Once You Label Me, You Negate Me

Whole Foods announced this week that it would label all genetically modified food in its stores by 2018.  This is a good start–but it’s just that: a start.  I hope it encourages continued discussion about the food industry and our right to know what we’re eating.  I doubt we’ll ever get total transparency from the food and biotechnology industries, but it’s a good goal.  I’ve decided not to wait, though–I’ve made my own food labels!  You can print them on sticker paper if you’d like and join me in my labeling adventures.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

The food industry has been capitalizing on labels for a long time and I think we should call them out on it.  You can’t just go into the grocery store and buy eggs–there’s free-range, cage free, organic, natural, Omega 3, fresh. . .

They’ve also capitalized on America’s obsession with “nutrition.”

By encouraging Americans to buy food because it’s “low-fat” or “organic” as opposed to delicious, in-season and fresh or because we trust the person who made it, the food industry, whether intentionally or not, is on its way to making real food obsolete.

Once you put a label like “organic” or even “GMO free” on something–you’re only going to see the label.  You miss the list of 20 ingredients you can’t pronounce on the back of the box.  You don’t see the excess packaging, you don’t see the money and political sway that the company has wielded to get that label.  Not only does the quality of the food become meaningless, so does the label.

Labels should not tell us that a food is as it should be—organic, natural, fresh or grass fed.  We should be able to take this for granted.  Labels should be used to warn us of adulterants and protect us from ingredients and practices we wish to avoid.

In an ideal United States, we could assume our food was made with care, skill and humane animal husbandry by people who take pride in their work and want to make quality food for their community.

Food labels tell us what our food is–and if we need to know what our food is, we might need to rethink how we shop and eat.  Made with Whole Grains, Natural,  Heart Healthy–these labels are proof that we take for granted that most of our food is processed and unhealthy–do we really need a package to tell us what’s natural and healthy (hint: if it’s in the package, it’s not)?

Labeling has legitimized artificial food and allowed the food industry to capitalize on nutritionism and people’s resulting confusion about diet and health.  Real food has been pushed to the sidelines of every major grocery store in the country, replaced by aisle upon aisle of packaged food with labels like “natural” and “wholesome.”  We’ve negated the truly natural and wholesome by believing the food industry’s lie that things with colorful labels and pictures of cartoon characters on the box are real foods.

The illusion of choice in the supermarket has blinded us to the fact that our food choices are more limited now than they’ve ever been.  Most of what’s in our supermarkets is made of corn.  Most of this corn (often genetically modified) is one of very few varieties mass produced in this country.  And most of this seed is produced by a handful of mega corporations who also sell the potentially dangerous chemicals we must treat the corn with in order for the plants to survive.

Our choices have gotten fewer every decade for the last century.

Instead of hundreds of varieties of apples–we get three.  Instead of beautiful, colorful, misshapen tomatoes, we get one of two varieties bred (at the expense of all flavor) to travel long distances and be perfectly red and uniform.

Labeling perpetuates this myth of choice.  We walk down the aisles and see “sugar-free,”  “low-sodium,” “gluten free”  and we think, “Wow, isn’t it great that we have so many healthy choices now.”  In reality, nearly all of this food, to varying degrees, is bad for us.

We should challenge the paradigm maintained by the food industry.  Our food shouldn’t need packages or labels–and packaged food should be labeled for what it is–bad for your health.

We shouldn’t just accept that our food has unrecognizable ingredients and ingredients never before considered edible.  We should demand a food system that encourages health and well-being for all Americans instead of huge profits for the food and biotechnology industries.  We’ve done this for most of human history and it’s worked out okay (at least for people who have enough food in the first place).  It’s only since the advent of industrialized food that we’ve had to put any effort into figuring out what’s in our food.

To fix our food system, the first thing we need to do is stop eating things that need labels.  Stop buying packaged food.  Stop buying meat and eggs from the grocery store.  Buy your food from people you know, from farmers’ markets, neighbors.  Grow your own food.

We may have to give up cheap hamburger and chicken.  We may have to give up some conveniences.  But these “sacrifices” will improve all our lives.  We’ll be healthier and we’ll be able to give our children a future less compromised by global warming, super bugs or chronic disease.

What Michael Pollan dubbed “The Dinner Party” is still in its infancy.  Our voices are being heard, though.  Outspent by 3 to one, the backers of Prop 37 last fall took on the biotech Goliaths and posed a real threat.

The verdict is still out on whether GMOs are a danger to our health.  That’s not the issue, though.  The issue is that corporations like Monsanto who control the patents on these GMOs also control the “scientific” studies.  This is an issue about our right to know what’s in our food and about who gets to decide if something is safe or not.  This also applies to nutrition labels and health claims on packaged foods.

Let’s use the food industry’s tactics against them.  If we label processed food for what it really is, people will begin to see it that way.  Consumer’s will see it’s all the same.  It’s not really food–just different configurations of corn, soy and artificial ingredients.

I keep thinking about my favorite scene in Wayne’s World when Wayne asks Priscilla (in perfect Cantonese), “Was is Kierkegaard or Dick Van Patten who said, “Once you label me, you negate me?”  I think Kierkegaard and Wayne were talking about the individual, but maybe we can apply it to food, too.  If we put honest labels on packages, we can negate the idea that packaged food is healthy food.  Once this illusion is destroyed, we’ll all be able to make better choices for our families.

A Godzillian articles I really want you to read:


What We Spent and What We Ate: The Case for Slow Lunch

Tomorrow is a milestone for our youngest son:  he’ll be eating lunch at school from now on.  He’ll be eating at school for the next fifteen years.  This will help shape his attitudes about food, eating and socializing.  Unfortunately, for most of these years, he’s going to learn to scarf down what he can in ten minutes and shout to his friends above the din of the school cafeteria.  He’ll learn that food should be cold and fast and that most people eat it out of plastic packages.

We spend a great deal of time and energy discussing state standards, test scores, accountability, teacher quality and safety, yet we barely give a nod to issues about food and health.  This is in the face of an obesity epidemic and the likelihood that our children will not have a longer life expectancy than our own.  We can’t divorce children’s health from our attitudes about eating.  Food is a contributor to health–good and bad–and therefore should be approached as seriously as immunizations and safety.  We say we want our children to be healthy, yet we avoid the very thing that could have enormous, lasting effects on their health:  teaching them to eat in a way that keeps them happy and healthy.

I often walk through my eldest son’s cafeteria at lunch time and it’s an assault on the senses.  The noise is almost unbearable, I can never find the kids I know in the huge, packed in crowd, with kids alternately standing, walking, waiting in line and squirming in their seats.  Last month my son got in trouble for throwing a handful of ketchup soaked tater tots.  I was completely mortified.  It was entirely his fault, I know.  But I also wonder if he were eating in a calm, relaxed environment with proper teacher supervision, wether he’d be able to control such impulses.  I’ll probably never find out.

My littlest, however, will start his school lunch experience in such a place.  When I walk into his classroom at lunch, I see twenty preschoolers sitting in a sunny room at little wooden tables with silverware and green place mats.  They chatter quietly while the teachers visit with them and remind them to maintain good manners and polite conversation.  The room is so quiet, I can whisper to the teacher twenty feet away and she can hear me.

It’s hard to know, however, if this experience will be drowned out by the nerve wracking cafeteria experiences of the following ten or twelve years.

It’s not easy to teach kids to eat slowly and mindfully, but we could at least try.  In most schools, lunchtime means herding hundreds of kids into a giant, cold, artificially lit cafeteria, getting them fed as quickly as possible and herding them back out for a few minutes of exercise.  Teachers are expected to skip lunch and patrol the chaos–they rarely get a chance to enjoy a lunch break themselves.

We are missing a great opportunity to teach kids how to enjoy food and conversation.  We are missing an opportunity to show them how adults eat lunch.  And most of all, we are missing an opportunity to keep them healthy.

We should stop thinking of eating as something we need to hurry up and get done so we can get to the next thing.  Last month, I was working with the kids on the school’s Wellness Council.  We were in the kitchen making roasted cauliflower and cookies.  The kids loved washing and chopping the vegetables, mixing batter and watching through the window of the oven.  When I asked them to smell the mint and the ginger, they did so eagerly–and often just popped in their mouths.  While we waited for the cookies to be done, one kid said to me, “You know, cooking takes a really long time.”  This not only cracked me up, but it also made me think about kids’ attitudes about food.  Most kids think food should be ready instantly.  You just open a package and you eat.  It’s high time we re-educate them.  Teach them to cook, let them watch us in the kitchen, feed them food, wether at home or school, that we’ve prepared with love.  Teach them to slow down and enjoy the day.


Here’s what we ate this week.  We spent $249 last week so we spent under $200 this week.

Saturday: kale, sardine and risotto gratin, warm beet salad with yogurt and goat cheese dressing (from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express)


I know.  What was I thinking with the sardines?  It sounded French and I want to start using sustainable fish.  So sue me.

Sunday: white bean ragout w/toast


Monday: Moroccan Venison Shepherd’s Pie (with elk instead of Venison) from www.deeranddeerhunting.com on which you can find an article about how to give input on hunt guidelines in Arizona.



Moroccan Venison Shepherds Pie


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 pounds venison hindquarter,

cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 teaspoon roasted ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups beef broth

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup raisins

3 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

1 cup frozen green peas

4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 large egg, lightly beaten


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle venison with cumin and salt. Add venison to the pan and brown  for about 1 minute on each side. Remove venison from the pan. Add onions and saute for 3 minutes. Add  garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste. Stir well.

Add broth to the pan. Bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen the browned bits. Stir in olives, raisins, honey, ground red pepper,  turmeric, and one half of the cinnamon. Add venison back to the pan. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the peas.

Meanwhile, place sweet potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender and drain. Sprinkle  with a pinch of salt and the rest of the cinnamon. Beat potatoes with a mixer and add egg.  Continue mixing until well combined. Spoon venison mixture evenly into 4 ramekins.  Spread potato mixture over the venison mixture. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Serve immediately.

Tuesday: roasted potatoes and crustless duck egg quiche–quick, simple and easy

Wednesday: tofu curry with all the vegetables left in the fridge–I used a Seeds of Change jarred curry sauce I got at Sprouts on clearance for 99 cents.  This took all of 10 minutes to prepare.

Thursday: hot wings from JH Ranch (with crudite and ranch dressing), baked macaroni and cheese and steamed broccoli–requested by the birthday boy

Our oldest turned nine today!  As for the cake, he said he loved Whoppers and wanted chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.  Ikey chose the devil’s food cake recipe from Tate’s Bake Shop: Baking with Kids,  he got for Christmas.



Friday: leftovers

10 Things We’ve Learned This Year About Eating Well on a Budget

We’ve been trying to stay on a food budget for almost a year now.  It’s a lot harder than we thought it would be.  It would be harder still without my parents supplying us with some of the best olive oil in the world (from my uncle), grass fed beef (from my aunt and uncle, who own Bear Creek Ranch in New Mexico) and various Costco finds.  My students and neighbors give us a lot of food gifts.  From them I get tamales, posole, ceviche, bread, samosas, dolma . . .  and some great lessons in cooking.  We’d like to share some of the most important lessons we’ve learned this year:



1.  Plan and then plan some more.

Sit down once a week (with your computer and some favorite cook books) and plan every dinner.  Look at your calendar and plan easy or frozen meals for nights when you’re busy or out late.  Plan something special for Saturday or Sunday nights when everyone’s home.  

Keep in mind what you’ll be able to find at the farmers’ markets that week (and if you’ll be able to go once or twice or even not at all).  Leave a little room for special finds at the market, too.  

Check the pantry, fridge and freezer and see what needs to be used up.  Plan meals around these items and then replenish them next week when you go shopping.  

When you get good at planning, you’ll be able to figure in ways to use leftovers for new dinners and use up all your vegetables every week.  Take note of what you have left at the end of the week and either buy less of it next time or figure out how to eat more of it.  We often have greens left–a reminder that I need to be more conscientious about working them in to meals. 

Don’t just plan for dinners–plan how to use leftovers for breakfasts and lunches.  When you make pasta, lentils, couscous, quinoa or rice, always make extra.  These make good salads for kids’ lunches.  Lentils and beans can be pureed to make dips.

On Sundays (or even better, right when you get home from the market) prep vegetables for that week’s lunches. You can string celery and peel carrots all at once–then store them in cold water (change it every day) for the week.  Chopping all your onions at once makes cooking a lot easier, too.  I often avoid starting dinner if I’m dreading the onion chopping–it’s a relief when it’s already done.   





2.  Buy (almost) everything in bulk.

I buy some bulk items at Sprouts and some at Whole Foods.  I like to buy organic, but you don’t need to.  Make sure you put perishable items (those with a high fat content) like nuts, almond meal, quinoa and sunflower seeds in small jars and use them quickly.  You can buy large quantities, just store it in the freezer.

Bulk foods I always keep on hand: 

  • stone ground whole wheat flour 
  • whole wheat pastry flour
  • long and short grain brown rice 
  • arborio rice 
  • rainbow quinoa (Alter Eco from Whole Foods)
  • dried beans and lentils
  • quinoa flakes (Whole Foods)
  • oatmeal 
  • nuts and seeds (Sprouts or Costco)
  • dried fruit (Sprouts)

I haven’t been able to find wild rice and whole wheat couscous in bulk.  These I buy at Trader Joe’s.  I never buy trail mix or granola in bulk–they’re less expensive, healthier and more versatile if you make them from scratch.  





3.  Get and stay organized.

Last September, after a few morning meltdowns, we made a special cabinet for lunch making equipment.  I put pita, tortilla and root vegetable chips in snack size baggies and keep them in the baskets along with little baggies of trail mix.  All our lunch containers are in the top basket.  These never go in with the tupperware (on pain of death).

Organize drawers and cupboards.  Get rid of any broken or never-used equipment.

Organize menus and recipes.  I keep menus and shopping lists on my desktop and I use Paprika, a decent recipe app that lets you store recipes from many sites.  

Make sure you clean out the fridge and freezer every month.  You have to know what you have in order to plan well and use everything you buy.  We have one shelf in the fridge door that’s for the kids: almond and sunflower butter and fruit preserves so they can make sandwiches.

Don’t keep loose bags of bulk items or packaged food in the cupboards.  They take up too much room and are messy.  Put all your bulk items in jars, label them and keep them where you can see them and get to them easily.  I put the oatmeal and brown sugar in front so our six-year-old can get to them easily to make his breakfast.





4.  Keep a well stocked–but not over-stocked–pantry and refrigerator.

Keep long-lasting staples on hand.  Check expiration dates frequently and when you open something, use it within a week or so.  When you purchase these, always check the expiration date–get the freshest you can:

  • ricotta
  • gruyere
  • parmesan
  • feta
  • tofu
  • yogurt
  • cream cheese
  • shiritaki noodles
  • pancetta
  • bacon
  • small containers of cream
  • sourkraut 

Keep miso, mustard, tahini, hot sauce, soy sauce and other sauces on hand.  I always have fish sauce, mirin, Rooster sauce, concentrated pomegranate juice, ponzu sauce, sesame oil, walnut oil, chili paste and flavored vinegar in the fridge.

In the freezer, stock:

  • frozen fruit and vegetables
  • chicken broth
  • French bread and naan
  • pancakes (always make a double batch)

In the pantry, stock:

  • tomato paste and tomato puree (Bionaturae comes in jars, so it’s BPA free)
  • pasta sauce (check labels and buy the ones with the least amount of sugar–I like the Safeway brand and I stock up when it’s on sale)
  • two cans each of several kinds of beans
  • four cans of chickpeas
  • a couple cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • good quality dark brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, cane sugar and a little white sugar (for carmelizing) 
  • peanut, almond and sunflower butters (sunflower butter will have a little sugar in it)
  • coconut milk (Aroyo D, available at Asian markets, doesn’t have BPA or weird additives)
  • apricot jam, orange marmalade, fruit preserves
  • boxed whipping cream (from Trader Joe’s)
  • tuna and anchovies
  • olives
  • capers
  • roasted peppers (Trader Joe’s are good)
  • pickled jalepenos
  • chipotle and green chiles (cheaper at the Mexican markets)
  • sun dried tomatoes, a can of pineapple (Native Forest is BPA free) and apricot jam (I like the organic, low-sugar preserves at TJs)
  • an emergency box of chicken broth (try to always use homemade–it’s a zillion times better)
  • a box of tomato soup
  • whole wheat pasta

You don’t need light and dark brown sugar, you don’t need self-rising flour, and you don’t need polenta and cornmeal (just grind the polenta).  Try to avoid redundancies like these and you’ll save space.  It’s nice to have semolina and “00” flour for pasta making, cake flour for cakes and bread flour for bread–but keep these in the freezer since you won’t use them often.

Buy olive oil and vinegar in large containers and transfer to cruets.

Always have onions and garlic on hand–you use them every night.





5.  If you make it from scratch, you won’t get fat.

If you make your own snacks, crackers, desserts and bread, you’ll end up eating a lot less of it.  It’s a great way to stay slim.  I’ve also learned to really enjoy making these things from scratch.  I make my own bread, granola, flatbread, crackers, popsicles, ice cream and cookies.  It’s much less expensive, but it’s the difference in taste that makes it worth it.

When you cook, don’t be afraid to use butter and cream.  Use whole grass milk (with cream on top) and full fat yogurt.  If you’re not eating out and not eating packaged food, you can handle the calories.  A little fat makes everything delicious.  Just watch the bread, pasta and sugar and you’ll be fine.





6.  Shop smarter.

Always have a list.  I keep a shopping list on my computer desktop.  I keep things on it that I need every week and add to it whatever else I need after I plan the week’s dinners.  It’s better to shop at the same grocery store every week.  You’ll know where everything is, you’ll be more comfortable going to customer service and you can take advantage of on-line deals and gas rewards with your store card.

I only go to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s once a month.  I get the same things every time.  This way, I don’t go crazy and spend a million dollars.

Shop at ethnic markets.  I love LeLe, Baiz and Ranch Market in Phoenix.  You’ll get better prices at these stores and often better quality.  If you need help, ask an older woman who looks like she knows what she’s doing.  She’ll probably be more helpful than the staff.

This brings up another point I want to make: if you want to save money, you have to learn to cook ethnic foods.  Try to get to know some immigrant women and talk about food.  I have a class full of recent immigrants and all the women cook.  They’ve not yet switched to the American diet (and I hope they never do), and they make many things from scratch.  They’ll be glad to share recipes.  I find most people, especially women, like to talk about food.  





7.  Learn to cook in season.

Learn several recipes for all the fruits and vegetables you love and make them when they’re in season.  If you have a few old standbys to rely on, planning will be easier.   At the end of a season, you can buy up all the things you like from your farmer and freeze them for later.  Peaches, berries and tomatoes are a special treat in the middle of winter.





8.  Don’t expect a garden to save you time or money.

Gardening is fun and worthwhile, but it’s not necessarily cheap to get started.  And, unless you have a lot of land, you can only grow so much food.  It also takes a long time to make crappy soil into good soil.  You can do it by composting, though–and composting is a great way to avoid wasting food.  

I get the most use out of my little herb garden.  Most herbs don’t keep long in the fridge, so it’s better to just run out in the back yard and snip what you need.





9.  Meat is expensive, as it should be.

Buy it locally (in season if you can) and make sure it’s organic and grass fed.  Poultry should be free-roaming, organic and, if you can find it, heritage.  Salmon should be wild-caught with no coloring added.  Not Atlantic. These things should be very expensive, or you’re getting ripped off.  Cheap meat is an illusion–it doesn’t exist.  When we buy factory farmed meat (and most of us do) we all pay the cost in health care, pollution clean up and the potential long-term problems associated with antibiotics resistance and environmental degradation.  We are also condoning the low wages and poor working conditions faced by workers in many factory farms.  

At first it drove me crazy.  Every article or cookbook about eating on a budget was really heavy on the chicken dishes.  Often these lacked imagination or were just plain gross.  I finally found some good cook books.  I like the books by Mark Bittman, Alice Waters and The Moosewood Restaurant.  I also consult The Flavor Bible quite a bit to learn (or be reminded of) what flavors go together.  I look to web sites like Epicurious, Eating Well, Food Network and Bon Appetit for ideas on how to use whatever I’ve found at the farmers’ markets.  I have amassed a fairly good battery of chicken-free dinners.  

When we do buy chickens, we buy two whole ones from the farmers’ market.  We eat the meat (and sometimes gravy) for two meals, then make chicken stock for the freezer the next day.  

When you buy 1/4 of a steer (about $5.99/lb), you’re going to get some cuts that you can’t just throw on the grill.  One word: braising.  That and a lot of garlic.

This raises the question how do you afford all this?  Well, you don’t.  At least not more than once a week.  The cost of meat precludes eating too much of it, so you’re forced to do what’s right for your health, the environment and the animals we eat.  Done and done.  If you buy good meat, you’ll also find you take more care in preparing it and you enjoy it more.

Use eggs, cheese, nuts, avocados and tofu.  Add a little bacon–it makes everything good.  Use cream, butter and lard–you won’t miss the meat.  I always ask if the chickens who lay my eggs eat a lot of bugs. If they do, the chickens probably have happy lives and their eggs will be especially nutritous.  Sometimes you can get duck eggs and quail eggs, too.  This allows you to change things up a little.





10.  Waste not, want not.

Learn to use leftovers.  When you have extra bread, make bread crumbs and freeze them, or make bread pudding.  Always make extra chili, soup, beans and lentils and freeze some for later.  Be creative, but expect a few disappointments.  I made sardine and rice gratin this week (I had leftover risotto and bread crumbs) and Pat and Lute both gagged on it.  I mean this literally.

Get in the habit of eating your groceries in order of perishability.  Use salads and fruit first and then move on to things like tomatoes, avocados (never buy them too soft if you’re not making emergency guacamole or tomato sauce) and greens.  As I’m running low on supplies, I turn to more long-lived items in the fridge and on the counter.  

Use as much of the fruit and vegetable as you can.  You can candy citrus peel, use parsley stems in stock, sautee beet greens, put celery leaves in salads, and eat roasted fava beans whole.  When you buy meat and poultry, save all the bones and parts to  make a stock the next day.  Seriously–save it all.  Even the bones the kids have gnawed on.  Fish can be used whole in bouillabase.  Save chicken fat and pork fat for cooking.

  • Use up staples like flour and nuts within a couple months and replenish them frequently.  
  • Use berries, stone fruit, bananas, salad, avocados, asparagus, mushrooms, bean sprouts (stored in water) and alfalfa sprouts within 2-4 days.
  • Use melons, citrus, greens, cucumbers, eggplant,sugar snap peas, tomatoes, green beans, fava beans, summer squash and most cruciferous vegetables (cabbage lasts longer) within a week or so.
  • Use apples, celery, onions, garlic, ginger, root vegetables, winter squash and tubers within a few weeks.  You can keep these on the counter in cool weather.  



Okay, make it 11 things.


11.  Enjoy.

Like anything worthwhile, it takes time to get good at shopping, cooking and eating healthily.  But when you do, you’ll find you enjoy it (at least most of the time).  The best thing about cooking great meals at home is that it brings the family together.  The family meals we’ve shared over the past year have brought us closer.  We enjoy our food and each other a whole lot more this way.

What We Spent and What We Ate: Playing Catch Up

I’m still lamenting the demise of my Nikon, which quit on us a few weeks ago.  These ipad pictures, especially when they’re of sausages, remind me of these faded plastic menu boards I saw on every sidewalk in Eastern Europe in the 80s. Everything is kind of the same color.  The communist sausage pictures were often done in bas-relief, though.  I kind of like the aesthetic, but it’s unappetizing.

The temperature has finally fallen below 80 (72 today), so we’re cooking up lots of hearty winter meals, some with shockingly high alcohol content.  Here’s the last two weeks.

What we ate:

Sunday: roasted beets and potatoes, andouille sausage and cabbage deglazed with cognac 

For several years, I’ve looked to The Flavor Bible, a gift from my brother, whenever I have lots of ingredients and little inspiration.  This week I came across this under the “cabbage” entry:

Cabbage often has the connotation of being heavy but in the fall, we’ll make a fine chiffonade of cabbage that’s very light.  I like to cut cabbage thin and roast it in a pan so that the edges just get brown because that tastes really good.  We figured that out by mistake by putting cabbage into too hot a pan.  After the chef raised his voice about how that is the wrong way to cook cabbage, we tasted it, and it was good!  We now serve a green cabbage dish cooked this way with caraway seeds and walnuts, then deglazed with Calvados.  WE also add a little cider vinegar and olive oil to finish.  It is a nice, easy marriage.

-Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern (New York City)

I wasn’t about to spring for a bottle of Calvados, but I did stop at AJs and pick up several little bottles of interesting liquor.  Those little airplane bottles are perfect for cooking–you get to try different flavors without spending much money.  I deglazed the pan with some ginger cognac and added some chopped apples.  I have never enjoyed cabbage so much.

Monday: quiche with bacon and greens, and a garden salad

Tuesday: venison chili and jalapeno corn muffins

My mom gave us some venison from her freezer–a friend had given it to her.  We made the chili about half beans and half meat and it worked really well.

Wednesday: orecchiette with tuna puttanesca and a salad

We tried last week’s orecchiette again.  This time I had lots of help.  Pat made an amazing sauce in about 20 minutes.


Thursday: chili with squash and sweet potato muffins

I got some organic squash on sale at Safeway.  It was called confetti squash or Mardis Gras squash or something.  It sucked.  I added it to the chili to change it up a little and it turned to mush.  It thickened the chili to a gross paste and the kids wouldn’t eat it.  They liked the muffins I made with all the leftover sweet potatoes, though.  I used a recipe from Fast Paleo–I substituted butter for the applesauce, though.  Paleolithic man didn’t know what he was missing.


Friday: Leftover chili.  Again.  Next time I’ll remember to freeze it.  

What We Spent:  We spent $224.90 on groceries.  We couldn’t make it to either farmers’ market this weeks, so we had to make do.  I went to Safeway twice on Friday because they had the deal where you get a $10 off coupon if you spend $75.  I spend as close to $75 as I can and then go back again.  With coupons, specials and the $10 offer, I saved about $100.





What We Spent and What We Ate: Last Week


Saturday: beet greens vegetable lasagna with a beet salad

I’ve been having fun using beets and beet greens in the same meals.  It seems especially thrifty to me.  This was good–the beet greens were great in the lasagna and the beets were lovely roasted, chilled and served on a bed of baby lettuce.



Sunday: dal and carrot salad with flatbread.

The dal was ugly, but tasted okay.  I should have used red lentils. The carrot salad was delicious–the kids really liked it even though it was a little spicy.

My new favorite Lee Lee Market discovery is Masala Craft Malaysian Style Whole Wheat Roti Paratha.  You simply cook them in pan on the stove like you would a tortilla.  You can find it in the frozen section with the naan.  I always keep frozen naan for dinner emergencies.  From now on, I’ll be getting this flatbread, too.




Monday: carmelized onion and salami pizza and broccoli, brussels sprout and kale slaw

I made this pizza dough the same day–it could be made ahead, though.  And it could be made for the previous night’s dinner and baked as flatbread to go with the dal.  I love the idea of one dough–two meals, but I didn’t have time to actually do it.  Click the dal link on Sunday’s dinner for a corainder flatbread recipe.

I’m hooked on this packaged salad mix from Costco–it has kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli and other green things in it.  Skip the dressing, though–too much sugar.




Tuesday: tofu pad Thai

This Martha Stewart recipe is good, but remember to use our method of cooking tofu.  You cube the tofu, put it in a bowl, pour boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes.  Then fry it in coconut oil until it’s golden brown.



Wednesday: beef bourguignon and mizuna salad with pomegranate dressing

We’re now using the more difficult meat from our steer.  This week was a few pounds of shoulder steak.  Pat used a whole bottle of wine (as marinade and braising liquid) and you could taste it.  Yum.



I also got another chance to use my pomegranate concentrate (I used it a couple of weeks ago for a lamb stew).  This time I made a salad dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, honey mustard and pomegranate concentrate.  The salad was just mizuna from the farmers’ market and some apples and pomegranate seeds.  IMG_0781


Thursday: salmon and simmer sauce with couscous and broccoli—10 minute dinner

I got a free jar of Safeway Select Sesame Ginger simmer sauce at when I bought some pasta sauce.  I used it for this very quick dinner.  It was very, very, very sweet and high in sodium, so if I ever get it again I’ll only use a 1/4 cup or so.  The kids loved it, though and Ikey ate salmon for the first time in years.  I might try putting sugary syrup on other fish/meat to see if he’ll eat them.


Friday: spaghetti squash with mushrooms, roasted fennel and sausages

I layered spaghetti squash (cooked until just tender), tomato sauce, and sauteed mushrooms (two layers) in a baking dish, then topped it off with parmesan and baked it until it was brown on top.

Roasted fennel is the easiest thing ever, but it seems really special.  You just slice it, put it on a cookie sheet and toss it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper (and parmesan if you want).  I roast it until the edges are starting to get black–the crispy parts are the best.



What We Spent–Oops:  We spent $80 at the downtown and Town and Country Farmers’ markets.  We didn’t get there early enough to buy eggs, though.  This made me sad.  We went way over this week. Total: $247.14.

reciepts 12:1

What We Spent and What We Ate: Goodbye to clocks ticking


Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?

My mother could never teach Our Town.  She said she couldn’t get through Act III without sobbing.  I never understood why.  I never taught it because I thought it was dumb. But as I was rushing to the farmers’ market, yelling at the kids to stop yelling,  I heard Emily’s cemetery monologue on NPR and it brought me to tears.  Now I get what my mom knows.  She knows I should stop rushing around all the time.  I should stop worrying.  I should stop feeling put upon for having to chauffeur my kids to Boy Scouts, school functions, parties, holiday events, piano lessons.  Sure, it’s hard being a mom to three young boys, but in a few short years, I won’t have to do these things anymore.  I won’t have three young boys anymore–I’ll have grown men and it will just be me and Pat in the house.

Emily’s right–we need to really look at each other.  I  need to really look at my sons, my husband, my in-laws, my parents.  I want to enjoy them and treasure the time we have together.  I want to appreciate how lucky I am.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m still going to bitch and moan all the time.  My friend Jamie says that it’s just in my nature to complain.  But I’m going to make a concerted effort to realize life.

What we ate:

Saturday: pork chops, potatoes, three greens gratin

I cut little Yukon Gold potatoes in half, rubbed them with olive oil and put a sprig of rosemary on each cut side.  Pretty.  I was sick of greens, so I decided to try something different.  sautéed some kale and beet greens in a little olive oil and garlic, transferred them to a baking dish, made a quick bechemel sauce, lightly covered the greens (put some under the greens, too) and topped the thing off with a generous sprinkling of grated Romano.  I baked it for a few minutes to warm it up, then broiled it until the top was browned.  It was perfection (okay, maybe it would be slightly better with bacon).

Sunday: chicken soup and Spinach Salad

Last week’s $50 worth of chicken made the best chicken soup in the world.  My broth was a beautiful color and turned to firm Jell-O in the fridge.  I know–gross–but a sure sign of a great broth.  I put way too much chicken in the soup–I should have gotten another meal out of it. Same with the broth–I could have stretched it with a little more water.  I was self-indulgent, so I got three $20 meals out those chickens, when I really should have gotten four of five $15 meals.

Side note:  Don’t put purple carrots in your soup–they’ll turn it blue.

Monday: braised chuck steaks

We’re down to the less easy-to-cook cuts of meat from our steer.  I had several chuck steaks to deal with, so I browned them (when they were at room temp), put them in my dutch oven and just covered them with water and leftover broth.

I deglazed the pan with port, but I’d use a different wine next time (it was overpowering, but that’s all I had). Then, in the same pan, I lightly sautéed some garlic, onion, carrots and celery in a little olive oil, added a can of chipotle peppers (including sauce) and put the mixture in the dutch oven.

Then it went in the oven (at 325 degrees) for three hours.  It was great–a different alcohol to deglaze the pan, and some diced tomatoes would have improved it.

Tuesday: shredded beef soft tacos with tomatoes, cabbage, avocado and crema

I shredded the leftover chuck steak from the previous night for the tacos and warmed it in a little of its sauce.  I saved the rest of the sauce for bean soup.  I liked the tacos even better than the original braised chuck steaks.

Wednesday: lentils and naan

On nights when we’re too busy to cook, this is one of my favorite meals.  I warm Tasty Bite lentils and put six pieces of frozen naan (from the Asian market) in the oven.  The whole thing takes about 10 minutes and I don’t use any pans, so there’s no clean up.  Phew.

Thursday: The kids ate at my moms and Pat and I had a late night dinner of America’s (The Vampiro and carne).  A relief after a hard day.

Friday:  bean soup

I remembered to soak the beans the night before.  That’s three times in a row–I’m getting good at this planning thing.  Seriously, planning the week’s meals it the KEY to cooking on a budget.  You’re able to use everything.  We rarely let anything go to waste.

I used the leftover broth from the chuck steaks, a box of beef broth, and a container of salsa from last week’s party.  I just added all the appropriate vegetables left in the fridge (garlic, onion, tomatoes, celery, carrots).  Pretty good.

My camera broke this week–hence the lack of pictures.  I borrowed my dad’s old camera and took some great photos, only the turned out to be black squares.  I only swore a little, because I’m trying to realize how wonderful the world is.

What we spent:

We spent about $60 on fruit and vegetables at the farmers’ markets this week.  We also used about $15 worth of beef from our steer.  The rest we spent at Whole Foods and Sprouts.

Total : $205

Oh–by the way.  Do not EVER, EVER, EVER buy the bulk sprouted, cocao, coconut reishi at Whole Foods.  It was really expensive, but I wanted to try a new porridge for breakfast.  It smelled and tasted sour and bitter and horrible.  I added a mountain of sugar and it was still inedible.  Just thinking about it is making feel queasy.  I feel bad about spending so much money on it and I also really want to meet the people who eat this.

Happy Food Day!

October 24 is Food Day.  I hope you can take some time to break bread (or pita, or naan or tortillas. . . ) with someone you like.  Visit the Food Day site for celebration ideas.


What We Spent and What We Ate: Channelling Joe Biden on Taco Night

School Lunch in the News

Last week’s front page NYTimes story on the new federal school lunch regulations generated enough letters to the editor to warrant a follow up.  Check out several of the letters here:  When Children Reject a Healthy Lunch.

I met with Patty Hunn, Camelview’s nutrition director, this afternoon to talk more about farm to school.  Currently the school district purchases all food from Shamrock Farms.  We’d like to start purchasing from the IRC New Roots farm cooperatives next year–perhaps starting with a few specialty items.  Chow Locally, a local food hub, is interested in helping out, too.  So far, so good.

In honor of  National Farm to School Month and National School Lunch Week (next week), I put together a list of Phoenix farmers’ markets to hand out to students.  The Wellness Council met after our little meeting and the kids made decorated lists of healthy alternatives to Halloween candy.


Taco Night

Taco night is always a big hit.  This is universally true.  But this week’s taco night was special.  Isaac was raving about the spread and suggested we have tacos every night.  In the middle of our happy dinnertime chatter, Isaac leans over to me and (rather loudly) whispers in my ear, “This is fucking good!”  For some reason, whenever my kids say something off-color, I always immediately (and stupidly) respond with, “What did you say?”  like I have some naughty language hearing impairment . I just couldn’t believe that he’d said it (Isaac still thinks the s-word is stupid).   I looked up and Pat and Lute were shaking their heads vigorously.  I was about to say, “No–don’t repeat it!” but I was too late.  He said it again, but louder.  Pat and Lute were trying not to laugh, but I, as the only adult in the family, was able to hold it together.  I said, “We don’t use that kind of language, Isaac.  Please don’t ever say that again.”  After some snickering from Pat and Lute, dinner continued as normal.  At six, our son has joined the ranks of such illustrious f-bomb droppers as Joe Biden, Tim Lincecum and Jon Stewart–at least he’s in good company.


Quick Bread

I decided to try two of the quick breads in this month’s Cooking Light.  I modified the recipes and was pleased with the results.  I gave the banana bread to my step grandmother, so I didn’t get to taste it.  It looked and smelled wonderful, though.

Walnut Streusel Bread with Extra Streusel


Streusel (this is double the original)

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dash of salt

4 tablespoons butter, melted

6 tablespoons chopped walnuts


1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons butter, softened

2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup whole milk

1/3 cup whole milk yogurt



1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. To prepare streusel, combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter, stirring until well combined. Stir in nuts. Set aside.

3. To prepare bread, weigh or lightly spoon 9 ounces flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine 5 tablespoons butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in vanilla. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until combined. Scrape half of batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with baking spray; sprinkle with half of streusel mixture. Spread remaining batter over streusel; swirl. Sprinkle remaining streusel on top of batter, reserving two tablespoons to eat yourself or share with whichever child you like best. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

Banana Bread with (extra) Browned Butter Glaze

Hannah Whitaker, Cooking Light


5 tablespoons butter, softened and divided

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

3 medium ripe bananas, sliced

1/2 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt

3 tablespoons organic canola oil

2 tablespoons amber rum

2 large eggs

1 1/2 whole wheat flour

1/2 cup almond meal

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

soft butter to grease the loaf pan

2/3 cup powdered sugar

4 teaspoons half-and-half


Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and bananas; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.

3. Combine milk, yogurt, oil, rum and eggs.   Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour mixture and milk mixture alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Scrape batter into a greased metal loaf pan.  Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan, and cool on wire rack.

4. Melt remaining 2 tablespoon butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 3 minutes or until butter begins to brown; remove from heat. Add powdered sugar and half-and-half, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over bread. Let stand until glaze sets.

Note: Since I always double icing, glazes, streusel, etc., you will have more glaze than you need.  This is for you to eat with a spoon and perhaps share with favorite child as in previous recipe.


What We Ate

Saturday: roasted vegetable salad with yogurt sauce

Easy: I tossed pieces of eggplant, zucchini, purple onion and cauliflower in 1/4 cup olive oil (I added a clove of crushed garlic to the oil first) and some salt and pepper.   I put these on a baking sheet.  On a separate sheet, I put 3 tomatoes which I’d cut into pieces and tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I roasted these (at the same time) at 375 degrees.

The tomatoes took about 25 minutes, and the vegetables about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, I made a quick yogurt sauce with Greek yogurt, minced fresh mint, lemon juice, 1 very small clove crushed garlic, and salt and pepper.

Serve vegetables warm with yogurt dressing on the side.


Sunday: quinoa verde salad

This was ridiculously easy.

Quinoa Verde


2/3 cup salsa verde (Ranch Market makes a great one or you can use a jar)

3-4 cups cooked quinoa

1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I always use the chili infused vinegar Pat makes)

2/3 cup mayonnaise or Vegenaise

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 yellow squash diced

¼ cup red onion, minced

4 cups shredded napa cabbage

1-2 avocados, diced

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts


Combine ingredients and toss (I like to add the salsa to the quinoa while it’s still a little warm, so it soaks it up a little). Add the avocados last so they don’t get mushy


Monday: tacos w/ ground beef, refried beans, avocado, tomato, shredded lettuce and salsa fresca–fucking good!


Tuesday: fajitas at Pat’s sister’s house to celebrate their parents’ 50th anniversary–lovely


Wednesday: nachos with avocados, pinto beans, green chiles and sour cream (what can I say–we were on a Mexican roll)


Thursday: dal, naan and eggplant

I wanted to replicate the packaged lentils, incorrectly named “Madras Lentils,” from Tasty Bite and Trader Joe’s.  I figured out they’re called Dal Makhani.  While my kids love the packaged lentils, they didn’t love this one.  Lute ate it happily, but the other two ate a few bites and then focused on their naan.  Isaac said it was too spicy–but he lies.

I found this recipe on a quirky little blog called The Colors of Indian Cooking.  I used scarlet runner beans instead of the traditional red kidney beans and it turned out great.  I love that it’s a rich and decadent beans and lentils dish–what a delicious contradiction.

Beware: this takes a while to make and uses a few dishes.  Best for a weekend night, when you can make it in the late morning and leave it to cook all day.

I get frozen naan at Le Le Market and just pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for a few minutes.

Dal Makhani


2 cups of dried whole beluga or French green lentils

1-2 cups scarlet runner beans (I quick-soaked them by boiling them in 3x their volume of water for a minute or two and them letting them sit an hour).

4 Tbs of melted ghee

4 fresh green serrano chilies—seeds removed

One 2 inch piece of ginger peeled and chopped

2 large shallots, chopped

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups of water

1/4 cup or so of heavy cream

1 tsp of cumin

1/2 tsp of turmeric

1 tsp of garam masala

4-5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

fresh cilantro and whole milk yogurt for garnish


1.  In a blender or grinder, grind the peppers, ginger and shallot into a coarse paste.  Set aside.

2.  Pour 4 cups chicken stock and 2 cups water in crock pot.

3.  Add in the lentils and beans, 1 Tbs of ghee, and the chili/ginger paste.  Turn the heat to high, cover and cook for about 45 minutes.

4.  Stir the dal well with and turn heat to low.  Cook for another 6 hours.

5. An hour or so before serving, melt the remaining 4 Tbs of ghee in a skillet.  When the butter is foamy, add in the cumin, garam masala, and turmeric.  Stir fry spices together for about a minute.  Then add in the tomatoes.  Simmer for 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has boiled off, stirring frequently.  Add 3 or 4 Tbs of heavy cream to this mixture. Make sure the cream is thoroughly warmed, and then pour everything from the skillet into the slow cooker.  Cook for another hour.

Garnish with yogurt and cilantro and serve with naan and roasted eggplant.

I found these little green eggplants at LeLe Market.

And I roasted them. They’re full of seeds, so they get crunchy!


Friday:   quick black bean cakes, fried eggs and baby greens with cherry tomatoes

I also got this recipe from Cooking Light and modified it.  I promise I’ll get more original next week.

Mary Britton Senseney/Wonderful Machine


2/3 cup olive oil plus oil to fry eggs

7 large eggs, divided

2 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup panko, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced


1. Place 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 eggs, and beans in a food processor. Pulse 20 times or until mixture becomes a coarsely chopped paste. Combine bean mixture, 2/3 cup panko, onions, and next 5 ingredients in a bowl.

2. Place 1/3 cup panko in a dish. Divide bean mixture into 8 equal portions. Shape each into a 3/4-inch-thick patty; dredge in panko. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2/3 cup olive oil. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Wipe pan clean. Add about a tablespoon  olive oil. Crack 6 eggs into skillet. Cover and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

serve with salad lightly dressed in olive oil.


What We Spent

We spent $164.34 at Safeway and Sprouts this week.  I usually don’t spend so much on food at Safeway, but they had their “spend $75 and get $10 off your next purchase” deal this week.  I went 3 times and spent just over $75 each time.  One of those trips was for food, the other for household items we needed.  So I have $30 for groceries next week.

I spent $40 at the farmers’ market–most of this was on an impulse buy at the Hummus Doctor.  Lute wanted hummus and it was buy 3/get a free container of chips.  It was overpriced and less than mediocre.

The grand total: $204.34.