Saturday, July 20, 2013

Evening out: Moerlein Lager House

My social life has evolved to include mostly outings involving children: birthday parties, sprinkler parks, the zoo, children's museum, any place with a train or live farm animals, etc.  You get the picture. Much energy is expended Entertaining Little Sweetpea.

So it's always nice to have an adult evening out.

Last night, the Husband headed to the Reds game and I hung out at the Moerlein Lager House.  Awesomely they have all the veg and GF items marked on their menu.  Only one was marked with both icons, the Crispy Balsamic Tofu.  The tofu was accompanied by spinach risotto with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, and some shave asparagus.  It was pretty delicious.  The risotto had great flavor and the tofu lived up the menu's promise.  It was crispy and not at all as offensive as I sometimes find tofu when it is flaccid and soggy.  (Blecht.)  I wish there had been more vegetables, the roasted tomatoes were yummy.

Check out that crispy tofu!
The meal was a pleasant surprise.  I hadn't been to the Moerlein House for dinner for awhile and I did not think it was very good last time I was there.  In all fairness that was when they first opened.  Recently I was there for a private party and the server we had was amazing.  He was very accommodating of the various food restrictions at our table and did it all with a smile.  One of my coworkers has been diagnosed with a nickel allergy, which means she can't eat anything grown in the ground.  So no fruit, no vegetables, no nuts, no beer or wine.  Any produce needs to be hydroponically grown.  Basically she can eat meat and dairy, the total opposite of my diet.  We were a pretty high maintenance table and the server handled it beautifully.

I digress.  Last night after the guys got tired of sweating it out at the game they came to join us.  They proceeded to give us crap because we were at a beer place but enjoying a bright, citrusy Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc.  But the Moerlein House's wine list is just as long as the beer list with a lot of great options.

Mmm.  Wine.

Then something strange happened as we were leaving.  There was an exodus from the game as it was drawing to a close.  And people were toting cases of Hamburger Helper.  I have no explanation for this phenomenon.  Friend with a Smoker snagged some boxes.  Which he discarded in a trash receptacle after reading the ingredients.
Then this happened.
Moerlein Lager House on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 8, 2013

Coming together

I was struggling a lot to get organized for the week and keep that commitment to healthy eating.  I do have to say, I have fallen into more of a routine and I am getting to be a much better multi-tasking cook.  But by far the most successful tactic I have developed is this: a food partnership.

This is a very obvious approach which I can't believe I didn't think of earlier.  I was noticing that as I followed various recipes, massive amounts of food were produced.  We would eat it for dinner and then I would eat it for lunch.  And then lunch again.  Maybe breakfast depending on what it was.  The Husband does not eat leftovers for some reason beyond my comprehension, and he only minimally consumes vegetables to begin with.  Therefore, the bulk of eating any one dish fell to me.  Serious burnout occurs after days of lentils and radishes.  A lot of food was being thrown away.  I HATE to waste food (for a history of my neurosis, look here) so this was not an optimal situation.

The solution? I buddied up with my friend, who I will call the Vegetarian (she's super dedicated and way less...flexible...than me).  Over the weekend we each cook a few dishes, split them in half, and trade.  Voila!  We each have a variety of things to eat for the week, nominal weeknight cooking, and reduced waste.  Plus, lots of experimenting.  "Falafel??? Not giving up, will try another recipe sometime" is exchanged for "Herbed potato rosti - greasy!"  It's kind of exciting to see what the other person makes for the week.

One month in, and so far it is working great.  Having someone with whom to share recipes and cooking responsibilities has really made the quest for a healthier life easier.

I may have said this before, but I am amazed at how much breaking free of meat and bread has expanded my palate.  Amanda Cohen, owner/author of Dirt Candy (possibly the most awesome title for a veg restaurant/cookbook ever), is quoted as saying "Too often people think that eating vegetarian food is about saying no to meat, when in reality it needs to be more about saying yes to vegetables."  I love that.  It has really been a growing experience.  Lots of stuff I've tried I've liked (aduki beans, millet, roasted cauliflower, spicy chickpeas) and other stuff not so much (just can't get into the sea vegetables).  Looking forward to more culinary research.  Currently I am trying to convince someone I'll christen the Friend with a Smoker that we need to smoke some vegetables.  Maybe eggplant?  Cauliflower?  Totally open to suggestions.  Although Friend with a Smoker may take more persuasion.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Now I'm Eating Hemp: What in the Hell is Wrong with Me?

I reached a point this week when I was a little disturbed with myself.  I was standing at Whole Foods, ladling hulled hemp seeds into a container for purchase, and I began to question who/what I had become.  I looked in my cart.  Among the fruits and vegetables were things like nutritional yeast and agar.

What in the hell am I doing?

Michael Pollan wrote in In Defense of Food some rules for eating.  His first rule, page 148, is "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food".  My great grandmother was a lovely woman and a tremendous cook.  I am 100% certain she never picked up agar flakes at Whole Foods and said "Yum, this will really just be perfection in my berry tart".  I know what Mr. Pollan meant, avoid processed foods with weird ingredients and ridiculous health claims on the package.  But when I look at anything trending as a "superfood" it seems like that is a ridiculous health claim as well.  And I am especially suspicious of unfamiliar ingredients, which I guess I have decided that I am going to purchase now and research later.

I read the description of how the agar flakes are produced on Eden Foods website and it is completely silly, talking about spreading the bars of seaweed on bamboo mats over the snow-covered rice fields.  Sorry, I just don't believe it.  That doesn't seem very cost effective for a product sold nationwide.    Vegetable gelatin and animal gelatin both seem to have their own pros.  Vegetable has more vitamins and minerals, animal more protein.  Like so many food items that I previously had no concept evoked such passionate emotions, I have found opinions on both sides purporting their gelatin of choice is the superior.

It makes my head hurt.

Back to my great grandmother.  Hemp History Week offers a hemp timeline which outlines hemp as a major crop in the US until it was outlawed in the late 1950s due to the psychoactive effects of the marijuana variety of Cannabis saliva.  (Apparently hemp licensed for use in the EU and Canada must contain <0.3% THC (interesting article here)).  The timeline doesn't mention the hemp being consumed historically, more in using it for products like paper and rope.  There was even a "Hemp for Victory" campaign during WWII.  So I guess my great grandmother would not have recognized hemp as a food source, but rather a material for industry.


Well, I still ate it.  My great grandmother called a green pepper a mango and never ate Indian food, which is pretty much as delicious as it gets.  We do live in a global economy and the food options and flavors have widely expanded since great grandma's time.  Hemp seed has nutritional value like any seed.  The hemp-and-herb stuffed potatoes I made were flavorful and uniquely textured, although a bit dry (probably my fault, I didn't follow the recipe exactly).  It was kind of like the healthy version of a baked potato with sour cream and chives.

I'm still not sure how I got so weird about food.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wakame what?

When I am busy in my kitchen preparing food, my dogs have learned to hover near my feet.  My somewhat sloppy knife technique often results in bits of carrot, potato, apple, etc being flung to the floor, where it is immediately snorfed up by one of the two pugs after a spirited tussle.  Sometimes the pugs find the tidbit rewarding, other times it's an onion.

Today was no exception.  I was working at the counter, pugs wedged between my ankles and the cabinetry.  The experiment was wakame, a sea vegetable commonly used in Asian cuisine.  I decided to give it a try since it is a good source of iodine, calcium, niacin, and other vitamins.  While preparing wakame salad with cucumber and carrots, a bowl transfer led to some spillage of the rehydrated wakame onto the floor.  Francie turned up her nose, but Crosley gobbled it right up.  Fifteen minutes later he was puking.

Interesting, possibly foreboding.

Wakame, or Undaria pinnatifida, is an edible brown sea algae.  It is considered an invasive species (most recently invading SF Bay) and can pick up toxins from polluted water, so it is important to choose wakame from a reputable source.  Recommended by multiple sources: Eden and Maine Coast Sea Vegetables (which is actually alaria, a similar algae).  It's usually sold dried in strips or flakes, and typically soaked in warm water to rehydrate before adding to a dish.  Although I did read the flakes can be added to scrambled eggs, pizza, baked potatoes, and cooked grains.

So how did it taste?  While it did not make me vomit, I can't say as it is my favorite.  It was slightly rubbery and smelled really fishy, something I associate with seafood gone bad.  Maybe it is my lack of experience with this vegetable that made something in the preparation go awry.  I will have to research some other uses.  I have half a package left so I need to find some use for it.  Hopefully more enjoyable than the salad I am totally passing on to my mom ("I thought you might like it, it's different")

The other thing I learned about during my wakame experiment was gomashio seasoning.  This is a combination of sea salt and sesame seeds.  Delicious!  I think I will find more uses for this than the wakame.
The finished product

Monday, April 1, 2013

got calcium?

The biggest question I have gotten from people (mostly my mom) is about calcium.  If I don't eat dairy, from where am I getting calcium?  There are a lot of sources of calcium besides dairy, it's just that dairy products have the highest content and best absorption at a cost effect price.  Options include tofu, oatmeal, sesame seeds, figs, broccoli, almonds, and sardines.  Oxalic acid can inhibit calcium absorption, so a food like spinach doesn't turn out to be the best source despite high elemental calcium content.

According to the North American Menopause Society's 2010 position paper, the recommended daily intake of elemental calcium for my age is 1000mg.  Calcium, along with vitamin d (necessary for regulation and absorption of calcium) are a part of bone health despite recent bad press.  As women get older, we need to increase our calcium intake for a variety of reasons involving estrogen and vitamin d deficiencies.  Unfortunately, even for women who consume dairy, the average daily calcium intake of a postmenopausal woman is around 700mg from dietary sources (1200mg recommended).  Dietary sources are preferred to supplements.

I was curious how much calcium I consume in a day, so I did some wild estimating and a quick calculation on today's meals.
Almond milk: 100 (I didn't realize until I looked at it that it is calcium fortified)
Cereal: 0
Sardines (on top of spinach - fail on my part!): 370 (maybe the spinach just canceled itself out)
Broccoli: 100
Brown rice: 50
Coconut milk: 10
Pumpkin seeds: 30
Total: 660mg

So I came in under my goal, right close to the average.  The thing is I don't think I would have made it even if I was eating dairy.

On a side note, I have to mention the brilliance of the dairy industry's marketing campaign (discussion of a launch here).  What I did not realize is that farmers, under the Dairy Promotion and Research Program, have to contribute for the cost of those ads.  Some dairy producers have tried to separate themselves from the promotions of the Dairy Program, arguing not all milk is created equal and should therefore not be marketed generically.  Apparently federally subsidized milk advertising began during the time of the New Deal (history of milk here)...makes you wonder how our dietary landscape would differ if an alternative source of calcium had been chosen.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The First Foray into Gluten Free Baking

My Kitchen Aid mixer has been gathering dust since my venture to the healthy side.  It has not creamed butter and sugar for about two months.  I don't want any kitchen appliance to feel neglected, so Thursday evening I set to baking.

I had to make a treat for Little Sweetpea's school Easter party Friday, and I had to make dessert for dinner with some friends Friday night.  I originally had this grand plan of bunny shaped petit fours with pastel colored glaze, but guess what didn't happen.  I was tired, I got started after 7pm, and frankly 2 year olds don't fully appreciate labor intensive baked goods.

So, for Little Sweetpea: traditional oatmeal cookies with dried cherries (no nuts for daycare!).  For friends: gluten, egg, and (mostly) dairy free oatmeal cookies with walnuts and dark chocolate chips.

In the interest of full disclosure, my cookies cannot technically be considered GF because I did not purchase GF oats.  Apparently oats cannot be assumed to be GF unless specifically noted due to potential cross contamination.

First thing I noticed, mixing the dough for the GF cookies was faster and ostracized the mixer.  As I poured 3/4 cup of maple syrup into the bowl, I was thinking 2 things.  1) this is expensive and 2) does it really matter what kind of sugar I use?  Doesn't the body treat all sugar like sugar?  To address the questions in thing 2, I started off with Google, or "Dr. Google" as we like to refer to him at work.  There is various information out there on refined sugar vs. natural sugars, but I am always very apprehensive at anything floating in the interwebs.  Who knows if it's written by some uninformed quack just like me?  So I turned to my favorite source of information: PubMed.  First I entered "maple syrup" as my search term, which returned over 1100 references to articles on maple syrup urine disease.  A search using "refined sugar" yielded more relevant results with riveting titles such as "Intake of Whole-Grain and Fiber-Rich Rye Bread Versus Refined Wheat Bread Does Not Differentiate Intestinal Microbiota Composition in Finnish Adults with Metabolic Syndrome".

I found articles stating the antioxidant properties of different sweeteners varied, articles discussing the impact of refined carbohydrates on non-verbal intelligence, publications on using nutritional therapy in mental health, and implications of sugar intake on hippocampal function.  There is a lot of info out there.  It seems that regardless of sugar source, moderation is the best policy.  Added sweetness increases calories and excessive calorie intake (whether as carbohydrates or fats) contributes to the American epidemic of obesity. The data on whether our bodies process the sugars differently is conflicting, but many sources agree sugar sources have the same nutritional value. (A very complete review of fructose was particularly interesting, as well as a comparison of sucrose and HFCS)

Anyway, back to the cookies.  After completing both batches, GF and non-GF, I had my sister do a blind taste test.  She preferred the GF, stating it had more flavor.  I think that might have been the tablespoon of cinnamon.  The texture of the two was very different, as I would have expected.  The GF were more like granola bars than cookies.  I would consider them a success.  A lot of the other GF recipes for baked goods I have looked at are much more complex so texturally they may be more similar to traditional baked goods.
Traditional oatmeal cookies

GF version

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Some news items of interest

First, I saw this on wine me, dine me and I thought it was very interesting.  A new book, Pandora's Lunchbox, examines how processed food has infiltrated the American diet and the products' resiliency.  It will hopefully answer my burning question: will guacamole survive the zombie apocalypse?  Plus I will read this book simply because the name is awesome.  It will be a great addition to my bookshelf, right next to Twinkie, Deconstructed.

Southwest Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association is hosting State of the Plate on April 13th at Gorman Heritage Farm.  There will be a variety of workshops on eating local, gardening, and CSAs.