Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

Archive for November, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Simple Ratatouille Over Spaghetti Squash

Last week, there was a moment.

The moment came some time after the third batch of homemade cream of mushroom soup, some time after I had a nice dusting of flour on my face and four pies sat cooling on the counter, just a minute or two before my second green bean casserole completely from scratch was popped in the oven.  The moment came after Thanksgiving trailed so closely on the heels of our early family Christmas, leaving no space to breathe.

It was the moment—just one moment—when I questioned the wisdom of investing so much time and effort into fancy holiday dishes that would almost certainly be devoured in a single sitting.  What was the point?

However, when your guests ask permission to lick out the green bean casserole dish and the insane amount of garlic potatoes you made are devoured almost the second you turn your back, when the table is surrounded by fat and happy tummies and family faces smiling contentedly…when all this is going on and you know you fed your guests real, healthy food, responsibly grown…well, things are pretty doggone good.

But I have to say, the Unicyclist and I are looking forward to keeping things simple around here for a while.  Today, for our second Dark Days Challenge recipe, we decided to hit the nearby Sunday farmers’ market and see what we could come up with that wouldn’t be overly fussy or fatty, seeing as how we recently consumed half our body weight in pie.  Here’s our haul:

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A Small Thanksgiving Challenge

The Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports magazine) have teamed up with the Eat Well Guide to offer a Thanksgiving challenge: buy at least one local or organic food item, include it in a fabulous Thanksgiving recipe, and then post your recipe for others to use and enjoy.

Just one item?  Hot dog!  It doesn’t get much simpler.

Check out the doing Thanksgiving locally challenge before you do your last-minute shopping.  If you’re lacking inspiration, you can even use their site to search for recipes from renowned chefs Alice Waters, Dan Barber, and Mario Batali.  And drop a line back here in the comments to show off your delectable dishes!

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Before You Gobble Your Gobbler: The Real Deal on Turkeys

Thursday is fast-approaching.  Welcome to Thanksgiving 2008.  Or, as it’s also known, Turkey Day.  Is it just me, or is that an odd nickname?  It makes it sound like of fun, poultry-based activities intended to honor the noble turkey, even though it’s more like “The Day All Turkeys Must Die.”

Imagine if the same was true of other holidays so named, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Yeesh.  Okay, extreme, but do you get the aforementioned weirdness now?

If you’ve not seen the video of Sarah Palin pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving while others are being slaughtered on camera right behind her, perhaps you should take a gander.  While it’s rife with irony (and innuendo from the interviewer at times—”programs on the chopping block”?), it does bring up an issue that I want resolved. And no slight on Governor Palin, here.  This is far bigger than either this interview or the governor herself.

Can someone, ANYONE, out there please explain the whole “pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving” thing?  I know how it started—that’s not my question.  I really don’t get the rationale.  Frankly, making a PR opportunity out of pardoning a specific turkey while encouraging the deaths of countless others seems to smack of a sick sort of humor.  It’s only because so many birds will wind up on dinner tables for the holiday that marking one to have the chance to die a natural death is remotely noteworthy.  This is particularly true when you consider that the president/governor/other public figures in question fully intend to have a turkey at their family dinners, just not that particular one.

“Heh heh heh.  Yous guys is all invited over for dinner, if you know what I mean.  But hey, I gots a heart, so…you there, with the feathers and the red bobble on your noggin, you gets to go free.”

Seriously, wha?

Watch the drama of the pardon unfold on an episode of the West Wing, shown here.

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Key Roles in the USDA Under Obama’s Administration

Steph Larsen has a great post up at Ethicurean about thinking beyond the Secretary of Agriculture when considering how to transform the USDA.  She outlines the different key positions and responsibilities and points to several places readers can go for more info or to try to make themselves heard.  Also—she reports that word is Vilsack is out of the running for the Secretary of Agriculture post.  Check it out.

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Weighing the Pros and Cons of Vitamins and Supplements

Nowadays, it seems every time you turn around, someone’s slapping a health claim on a box of Triscuits.  Picking out a box of cereal now involves a moral dilemma, as you contemplate boxed breakfasts that claim to turn your ticker up a notch by promoting heart health while others offer to boost your cancer-fighting potential with a dose of much-hyped antioxidants.  Will you suffer heart failure if you forgo an oat-based cereal in favor of puffed rice?  Or will you find salvation in the cracker and chip aisle, where you can choose potato chips “proven” to lower your cholesterol?  Not even water is immune, as you know if you’ve found yourself lost amid shelves of vitamin water or electrolyte-infused water claiming to increase your energy, improve bone density, boost immunity, and scavenge free radicals.

Welcome to the world of nutraceuticals and qualified health claims.

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Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Creamy Mushroom Thyme Soup

Yesterday morning, The Unicyclist, mom, and I left Hooterville for the bustling streets of Big City, WI.  Among our other errands was the intent to pick up enough goods to pull off our first local meal for the Dark Days of Winter Challenge.  I felt confident we’d be able to pull it off, despite the fact that our trusty CSA share was 1500 miles away in Phoenix.  Southern Wisconsin is rife with farms and markets, with a couple trusty co-ops thrown in for good measure, and I only had to stay 90% local.  Plus, I already had a plan: mushroom soup.  Something creamy, flavorful, with fresh garden herbs.  Something utterly unlike the pale goop that comes in a can at the grocery store.  Something inspired by the drool-worthy gravy from the green bean casserole I made for our holiday dinner.  Something like this:

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The Dangers of Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture

It’s being rumored that Barack Obama is considering Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack for his Secretary of Agriculture.  Vilsack is for reducing subsidies and claims he wants to make agriculture more environmentally-friendly.  Which is all fine and dandy, but for Vilsack’s enthusiasm for corn-based ethanol and his support of genetically modified crops, including pharmeceuticals in crops.

Leaving aside the ethanol question for right now, I want to say that I do not support GMOs as a long or short term solution to the challenges facing agriculture.  Labeling requirements on GMO crops are nonexistent, making it basically impossible to monitor for long-term health consequences or allergenic effects.  In addition, they may cause health problems in pollinators (speculation abounds about their possible role in colony collapse disorder in honeybees), and they can contaminate and push out non-GMO crops, reducing biodiversity and thereby threatening our long-term food security.

Most importantly, we do not have enough long-term data on the effects of GMOs to push for their expansion.  Vilsack’s willingness to do so is deeply troubling.  Despite all our fondest illusions, plants are not under our control.  Cross-pollination occurs with wind, with insects, with a wide variety of critters—all of which we can not predict, control, or contain.

Despite all that, Big Ag commodity groups have apparently been mobilizing to try to block Vilsack’s apointment, due to his otherwise environmentally-friendly leanings.  Whether or not to support Vilsack as front-runner is a tough call for a lot of people.  I know I still need to do some digging on the top contenders for myself, though Vilsack’s GMO stance is hard for me to get past.  And it’s not just me; a few petitions have been making the rounds at Care2 and the Organic Consumers association to ask Obama not to choose Vilsack.  If you want more info on the future of the USDA,  check out the short list of potential Secretaries of Agriculture at Grist.  Get the details and then decide…who would you choose, and why?  Let me know in the comments section here.

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A Break for Some Photos

I promise to get back to writing about food and food politics soon, but I wanted to take a brief break to share some pictures of Wisconsin.  The dry, golden chill of late autumn has its own beauty.  Even though everything is bare, when the Unicyclist and I went for a long walk yesterday, we saw that the naked limbs and fallen leaves make it easier to see all the fruit these plants have borne.

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Healthy Christmas Dinner–Success!

The Challenge: Pull off Christmas dinner for seven in a one-butt kitchen without tripping over any one of the five dogs underfoot

The Menu: Lentil soup, roasted root veggies, green bean casserole, fresh bread, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, mixed greens salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and pecans, pumpkin and pecan pies, and the requisite turkey and gravy for the omnivores in the group

Mom and I had a pretty elaborate choreography going on in the kitchen.  As mentioned, it’s a one-butt kitchen, and there were two to three human butts in it at most times, never mind the doggie butts…or the extremely hopeful doggie faces.  Despite the occasional butt bump, everything went extremely well.  So, ready for the skinny on a couple of the dishes?  After the jump, find out how I modified some classics for vegetarians and those concerned about blood sugar.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

The tree is up, dripping with twinkling lights.  Cheerfully wrapped packages add a splash of color at its base. Pumpkin and pecan pies are cooling on the counter, and I’ve got plans which will keep me and the Unicyclist busy in the kitchen for a good part of the day.

Merry Christmas!

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