Monday, March 21, 2011

Food musings & Soapbox moment

Now I will admit right from the get go, I like the occasional cheese puff and slice or two of pizza...or three.

To paraphrase from the Epbot blog, I'm a little on the "fluffy" side of things.


Oh, and a reallllllllllly good cheeseburger-with grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, and jalapenos mmmmmmm. [drool]

"Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world. Except for a nice MLT: a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. They're so perky, I love that." Princess Bride.

[If you have not seen this movie, you must Absolutely MUST go watch it right now-the only movie adapted from a book which is infinitely better than the book (in my opinion).]

However, I don't live on fast or overly prepackaged food. Never really most of the time... although some days I really, really want to and there was a weak week or two here and there where I just get home a little too late to want to cook but something hot sounds good and there's a place right on the way home...

However, even when I do choose to get take out or pick up a bag of chips I will go to stores and restaurants that I know care about where their ingredients come from and how those are prepared; that the ingredient lists for the finished foods tend to be minimal and that the ingredients don't look like a shopping list for a lab experiment.

At any rate, the reason why I am bringing this up is that I just finished reading Michael Pollan's book "In Defense of Food" and I think, for all of the opinions, statements, studies, etc. out there about nutrition, health, what to eat, how to eat it, etc-this guy has the most common sense approach of what people should really be doing when it comes to food which basically is to think about where your food is coming from & to cut back on overly processed food like substances that pretend to be food.

*Someone please explain to me how some of those neon colored, artificially sweetened kids cereals can claim to be healthy foods, you know the ones I mean-claiming to be a good source of fiber, vitamins, and calcium... I think Frankencereal is a more apt description. Seriously.*

Now, I know realistically (because I'm one of them), most people don't have the space or time to tend a garden, raise animals, and cook all day like they had to just a few generations back but that doesn't mean that a person has to eat things that are much more at home in a chemistry lab than a kitchen either. Again, it means giving a little more thought to food as a part of your life, not just an interchangeable energy source.

I've also read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Pollan, as well as other authors' books focusing on the history of foods & ingredients such as Salt or the Twinkie, books with a strong statement to make one way or the other about western culture's modern food system ("Fast Food Nation" comes to mind), and still others that focus on what pleasures foods gives. Magazines like Saveur and Cooks Illustrated make a regular appearance in my house. I enjoy Anthony Bourdaine's "No Reservations" when I can and hands down, the original "Iron Chef" series is one of the best shows there is.

Another really interesting book, “Bread Matters” by Andrew Whitley looks at things now done to modern commercial breads which have destroyed the natural balance and interaction of the ingredients (including re engineering the ingredients themselves). What in the past made bread a nutritious and relatively safe food for most people to eat, has now become something which many have to vigilantly guard against coming into contact with because it can make them very ill or kill them.

The majority of these books, shows, magazines, blogs, etc. have a common theme lately no matter how they choose the path to get there. Each one focuses on how “real” food, something that maybe takes a little more effort on our part and has pronounceable ingredients, is not only healthier for us but is an important part of our culture, and should be celebrated and enjoyed rather than ignored or demonized.

Food is meant to be savored yet more often than not, especially in the US, that aspect has been left in the dust in the name of convenience and the “Nutritionalism” that Pollan writes about.

It seems that there is a new study coming out every other week or so about how something that we used to think was “Good” or “Bad” for us, health wise is now the opposite. It reminds me a lot of politics, economics, and philosophy among other fields where anyone can manipulate information to support any point that one side or another is trying to make.

Various local & state governments, and even the Federal government have made regulations regarding how and what Americans eat. A popular one at the moment is requiring nutritional information to be listed on restaurant menus. On the surface, it seems like a good idea but in practice it falls far short of its lofty goals.

Who actually pays attention to the nutritional information that packaged food already has listed or the guidelines that food service establishments now must use?

If a person is going to a burger joint for a bacon cheeseburger with a large order of fries and a shake, that person will order it regardless of what the nutritional chart says. True, the person may not go there quite as often or order the largest size after looking at the information but that bacon cheeseburger was the reason he/she went there in the first place.

Now don't get me wrong, I think nutritional information has its place but I think (at least in the US) that a lot of people have replaced “food” with “Nutrition” and thrown any common sense they once had about food out the window and, to me, that is a very sad state of affairs. Also, we've gone a little far on the nutritional information overload. For example, at our bakery we now are required (thanks to the Dept. of Ag) when making ingredient labels to dissect items such as cream and butter into a sub list of those ingredients.

Example: cream (milk(no rbst), unsalted butter (cream(milk(no rbst), milk(no rbst)).

If a person doesn't have enough common sense to realize that real butter is made from milk, maybe they should be reevaluating their food habits and government agencies should be reevaluating how they label foods. Part of the problem, of course is that there is all of that fake “food” that can use the label of “cream” or “cheese” or "milk" and have nothing remotely dairy involved. I don't know if it's as crazy in other countries as it is in the US but people need to start taking responsibility for themselves and what they choose to eat.

I read a tweet recently from someone that obviously was a little fed up with the whole--if it's liquid then it can be called "milk". The person summed it up perfectly, “It's Soy juice! No milk involved.”

My philosophy boils down to just be more aware of what you are eating and how it's produced.

I think we would all be a lot better off if more people eat more seasonally, go to the local farmers markets more often, pay attention to the philosophy of the "Slow Food" movement started in Italy, if governments made it a requirement for apartments to have dedicated community gardens as part of their complexes, and if we all pay a little more attention to common sense rather than what all of the "experts" tell us, many of whom are trying to sell us something "nutritional".

[stepping off soap box now]

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Last Sunday

I received a wonderful present from a friend recently.
It was a ticket to one of a series of events presented by the Open Kitchen that happen about once or twice a month in Portland.
A little experimental, a little quirky, but always interesting and definitely will keep you coming back for the next time-thus, it fits Portland perfectly.
This particular event was the "Culinary Carnival".

The Open Kitchen is a little hard to describe.
Scrumptious cuisine, different chefs, different menus, randomly yet seamlessly coming together into something more than its separate parts, that is the essence of Open Kitchen.

My perspective is that it's a recipe of sorts; a recipe for living, that we should all adhere to a bit more closely which includes enjoying good food and having a good time.

Recipe for Open Kitchen.
Good and generally locally available foodstuffs, assortment and location may vary.
People interested in producing excellent meals.
People interested in consuming excellent meals.
Kitchen/dining space for operation of event.
Beverages, choose variety.

Combine kitchen space with interesting chef, add ingredients plus several helpers and equipment to prep the food. Combine and mix as needed, cook until satisfied with results.
At this point add people interested in eating, a glass of wine or other beverage, seating, and interesting conversation.
Again, mix until combined.
Serve and enjoy.

This particular Sunday's dinner was in honour of Carnival held in Brazil. Chef Mario Larouche created the menu, fare that you would find in street stalls and homes around the area, along with a Sour Cream sorbet that was out of this world. He and his staff, along with the Open Kitchen creators did an excellent job.
The menu.
Now I need to go find a bottle of the Novo Fogo, I'll just say-very, very tasty.

Here's the official description of the Open Kitchen from their website, which is much more eloquent.

""The Open Kitchen" is a new food series that focuses on building community and collaboration in the Portland food scene. With dinners twice a month, The Open Kitchen creates a space where we can come together for a gourmet dinner and engaging discussion with the food artisans and producers who have created the meal on our plates. Local food, local chefs, and local fun: The Open Kitchen will break down the barriers between eater, kitchen and food producer.
To highlight the new ideas sprouting in the Portland food world, to explore all the beautiful sides of Portland’s food community, and to link innovative and sustainably-motivated chefs, farmers, and food producers with those who care about the health and impact of food they eat. We will work to dissolve the mystery between consumer, kitchen, and food producer, so Portland can see why choosing local will be the best decision they can make."

Thank you Mary Ann :)
Another plus, I actually got to wear something other than work clothes for a change...although I still need to practice wearing heels [sigh]