Monday, October 31, 2011

Sriracha Halloween

UPDATE 10/18/12: Visit my new blog post for more details on how to make a Sriracha costume, and for a downloadable black-and-white image of the Sriracha label. 


Happy Halloween!

Our Halloween weekend has been filled with all kinds of adventures, some of which you'll hear more about later this week, but to celebrate the day itself, I wanted to share the costumes we came up with: Sriracha and Chili Garlic Sauce!

These two are the workhorses of our condiment shelf, bringing heat and bright pepper flavor to pretty much everything we eat around here. Sriracha has gotten a lot of love around the web (, in the last few years, but we've been loving it for a long time now, at least since college when our old buddy RC introduced Justin to the wonders of the green-capped sauce (8 years?).

So, what better tribute to that long-lasting love than a Halloween costume? I got the idea from some browsing over at Pinterest, and then scoured the web for images of the label itself, which I used to direct my drawing. Then I bought some white puffy paint, and just drew the image onto some thrifted red t-shirts, using my online images and the condiment bottles themselves as guides. 

Add some thrifted red pants, some green construction paper, a party hat, cardboard, hot glue, and some elastic from old conference name tags and, voila! Costumes! (the nearly-free, made from reused or thrifted materials kind of costumes I love best)

And, as if to affirm our choice of costumes, we spied this bumper sticker in a parking lot this weekend:

We also <3 Sriracha (and Chili Garlic!).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Afro-Caribbean Global Meal

Our second Global Meal of the semester took us to Brazil (at least culinarily) to eat and learn about Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Our special guest Scott Barton, a chef and food scholar, flew in from New York City for the event. We were so happy to have him here to share his experience and insight on the way that foods shape culture.

All the beautiful photos below were taken by Kat Cameron. See more of her work at

Pao de queijo:

Salada de Feijao Fradinho:

Moqueca de Peixe:

Doce da Abobora:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chocolate and Halloween

Ever since I attended a presentation last year about the sustainable and ethical Kallari chocolate, I've been trying to think even more about my chocolate consumption (although I've certainly eaten my [un]fair share of Hershey's and Mars and all the rest, simply because it's so omnipresent).

 photo from

But this Halloween season has brought a wave of articles about chocolate candy that make clear just how detrimental our annual tradition of burying kids in candy can be, not only for these kids' dental and bodily health, but for the health of kids who are making this chocolate, whether in cacao plantations or factories.

Here are just a few of those articles that are worth checking out:

  • Child Slaves Made Your Halloween Candy. Stop Buying It, from Good
  • Halloween candy is a human rights nightmare, from Grist
  • Hershey Exchange Student Warnings Were Ignored, from the New York Times
    • this article is particularly surprising and unsettling, because it describes how foreign exchange students who paid up to $6,000 to come to the U.S. for a summer program were put to work in Hershey factories with little pay and awful work. 
    • "Many students who were placed at the packing plant found themselves working grueling night shifts on speeding production lines, repeatedly lifting boxes weighing as much as 60 pounds and financially drained by low pay and unexpected extra costs for housing and transportation. Their complaints to the contractor running the program on behalf of the State Department were met with threats that they could be sent home."
    • But also, why does this one surprise me more than the first article about child slave labor in the Ivory Coast and other African countries? Why is it more "acceptable" in those places?
A comment on one of these articles (though now I can't find out) really struck me. It said something like "Oh, you liberals are all a bunch of killjoys! I'm going to eat my candy, and I'm going to enjoy it--don't make me think about where it comes from!"  I find this kind of thing so fascinating (even as I find it deeply depressing). How to talk to people who have this feeling? How to make others see the joy in doing things right, and in trying to hurt others as little as possible? Isn't that joy deeper than than the joy of a Twix bar?

But so as not to kill all the tangible joy, here are some possible alternatives for our Halloween season:
Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

World Go Vegan Week

In addition to the Food Day that took place on Monday, this week is also World Go Vegan Week (check out the link for all kinds of great resources).

And at least in Madison, many local restaurants are helping to celebrate by offering special vegan items or discounts.

Here's a selection:

  • Bunky's Cafe  Will be offering all pizzas with vegan Daiya cheese. Mention World Go Vegan Week (WGVW) to get a free serving of vegan baklava!
  • Glass Nickel Pizza: Will have two special vegan pizzas (Thai Pie with peanut sauce, Daiya vegan cheese, tofu, broccoli, red peppers, onion, and cilantro topped with bean sprouts and chopped peanuts. And Vegan Delight with BBQ sauce, Daiya vegan cheese, broccoli, corn, garlic, pineapple and red onion). You can also substitute vegan cheese on any of their regular pizzas.
  • Green Owl Cafe: Will be offering $1 off their delicious vegan desserts when you order a sandwich or entree order, if you mention WGVW
  • Ian's Pizza:  Will have a special vegan pizza "Butternut Squash Ratatouille":  features squash, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and capers all roasted in olive oil, topped with Daiya.
  • Monty's Blue Plate Diner: Free vegan dessert (fruit pie) with your vegan entree if you mention WGVW.
It's a good week to try limiting your intake of dairy products. If you can't go whole hog*, you could always try Mark Bittman's strategy of being Vegan Before 6.

*groan. bad pun.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Caretaking with soup and salad

There are days when having someone else prepare a meal for you feels like the kindest gift that can be bestowed.

I recently had one of those days.

And JH came through in a big way, serving up a meal perfectly catered to my desires.

A rich, warm, creamy potato-leek soup, with potatoes and leeks from our CSA box (recipe below):  

A beautiful salad of tomatoes from our garden, CSA greens, Farmer John's Asiago and our favorite tofu croutons (maybe I'll share a method/recipe for those soon!):

And hearty sourdough bread from Batch Bakehouse

I ate not only with the pleasures of taste and texture, but also with the pleasures of feeling loved, understood, and cared for, simply and deliciously.


Simple Potato Leek Soup
based on Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

2 T oil (or butter)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 leeks, washed well and sliced thinly
salt and pepper
1 quart vegetable stock 

  1. Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add vegetables and stir for several minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Add vegetable stock and cook until potatoes have softened, about 20 minutes. 
  3. If you like a uniformly smooth soup, use an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Food Day

Today, it turns out, is Food Day!

I didn't even know there was such a thing before a few days ago, but now I do, and it's totally the kind of thing I can get behind.

The goals of Food Day, run by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, as stated at
  1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods 
  2. Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness 
  3. Expand access to food and alleviate hunger 
  4. Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms 
  5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids 
  6. Support fair conditions for food and farm workers 
Pretty rad, right?

There are events happening all over the country. Look yours up here:

In Madison, there are:
The main website has all kinds of interesting info, including press releases and articles about the venture, opportunities to write to your lawmakers, merchandise, opportunities to donate, etc.

One of my favorite parts, of course, is the recipe booklet, featuring recipes from famous chefs like Rick Bayless and Jamie Oliver and Mark Bittman.  See the recipes here, or download the whole booklet here.

Recipes I'm particularly excited to try? (click on the links to see them for yourself!)

Get involved, and let me know what you come up with!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Celebrating Sukkot

To my string of Jewish holiday food posts (Passover, Yom Kippur), I now get to add Sukkot!

Although Sukkot is a lesser holiday in many observant Jews' books, I've always thought it was pretty great, just because you get to build a little fort, and eat outside with your friends and family for a week. (that is a very non-technical description; see the real rules here).

This year, our friends SB and JB organized a little vegetarian Sukkot potluck, but the cold weather kept us indoors.  Not one to let the altered setting keep us from having the sukkah (aka "little fort") ambiance, SB created a beautiful indoor space, complete with decorations and "fruit" hanging from the ceiling:

And, it turns out, we weren't just cheating, but were officially exempt from eating outside in the sukkah, because of the cold weather. I learned this useful information from the wonderful little facts SB had pasted all around the room to help the mostly non-Jewish guests make sense of it all:

Another one I liked:

And also: (really only notable because of the nice composition of the photo itself, with that blurry platter of green off to the left)

The food itself was delicious and impressive, as is always the case when we're with these folks.

Home-baked bread and home-made cheese: 
Roasted broccoli (a method of broccoli preparation I've been wanting to try for a while!), and gluten-free chocolate chip cookie bars:

And lots more, of course.

We all had a super, warm, satiating time, even if we didn't *quite* follow all those funny rules.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More on Garlic Technique

Don't quite know where all my obsession with garlic peeling/chopping is coming from lately, but I saw this video yesterday, in a NYTimes article about Jacques Pepin, and I just had to share:

Something about the ease and fluidity and beauty with which he handles the garlic moved me.

Or maybe the half-formed tears in my eyes were just from the garlic's oils?

Either way. I found this video stunning.  And there are plenty more on the NYTimes website. Check them out:

How to Make an Omelet:

How to Sharpen Knives:

Interview with Jacques Pepin

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Food

With all the actions around the country recently stemming from the original Occupy Wall Street, I've been thinking often about how the big broad complaints "the 99%" are lodging are tied up in the food issues that I find so moving.

The problem is, as much as I love thinking about food, and as much as I fancy myself an intellectual, I have a really hard time grappling with economics and large-scale governmental policy. I know this stuff is at the core of so many of the problems with the way our food industries and food subsidies work, and yet, my mind doesn't easily grasp the core issues.

So, I'm grateful that there are folks like Tom Philpott, food and ag writer at Grist and Mother Jones, out there to bring so many of these important points together.

He's just put out a great article, "Foodies, Get Thee to Occupy Wall Street," with the tagline "Because Big Food makes Big Finance look like amateurs."

In it, he's talking not only to the elite "foodies," who sip on fine wine and munch on escargot, but to all of us who rely on an American food system, and perhaps especially to those for whom the most accessible food--the cheapest--happens to be the least healthy, because of food subsidies that lead to the dominance of highly-processed food.

He describes the protests as being a "challenge to the way power is concentrated in all aspects of our economy," and then lays out, in crushing detail, how concentrated and monopolistic the food industry is:
  • Six companies own 75% of the global pesticide market
  • Four companies sold half of the globe's seeds
    • three of them (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont) are also among the six who run the global pesticide market, which means that the seed barons are genetically engineering seeds that work in tandem with the very chemicals that they themselves manufacture.
  • Three companies process 70% of beef in the US
  • Four companies slaughter and pack more than 58% of pork and chicken
  • Four companies--Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Louis Dreyfus—control up to 90% of the global trade in grain
    • In the US, three of those firms process 70 % of the soybeans and 40% of the wheat
  • Wal-Mart controls more than 25% of the grocery market
  • Just four companies produced 75% of cereal and snacks, 60% of cookies, and half of all ice cream.
Beyond the extreme monopolies, Philpott gives three other reasons that our country's food policy needs an overhaul. Follow the link to the article to see his full arguments, along with his robust footnotes, but here are some excerpts:
  1. "The food industry screws farmers, its own employees, and the environment."
    •  80% of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock facilities. Antibiotic-resistant human pathogens, like MRSA, now kill more Americans than AIDS does.
    • From 1976 to 2009, the inflation-adjusted average hourly wage of meatpacking workers plunged, as did union membership among meatpacking employees. 
    • Between 1992 and 2007, the number of hog farms shrank from 240,000 to 60,000, despite an increase in the overall number of hugs being slaughtered
    • Animal factories emit unhealthy levels of particulate matter, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide, and pollute groundwater with manure runoff
  2. "Wall Street's greed leaves millions to starve—literally."
    • Commodities speculators drive up the price of key food staples like rice and wheat—leaving tens of millions of people around the world hungry
  3.  Our politicians are in bed with agribusiness
    • From 1998 to 2011, agribusiness dropped $1.4 billion on lobbying, sixth on a list of clout-wielding sectors. Below the finance and health sectors, but above defense contractors and trial lawyers.
    • Federal employees at the USDA and FDA, the two federal agencies overseeing food and ag companies, report huge levels of industry influence, obstruction, retaliation, abuse of power, and data-fudging. There has been only a "very small" reduction in this since Obama took office.
    • GM crop programs have expanded and avoided regulation, despite strong warnings of their potential danger.
    • There has been almost no regulation of antibiotics in the livestock industry
Whoa. There's a lot that's there, and much more to take apart and think more deeply about, but I'm grateful to have this as a start, and to have all these data and statistics gathered in one place.

The world is a messy place. How to begin bringing order?

P.S. Happy 8 years to JH!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Oh this one!

and this one:

and this last one:

They Draw & Cook

Have you guys seen They Draw and Cook?

It's a blog, and a book, which feature BEAUTIFUL illustrated recipes, like this:

and this:

I've already spent way too much time browsing the site, but I'm inspired to create art and food all at once, so I think it's worth it.

This also makes me want to print some of these, frame them, and hang them up around our kitchen.

Take some time to look around and get inspired.

Which ones are your favorites?!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Grist Post #2

Check out my second Grist post: "Canvolution!"

This one engages with some ideas from my dissertation, so I'd particularly love feedback. Let me know what you think!

P.S. This is also my 200th post here at Dining and Opining! Thanks for being along for the ride...

Friday, October 14, 2011

FH King Video!

I've written before about the awesome FH King Students for Sustainable Agriculture on campus and their Harvest Handouts program, which is one of my favorite parts of Madison summers (read more about that here), but now you can see it all for yourselves!

University Communications has made this colorful little video, with great images from Harvest Handouts, from the FH King Farm, and also from the Slow Food UW Family Dinner Nights:

Lots of people I know and admire are featured in this video, so I especially love it.

Cool, eh?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Green Owl

I know I've mentioned the Green Owl, Madison's only vegetarian restaurant, on D&O before, but I figured it was about time for a good old-fashioned review.

This last time we headed out there, it was a warm enough day that we were able to sit outside, in their nice outdoor patio, with bird-filled trees nearby. It was lovely, even though I do enjoy their modern and colorful interior decor, with bright green design-y walls, cool lampshades, and cute owl images galore.

We began with an appetizer special, of potstickers in a spicy red sauce. The potstickers were only lightly fried, so they had a nice soft wrapping, with greens inside. These were tasty, but a little on the salty side.

For our entrees, we shared two dishes: the BBQ jackfuit sandwich (that we had in slider form at a Global Food for Thought Meal last semester) and the empanadas picadillo. The former is described on the menu as "the young jackfruit stands in for pulled pork, simmered in our BBQ sauce. Served with a layer of dill pickle slices and topped with a creamy vegan slaw on a ciabatta roll," and the latter, "two puff pastries filled with a mixture of soy beef, tomatoes, raisins, green olives, jalapeño and cilantro, served with sour cream. Comes with beans and rice with our smoky Green Owl sauce." They were both solid entrees, the sandwich rich and smoky, the empanadas flavorful.

And for dessert, we had the molten chocolate lava cake, which was definitely the best part of our meal. This lava cake is vegan, but so rich and savory that the fiendiest of chocolate fiends would be satisfied. I'm consistently impressed by the vegan desserts that the Green Owl serves up.

Overall, I'd say that I'm a big fan of the Green Owl, even though most of this devotion just comes from the fact that it is an all vegetarian restaurant where I can eat anything on the menu. I love the sense of possibility that comes with that. As far as the food goes, it's consistently good, sometimes great, but rarely knock-your-sock-off. The main detraction is that I can--and do--make many dishes of the same sort and quality at home, so it's rarely a revelation in terms of taste or preparation.

But sometimes having someone else cook the kind of food I'd make at home instead of me is kind of nice.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Peeling Garlic

I think that this video has been making the rounds already, but if you haven't seen it, here's how to peel a head of garlic in less than 10 seconds, courtesy of my friend DL. Whoa:

How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from on Vimeo.

We tried it with just a few cloves, in a metal bowl with a cookie sheet on top, and that didn't work so well. We then tried a few cloves in a glass jar with a metal lid, and that was better! (though one clove still clung stubbornly to its skin). I guess the whole head really is key.

But let me know how it works for you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fasting and Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, took place over the weekend. In keeping with the tradition, Justin and I decided to fast for the day--from sunset of the night before Yom Kippur to sunset on the day itself. 

The experience was interesting, both intellectually and physically, and I thought it would be worth it to write a little more about fasting and about why a secular Jew and her non-Jewish husband would choose to fast on this Jewish holy day.

I fasted on this particular day mostly because Justin wanted to do so, and I wanted to join in solidarity.  His reasons seemed largely based on his interest in having the physical experience of a day without food; Yom Kippur (and the attending break-the-fast dinner we'd been invited to) seemed like a better day than most to have this experience.

As for me, although I'm not religious, I still find [or try to find] a place in my life for Jewish traditions, especially for those that have to do with food and community. I like that I'm taking part in this tradition that people all around the world are experiencing, and that has taken place for thousands of years. Fasting is a humbling experience, one that reminds you of the physical limitations of your body, and of how fundamental nourishment is to all the other things we think and do during a typical day. And in being able to make it through the fast, you are reminded of your own strength and sense of determination. 

Yom Kippur, in being called the "day of atonement" encourages Jews to think about the sins they've committed over the previous year, and to atone for them through reflection and asking God's forgiveness. Although I'm not much for the latter part--of asking for God's forgiveness--I am a big fan of reflection. I think setting aside time to consider how you've lived your life, what you're happy about, and what you could do better, is crucial to self-awareness and happiness. I participated in this cool online program, 10Q, in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, which gave me an organized place to do this sort of reflection. (Check it out!)

Another big, important reason that I fast is that going hungry can give me at least some indication of the kind of suffering that many people--in our country and around the world--experience much more frequently than once a year. In an article about a Yom Kippur service at the Occupy Wall Street protests, there was a reference to Isaiah 58:5, a passage that is often read on Yom Kippur. A selection: 

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: 
   to loose the chains of injustice 
   and untie the cords of the yoke, 
   to set the oppressed free 
   and break every yoke? 
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry 
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— 
   when you see the naked, to clothe them, 
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. 
   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, 
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry 
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, 
   then your light will rise in the darkness, 
   and your night will become like the noonday...

Fasting, according to this passage, is not enough. We must couple our fasting with attention to injustice all around us.

And, of course, at the end of the day, that first bite of food after a day of fasting is pretty darn delicious.

the beautiful challah with which we broke our fast

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Fermentation

With all the recent talk of the Reedsburg Fermentation Fest and Justin's current adventures in beer brewing (where's that long promised post, JH?!), I got to thinking about how my knowledge of fermentation is actually pretty rudimentary.  I mean, I know that it has something to do with microorganisms changing food in ways we want (as opposed to ways we don't want, as with decomposition), but what do all those different products--yogurt, pickles, beer, wine, cheese, bread--really have in common?

I know enough to know that the best guide to all this is Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz, also known as Sandorkraut, the self-proclaimed "fermentation fetishist." But since I haven't read that book (shame on me!), here's the bits and pieces I've thus far been able to glean from various sources.

Scientifically, the process looks like this:

Some kind of carbohydrate turns into some kind of acid or alcohol (or carbon dioxide, I think). With wine and beer and cider, obviously, it's alcohol that's produced. With bread, carbon dioxide. With sauerkraut and yogurt and kimchi, lactic acid. Different bacterial strains and yeast, with different inputs, yield different outputs. Basically.

There a bunch of reasons that people do this, among them preservation (the development of certain acids and alcohols delays the decomposition of food), taste (yum!), and health (many people think that healthy bacteria have probiotic characteristics that promote body functions; Sharon Astyk has written that during her pregnancies, because of morning sickness, fermented foods were the only things she could stomach).

There's a really fascinating list on Wikipedia of fermented foods by region:
The prevalence of fermented foods in Asia gives an idea of where the process originated and came into its own. These makes me want to eat try all of these.

What do you all know about fermentation? Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fermentation Fest

Although writing about it gives me feelings of regret* because I won't be able to go, I should share with all of you that this weekend marks the beginning of the Reedsburg Fermentation Fest. That's right, an entire week-long festival devoted to fermented food and drink!

The website gives this enticing list: "From sourdough bread to home-crafted beer, pickles to soy sauce, chocolate to cheese, compost to silage, the Live Culture Convergence has it all." How I wish I could learn to make them all!

You can see the whole schedule here.

If I were going, I'd totally hit up at least the following events:

  • The Secret Life of Chocolate 
    • Saturday, Oct. 8 , 1 - 3 pm
    • Believe it or not, chocolate is a fermented food. Learn all about the chocolate fermentation process and taste samples during this especially tasty class led by Gail Ambrosius.
  • Whole Wheat Baking 
    • Saturday, Oct. 8 , 2 - 4 pm 
    • Learn to bake whole wheat baked goods using locally grown wheat. Plus: information about growing wheat. 
  • Elm Duo 
    • Sunday, Oct. 9 , 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00pm
    • Pasture Performance featuring 13-year old singer and fiddle champion Eleanor Mayerfeld and her father, mandolinist, guitarist and UW-Madison professor of Community & Environmental Sociology, Mike Bell. The duo will entertain with an eclectic mix of acoustic music, from bluegrass to Celtic to jazz and more.
  •  Fizzeology 
    • Saturday, Oct. 15, 12 - 2 pm 
    • Learn the techniques and the considerable health benefits of fermenting vegetables. Mike Bieser of Fizzeology will demonstrate, share recipes and provide a home fermenting starter kit.
  • and more!
So those of you in Wisconsin or the nearby area should definitely go in my stead, and report back. Sounds awesome, eh?

*and tomorrow is Yom Kippur, when we're supposed to be atoning for our sins and wiping away our regrets in preparation for the new year!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Much-Maligned Okra

Okra is one of those vegetables that is still very much a regional food. If you're from the South or have ever lived there, chances are you've eaten okra. If you're from the North, however, maybe not so much.

My father (though he is originally from Russia--definitely not the South) loved okra and grew rows upon rows of it in the large garden of my childhood home. My brother and I learned young how to twist and snap the pods from their tall stalks with big white flowers.

A recent New York Times piece on okra, Okra Recipes for Health, offered some delicious ideas for incorporating the vegetable into gumbos and stews and salads. The thing is, all of these recipes seem explicitly designed to undermine and mask the natural properties of the vegetable.  It seems that "sliminess" has led many people to think they dislike okra. Comments at the end of the article made statements to this effect: "It's not fair to ditch the vegetable just because you don't know what to do with it, or because you ate some underskilled amateur's slimy dish." or "Okra is only gooey /slimy when it is made by cooks who don't know what they are doing."

Simply boiling okra is my dad's preferred method of preparation, but this heightened the so-called sliminess, rather than masking it! It is specifically this smooth, slide-down-your-throat, comforting aspect of okra that makes it one of my parents' favorite vegetables. So, even though I don't love okra all that much myself, I want to defend it in all its slimy glory.

When we were last visiting my parents, they loaded us down with pounds of okra from their prolific garden, and we put some up in the freezer for the winter. We followed the directions from pickyourown, blanching some of the whole pods and then putting them in freezer bags, for later use in omelets or gumbos. 

The rest of the okra, however, we prepped for frying, by slicing it after blanching, and then tossing the pieces with flour, and laying them out on a tray in the freezer until frozen, before collecting them all into freezer bags for the long winter. [Frying okra is the method most commonly used in the South, where the ever-present deep fryer helps render the okra totally un-slimy, if also pretty un-healthy.]

Because okra is a vegetable that grows especially well in the heat of a southern summer, we're hoping that eating some from the freezer in winter will help bring back a little bit of that mid-summer warmth...even if it is a little slimy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Place for Junk Food?

On my last road trip, although we managed to avoid fast food restaurants,we didn't manage to avoid all junk food. And, in fact we didn't even try that hard. We made a gas station stop on our way home, and ended up with some barbecue Pringles and some Cheetos Puffs.

As we ate them, a flood of sensations came over me--one part nostalgia at eating these sorts of foods at slumber parties throughout my youth, one part pleasure in those evolutionary roots (or whatever it is) that make us crave fats and salts, one part feeling gross at the build-up of artificial flavors in my mouth, and, yes, one part guilt that this food didn't meet any of my standards for what I put into my body.

In trying to reconcile all these varying feelings, I thought of a picnic earlier this year, where a friend of mine (and a sometimes-reader of this blog) reached for some chips (cheetos, I think) and then looked at me apologetically and said, "I'm sorry, Anna."

That she felt like she needed to apologize to me for eating this processed food product really struck me. On the one hand, I was glad that those who know me saw me as a healthy and conscious eater. On the other hand, I wondered what sort of judgmental behavior I had previously displayed that had made her feel she had to ask my forgiveness in order to eat this sort of indulgence. 

Because it's certainly not that I think there is no place for junk food in our lives.  I mean, I suppose I'd prefer that there be no junk food (and by this term, I mean especially the highly-processed, unpronounceable-ingredient-filled junk that is sold at gas stations; not necessarily sugary or salty treats prepared from whole foods at home or in high-quality bakeries). But, given that so many of us grew up with junk food as a central treat in our lives, I understand the emotional comfort and nostalgic pleasure associated with these foods. And often, when they are on offer, they are hard to resist.

I get that.

And yet, I still wonder what place this junk food really should have? How to deal, for example, with the issue of junk food in the lives of my future potential children? Do I let them have it only rarely, such that it is seen as a treat? Or do I say no to junk altogether? What are the possible repercussions to this latter approach?

What do you all think? What is the place of junk food in the lives of conscious eaters?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eating On the Road

On our way to eat Thai food in St. Louis (among doing other things) last week, we had a typical discussion in the car about what we should do for lunch. I often like to bring my own snacks for the car, so that we don't have to stop at interstate fast food restaurants, but hadn't brought anything along this time around.

And so there's this quandary,* do we take extra time to drive into a town to find a halfway decent restaurant? Or do we quell our hunger with small snacks until we arrive at our destination? Or do we throw our hands up, and just eat fast food? What do you do? No matter what you choose, it's hard to eat well when on the road.

This time around though, one of our co-travelers, KK, came to the rescue. We stopped at a gas station just as we were trying to choose among our equally unattractive lunch options, and he said, "Or...I did bring about 10 pita sandwiches, which should be enough for everyone, so we could just eat those for lunch?"

He had made us all lunch! He'd stuffed pita with hummus, couscous, and a variety of vegetables--green onions, bean sprouts, and more! What a perfect, portable, delicious on-the-road lunch.

We found a few picnic tables (outside a Russel Stover store in some small town in Illinois) and relished our little roadside meal with an unparalleled gusto. Something about having this easy option spring up among the other unappealing options when we least expected it, made it seem especially wonderful. 

It made me realize how possible it is to eat well on the road, even if you don't always have an awesome friend like KK with you along for the ride, if you just think ahead a little bit. Pitas wrapped up in foil make great road food, and although you don't always have the time or materials to make this happen, it's good to keep in mind as a totally attainable ideal.

*I won't call it a "dilemma," in order to not rub my husband's logical needs the wrong way, since that word literally means a choice between only two options, therefore "di"-lemma (though popularly the word can mean "any difficult or perplexing situation or problem.")

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thai Gai Yang

I've written before about how I was first disappointed in Madison's Thai food offerings, upon moving here, because nothing compared to the Thai food of St. Louis, on which my love of the cuisine was founded.

Last weekend, we got to return to the place it all began, Thai Gai Yang Cafe in St. Louis. We were very excited (please excuse my closed eyes):

The signature dish that made Thai Gai Yang a star in our eyes, relative to the other Thai restaurants in the area, was the Yum Mama, listed under the "Salad" portion of the menu, described as "Warm egg noodle, ground chicken or tofu, red onions, green onions and cilantro, mixed with homemade sauce and topped with omelet." It is not only delicious, but lends itself to lots of bad jokes.

- "What are having for lunch?"
- "Yum Mama"
- "Why do you have to go and bring my mom into this?"


They also offer the tomato-y udon noodles, which are so satisfyingly fat and chewy:

And my favorite of all, the Pad Thai, which was so delicious that I only managed to take a photo after clearing almost the entire plate:

This pad thai--and, it seems, all the pad thai I've ever had in St. Louis--has a particular flavor that's different from other cities' versions. Pleasantly dry, with a lot of peanut, sweetness, and bean sprouts. Who knows why this style seems so prevalent in an entire city? But there it is, St. Louis Pad Thai, in all its glory.

Has anyone else noticed this sort of city-wide style in foods other than the oft-cited New York or Chicago-style pizza?