Saturday, June 30, 2012

"What is a granola?"

The Internet has failed me in my search for the movie in which someone yells in frustration "What is a granola?" but I hear it in my head pretty much every time I think about granola.
Granola is a delicious collective entity. There is no such thing as a granola. It was interesting for me to assemble this collective because I had to acknowledge its individual parts. 

Unbaked granola mixed together by hand (fun!)

Here are the parts of my granola:

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped almonds (easy with a sharp knife, rock the knife or keep the tip pressed down while you change the angle of the bottom of the knife with each chop)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (suuuper easy to chop)
  • Some flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (only works if ambient temperature is 76 degrees or warmer, or if you warm up the oil first)
  • Dash of molasses
  • Dash of vanilla
  • Dash of salt (1/2-3/4 teaspoon or so)

What's interesting is that these simple ingredients are often not what make up the granolas you buy in a box at the grocery store. Making your own processed food really makes you conscious of what utter crap is in most commercially processed food. If you want "purer" granola from a store, look for it in bulk at a health food store, but if you're trying to avoid GMOs, only go for "100% Organic", since most commercial cereals use canola oil. Ok, onto the instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds, and brown sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, molasses and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.
  4. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl, then store in a glass jar for up to 4 months or freeze for 6 months.
Granola spread out on the baking sheet (batch #1)

This recipe is actually adapted from an Alton Brown recipe. You can do whatever the heck you like. Just note that if you add fruit, don't bake it; just mix it in before storage.

Is it good? Yes, it is. Try it! DON'T burn it! It'll totally suck.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Adventures in salmon

I went to Whole Foods today, because it's the only place I know of in this city that sells bulk organic olive oil, which is a must for my homemade salad dressings. Although olive oil will solidify when refrigerated, coconut oil solidifies to a whole other level. Like, unless you heat it up, it will just not uncoagulate as a dressing. ANYWAY. I noticed that they had a sale on fresh, wild-caught sockeye salmon; I usually opt for the cheaper coho or river salmon, so I was excited to take advantage of this deal.

After I got home, I experienced full-fridge paralysis. I was sooo hungry and had possibly one million dinner combinations before me. Therefore, I wanted to cook everything. But I was able to figure out a way to make my 1/2 lb of salmon become two meals: ceviche and Thai salmon.

Ceviche (cooked by acid)

Ok, well first of all, here's the whole piece of fish. The recipe calls for cutting it as thinly as possible.

This was difficult. I screwed it all up. I had so much difficulty cutting at a sharp angle; I suspect this was where I failed the entire exercise. But, I also suspected that the details I overlooked would only make my dish uglier and not any less tasty. In fact, I chopped up some Texas sweet white onion, not the red onion and shallots the recipe called for. Time will tell.

I just fudged the amounts. The recipe calls for 1.5 lbs of salmon, so I had to just trust my gut because I was too hungry for math. I chopped up some sweet Texas white onion, jalapeno, and juiced one lime. Added a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and voila: SAUCE.

I made two layers of ceviche and then covered it and I'll eat it in a few hours. It was at this point that I realized that I picked a silly thing to prepare while hungry: something I can't eat right away. 
So was it good? I don't know, I haven't tried it yet. Because I ate this:

Thai salmon (baked)

With my remaining salmon, I proceeded with my cooked dish. But yet again, it calls for marination. Luckily, the minimum marinating time is 10 minutes. 

I combined many lovely ingredients in a bowl, such as soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, jalapeno, fish sauce, garlic, honey, and lemongrass. I had to substitute a jalapeno for a Thai chili; I actually have a Thai chili plant but it's not fruiting yet. 
I also have lemongrass growing, but it wasn't exactly mature enough yet for me to yank up a bunch of it; I still pulled two leaves off and their crinkly roots smelled incredibly fragrant, and it totally did the trick.

I cooked the sauce on medium-high for about 7 minutes until it got pretty thick, then stuck it in the fridge to cool off a bit.

Lastly, I coated each side of my small fillets with the thick, gooey sauce and put it in the fridge.

Then I had to think about what to serve it with. I have these really awesome beans I got from the farmers market last week...I don't remember exactly what they are, but they're Asian. So I figured they would get along with my Thai salmon quite nicely.

I steamed it and then let it bathe in the oils and flavors of the salmon after I had fried it in a skillet.

I decided I was in the mood for some grains, so I poured coconut milk, water, and lime juice into a pot with about 1/2 cup of brown rice; I added a touch of salt and honey to give it some nice contrasting flavors, and boiled the heck out of it for 40 minutes. Damn you brown rice...why do you have to be so good but take so long?

So here it is. It was AMAZING. The flavors were outstanding. Just incredible. This is one of the best fish dishes I've ever made. Yeehaw!
The end.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From Texas to the midwest: little improvements make a big difference


I just finished up a weekend at my college reunion in central Ohio. My flight out included a stop in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, and once I landed, I was immediately on the hunt for real food. I knew it was going to be hard to find. There wasn't any restaurant information posted that I could find, so I resorted to browsing the Internets on my phone and found this, which is a list of what DFW considers healthful food choices. Here's an example:
While their definition of healthful often differed from mine, I really appreciated the effort, and it made it possible for me to find something that I could eat that was better than McDonald's. I first tried a taco place and wound up with the smallest $3 taco in existence. It was maybe 3" inches in diameter and had canned corn, a blob of chopped onions, and three of the smallest slivers of bell pepper you've ever seen. And then some sort of tangy lime/cheese sauce, which was actually quite good. But I was annoyed, because their sign read: "We only use pure, whole ingredients." Did I believe them? Not really, but my roasted corn, roasted pepper, and roasted onion taco was clearly half-canned and not at all roasted. Again, it's just getting less and less tolerable to be lied to. If I had cahones, I would have eaten it, gone up to them and said, "hi, excuse me, there was nothing vaguely roasted on my roasted vegetable taco. I'd like a refund. I don't like being mislead." But, I don't.

So even though my stomach is the size of a bird's, that taco didn't do it for me. I went to a place next to Au Bon Pain that had pre-made salads and soups. Again, I could see that they're trying. They had some gluten-free options and they even had organic tea. They had a monitor that was supposed to give me nutritional information about the food, but I couldn't get it to turn on. But again, I appreciated the effort. I ate right in front of Au Bon Pain and listened to the ladies working there chatting away. They were all obese. One of them stepped out from behind the counter to the chips display and said, "See, they're baked, not fried, so they're good for you." This made me sad. She's parroting all the misleading health claims that are thrown at her at every turn and no one has bothered to try to educate her. Again, if I had cahones, I'd say, "actually, while you're right that they're not as bad for you as the regular chips, there's nothing in there that's good for you. It's not food, really." Clearly the moral of the story is that I need to grow some cahones.


I'm impressed, Columbus. I think I was north central and gotta say, there were a lot of restaurants and bakeries with healthful food. I spent Friday morning taking the bus up N. High St a bit to where I thought a farmers market would be. It as raining and there was no one. But you see, I thought it was Saturday. I went into the coffee shop at the corner and asked the cashier where the food was at. That's when I realized it was Friday. Oops! But, I asked her for a recommendation for groceries, and she gave me walking directions to the Clintonville Community Market, which for those that live in Austin is like Wheatsville, but tinier. It was a dream come true. First of all, it was a lovely walk and the store is on the corner in the midst of a beautiful, quaint neighborhood. Half their produce was local, and it was exciting to pick up things that aren't in season in Austin anymore, like garlic scapes, red-leaf lettuce, and kale (a new variety!). Like the chain Natural Grocers, all the produce is sustainable. Their selection of local, pastured and amish eggs and cheeses was delightful, and they were CHEAP. Most of their bulk section was organic, too. And their bulk spices were amazing! they carried so many local products that my little local heart leapt. I recognized goods from Patty Cake, a bakery I had recently walked past in my Friday-morning journeys. I chatted with the cashier for a long time about sustainable agriculture and Austin's local food economy. It was right up my alley.

I also had the pleasure of visiting Northstar Cafe, which reminded me a lot of the Steeping Room, except without the tea. They had this amazing juicer:

And the most amazing veggie burger on the planet. Wish you could actually see it. It's got what looks like chewy, red rice, dates, something beet-related, and black beans. Beautiful.

Here are some of the other lovely things we ate there.

Northstar serves a Niman Ranch beef hamburger, which I had just read aaaalll about in the Righteous Porkchop by Bill Niman's wife, Nicolette. They also had some sort of chicken dish that served "FreeBird" chicken, so I'm assuming that's another famous traditional farm. Their tofu was organic (which to me is important, because I avoid genetically modified foods) and everything was fresh and phenomenal.

After dinner, we checked out Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, and it was most definitely splendid. To my surprise, all their ice creams use local Snowville Creamery milk and cream, which is grass-grazed. I haven't had time yet to look into their operation (or hopefully, their cute traditional farm), but I wasn't expecting anything like that at an ice cream store, so I was thrilled. And dayum. I got the Backyard Mint, which was just mint ice cream, except it was made by soaking Ohio mint in the cream. Realest mint dessert I've had. I also had it with half a scoop of Dark Chocolate. Sooo rich. I forget nowwhat my friends got, but they were really imaginative flavors that involved lemon curd and verbena and juniper or something like this. Here are pictures of their glory.

At this point, I couldn't tell if Columbus is more progressive on this front than Austin, or if I was just in the right part of town. Probably the latter, but either way, I was a happy camper. There were lots of organic and natural food places to hit up, and seemed like everything had options for vegetarians and vegans. I ate out about once a day and made my other meals. I ate very well in Columbus, and I'm glad it was possible.


I didn't really visit Chicago, but I found something in the O'Hare airport that caught my eye and led me up a flight of stairs in a trance. A freaking urban garden. It's called an aeroponic tower garden. This describes everything.

Each tower had one type of plant, and they noted which restaurant in the airport used that particular plant from the garden. I wasn't hungry because I munched on my leftover veggie burger on the plane ride over there, but I did check out the restaurants. One of them had a sign posted next to its menu that attempted to describe where each main ingredient came from. It doesn't tell you how that ingredient is grown/produced, but at least they're trying to be transparent, and if I had the time, I could have looked up each company and each farm to see if they had the same values as I do. Wicked cool.

There was a lot of posted information about the urban garden and its benefits, but they conveniently fail ed to mention how much electricity this thing uses.

Then I realized that this was the coolest airport in the US (that I know of). They have an apiary. I remember reading this in the news, actually, but forgot it was Chicago O'Hare.

And I mean, LOOK:

And so

I was so encouraged on this trip by what I saw in three different parts of the country. Yes, some people are trying to offer healthier options to make money. But you know what? As long as it actually IS healthful, I'm glad. And even if it's not perfect, it's still a move in the right direction. I feel the momentum and maybe I'm being too optimistic, but I feel the change coming, too, and I'm beginning to realize that we CAN achieve a sustainable food system and one that really nurtures people's bodies. I hope it's not just a dream.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This must stop

I eat animals and animal products. There, I said it. I primarily eat other things, but I'm not going to pretend I'm vegan or vegetarian. I have found places that raise animals and plants in a manner consistent with my values, and I didn't think that was is (hint: it's farmers markets). It's not everywhere, it's not mainstream, but we have to change that. We're not helpless. We are the consumers and the food industry can't survive without us.

Are you ready to know why animal confinement operations are illogical? I'm not interested in praying on people's innate compassion or their guilt or their squeamishness. This doesn't need to be an emotional matter. It's a practical matter. That's because we took a system that worked perfectly, a closed ecological loop, and tried to make it better. And we broke it.

How food animals are raised traditionally

A food/dairy animal farmed traditionally walks around on pasture. It eats forage and grass and if it's omnivorous like chickens, some insects, too. Their bodies are designed to eat these things. The forage and grass have adapted to this animal eating it and depends on being eaten to thrive. The animal has lots of unique behaviors, just like humans do, and can carry them out, so they are happy, healthy, and stress-free. They feel the sun on their backs and a fresh breeze in their face, and they get to exercise and interact with other animals, their kin, and humans. They have a very low-rate of illness and their immune systems are robust. The animal poops on the pasture, which fertilizes the soil and in turn, their future meals. The animal ingests the energy from the sun that the plants synthesized. The pasture isn't watered, and the farmers skillfully rotate the animals on the pasture so that the pasture isn't over-grazed.
We don't have to remove the poop. We don't have to confine the animals. We don't try to make every single animal taste, look, and live exactly like the one next to it. Ok so tell me, really. Isn't this what the overwhelming majority of people want? Isn't this what you'd like be eating if you're a consumer of animals/animal products?

Why industrialized food animal operations make no sense

Most animals now are not raised traditionally. They're raised in confinement from birth to death. Why is this illogical? It's simple. You can even just read the bolded parts if you're in a hurry:
  • Confinement operations are not more efficient. Plant synthesizes sun into energy; animal eats energy, we eat animal. Eating a plant is far more efficient because there's one fewer step between us and the sun's energy. Anyway, once we take the animal off the grass and put it into a metal confinement building, we have to put a lot of energy and resources into producing its feed, which is mostly GMO grains. These genetically-modified monocrops use a tremendous amount of energy, because they require the production of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which are derived from fossil fuels. It also takes a lot of water and depletes the soil of nutrients, making large swaths of land baron for years. And we subsidize this with our tax dollars. Confinement operations make more meat than a small family farm, obviously. That's because the animals are slaughtered very young and are bred, injected, and fed to be huuuuge. Guys, we don't need all this meat. We really don't. We'll be better off with less of it.
  • Confinement operations and industrial agriculture are not fixing world hunger. Even if they were trying to, they'd fail, because world hunger is about power and politics, NOT abundance. The United States produces an overabundance of real food. The planet produces 4.3 pounds of real food per person per day. Corporate profitibility is the only reason we moved to industrial animal operations anyway. Ok, that, and the ridiculous overabundance of corn, pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics.
  • Poop is getting in our water. Mostly characterized as a hog operation and bovine operation byproduct, manure lagoons are huge pools of liquified manure that's been removed from underneath the animal, liquified, and then transported. Some of it is sprayed on land to fertilize it, but the vast majority has to go somewhere else, because there's not nearly enough land to spray it on: lagoons. These lagoons do not stay contained and dump huge amounts of nitrogen and toxic substances into the water supply, which completely throws off the ecosystem in the body of water, and millions of fish die. In short, this is a health risk for us and an environmental risk everywhere there's a CAFO anywhere near a body of water. 
  • These animals are very unhealthy. Many are always on the brink of dying from illness, so they are fed and injected with ridiculous amounts of antibiotics, some on a daily basis from birth to death. Not only am I creeped out by the idea of eating an animal that can't survive with copious amounts of drugs, but I'm going to be ingesting some of those antibiotics, too, which makes my body more resistant to antibiotics when they could save my life. They are not provided the conditions that lead to good health. They are too close together. They sometimes can't move at all and hogs, egg-laying hens, and dairy cows usually can't turn around. They can't exercise. In the case of hog operations, they're inhaling toxic gases produced by their own waste with every breath. They are not clean and pass diseases onto each other all the time. They stand and lie in their waste. They eat a diet that is equivalent to a human eating only Twinkies. The way I see it, when you eat an animal on Twinkies, you're pretty much eating Twinkies, plus a bunch of other crap. Anyone can figure out that's not healthful. Eggs are dyed because they're devoid of nutrition; salmon is dyed for the same reason. Both would be gray without the dye. Gross. Bovine especially have it bad when eating grains, because their rumines can't really handle it, so they have a hole in their side so the "farmer" can reach into the rumen and pull out the acidic, bacteria-laden (read: E. coli) frothiness that results from their unnatural diet. And blah blah blah, there's so much more. I don't want to eat that.
  • CAFO-borne meats/dairy products are not cheaper. Yes, it seems cheaper in the grocery store because of government subsidies that WE pay for! Then there's the hidden costs of poorer health (higher medical bills, more medications), and the ENORMOUS carbon footprint. Like, way bigger than never driving your car ever again. It's the hidden costs that bite us in the ass, and they're the hardest ones to pay attention to, because they may not be obvious and they're rarely instant.
  • Confinement operations are only more profitable for corporations, not the farmers. Traditional farmers are much more profitable than industrial farmers. Most industrial farmers are in their line of work still because they can't get out without losing everything and are usually eternally beholden to the corporations. 
  • These animals are deformed. Pigs are injected with steroids that make them produce tons of muscle, but no fat. They look more like dachshunds than pigs. If they went outside and it was cold, they'd most likely die because they can't regulate their body temperature any more. Their tails are cut off to discourage tail-biting, a side-effect of confinement. Cows can't walk well and become lame because their udders are bred to be oversized (so they can produce 10,000 lbs of milk a year; p.s. we produce too much milk). Their tails are also cut off, because it's an annoyance to humans. Chickens' beaks are cut off so they won't peck each other to death, a side-effect of confinement. They also can't walk because their breasts are too big (same with turkeys).
  • Confined seafood and livestock eat each other's parts and waste. Most of the fish you eat eat pellets that comprise livestock waste (read: poop), grains, minerals, and dye. A lot of the land animals (and their products) that you eat eat farmed fishmeal, blood, feathers, animal by-products, and GMO grains. This is not a natural closed loop. Again, does it make any sense to feed your dog only grapes? I mean, what the hell? I mean, one could say they're being resourceful and not wasting things, but it's being done for the wrongest of reasons: profit. And it's stupid.
  • Confined animals are pointlessly abused. You can find lots of videos and articles and books describing this if you want the details. It's pointless from our perpective, but it all makes sense in the context of screwing up that perfect, ecological loop for $$$.
  • Producing only grass-fed animals won't automatically cause deforestation. It requires skilled grass-farming, and while most industrial "farmers" may feel it's too much work, I'm sure any real farmer could do it just fine. In fact, well-managed grasses grazed by livestock can actually produce far more vegetation than they normally would. And guess what would replace all that land covered in monocrops that currently produces feed? GRASS. And guess what is particularly good at removing CO2 from the atmosphere? GRASS. Guess what's pretty bad at it? GRAINS. We have plenty of land for there to be food animals that live off of it. We don't have enough land or time for every American to eat a hamburger every day, though. We just don't. We eat so much more meat now than we did 50 years ago, and we're not any healthier for it.
  • You're pretty much not allowed to see how confined animals live. And if you're "lucky" enough, you scrub yourself down in a hot shower and put on a hazmat suit. If I can't see how my food is being grown, something is wrong. And if I can see it but want to vomit/punch someone, something is very wrong.

So I'll ask you again.
Do you want to eat products from animals that live that way?

I'm going to guess NO. Obviously those that feel deep compassion for animals are freaking out right now, but even putting those feelings aside...who'd want to EAT that?

You are not a horrible person

I'm not exaggerating. I'm not trying to sensationalize things and make you feel like a horrible person. You are not a horrible person. Forgive yourself for all the animals you've eaten in the past (and that you probably will eat) that you wish hadn't lived the way they did and move on. These are just the facts. This is the way most of our animal-based food is produced, and it's just stupid, stupid, stupid. It must stop. We can change it, but we have to change our relationship to food and how important it is to us. We have to devote more of our income to it. We have to tell people what's really going on. We have to vote with our dollars and our forks. We have to walk up to a burger place that clearly serves meat produced in this stupid way, and say "Um, excuse me, are your bovine raised traditionally on pasture? No? Ok, thank you." And walk out feeling like a freaking idiot. We have to go to our college reunion and explain to our friends at the dinner table that we rarely eat food produced in a way that's inconsistent with our values, while they struggle to understand...and feel like a freaking idiot while munching the apple you brought from home. We have to look a farmer in the eye and ask him how his hogs live and what they eat and sound stuck-up and entitled. We have to risk our reputations and our tenuous relationships and our egos for food that's stupidly produced. But it's hard. It's not just about our health. It's not just about animals' welfare. It's also about the lasting and devastating impacts to the planet. It's about not letting corporations that care only for money bastardize our food supply because we think we, the people, don't have power. It's about protecting the welfare of the people that are working in these so-called "farms" and the people that live around them. It's about going "excuse me, what the %(&*$$%@*! is going on here? This is ridiculous!" You have rights.


  • Horizon sucks. Don't trust their happy cow drawing.
  • Whole Foods only sells beef from bovine that are grown on grass and then finished on grain, because Americans love their fatty beef. This is better than it could be, but seems somewhat backwards since putting them back on grain introduces the risk of E. coli. Just thought you should know that if you want 100% grass-grazed, it's off to the farmers market with ya!
  • Organic Valley is a pretty trustworthy brand.
  • I went to Elevation Burger today and asked the cashier if the dairy cows were pastured (since there's a big poster about how their meat bovine live). She didn't know what that word meant and then realized I must have meant grass-fed, and said "yes, they all eat grass." Didn't feel comforted. Half the menu involved dairy but there was no mention of dairy cows on their posters. I put this question on their FB wall.