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The Kitchen Manifesto

It recently occurred to me that some of you are new to Simple Spoonful—or, at least, so claims Google Analytics.That being the case, I thought it might be a good idea to give you a bit of background on the way I write recipes, particularly after that much-annotated recipe for agave-sweetened spiced pumpkin cake I just posted.

As a general rule, the purpose of a recipe is to provide a clear-cut set of instructions that anyone can follow to achieve a specific end product.

My recipes don’t really work that way.

My recipes treat cooking as a process and a finished dish as a snapshot in time of the way I did things at a certain point. That’s why you’ll get notes about what happened when I swapped out some applesauce for oil or some barley malt for agave. My cooking is also largely dependent on what’s in the garden, what the CSA provides any particular week, or what produce is on sale at the grocery store. Not surprisingly, while technique may be sacred to me in a particular recipe, ingredients rarely are. I measure when I bake, but I almost never measure when I cook…unless I am tracking it as I prepare it a given day in order to be able to post it here, so you can enjoy in your own kitchen! It’s true: I do all this for you. *MWAH!* In any case, that’s why one of my recipes will often instruct you to add a particular ingredient to taste or mention that you can substitute X, Y, or Z as desired. The only other time I keep careful track of what I’m doing is when I am experimenting with adapting an existing recipe, particularly anything for baked goods. There’s chemistry involved in baking, folks, and you just can’t pull a fast one on science. Science has rules, and we gotta obey its authoritTAY.

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Lunches on the Go

Well, as most of you are aware, I have joined the 9-5 crowd.  This explains my infrequent forays into the blogosphere these days.  Not only is there just a lot less time (thanks to the commute, plus the fact that I’m working 6 days a week while also finishing a contract gig), but my wrists and back are not loving enforced, back-to-back hours at the computer.  In any case, I thought I’d take a few minutes for a short update on what I’ve been figuring out after a month of trucking lunches to work again for those of you looking for ideas!  In no particular order, here are some of my favorites.

  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on sprouted cinnamon raisin bread
  • Cucumber, tomato, feta, and olive chopped salad
  • Hummus with a variety of dipping vegetables
  • Plenty of fresh fruit (with or without yogurt) for snacking
  • Avocado sandwiches with lettuce and tomato on lightly toasted bread
  • Trail mix (that I mix myself) for snacking
  • Cold grilled eggplant with cream cheese, tomato, and lettuce on toasted bread or a fresh, whole-grain bagel
  • Curry (eaten at room temp, as I dislike the microwave)
  • Smoothies (loads of frozen fruit and yogurt from grass-fed cows)

I’m starting to feel the need for more creativity, however…I will let you know what I dream up as the summer progresses!  I’m sure our farm goodies will provide inspiration.  Tomatoes and sweet corn are coming ripe, as are loads of summer squash.  Expect an update this weekend sometime!  In the meantime, what dishes are you enjoying for work lunches or picnics these days?

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Food News of the Weird

Just for your reading pleasure, here’s some tidbits I unearthed recently about food, industry, and the places they intersect.  In no particular order:

1) Six German states banned Red Bull Cola after the food safety agency in North Rhine-Westphalia (LIGA) found trace amounts of cocaine in the brew.  Austria-based Red Bull claims that no such traces were found in their internal tests, but that if those Rhinelanders thought they found something, well, it was certainly just due to Red Bull’s participation in the common industry practice of including decocainised coca leaf extract to give it that little sumpin’ sumpin’.  Decocainised coca leaf.  Like decaf tea leaves, but with cocaine.  Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has refused to comment on whether it still uses coca leaves in its famous beverage.  Food industry execs, predictably, are trying to quash the concern before it grows.  My favorite quote, from the Time article, is this: “If you start examining lots of other drinks and food so carefully, you’d find a lot of surprising things.”

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Michael Pollan: Food, Ads, and Revolution

Here’s an interesting video that covers quite a bit of ground: swine flu and industrial ag, GMOs and overpopulation, politics and sustainability, and consumer confusion campaigns (including Cheerios). Pollan also mentions Michella Obama’s White House garden, big ag subsidies, and the impact of the Standard American Diet on the health care crisis.

It’s about 20 minutes long, but there’s plenty of good stuff. Pollan is a man who keeps things simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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How to Save the World in 10 Easy Steps

Yes, it’s Earth Day, at least for a couple more hours.

The Unicyclist and I participated in the Valley’s Bike to School/Work Day today; he biked to work, and I biked off to my errands after we both enjoyed a complimentary breakfast together that the local Whole Foods sponsored.  This biking business isn’t new for us.  The truth is that I gave up my car-owning ways in 2004 and he gave his up in 2006 shortly after we met.  Our bikes (and his unicycle) have quite a few miles on them as a result.  That’s all right by me, as my bicycle is the closest an object can ever be to embodying freedom itself.  Simple, cheap to operate, efficient, fun, and easy to maintain—it doesn’t get much better.

Also, it’s blue and goes zooooooooom!

Which, point of fact, brings me around to something else that’s blue and goes zoom.

The Unicyclist and I have recently taken the plunge and supplemented our forms of transport.  For a whole bunch of personal reasons I won’t go into, we just bought a 2007 Prius, Toyota’s well-established gas-electric hybrid.  It’s a wonderful car and very fun to drive, but there’s some angst that goes along with giving up a slower lifestyle, a lifestyle based in our home, a lifestyle where we have been forced to simplify.  You see, I like home.  I like simple.  I like slow.  So today, on Earth Day, I’m mourning a little.

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Deconstructing the Dark Days Challenge

Okay, so Dark Days been my Sunday post since Thanksgiving…but what the heck was it?

Well,  I first heard about the challenge accidentally—a friend of a friend mentioned it on her blog, and I decided to check it out over at Urban Hennery.

The task: cook at least one 90+% locally-grown meal a week from November through March.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard someone snark that local is the new organic.  First, let me say this: your food consumption should not be determined by fads.  For the love of all that’s holy, eat healthy food you like that doesn’t have huge collateral costs (environmental, human/labor, whatever) and hang the fads!  (Related: the next foodie that tells me that chipotle is “soooo over” is liable to get a chipotle stuffed up said foodie’s nose.)   Secondly, I believe in promoting local agriculture, like many of my readers probably do.  If you want to know what exactly that means to me, read on.

I was drawn to the challenge because it seemed like a good way to connect with some like-minded people.  Besides that, the bar was set achievably low.  Just one local meal a week?  Ha!  A cinch, I thought.  I was all over this one, not least because November through March aren’t terrible growing months for us in a lot of Arizona.  You want harsh?  Talk to me in July and August when it’s 115 and higher for weeks on end here in Phoenix. That’s when the pickins get slim.  I was in, even though I knew I had an unfair advantage thanks to my geographic location.

Yes, I was cocky going into the challenge.  However, sitting here on the other side of it, I sure can tell you a few things.

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On Peanut Butter Apple Oats, Organics, and the Economy

My scalp cringes whenever I hear a middle-class person opining that organically or sustainably produced food is too expensive to be practical (right before said person biffs to Starbucks to drop $3-6 on a caffeinated beverage) or when I hear any garden-variety personfolk bloviating about how it’s cheaper to eat at a fast food joint than it is to eat at home.

Neither of these assertions is necessarily true.  Can they be?  Certainly.  However, that depends largely on what organics you are buying and what types of dishes you are preparing at home, including how many prepared ingredients you are using.  For whole foods vegetarians, especially whole foods vegans, they’re often false.  I don’t even need to address the “hidden costs” of factory farmed produce, dairy, and meat (through environmental damage, taxpayer-funded subsidies, etc.) to prove that.  Case in point?  How about breakfast?

The Unicyclist has been on breakfast duty for the last couple months, something which has allowed him to develop our favorite everyday oatmeal: Peanut Butter Apple Oats.  Today, out of curiosity, I dug up receipts, a food scale, a calculator, and I crunched the numbers to find out how much this tasty, filling dish was costing us. Are you ready?

3 oz. conventional rolled oats from the bulk section at Whole Foods (for .79/lb) = .15

4 oz organic apple bought in a five-pound bag at Whole Foods for 4.99 = .42

1 c Trader Joe’s organic rice milk, at 2.69 for 8 servings = .34

1 T Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter at 2.99/jar = .11

1 T farmer’s market apple butter at 5.00/jar = .17

Add a cup of water (for those of you keeping score to make this in your kitchen, that’s 1 heaping cup rolled oats and 2 cups liquid, plus a diced apple), combine well, cook until creamy and piping hot, and you have breakfast for two people and one Hippo for the grand total of $1.19, or less than sixty cents.  If we’d gotten the organic oats (at about $1.60 in the bulk section, which we skipped because they were out last time we were at the store), we’d have doubled the cost of our oats, which would have upped our total bill to…$1.34.  Again, we’re feeding two people and a 10-pound dog on that. Go ahead and compare that to a fast food breakfast value menu.  I dare ya.

If you’re on a tight budget, embrace the bulk bins.  No, seriously.  Cozy right on up to them.  Snuggle a little if no grocery store employees are watching.  Then stuff a bag with its contents and cart it to the register because dry beans and grains are some of the most affordable items you can pick up, even when they’re organic.

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1,000,000,000 to Go Hungry in 2009

That’s not a typo.  According to the United Nations (as reported in this article in The Independent), one billion is the number of people expected to be without sufficient food and nutrition this year.

That’s despite two consecutive years of record-breaking harvests.

Obviously, it’s not about the amount of food; there’s plenty to feed the world over.  It’s about access.  Currently, with food prices climbing alongside poverty rates, more and more people are finding themselves without the monetary resources to adequately feed themselves and their families.

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Answering Your Questions: Boosting Your Energy Levels

This post is for Cheryl, but it’s also for my dear little brother, Shorty, who asked about this back before Thanksgiving.  I intended to have it up last night, but WordPress was chapping my hide and the post-writing amounted to a heckuvah fiasco.  In any case, today is a new day, so here it is—another post answering questions from Simple Spoonful readers.

The question: What can you do to stay awake and alert throughout the day without knocking back enough caffeinated beverages to float a battleship?  Shorty tends to nod off in college lectures without his Mountain Dew (shudder), and Cheryl laments The 3 pm Slump.  Unfortunately, food can’t cure it all (Shorty, for example, is only sleeping about 5 hours a day, and no strategically administered parsley or pinto beans or spaghetti squash can fix that), but there are some things that can help to an extent, assuming you don’t have a medical condition such as anemia, hypoglycemia, thyroid issues, or diabetes.  If you are abnormally tired despite sleeping a reasonable amount (8-9 hours), get to a doctor and get checked out.  However, if you just feel a little sluggish, here are some tips for you, in no particular order.

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Tangerine Spice Pancakes: Kitchen Odds and Ends At Work

This morning, the Unicyclist and I had an impromptu and very delicious breakfast of pancakes.  I started with the Honey-Wheat Germ Pancake recipe in the Recipes from the Moon cookbook (from the Horn of the Moon Cafe), but (as often happens when I wind up in the kitchen) that recipe was just a skeleton for the pancakes I actually made.  See, when it comes to me and recipes, I’m something of a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” sort of personfolk.

I love recipes.  I love cookbooks.  I love reading them, looking at pictures, imagining delicious dinners to be.  However, I am both an incurable meddler and a thick-skulled pragmatist.  Specifically, whenever feasible, I believe in adapting recipes to what you have on hand rather than going shopping for missing ingredients.  This is exactly how I wound up with some golden, citrus-infused, wheat-germ-free pancakes this morning.  I still don’t know what the Honey-Wheat Germ pancakes from Horn of the Moon taste like, but I had some durn good breakfast.

I adapt for different reasons, but it’s mostly to use up what I have on hand.  The purpose of this post today is to help you figure out how that works, and how you might start using up odds and ends in your cooking.  Shall we dive in?

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