serve growing children?

I talked to the head counselor, and explained that we try to eat “real food” that is both satisfying and nourishing, and I was worried about both the poor quality of the “food” they were serving as well as how little satisfaction it would actually provide. She sent me to the woman in charge of the snacks, who was very kind and sent me to the head of the camp, who was also understanding and sent me to camp nurse. The nurse said I could send in whatever snacks I wanted for my daughter. She would store them in her office, and my daughter could come and get them every afternoon. And my friend, whose daughter must follow a gluten-free diet, told me our children could come together to get their daily snacks!

And then it hit me: eating “healthy” snacks is being treated like a disease. The camp was very happy to accommodate our “special” needs and reassured me that with all the allergies today, our daughter wouldn’t be the only one eating a “special” diet.

My daughter doesn’t think her diet is “special.” To her, it’s normal. She eats a wide variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. She loves to snack on carrots, raw peppers and hummus, and no one has told her that this is “special.” What message does it send to tell my daughter that to eat “healthy food,” she needs to get her snack at the camp nurse every afternoon?

How ironic that a summer camp that is supposed to promote self-esteem and inclusiveness can do neither because a child has the rare affliction of wanting to eat healthily.

Yet in a country in which nearly one in three children is overweight or obese and in which French fries are considered a vegetable, it’s no wonder that the little girl who eats carrots and not cheese curls is “special.”

When I asked the head of my daughter’s camp if any other parent complained, I expected that there would be several. After all, this is a wealthy suburb outside a cosmopolitan city with more Whole Foods than Food Lions. But the camp director told me that only one or two parents a year comment on the camp menu.

We send our children to camp and trust that the counselors and lifeguards will keep them safe, from the pool to the buses used for field trips. Shouldn’t a camp also have an obligation to keep our children safe at the snack table? Singling out a child whose parents are trying to teach her to care for her body and eat real food makes my job, as her parent, much harder and doesn’t do much to support the efforts of other parents who may be trying and struggling to do the same. Given what we know about junk food, and its impact on our health, shouldn’t our summer camps — and schools — help normalize the eating of healthy food, not exclude a child from the group just because she prefers to snack on whole foods?

And it’s not that children won’t eat these foods. In the work that we do at First Bites, we have seen preschoolers learn and love to make healthy smoothies, try new fruit, and — yes — even eat their broccoli.

It’s that it’s the job of all of us — parents as well as schools, summer camps, and after-school programs — to set the example and offer the right choices to our kids. It may cost a little more than Chips Ahoy or be more of a hassle to cut a piece of fresh fruit, but it’s the price we will need to pay to tackle the real disease plaguing our kids, obesity.

Tutorial Tuesday #3–10 Tips for Efficient Farmers Market Shopping

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Welcome to another Tutorial Tuesday!

Note: The photo above is from one of the many little neighborhood fresh markets in Paris. Interestingly, families in Paris don’t shop once a week or once a month–they shop several times a week and buy what is fresh. This is easier because most people walk to and from work (or the metro) and the markets are everywhere. If I could walk past a bakery and purchase fresh bread every few days, I certainly would do it!

Shifting your food shopping from the grocery store to the farmer’s market can present some challenges. You don’t always know what you’ll find at the market (especially when you’re first starting out) and you do need to have a bit more flexibility in your meal planning. Continuing the theme of how to shop efficiently and affordably while still eating local, I have 10 tips from our own family experience!

Tip One–Know your farmers, know your farmers, know your farmers.

Before starting our locavore journey, my only experience with asking produce questions was asking the “produce manager” in our local grocery store, who usually knew almost nothing about produce or cooking. So, I was pretty shy and hesitant about asking farmers information. I thought it might be rude. But you know what? Farmers LIKE answering questions and they LOVE talking about what they grow. And guess what else? Many of them cook this food themselves! Also, farmers, in my limited experience, are pretty practical folks. If you say you’re on a budget and you have xx to spend on vegetables, they can give you lots of ideas for how to stretch your dollars and feed your family. Try THAT at your local grocery store!

Tip Two–Use Social Media

You know those picture books with Farmer Brown plowing a field with oxen or riding in a horse and buggy? Well, those books need a major update. Most farmers who sell to local markets are pretty media savvy (or at least they are getting there). They probably have a Facebook page, an email newsletter and/or Twitter account. Crazy, right? I get weekly postings on what is available from local farmers and farmer’s markets in my area. That saves me a LOT of time when planning menus because I’m not guessing at what I’ll find.

Tip Three–Pre-order the Important Stuff

Related to Tip Two, I’ve found that I can easily pre-order cuts of meat, types of cheese, seafood, eggs and large amounts of produce (like strawberries for jam) and pick them up at my local farmer’s market. Farmer’s like this because they know they are bringing items to market that will be sold. And I love it because I don’t have to get to the market only to find out that no one has any chicken breasts left.

Tip Four–Allow Flexibility for the Unexpected

From menu planning/shopping system, you might think I’m a control freak. Well, that would be partially true, but I also love getting to the market and finding out that something new is available. If I’ve planned my menu right (see below), I may be able to add something unexpected into our menu. Or maybe it becomes a lunch snack. I can also make a note of it and work it in next week. The point is, don’t make yourself so controlled that you miss the beauty of the market.

One example of this is my Slightly Badass Blackberry Jam. Be open to the possibilities as long as you can use the produce!

Tip Five–Incorporate Some “Go-To” Flexible Recipes

I have plenty of recipes (roast chicken) in my culinary tool box that are pretty straightforward, simple and easy on the brain. I like to have some other, flexible, veggie-loving recipes that are always in rotation and can use almost anything in the refrigerator. These recipes are a good way to use up what’s left at the end of the week and a great way to incorporate those unexpected purchases. Here are some examples:

  • Stir-fry (one protein + chopped up veggies + onion + a whole grain)
  • Quiche/frittata (basic quiche/frittata recipe + 1 c. vegetables)
  • Pizza (one whole wheat crust + 2 c. chopped veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Roasted vegetables and pasta (16 oz. pasta + 2-3 c. roasted veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Saladpalooza (bowl of washed greens + assortment of chopped veggies + 1 protein + dressing)
  • Soup (4 c. chicken stock + pasta/rice + 3 c. sautéed vegetables)
  • Quesadillas (2 tortillas + fat-free refried beans + 1 c. sautéed vegetables + cheese + salsa)

These are all recipes that can use unlimited combinations of vegetables, grains and protein, making the most of what is seasonal and available!

Tip Six–Shop With a List

Now that I’ve addressed flexibility, once you have your list, stick to it unless you are POSITIVE you will use it. Back away from the impulse purchases that have no relationship to your menu. If you don’t have a recipe that will accommodate, say, rutabegas, and you can’t freeze them for later (see below), then do not buy them. I mean it…scoot, scoot!

Tip Seven–Make Use of What You Have

Americans throw away an obsene amount of food each year. Sometimes it happens that I get a huge amount of one vegetable in our Produce Box and it’s more than we can eat right away. Or maybe we have a last-minute change of plans and we don’t end up eating all our meals. In this case, the freezer is your best friend. Rather than throw away chicken because we didn’t make a big dinner, I can roast or bake it while we’re finishing up homework, take it off the bone and freeze it for later. Or, like last week when I received WAY more spring onions that we needed, I chopped them up, bagged them in freezer bags in 1 cup servings and froze them for later. Greens, like collards, mustard greens, kale and turnip greens, can also be cooked and frozen to eat later. Don’t waste that produce!

Tip Eight–Stock Up and Put It Up

Eating locally does not mean surviving on nothing but sweet potatoes and collard greens all winter. You can enjoy local peaches in February, delicious local corn in December and turnips in July. You just have to plan ahead. We’re new at this, but it’s already become a very enjoyable part of our farmer’s market trips. Food preservation is one of the oldest culinary skills around and guess what? It’s fun! You have three options when preserving your precious bounty–canning, freezing and drying. When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, stock up (prices are also lowest at this time) and save those wonderful flavors for later. You will save money and get high quality, delicious food all year-long!

Tip Nine–Ask. And Then Ask Again!

The local food network in my area (and I’m willing to bet in yours, too) is a close-knit community of farmers, chefs, bakers, cheese makers, etc. If you want something and can’t find it, ask around. I was amazed at what I learned once I started asking. Somehow in my mind, I thought that our local food producers would be highly secretive and competitive. While there may be some competition going on out there, the people I have found are pretty straight up. If I want something they don’t have, they don’t try to sell me something else. They tell me who has it. Sometimes they’ll actually walk me down to the other vendor and help me out. Crazy. And lovely.

Tip Ten–Realize That Sometimes You’ll Blow It

I’m human. And I love seafood. So when fresh seafood starts coming to our local market in the early spring, I go a little crazy. And going a little crazy usually means I blow my budget. Maybe even by a lot. I think this spring we had an entire week of nothing but seafood. At the end of the day, though, it’s like a fun celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of lighter foods on our menu. As long as it’s not a usual occurrence, we’re ok. We make up for it over the next few weeks and we calm down our purchases. So stay on budget, but don’t let an occasional celebration ruin your joy.

What are your tips and strategies?? I’d love to hear them!

What would you like to see in next week’s tutorial?

Grilled Swordfish with Bacon Onion Marmalade

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Yes, yes, we are putting bacon onion marmalade on everything these days. It’s so darn good and we have plenty from the batch we made last week, so we are trying it out on all kinds of food. Not dessert. Well, not yet, anyway 🙂

I love any kind of fish or seafood, but this fresh, line-caught swordfish from our North Carolina coast was hands down the best fish I have ever had. EVER. Thanks to Locals Seafood for providing impeccably fresh, local fish, clams, scallops, shrimp and crabs. They have truly revolutionized how we buy and eat our seafood. These swordfish steaks were thick, which kept them from getting dried out on the grill, plus the grilled skin added a wonderful crunchiness that was to die for.

This recipe is unbelievably simple. It showcases fresh fish at it’s best. When you have something beautiful and fresh, why muck it up with a lot of unnecessary ingredients? Keep it simple and let the star be on stage.

Grilled Swordfish with Bacon Onion Marmalade (serves 3-4)

  • 2 large swordfish steaks, about 1 1/2″ thick
  • 1 or 1 1/2 cups Balsamic vinaigrette dressing (see below or use your favorite)
  • 1/2 cup Bacon Onion Marmalade
  • Kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  1. Put the swordfish steaks in a glass pan or in a large zip loc bag. Add the vinaigrette, turn steaks to coat, and let marinate for about 20 minutes. I put my pan on the counter so the fish comes almost to room temperature (I find food grills better that way), but if that makes you nervous, pop the fish into the refrigerator to marinate.
  2. Preheat your grill.
  3. When grill is hot, remove fish from the marinade and wipe off excess with a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired.
  4. Cook fish at medium high on the grill for 4-4.5 minutes per side. Let rest for about 2 minutes.
  5. In a pan or in the microwave oven, heat the bacon onion marmalade and set aside.
  6. Top each fish steak with a few tablespoons of bacon onion marmalade and serve immediately.
  7. Lick your plate.

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

  • 1 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (I used peach flavored white balsamic)
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  1. Blend all ingredients together with a whisk or an immersion blender.

Not sure about grilling fish? Here are 4 easy grilling tips:

  1. Keep your grill hot. Starting with a hot grill will help your food from sticking.
  2. Dry your protein before grilling. Marinades are great, but pat your meat or fish dry before grilling. Why? Because if your protein has a lot of liquid (like a marinade) on it, you will spend your grilling time steaming your food as the liquid evaporates instead of grilling your food. Cooking will take longer and your food will not have that wonderful seared exterior. A light brush of olive oil is ok, but nothing more than that.
  3. Add sauces at the end. If you are using a barbecue sauce, add it in the last few minutes of grilling so the sugars caramelize, but don’t scorch.
  4. Let your protein rest. Letting your meat or fish rest after grilling gives the protein time to redistribute moisture and relax. The end result is a moister, more tender meal.

 

Grass-fed Beef Burgers with Bacon-Onion Marmalade

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Bacon.Onion.Marmalade. You’re welcome.

On Memorial Day, I ran my first ever 10k. Since there wasn’t an actual race on Memorial Day, we made our own faux race on a new section of greenway here in Cary. My farthest previous distance was 5k, or 3.106 miles, so this was surprising, to say the least. To celebrate this victory, we had lovely grilled burgers with ground beef from a local farm, Black Hoof Run Heritage Beef. We hadn’t made hamburgers in a loooong time, and they were so incredibly delicious!

Are you wondering what the big idea is about grass-fed beef? Is it just another trendy foodie fad? Another way to part you and your precious paycheck? Click HERE for a primer on grass fed beef. Not only does grass-fed beef taste better, it is lower in bad fat and higher in omega-3 fats (good fat).

With our delicious grass fed burgers, we treated ourselves to one of our favorite condiments, bacon-onion marmalade. This is basically a caramelized onion reduction with bacon and it is very delicious.

I first had bacon onion marmalade during my locavore’s lunch at Chuck’s. It was incredible. The idea of making it myself intrigued me–how hard could it really be? Turns out, not hard at all, although it is time-consuming. Sadly, it’s not recommended to can this lovely concoction, but you can refrigerate it for a couple of weeks and use it on many different dishes. Or share some with friends. You’ll have to work out for yourself who is “marmalade worthy” :-)

We made this with locally produced onions and locally and humanely produced bacon from Mae Farm. I cannot possibly say enough good things about the pork we have purchased from Mae Farm. It is always incredible. Yes, bacon is not health food, I do realize that. But what you end up using is in such small quantities that any health effects of the bacon fat are pretty negligible.

If you like bacon and caramelized onions, you will love this-it is sweet, onion-y, tangy and rich. Just the way to celebrate a super day!

Looking for a Deviled egg recipe? Click HERE!

Bacon-Onion Marmalade

  • 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • 4 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 c. apple cider
  • 1/4 c. white or wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (less if you don’t like spicy heat)
  1. In a saute pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and reserve, but keep the bacon drippings.
  2. Add sliced onions to the bacon drippings and cook on medium-high for about 10 minutes, until all onions are soft and translucent.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add all remaining ingredients to the pan. Stir to combine. Simmer until mixture is almost out of fluids and is thick and jammy–about an hour.
  4. Reduce heat to low and cook another 10 minutes until mixture is very brown and sticky. You may need to add a bit of water if the mixture is too dry.
  5. Serve what you need and refrigerate the rest in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.

 

A Salad a Day

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We made this salad with local produce from our farmer’s market last week!

I’ve blogged before about our Saladpalooza nights, our salads in Paris, and my daughter’s desire for her school to have a salad bar in the cafeteria (still hasn’t happened). Seems we’re all about some salad. Well, I saw a tweet this morning about Whole Foods and their new challenge to get everyone to eat a salad a day (yes, this is a tad self-serving since they have a salad bar, but still a good idea).

To promote this initiative, Whole Foods will be blogging recipes for salads every day and will commit to helping schools get salad bars in their cafeterias. Now that we have loads of fresh greens and spring vegetables in our local farmer’s markets, this is a great time to start rethinking your salads! You can read more about the Whole Foods Salad-A-Day Challenge HERE.

We have salad wraps planned for tonight and a version of our Parisian salad on tap for tomorrow! Let’s go, salad!!!

Outsmarting the Grocery Store

English: Shelves of packaged food inside a Ral...

Aside from small trips to Trader Joes, and occasional treks to Whole Foods, we have given up almost all grocery shopping. Occasionally, I find the need for something I can only find in the standard grocery, but that is pretty rare anymore. I have learned that I can make my own powdered sugar, self-rising whole wheat flour and buttermilk, so why buy them off the shelf?

Now, in full disclosure, I have never loved grocery shopping, but since we started shopping primarily at our local farmers markets, going to the grocery has become even more frustrating and stressful.  First, no one seems to know anything about the produce or meat sold in the grocery. I’m not dissing 16 year olds, but why oh why would I take produce advice from someone who has never cooked? Second, the things I need seem to be hard to find. Is it me or are steel-cut oats almost impossible to see on the shelf? And lastly, I continue to be amazed at how expensive processed food is. Sure, a box of Hamburger Helper is only .99 with a coupon, but you’re paying for mostly salt and pasta. Plus you still need to add meat and maybe canned tomatoes. Not a good deal when a whole box of pasta might be .99 and you get two or three times more than is in the box of Hamburger Helper. A loaf of bread might be $1.99, but for $3.99 you can get a 5 lb. bag of whole wheat flour that will make you 5 or 6 loaves of bread.

So I was intrigued this morning when I saw a Twitter posting from Earth Eats about the geography of a grocery store. None of this is really new information, but it is a good reminder that when you enter a grocery store, you (and most importantly, your children) are being carefully manipulated to make choices that are good for the grocery stores profits, but not good for the health of your family.

Case in point: my daughter went looking in Trader Joes for peanut butter. Just plain ol’, no sugar added peanut butter. She grabbed a jar and off we went. Until I noticed during checkout that what she thought was peanut butter was some kind of cookie butter. WHAAAT? What the hell is cookie butter? We went back to the shelf and there were two entire rows of cookie butter at chest level, and the actual peanut butter was waaaaay down at the bottom. GRRRRRRR. Cookie butter, by the way, is cookies, fat and sugar. Now, maybe this is your favorite food in the world (I won’t judge), but it’s not what we want in our diet. And it is not a sub for peanut butter in Thai spicy peanut sauce.

Check out this article–maybe you want to print it out and take it with you to the grocery store? It’s eye-opening, for sure! Here are some takeaway tips:

  • Shop the perimeter–the outside aisles is where the fresh food is.
  • Look up–and down. The healthier, less processed food is often not at eye level.
  • Buy ingredients, not packages.

Here is a wonderful mantra to keep in mind (this is from Michael Pollan).

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t. ”

10 Great Books About Food

In Defense of Food

Are you looking for something good to read? I have to admit that I have a iPad full of books I can’t quite get around to, but I keep trying. This is a great time of year to get some reading in–spring planting hasn’t quite started and the hectic holidays are in the rear view mirror. Here are some food-related book ideas for you. Note, these are NOT cookbooks, although some have recipes. Cookbooks will come in another post!

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winne

This is on my reading list, but I am all about the two questions he asks: What about those people who are not financially able to make conscientious choices about where and how to get food? And in a time of rising rates of both diabetes and obesity, what can we do to make healthier foods available for everyone?

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman is hands down my favorite food writer. His Opinion pieces for the New York Times are well-researched, thoughtful and compelling. I love this book because it not only addresses the environmental, social and bio-ethical issues with our current food system, he provides 77 recipes to illustrate how eating with a conscience can also be delicious.

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

Really love Michael Pollan as an author. This well-written book examines why, as we become more concerned about nutrition, we also become less healthy. His formula is to “eat real food, not too much, and mostly plants.” That’s the synopsis, but I recommend reading the whole thing 🙂 Also, see his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

This is really one of the books that started folks thinking about food differently. This expose of the American fast food system examines how this industry has changed food production systems in America for the worst.

Food, Inc.: Mendel to Monsanto by Peter Pringle

This book examines the extraordinary changes in food production as it relates to seeds, how they are engineered, and who has control. I like this publication because it is not Monsanto-bashing, but a more balanced look at the positives and negatives of GMO food production.

Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health edited by Gene Stone

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am not a vegetarian, although I do love vegetables. This is on my list to read!

Food Justice (Food, Health and the Environment) by Robert Gottleib

What is food justice? “A food justice framework ensures that the benefits and risks of how food is grown and processed, transported, distributed, and consumed are shared equitably. Gottlieb and Joshi recount the history of food injustices and describe current efforts to change the system, including community gardens and farmer training in Holyoke, Massachusetts, youth empowerment through the Rethinkers in New Orleans, farm-to-school programs across the country, and the Los Angeles school system’s elimination of sugary soft drinks from its cafeterias.” Word.

Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill by Daniel Imhoff

This is a brand-new edition of this book, which deconstructs issues related to national agricultural policy and the federal Farm Bill. I don’t know about you, but I really need this information to understand what the heck is going on.

The Un-Healthy Truth by Robyn O’Brian

There is nothing like an enraged mom to make a change. Following her daughter’s nearly fatal reaction to eggs, Robyn O’Brian started researching our food industry and how foods are prepared and labelled. She discovered that toxins, including those known to cause disease, are permitted in foods.

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities by Peter Ladner

This is a wonderful, inspiration book focusing on strategies for bringing fresh food and food production into the cities and addressing issues of food access.

What are your favorite food reads?

Books behind the bed

Cherry Vanilla Oatmeal

Cherries 38450lg

I have always found cherries disgusting. Cherries and clowns. While I love all fruits, I have always steered clear of anything with cherries in it. A clown eating cherries would probably be my ultimate nightmare. Add a llama into the picture and I’d need definite therapy. Now, my introduction to cherries seemed innocent enough. Someone gave me a cute little red foil box of cherry cordial chocolates for Valentines Day, and I was probably about 10 years old. I ate the entire box of 6 chocolates in one sitting, because at 10 you don’t know better. I won’t go into what occurred next, but let’s just say I have had an aversion to cherries or anything cherry flavored ever since. I’ll save the clown and llama stories for another time.

You can imagine my surprise and dismay to read the positive research for tart cherries and tart cherry juice for joint inflammation. Could I break my 36 year ban on cherries? As an experiment, I bought some dried tart cherries and some 100% red tart cherry juice at Trader Joes and tried them. Really, amazingly delicious. And they live up to their “tart” name! Not the disgustingly sweet cherries of my traumatic childhood experience, these cherries are flavorful and pleasantly tangy. The juice (I take about 4 oz. per day) is astringent like grapefruit juice and, I have to say, it would make a mean cocktail 🙂

Using my dried cherries, I came up with this absolutely delicious oatmeal recipe last week that takes advantage of the fiber and healing properties of steel-cut oats and adds in anti-inflammatory tart cherries and soy as well. The recipe below is for making your oatmeal in a crock pot overnight, but you can make it on the stovetop as well.  So now I have scratched another childhood aversion off the list. Clowns are definitely still there. And llamas. Definitely llamas.

Cherry Vanilla Oatmeal (makes 4 servings)

  • 1 cup steel-cut oats (not quick cook oats!)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup organic, vanilla flavored soy or almond milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup local honey or organic, unbleached cane sugar
  • 1 cup dried, tart cherries
  1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a crock pot. Stir well and cover.
  2. Set your crock pot for the lowest setting (“low” on my crock pot is still too high, so I use the “keep warm” setting and that works perfectly)
  3. Cook overnight or for 7-8 hours (if you know you will be cooking your oatmeal longer, add a bit more liquid).
  4. Serve and enjoy!

“Happy” Calories and “Healthy” Cookies–Corporations Try to Rationalize Sugar

Today I am the food curmudgeon.

To listen in on the crazy rationalizing food companies are doing these days, you would think that the obesity epidemic is all related to our irresponsible selves badly, badly abusing the fine foods they produce. Now, I’m all for sharing responsibility, but really? Check it out:

“Sharing a laugh with friends.” That is part of Coca-Cola’s solution to curbing the weight gain resulting from drinking soda. I kid you not. Apparently, we are a nation plagued with obesity because we are not laughing enough. Or dancing enough. Whatevs, it is NOT because of the  free soda refill, celebrity endorsements of high sugar sodas (I’m talking to you, Beyoncé) or the fact that a 12 pack of soda is often cheaper than any beverage outside of tap water.

In an upcoming series of commercials intended to make Coca Cola “a part of the conversation” about obesity, the company will release ads that feature ways to burn off the 140 “happy calories” in a soda. Say what the what? “Happy” calories? Is there “joyful” diabetes, too? That kind of marketing b.s. masks the true nature of soda beverages and conveniently moves the burden of responsibility off the company and squarely on the consumer (it’s not our product, it’s your laziness).

Which brings us to”laughing with friends”. Coca-Cola is trying to convince consumers that there are easy, fun ways to burn off the “happy calories” of their sodas. And “laughing with friends” is on the list. Hmmm, could laughing really be the answer? According to ask.com, it would take a full 60 minutes of constant laughing to burn off one 140-calorie soda (that’s a 12 oz. soda, no refills). One hour of non-stop laughing. Who does that? You would also have to dance for 30 minutes straight to burn off one soda. That’s just burning off the beverage–it doesn’t include any food you eat. Like a cookie…

Speaking of cookies, Girl Scouts have a new mango creme cookie with something called “nutrifusion” that adds vitamins and fruit extracts to make their addictive cookies a bit “healthier.” My own troop was pretty grossed out to find that “nutrifusion” includes mushroom extract, although they were ok with the actual cookie taste. But instead of including any real fruit, the cookies (which still include a good deal of saturated fat and processed sugar) include hyper-processed fruit extracts. It’s bad enough to send kids out there hawking unhealthy food (if you see us coming, you can always say no), but to pretend that a cookie is something other than an unhealthy dessert food is ridiculous. Here’s my idea: let’s just call it a “cookie” and put the calorie content on the front of the box. Or better yet, give the girls something to sell that doesn’t include saturated fats and sugar. For a wonderful perspective on this, see THIS article from The Lunch Tray.

You can put mushrooms in a cookie or claim some calories are “happy,” but at the end of the day, it’s still the same thing–unhealthy, sugar-laden food that contributes to our ongoing national health issues. And there’s nothing really happy about that.

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