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


We Tackle the Big One: Whole Duck Cassoulet

Last week, our last week of vacation, we made our first cassoulet.  In a total departure from the theme of this blog, we made the real thing, which included about $65 worth of meats.  It was the ultimate holiday indulgence.

There’s a plethora of easy cassoulet recipes out there, but I wanted to try a traditional cassoulet so I’d have something with which to compare them.

We used a Mark Bittman recipe from The New York Times.  And once again, Mark Bittman has lied.  He said it wasn’t difficult.  It was fun, though, even if it did turn into a four day project.  The end result was more than worth it.  It was sublime.  Perfection.  Joy.

If you want to try it, do it when you have some blocks of time every day for four or five days.  Here’s the New York Times recipe we followed, broken down in a manageable schedule:

Days One and Two:  Thaw the duck.  We got ours at Hobe Meats. Get some good bread and let it get stale.


Day Three:  Carve the duck and marinate the legs (over-night) and make the stock (if you don’t have time, you can make it early tomorrow, too).  Early in the morning,  thaw the lamb in the fridge (Our lamb was from Double Check Ranch–a new favorite of ours for hot dogs, beef and lamb.  They have great meat.)


Day Four: If you have not already made the stock, do so early in the day so it has time to cool.  Make the confit, make the beans (we got white beans from McClendon’s) and buy the andoulle sausage (we got ours from Whole Foods).



Duck Stock and Confit

1 whole duck, 5 to 7 pounds


10 garlic cloves, smashed

10 sprigs fresh thyme

1 shallot, peeled and sliced

1 large onion, cut in half (don’t peel)

1 large carrot, cut in big chunks

2 celery ribs, cut in big chunks

1 bay leaf

Several sprigs fresh parsley

Black pepper

Reserved duck fat from stock

Olive oil as needed.

1. Set the duck breast-side up on a cutting board. Using a boning knife, cut along one side of the breastbone; keep the back of your knife flush against that bone and follow the curve, cutting with the tip of your knife and pulling the meat back as you go. (It’s actually a kind of natural movement; trust yourself.) When you meet up with the skin from the legs, cut through the skin and detach the breast. Repeat with the second breast. The legs are now easy to see.

2. One leg at a time, cut through the skin, pulling the leg back as you go. Bend the leg backward to crack the joint, then cut through the joint (it’s easy to see once you’ve cracked it); detach the leg. Repeat with the second leg. Remove the skin from the legs with your fingers, loosening it with your knife as necessary; reserve. Remove and reserve any fat you encounter.

3. Lightly score the skin of the duck breasts to make a diamond pattern; be careful not to cut all the way through to the meat. Sprinkle with salt, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in the cassoulet.

4. Toss the duck legs with the garlic (use more if your cloves are small), thyme, shallot and a few pinches of salt. Refrigerate and marinate the duck legs overnight.

5. Heat the oven to 350. Put the duck carcass, onion, carrot and celery in a roasting pan. Roast, turning every now and then until quite well browned. Take your time; it’ll take at least an hour.

6. Transfer the contents of the roasting pan to a large pot; pour off the rendered fat and reserve it. Add the bay leaf, parsley and about 10 cups of water to the pot, and turn the heat to high.

7. Bring just to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture sends up a few bubbles at a time. Cook, skimming and discarding any foam that accumulates, for at least 60 minutes and up to 2 hours. Cool slightly, then strain. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the stock overnight. The next day, take the stock out of the refrigerator and remove the duck fat from the top; it will have solidified, and you’ll be able to scoop it right off.

8. Put the fat in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the fat melts and reaches about 190 degrees, add the duck legs along with the garlic and as much olive oil (or duck fat) as necessary to submerge the legs. Discard the thyme and shallot.

9. Cook, never letting the heat exceed 200 degrees, until the meat is tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 11/2 hours. Let cool, then store the duck in the fat in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it in the cassoulet.



4 cups dried white beans

1/2 pound not-too-smoky slab bacon

Small bunch fresh parsley, leaves

chopped, stems saved

10 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole cloves

Salt and black pepper

1. Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the beans. Remove from heat and let soak for 1 hour.

2. Cut the bacon slab into 4 large chunks and cover in water in another saucepan; turn the heat to medium, and when the water boils, turn it down to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes.

3. Make a bouquet garni by combining the parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves and whole cloves in a piece of cheesecloth and tying it into a bundle. (I never use cheesecloth myself but turn to my old tea ball, which is around for only this purpose.) Add it, along with the bacon, to the beans; bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, skimming occasionally, until the beans are just tender, 45 to 90 minutes. (Add water if necessary; ideally the beans will be moist but not swimming when they’re done.) Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Day Five:  Cook the sausage, assemble cassoulet and sear the duck breasts.

1 pound boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes

Reserved fat, as needed

2 medium onions, sliced

Duck confit

8 garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups duck stock, plus more as needed

4 cups chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 pound garlicky sausage, preferably in one piece

1 cup bread crumbs

2 boneless duck breasts.

4. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper. Put 3 tablespoons reserved duck fat in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the lamb and brown the pieces well. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 or 6 minutes; turn off heat.

5. Remove the duck confit from the refrigerator and scrape off the fat; debone and shred the meat. Add the meat and garlic cloves to the pot with the lamb, along with 2 cups duck stock, tomatoes, chopped garlic and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer; cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is very tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

6. When you’re ready to assemble the cassoulet, discard the bouquet garni. Cut the fat from the meat and cut the meat into small pieces.

7. Heat 2 tablespoons reserved duck fat in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage and cook, turning as necessary until well browned; transfer to a cutting board and slice into quarter-inch rounds; don’t wash out the pan.


8. Heat the oven to 375. Transfer a layer of beans to a large enameled cast-iron pot with a slotted spoon to leave behind most of the cooking liquid. Layer half of the sausage and bacon on top, then another layer of beans, then half the duck-and-lamb mixture; repeat the layers until you have used all the beans and meat.


9. Put the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, uncovered, then turn off heat. Cover with bread crumbs and chopped parsley leaves and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

10. While the cassoulet is in the oven, put the skillet used for cooking the sausage over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, cook the duck breasts, skin-side down, until they release easily from the pan, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook to rare, just another minute or 2. Remove the duck from the pan with a slotted spoon and pour the drippings from the pan over the cassoulet; reduce oven heat to 350.


11. Bake the cassoulet until it’s hot, bubbling and crusted around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes; add a little duck stock if it starts to look too dry. Slice the duck breasts on the diagonal and transfer them to the pot, tucking them into the bread crumbs. Cook until the breasts are medium rare, another 5 minutes or so, then serve.



Days six and seven: Eat the leftovers, freeze the stock and save the extra beans, bread and sauce for white bean ragout.


What We Spent and What We Ate: Cheap Dinners and Cheap Shots

This week was awesome, mostly due to the Republican backlash to the National School Lunch Program changes, which went into effect at the beginning of this school year.  Chef Ann Cooper was on Talk of the Nation discussing school lunch reform and Jon Stewart did a great bit on kids protesting the changes.

I was even able to get into the fray myself.  I got a Google Alert about a post on the conservative blog, Seeing Red Arizona.  The post, entitled (with unnervingly confusing and incorrect punctuation) Hunger games? Hypocrite Obama’s mandate food choices, blasted the new school lunch requirements.

It didn’t say anything especially interesting, but then I scrolled down to the comments and holy shit, these people are crazy.  I felt compelled to use my most condescending tone to insert some reason into the “discussions” (read: litany of attacks on the first lady).  This was met with a retort (among several) that Michelle Obama has no right to tell us how to eat because she has a big ass.  Really?  What makes it disturbing is that I’ve heard criticisms of the first lady’s body serve as the basis of political arguments before.  Apparently it’s all fair game in the blogosphere.

The irony is that the changes to the lunch program are minimal.  I know we need to celebrate every small victory, but this change represents a very, very small victory for school lunch reform.  Here’s an example of how the new requirements translate to one day’s lunch:


Hot dog on bun (3 oz) with ketchup (4 T)

Canned Pears (1/4 cup)

Raw Celery and Carrots (1/8 cup each) with ranch dressing (1.75 T)

Low-fat (1%) Chocolate Milk (8 oz)


Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Meat Sauce (1/2 cup)

Whole Wheat Roll

Green Beans, cooked (1/2 cup)

Broccoli (1/2 cup)

Cauliflower (1/2 cup)

Kiwi Halves (1/2 cup)

Low-fat (1%) Milk (8 oz)

Low Fat Ranch Dip (1 oz)

Soft Margarine (5 g)

There is mounting evidence that low-fat diets aren’t healthy and may even contribute to obesity, so I have serious issues with things like low-fat ranch dip, low-fat milk (especially when it’s not organic and not grass-fed) and margarine.  All are highly processed foods that would be better left out of a child’s diet.  And I don’t even want to get into the meat that’s used for the spaghetti sauce.

See more examples of menu changes on the pdf: beforeafternutritionact


What We Spent and What We Ate:

We spent $218.57 this week.  $75 of that was at the Downtown and Town and Country farmers’ markets.  I’ve been trying to ask for receipts at the farmers’ markets, but I usually forget.  This week, I asked, but then I lost them.

On the Cheap Without Chicken

My first issue of Cooking Light (which I love) came this week and I was very excited because the cover touted lots of budget-friendly recipes.  I flipped through them and immediately noticed that, like every f-ing budget meal feature, most of the dinners include chicken.  There are a lot of reasons not to eat chicken, but one of the main reasons is precisely because it is cheap.

Cheap chicken is factory farmed chicken.  Factory farmed chicken is bad for workers, bad for the birds, bad for the environment, bad for public health and bad for personal health.  If I’m going to eat chicken, I’m going to spend a lot of money for a real chicken from the farmers’ market.  It’s just not worth saving a few bucks–the price of cheap chicken is passed on to all of us down the road in health, environmental, and human costs.

So I decided to plan a few meals this week that were budget friendly without relying on cheap chicken.  I also tried to avoid beans.  Cooking beans on the cheap makes me feel poor–especially after Sean Hannity’s “let them eat beans” comment last year.  Likewise, I only made one dinner featuring pasta.  Pasta is the cheap diner I fall back on, not something I put thought and effort into.  When I get around to making my own pasta, I’ll be whistling a different tune, I’m sure.

Here are this weeks cheap dinners–all well under 15 dollars:

Saturday:  tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread

I used another of my Mark Bittman favorites–“Almost No Work Whole Wheat Bread.”  Adding fresh baked bread to this time honored cheap dinner turns it into nostalgic comfort food.

Whole Wheat Bread

3 cups whole wheat flour

½ tsp instant yeast (I use a tiny, tiny bit more)

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil to grease the pan and brush the top of the loaf

1.  Combine ingredients in large bowl.  Add 1 ½ cups water and stir until blended;  the dogh should be wet—add water if it doesn’t look kind of like batter.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for at least 12-24 hours.

The dough will be a little bubbly when it’s done rising the first time.

2.  Scoop the dough into a greased loaf pan and use a spatula to gently settle it in evenly.

3.  Brush the top with olive oil.  Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, an hour or 2 (It won’t quite reach the top of the pan).

4.  Heat oven to 350 and bake until the bread is a deep brown and hollow-sounding when tapped—about 45 minutes.

5.  Immediately turn the loaf on a wire rack to cool.


Sunday: Himalayan Curry and Tibetan noodles

I got the Gila Farms cookbook last week and tried a few recipes.  There’s nothing earth shatteringly inspiring about the recipes, but the photographs and stories of the farmers are beautiful.  The book offers a few dozen ideas for what to do with your farmers’ market produce.

Himalayan Curry:


1 pound Tibetan noodles or spaghetti

3 cups assorted vegetables, chopped into bit size pieces (cauliflower, carrots, green beans, collard greens, potatoes)

½ pound spinach, washed and torn into bite-size pieces–this is a great job to keep the kids busy!

1 onion, chopped

4 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

3 fresh chilies, julienned

1 bay leaf

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro


Cook noodles according to package directions.  Remove while still slightly undercooked; drain and rinse.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions; fry until brown, about 10 minutes.

Add turmeric, garlic, ginger, and chilies; stir for 1 minute.  Add assorted vegetables; stir-fry for 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, soy sauce, broth, bay leaf, salt and pepper; cook until vegetables are tender.

Add noodles; cook 5 minutes or until sauce is consistent and begins to thicken.  Fold in spinach for 1-2, until wilted.  Garnish with cilantro.

I used Einkorn pasta for the boys’ dinner:

and buckwheat noodles for Pat’s dinner:


Monday: low carb pizza and flatbread pizza

Pat had to go the first Montessori parents’ night at Walter’s preschool.  This was an awkward affair at which my husband did the hokey pokey with several unenthusiastic East Indian couples.  I had to feed the kids, so I tried making pizza crust using the flatbread recipe from last week.  It was pretty good and they were nuts about it–done and done.

little low carb Hawaiian Pizzas

Pat and I are trying to lose two pounds (each) to get back down to fighting weight.  So, it’s easy on the carbs for us this week.  I made little low carb pizzas for us.  They were good, too.


Tuesday: kale and quinoa salad

This was my very, very favorite thing this weeks.  The kids were decidedly unimpressed and Pat said, “It’s really good” when I inquired, but I could tell he was sad not to have meat.

I got this idea from the MOJO food truck at the Downtown Farmers’ Market.  The boys always go there for smoothies (very good, I might add) while I shop.  I’ve been wanting to try their quinoa salad, but I never have time.  I finally decided to just try it at home.  I bet they make it better, but mine was absolutely delicious.  I could seriously eat it every day until I die–and that would be a very long time because it’s healthy.

Kale and Quinoa Salad stolen from MOJO


one bunch of kale

one cup raw walnuts

1/3 cup cranberries

1 cup uncooked quinoa

For the dressing, whisk 1-2 tbsp. tahini and 1/2 cup olive oil into 1/4 cup lemon juice.


Cook 1 cup of quinoa according to these directions and allow to cool.

1.  Preheat oven to 350-375 degrees.

2.  Tear the kale leaves off the stems and then chop with a knife–I made my pieces on the small side

3.  In a frying pan, toss the walnuts in a couple of tablespoons of melted butter to coat.

4.  Put the walnuts on a tray, sprinkle with a little salt (more if you used unsalted butter) and toast them until they brown very slightly–five minutes or so.

5.  In a heavy bottomed frying pan, saute some minced shallots in olive oil for a minute or two.

6.  Add the kale to the pan and saute for a minute or so–just until the kale turns bright green and is a little more tender.

7.  Remove the kale and walnuts to separate dishes and allow to cool.

8.  When it’s time to eat, toss the kale in the dressing and mix in quinoa, walnuts and dried cranberries.


Wednesday: a mountain of dolma

I inquired of my students how to make dolma.  Most of them are Iraqi, so they should know.  I got lots of advice in broken English, and it was fun hearing all the different ways to do it.  On Wednesday morning, when I walked in, I was greeted with a ginourmous plate of dolma.  There were stuffed tomatoes, onions, grape leaves, potatoes, and summer squash.  Pat and the boys loved them–we ate them for dinner and then snacked on them the next day.  The boys’ favorite were the stuffed potatoes and Pat and I liked the stuffed tomatoes, grape leaves and onions the best.  Now the prospect of making dolma is even more daunting because my family has tasted the real thing.

Even though I didn’t make them, I’ll share the recipe from the Gila Farm Cookbook that I had planned to use.

Iraqi Dolma


1 medium onion, diced

4 cups uncooked rice

2 pounds ground meat (beef, lamb or mixture)

1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon allspice

¼ teaspoon curry powder

6 medium cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup fresh lemon juice


In a medium bowl, add onion, garlic, meat, rice, parsley, half the allspice, half the curry powder, and half the lemon juice; mix thoroughly.  Using a spoon, carve out insides of eggplants, squash, tomatoes, and green peppers and add to the bowl; mix thoroughly.  It may be helpful to open the top of the tomatoes and green peppers with a knife, then use a spoon to remove the insides.  Set aside emptied vegetables.


3 medium onions

3 medium eggplants

2 medium tomatoes

4 medium green peppers

4 medium zucchini

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 tablespoons tomato paste

1 jar grape leaves, drained and rinsed


Peel skin from onions and discard, then peel off the large outer layers and set aside.  Add vegetable oil to a large pot.  Fill the outer onion layers with stuffing and arrange along the bottom of the pot.  Fill emptied vegetables with stuffing and arrange in a layer on top of the onions.  Lay grape leaves on a flat surface.  Spoon 1 tablespoon stuffing into the center of each leaf, fold sides toward the center, then roll.  Stack in a layer on top of the vegetables.  In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup water, tomato paste, allspice, curry powder, and lemon juice.  Pour over dolma in pot.  Place a heavy dinner plate on top of dolma to prevent vegetables from separating.  There should still be a little room ont e sides fo the pot.  Add enough water to the pot to cover all the vegetables.  Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce heat; cook for 1 hour, until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender.


Thursday: spicy sesame shiratake noodles, brown beech mushrooms and roasted eggplant

This was sooooo good.  I used a different sauce and it was perfect with the shirataki noodles.  The mushrooms and eggplant are ideal with this dish.  The bonus is it’s very low carb, so I could enjoy the fork twirling fun of a bowl of noodles and not have to worry about feeling too full and sleepy or falling off the diet wagon.  I got the noodles, mushrooms and Japanese eggplant at Le Le Asian Market.  You can get all three at Whole Foods, but it’s more expensive and not as good.



Spicy Sesame Noodles with Vegetables adapted from 1001 Low Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender

For the sauce:

¼ cup water

4 tbsp soy sauce

1.5 tbs tahini

1 tbs peanut butter

1 tbs rice vinegar

1 tbs mirin

½ tsp red pepper flakes or sambal

a little grated ginger


1.  Make 1-2 tbs toasted sesame seeds

Place the seasame seeds in a small, heavy skillet over high heat and shake the skillet constantly until the seeds start to make little popping sounds and jump in the skillet.  When that happens, immediately turn off the heat and shake the seeds out onto a small plate to cool.  Set aside.

2. Saute about 1 cup brown beech mushrooms in butter over medium heat, just until they start to brown

3.  Roast about 2 cups sliced eggplant, coated in olive oil, at 350 degrees.  When they’re soft and starting to brown, they’re done (about 15 minutes)

4.  Drain the shirataki noodles and put them in hot water until they’re warm.  Then mix the noodles and sauce.

5.  Add the mushrooms and eggplant and top with sesame seeds (a little Thai basil or cilantro would be good on top, too).


Friday: roasted beet salad with goat cheese

I saw this recipe in this week’s New York Times and the picture made me want to eat it.  So I made it.  By Friday, I was a little tired of the oven, but it roasting the beets was worth it.  I only had a nibble (lots of carbs), but the sweetness of the beets was delightful with the cheese.

Roasted Beet Salad

For the dressing:

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

Salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

1 6-ounce bag baby spinach

4 medium beets, roasted

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, chives, parsley or a combination

1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted


1. Make the dressing. In a small bowl or measuring cup combine the vinegars and salt to taste. Whisk in the mustard and the olive oil. Set aside.

2. Toss the spinach with 3 tablespoons of the dressing. Line a platter or individual plates.

3. Skin the beets and cut in half lengthwise (stem to root), then slice into thin half moons. Place the sliced halves on top of the spinach and fan them out.

4.  Drizzle on the remaining dressing and sprinkle on the herbs. Top each fan of beets with crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts, and serve.

This week’s receipts:

Related: I love infographics!!!

This one goes out to the food conspiracists I love:

As I was researching the evils of the National Dairy Council and the USDA (blog forthcoming), I stumbled upon this great New York Times article from late last year.  In “How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid’s Lunch,” Lucy Komisar exposes the unholy alliance between food industry giants and the USDA’s National School Lunch Program.

The National School Lunch Program uses agricultural surplus (most of which is turned into processed food) to feed our children.  With increasing privatization of school lunch programs, the abuses abound.

According to Komisar, this privatization has led not only to local producers being cut out of the equation, but also to outright corruption. For example, food service management companies like Sodexo have been sued for pocketing “rebates” from food processors.

The private management companies work with large producers like Tyson and Pilgrim’s (two of the most egregious agribusiness corporations on the planet) to take the government’s free food and process it, making it into tasteless, unhealthy junk food.

Privatization is also associated with lower wages for food service workers and lower test scores for children.

Government agricultural subsidies like those that supply the school lunch program hurt children in other ways, too.

Recently, a study by CALPRIG (California Public Interest Research Group) found that (you’d better sit down for this one) the U.S. government subsidizes junk food far more than healthy food.  I love the tongue in cheek (but accurate) statistics in the report.  My favorite is concerning the lack of subsidies for fruit and vegetables (apples are the only fruit that is significantly subsidized):

If subsidies for junk food ingredients went directly to taxpayers to allow them to purchase food, each of America’s 141 million taxpayers would receive $7.58 to spend on junk food and 27 cents to spend on apples each year—enough to buy 21 Twinkies but just half of one Red Delicious apple.

I don’t know if the government should subsidize produce and tax junk food (a step that recent studies show is working), but I do know we should stop subsidizing commodities and processed food.  Most importantly, we need to get the food industry giants out of our schools.  The conflict of interest the USDA creates in working with big agribusiness and the processed food industry is a serious danger to our health and our democracy.  When it involves children, it is even more insidious.

On a brighter note, in many ways, things are getting better.  The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (the Child Nutrition Act), signed into law by President Obama in December of 2010, made several improvements to the federal school lunch program.  It sets aside money for farm to school programs and school gardens and it provides more money for fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains.

There were quite a few disappointing consessions to the food industry, however.  Companies like Sodexo and ConAgra lobbied against reductions in processed food and, according to Mark Bittman in the NYT:

Lobbyists for the potato industry made a fuss and the Senate stepped in to make sure that didn’t happen, and that concession is integrated into the new rules: Potatoes will still be unlimited[1]. Similarly, you might remember that Congress and industry worked together to make sure that the tomato paste on pizza would continue to qualify it as a vegetable.

The law comes up for financing every five years, so we need to prepare for another fight against the food industry.  Until then, some states are taking matters into their own hands.

Many California districts, for example, have forged ahead with their own local school nutrition initiatives like salad bars, scratch cooking and using local food.

These plans have proven lucrative too, demonstrating that healthy eating in schools doesn’t have to cost more.  And I’d much rather our schools profit than the food industry.

It is up to individual school districts to fight for reform on their own.  We can’t wait for the federal government to do it for us.  While we are not waiting for them, however, we can ask our representatives to make sure that schools’ access to fresh, local food is addressed in the Farm Bill Reauthorization Act this September.

When a Carton of Milk Gets Complicated

It’s shopping day, so Pat went to Sprouts to get, among other things, Organic Valley dairy products.  The brand is owned by the co-op CROPP and their milk comes from farmers adhering to strict animal husbandry standards.  Plus, they make the only organic grass-fed milk I’ve been able to find in Phoenix.  Their milk got four cows on Cornucopia’s organic milk scorecard, so I was fairly sure they were our best bet for politically correct milk.

Then I read the piece in the New York Times this morning about Big Business co-opting the organic foods industry.  Stephanie Strom reports that Wendy Fulwider, a CROPP executive, is on the Department of Agriculture’s National Organics Standards Board next to giants like General Mills.  Guess what?  She consistently votes with her corporate fellow board members in favor of weakening organic standards.  It’s looking like Organic Valley might not be a great choice.

And then there’s Mark Bittman’s piece in the Times, in which he advocates giving up milk altogether. Bittman claims that eliminating dairy from his diet has cured his acid reflux.  He also cites one expert who says,  “there are very credible links between dairy consumption and both Type 1 diabetes and the most dangerous form of prostate cancer.”  One other reason Bitmann gives for giving up milk: the takeover of the dairy industry by big business at the expense of the small farmer.

So what’s left?  According to the milk scorecard, Whole Foods 365 organic milk is probably the best we can do in Arizona.   It’s all so complicated– recommendations like Bittman’s are starting to sound pretty good.

Cornucopia Institute: Who Owns Organic