Food Waste

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Happy New Year!

We hosted a small get together at our place, as we have for the last five years or so. We play board games, chat, and eat, eat, eat. This year, we were a bit pressed for time and I started the night by cutting myself on the mandolin.

We were going to have mushroom-potato-cheddar pasties, but I didn’t want to make the pie crust with a deep cut on my hand, so we had mushroom-potato-cheddar gratin instead. I don’t know how chefs make gratin all crusty and perfect on every layer, but I find that cooking the potatoes and mushrooms to a golden brown in a pan, then layering the cooked veggies with cheese before popping it briefly in a hot oven gives the best result.

My friend Allyson wrapped a small wheel of brie in puff pastry with a generous layer of blackberry jam, to scrumptious result. The table was loaded with perfectly ripe orange slices, local apple slices, carrots and dip, French carrot salad, and fresh gingerbread cake. I put our friend Eric in charge of making hot toddies with cognac and fresh lemon, a task which he performed perfectly.

With our plates piled high and our hands warming around our mugs, we settled in for a night of games: Dixit, Black Orchestra, Condottieri, and Tokaido. Black Orchestra was a bit depressing, and brand new to all of us, so we packed that one up and moved on after a few rounds. Dixit dominated the evening, as usual. My boyfriend gave me the newest expansion, Revelations, for Christmas and the gold-foil cards are the most beautiful of the entire game.

After a champagne toast at midnight, we all said goodnight and I headed to the kitchen to put the (few) remaining goodies in the fridge.

Some of us had gingerbread for breakfast the next morning, and I’ve been munching on the remaining orange slices. As I brought leftovers out of the fridge tonight, I thought guiltily of all the times I was too lazy to save as much leftover food as possible.

I’ve been reading lately about how much food Americans waste and how it could be put to better use. Of course, each of us could be more responsible by buying just as much as we need, saving and eating leftovers, and composting scraps or making soup. On a larger scale, we as a nation have a long way to go in terms of the amount of food we waste.

Here are some numbers for the U.S.:

We waste between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply.

That is approximately 133 billion pounds of food.

Food waste is the number one product going into landfills.

The U.S. is the biggest culprit, but international numbers are pretty high, too.

Of course, there are those who see this data as an opportunity for tackling hunger. Extrafood.org collects perfectly good food from business who would otherwise throw it out and distributes it to organizations that fight hunger. The Atlantic (on point, again) finds even more folks who are doing good work. One idea the magazine mentions, that I think would be phenomenal, is to create a food sharing app where those with extra food can offer it up to others who might need it in their neighborhood. In our insular culture, that might also be a fun way to meet those neighbors. Of course, there are plenty of people already out there educating folks about this issue. Check out members of the Tisch Center for Food Education & Policy in NYC speaking about research on food waste reduction initiatives in schools and throughout the city. They give some solid advice on how to ensure that good choices are also the easiest choices.

So, share some food. Meet new friends. Reduce your food waste.

Here are my New Year’s Eve recipes, if you’d like to try them out:

French Carrot Salad
(the salad is French, not necessarily the carrots)

5 medium to large carrots
1/2 C chopped fresh parsley
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T honey (or 1 t sugar, whisked into the dressing, if you are vegan)
Salt and pepper

Grate the carrots and chop the parsley, then place them in a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the other ingredients. Pour it onto the carrots and parsley and toss until coated. Adjust the salt and pepper to your taste.

Grating the carrots bursts the plant’s cells and releases an enormous amount of sugar. You’ll be surprised how sweet your carrots taste in this dish. It’s offset nicely by the tangy Dijon mustard.

Mushroom-Potato-Cheddar Pasties
You can fill these with anything. I’ve done apples, sage, sweet potato, and chevre, with balsamic onions on top, too. We’ll save that one for another time, eh?

For the filling:
4 medium white potatoes
1 C sliced cremini mushrooms
2 t dried thyme
2 T butter (for the pan)
1 C water
2 oz sliced cheddar cheese (or to taste!)
Salt & Pepper

For the dough:
8 T (1 stick) cold butter
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
2 T ice water

Start with the dough. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into workable pieces (tablespoon sized works well) and cut it into the flour. Add the ice water and then knead the dough just enough to form it into a ball of smooth consistency all the way through. Wrap it in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes while you cook the fillings.

While the dough is cooling, peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. Wash and then slice the mushrooms slightly thicker. Heat a medium frying pan on medium high. When the pan is hot, add 1 T of the butter to the pan along with the mushrooms and a sprinkle of salt. Turn the heat up to high and cook them until they are golden brown and the moisture has been cooked away. Sprinkle with half the thyme, cook for 1 minute more, then set them aside in a bowl.

Add the potatoes and the water to the pan and cover. Turn the heat down to medium. Stir the potatoes occasionally until all slices are softened evenly and the water has cooked off. Add the butter and a liberal sprinkle of salt and turn the heat up to high. Cook the potatoes, stirring and flipping them frequently, until they are golden brown on both sides. Add the remaining thyme and cracked black pepper to taste. Toss and stir a few minutes more. Turn off the heat and set them aside to cool with the mushrooms. If they are too hot when you put them in the pastry, the butter in the pastry dough will melt too soon. You can even pop them in the freezer for a few minutes while you roll out the dough.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Take the pie crust dough out of the fridge and roll it out into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Cut it into 4 smaller rectangles. Lay one rectangle of dough out on a baking sheet. Place it where you will want the pasty to cook, as moving it will be difficult once it’s filled. Pile 1/4 of the filling on the left side of the rectangle, leaving 1/2 inch of dough around the sides. Top the filling with 1/4 of the cheddar cheese. Fold over the other half of the dough. Use a little bit of water on your finger to seal the two sides of the dough together. Use the tines of a fork to press on the seal and make it look nice. Working quickly, use the same method to create the other three pasties. At this point, if the dough is very greasy, you can put the baking pan in the freezer for about five minutes until the dough has firmed back up.

When your pasties are filled and sealed, put them in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. When they are done, let them cool for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy warm out of the oven or reheat for lunch the next day.

Happy new year!

 

 

 

Return and Resolutions

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First, I’d like to apologize for my long absence. There have been quite a few changes on the homefront.

I was going to say that, next, we have to talk about 2016, but I just can’t think of anything nice to say about it, so I won’t say anything at all. A fantastic lesson from Kindergarten.

So, how about we look ahead at 2017?

We are at a crossroads at the moment. We can decide to be the big kids and lead the charge on sustainability and environmental protection, benefiting ourselves and our planet, or… we can go back on our promises at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, potentially letting others off the hook as well (I’m looking at you, China).

We’ve seen some remarkably brave people standing up for their clean air, land, and (in particular) water.

There have been low points, as well, showing us just how much of an impact we’ve had on our planet and our own quality of life. However, the tide is turning. The question is, can we (and will we) continue to reduce emissions?

If recent events and nominations are any indication of where our climate and environmental policies are going, I think 2017 is going to be a rough year.

There is, however, a ray of hope. As this article in The Atlantic explains beautifully, we may see an intersectional fellowship form between the social justice movements that have sprung up in the last few years—the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the modern feminists—and the environmental movement. Just as the Dakota Access Pipeline was originally rerouted around the mostly-white town of Bismark to reservation land (for fear of contaminating the town’s drinking water), so many other environmental issues disproportionately affect minorities and poor people, too.

It’s not just about clean air and water, but about our approach to agriculture as well. From policies that affect farmers themselves, to the food deserts created by agricultural policies favoring the overproduction of corn and soy, which then become cheap calories in the form of junk food thereby contributing to the obesity epidemic and increases in diabetes. When farm policies and health policies are at cross purposes, at a time when those who depend on the ACA are particularly vulnerable, and those most affected by these policies are poor, environmentalism must be treated as a social justice movement.

When I lived in New York State, I visited the Women’s Rights National Historical Park several times and was always struck by how close the women’s movement of the 1800s was to the abolitionist movement. And then I’m ashamed of the way the women’s movement split away to address white women’s issues, rather than considering and fighting for all human rights. Environmentalism is another human rights issue and I think it’s about time mainstream feminism started identifying with other social justice movements as well.

All this to say that, no matter what your background, there is a reason for you to become an environmental activist. If you support equal pay and fair wages, that’s an environmental issue, too. If you support equal access to healthcare, that’s an environmental issue, too. If you support health and security for those who live in disadvantages neighborhoods, that’s an environmental issue, too. Even if you support Wall Street and trickle-down economics, that’s an environmental issue, too.

For 2017, I hope you will make a resolution to be an active environmentalist for justice.

Taking care of people and farmland…

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I care a lot about the people I love and my fellow humans in general, so when I read about people being hurt, it really hurts me, too. I also see stewardship of our land as part of our responsibility to keep each other safe. In my opinion, humanism and sustainability are inextricably linked.

So, here is some news about how the well-being of our people is directly linked to our agricultural policies:

Immigration policy (obviously) affects farm workers most of all. What kind of solution will respect the rights and dignity of the people who feed America for so little compensation? Here is an article outlining some of the complications related to the legal status of farm workers.

A couple weeks ago, a panel advised a revision to our nutrition recommendations in order to include a push for sustainable foods. There was a huge backlash from those whose profits would be compromised by such a trajectory. Now, unfortunately, the folks in charge of dietary guidelines have caved and promise no mention of sustainability… even though the sustainability of our agricultural systems is directly linked to the availability of nutritious foods in the future. Sigh.

The National Institute of Health has released a 20-year study linking the use of certain pesticides with depression in farmers. Here is an article summarizing the findings and here is the write-up of the study itself.

You know those bumper stickers that say, “No Farms; No Food”? Let’s add “No Farmers; No Food” to that and take care of the men and women who feed us.

Speaking of putting people first…

Here is an interesting approach by Monsanto to improve its public image. Though “mommy bloggers” seem to be notoriously short on science comprehension but long on influence (e.g. the anti-vaccination movement), Monsanto has enlisted their help in painting the company not as a profit-hungry behemoth, but as a benevolent society of researchers trying to feed the world through science.

Now, here’s the deal. Monsanto has a bad rap because of its association with GMOs. (There have been no rigorous long-term studies showing that GMOs are dangerous in and of themselves. None, folks. Really. See my Resources page for more.) However, their claim that they are creating GMO food primarily to solve the world’s hunger problems strains credulity. Why would Monsanto be more interested in feeding the world than in making profit? They are not. They are a for-profit company with investors. It’s a bit disingenuous of them to insinuate otherwise by wining and dining gullible web personalities who will, they hope, puppet Monsanto’s marketing copy for cash.

On the topic of feeding the world, though, golden rice is one example where GM crops could make a difference, even though its distribution is embroiled in controversy and tangled up in red tape. It seems though, that this is a kind of band-aid solution- treating one symptom (hunger) of a larger problem (what shall we call it? Human perfidy? Hmm.). Perhaps it’s necessary for the time-being? What else can small groups of kind humans do in the face of cruelty, greed, corruption, etc.?

So to sum up, I’m thinking about what I want to cultivate in my “garden” today. I’d like to take better care of the people around me by feeding them healthy food that comes from sustainable practices which do not exploit the poor or cause illness in those who work so hard to allow us to eat well. Why is that so complicated??

Homemade Pita Appetizer

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Two days ago, I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see the Egyptian artifacts. I’ve been re-reading a mystery series set in Egypt and it turns out the MFA has some of the artifacts that feature in these books. So, I braved the snow and the commuter rail to go on a nerdy sight-seeing visit.

Anyway, I went to a concert at Symphony Hall after my visit to the museum, so I stopped at Boston Shawarma on Huntington Ave. for some Fool Moudamas in a grilled pita on the way. It was absolutely divine and I was inspired to make my own pita – the store-bought kind just doesn’t cut it!

I went with this recipe from thekitchn.com (beautiful photography over there!) but I kneaded it a lot less than it called for (and it came out perfectly soft and delicate). I chose the griddle method because I wanted flat-bread style pitas like I had eaten in Beantown rather than the milder pocket-style pitas.

But if you give your guests a pita, they will ask you for some fillings…

So, I went to my trusty Vegetarian Tagines & Couscous by Ghillie Başan for inspiration. (Reviewed and extolled by one of my favorite blogs here.) I had some potatoes and white onions sitting around, plus lots of herbs and spices (including Sumac, which I realize not everyone will have in their pantry… in my defense, it is verrry inexpensive at any Middle Eastern grocery). If you don’t have sumac, just omit that and the vinegar. With the cumin, it’s still savory and flavorful!

Here are the ingredients of my modified potato and sumac tagine:
4 small white potatoes
1/2 a white onion
1 t cumin
1/2 t butter plus 1 t olive oil
1 T powdered sumac
1 T balsamic vinegar
a dash of salt

I chopped the potatoes into 1/2 cubes, same with the onion, and threw it all in my tagine (you can use any baking dish with a cover or foil over the top) with a half tablespoon of butter and a teaspoon of olive oil (to imitate ghee, which I do not have in my pantry). I stirred it occasionally and when it softened a bit, I seasoned it with a dash of salt and a teaspoon of cumin, crushed slightly in a mortar, and stirred to coat.

Once it all softened (about 20 minutes), I took it out of the oven and tossed it with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of powdered sumac.

Since we had friends over to play board games, I cut four pitas into triangles and served the warm potatoes in a small dish with a spoon. It made the perfect little appetizer and was devoured in minutes.

Economic toll of nitrogen pollution “dead zones” in Chesapeake Bay area

I recently moved from a landlocked region of the U.S. to the East Coast (I can see the ocean from my porch!). It’s beautiful and so, so different out here. I had become pretty decent at looking at the sky and judging the impending weather. Here, I have no idea! Clouds and winds come from all directions! I feel like I’m on another planet and I love it.

Something else I’ve started thinking about, though… seafood. I can walk downtown and watch folks taking their little boats out to pick up their lobster traps. Not big “lobstah boats” but just family boats. They take their kids out, pick up their traps, count their catch and head home for dinner.

I never cared for fish when I was a kid. It smells like a beach in summer (you know what I mean!) and the texture… no thank you. I ate shrimp when I was young merely as a vehicle for eating cocktail sauce, really. MMMMmmm horseradish! And scallops, lobster, crab, etc.? All about the butter sauce, baby! So, yeah. I haven’t been interested in seafood for many, many years. But here, it’s so abundant and so local, I have to wonder if it’s not a better environmental choice in the winter than, say, tomatoes trucked all the way from Mexico.

So, I’ve been doing some research (of course!) and I’ve found some interesting information about fish, fishing, and sustainability.

First, I had no idea that NOAA was involved. For those of you outside the U.S., NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I usually visit their website for weather information. They create these great graphs to show the temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed, precipitation, everything you need to know about your week’s weather. (Fabulous for checking the sailing conditions!) Well, it turns out they are also an authority on everything fish-related.

Their website is adorably titled fishwatch.gov and it is a virtual library of information on sustainable fishing and aquaculture. There were a lot of fascinating topics to choose from, but I’m just picking one for today.

You’ve probably already heard about those “dead zones” along our coasts where the run-off from industrial agriculture’s artificial nitrogen-heavy fertilizers creates areas of low oxygen content in the water, which in turn means few marine plants and animals can survive. Here’s another effect those areas have on the ecosystems and economy: the oyster business is getting hit hard.

Nutrition panel advice: eat less meat- it’s better for you and the environment!

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An interesting development this week… A top nutrition panel has released their recommendations indicating that Americans should not only consider their own health but the future health of the environment when making their meal choices.

The meat industry disagrees, of course, claiming that this panel is composed of nutrition experts, not sustainability experts. However, these nutrition experts, I’d like to point out, are citing already published research BY sustainability experts in order to support their recommendations.

It will be interesting to see if these recommendations are adopted, at least in part, by the government. It could certainly have an impact on how some Americans eat. Keep an eye out for a jump in meat lobby spending in the coming months, I think.

In the meantime, try some yummy winter comfort food!

Salt Potatoes

2 lbs. white potatoes (small)
3 T salt
butter & pepper to taste

Fill a large pot about halfway with water and add the salt. Put the cover on and bring to a boil. While the water is heating up, cut the potatoes in half or in thirds, depending on their size. Each slice should be about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.

When the water has come to a boil, add the potatoes. Depending on the size of your potatoes, they may take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to cook. Make sure you check on them occasionally and drain them when they are just done, not when they become mush.

Serve them hot with a little butter (or olive oil for vegans) and a little pepper to taste. They also go well with…

Lemon Parmigiano Green Beans

1 bag of frozen “fine” green beans
1 T lemon juice (or juice from half a fresh lemon)
3-4 T grated Parmesan* or other hard, grated cheese

Cook the green beans according to the directions on the package (or, if you are lucky enough to have fresh green beans handy, steam or blanch them until cooked but still crunchy).

In a large bowl, toss the green beans with the lemon juice first, then the cheese. Serve hot!

 

*Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Italy is made with animal rennet (not vegetarian). Apparently, however, the Wisconsin cheese-maker BelGioioso makes a vegetarian parmesan. I have not had it, though I have had and enjoyed many of their other cheeses.

Dinner… differently!

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If you are new to vegetarian cooking, the first thing you need to know is that you’re not just finding a meat-like substance to fill the empty meat space on your plate. You’re creating a delicious, satisfying meal that brings everyone back for seconds. It just doesn’t need the addition of meat to make it better because it’s already THAT GOOD.

I’ve got one of my favorite recipes for you to start out with. It’s a mouth-watering and totally satisfying breakfast/brunch/breakfast-for-dinner treat!

Maple Apple Goat Cheese Omelet
Serves 2
Ingredients:
4 oz. fresh goat cheese (like Vermont Creamery’s classic chèvre)
2 Fuji (or other sweet-tart) apples
4 eggs
1/4 C milk
1/4 C maple syrup (or more to taste!)
salt & pepper
a little butter for the pan

Directions:
Turn the oven on to ‘warm.’
Cut the apples into 1/4 inch slices.
Whisk the eggs and milk together, season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Heat some butter on low in a small 4-6 inch frying pan.
Pour half the egg mixture in the pan and twirl the pan until the egg mixture has spread evenly across the surface.
Place the pan back on the burner and let the bottom of the omelet set.
Drop half the apple slices and half the goat cheese onto one half of the omelet.
Using a thin spatula, lift the other half of the omelet and fold it over the top.
Turn off the burner and place a cover over the pan and let sit for 2 minutes until the egg has set.
Slide the omelet out onto a warm, oven-safe plate and drizzle half the maple syrup over it.
Set it in the oven to keep it warm until your second omelet is ready.
Repeat the steps for the second omelet.

Enjoy with some toasted baguette with jam or your favorite toast and a great cup of coffee or tea!

If that doesn’t sound like enough for your brunch before a Saturday full of adventuring, why not nestle some home fries or, better yet, sweet potato home fries along side your omelet?

All you need is your potato of choice (one small per person, or more if those people are hungry!), some butter, salt, and pepper! Cut the potato in half, then make 1/2 inch strips one way, then the other way, then another time to make small cubes. (The smaller the cube, the faster they cook.) Toss them in a frying pan with butter, salt, and pepper. Start them on low heat with a lid over top to soften them up. Once they are soft, turn up the heat, keep stirring them and you’ll get that golden, crispy outside that everyone loves. If you want to get fancy, dice up some white onion (for white potatoes) or red onion (for sweet potatoes) and throw it in when the spuds are almost done. You can toss in some rosemary or paprika at the end, too, if that suits your fancy. Serve them up with your omelet and you are a bona fide vegetarian gourmet chef!