Friday, January 2, 2009

Youts

video

Vinny: "So the two youts went in ..."
The Judge: "Ahhh -- what was that word?"

Vinny: "What word your honor?"

The Judge: "Two what?"

Vinny: "Youts? ... Oh I'm sorry ... ... two YOOOUUUTTTHHHS."


From "My Cousin Vinny" (1992)


And I say:
Youts today!
What DO they eat?

I was checking out at the local supermarket yesterday, and the cashier (I'm guessing 18-ish in age) held up just about every piece of produce I was purchasing, having no idea what any were.

Just to add to the experience, he was clearly put out that I was buying the "hard" things -- that is, the ones that have to be identified, not just scanned like a bag of potato chips.


OK, I can expect perhaps the rutabaga or the turnip (perhaps, the veggies of an older generation, such as myself?) ... but the parsley? the cabbage? I have, at other times in this same supermarket, been asked to identify the following items for these yout'ful cashiers: zucchini, broccoli, leeks, dill weed, fennel, jicama, green onions, eggplant, bell peppers, yams and cauliflower.

Aside from my curiosity about their lack of training for their jobs -- I have to wonder: what are they eating at HOME that they view these items as though they've arrived from the Planet Ork?!

In my work, which is marketing research, I'm often called upon to listen to "youts" who are frequent buyers of fast food. Some of these kids (though, trust me, the phenomenon extends way beyond kids) eat at fast food restaurants at least twice a day. Sometimes three times.

I don't have kids, myself. Just 3 grown nephews, who definitely know their food groups -- and a niece who is a rising star as a chef, and knows more about food than I do!

But You Parents! What's going on here? What are you feeding your children, that they've apparently never seen a stalk of broccoli or a sweet potato that doesn't come out of a can and already have marshmallows melted on it? They seem to "get" lettuce and tomato -- I'm fearing likely the only vegetables they recognize, because they are included on a Whopper ...


Great Big Sigh.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gluten

Since avoiding gluten consumes my Naked Fork life, it must be given some due here.

Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley and malt (and, due to contamination from harvesting and storage, also in most oats). Gluten is the molecule that gives texture to breads and other baked goods and makes these things yummy! It enables baked products to hold together and expand in cooking.
People who have CELIAC DISEASE cannot consume any gluten, not even a crumb.


The first time you eat a gluten-free ("GF") slice or bread or a cookie, the initial shock is when it turns into dust the instant you bite into it.


Whoo boy. The U.S. press has gotten hold of "gluten," and is this ever a mixed blessing! For those who have Celiac Disease (more than 2 million in the U.S., 97% of whom do not know they have it), the press coverage is great in getting more information out there -- with discussion of symptoms and explanations to the rest of the world of how involved and difficult it is to live without gluten.

However, as the press grabs up and ultimately sullies nearly everything, "not eating gluten" is suddenly being touted as the latest fad (see: Top Ten 'Yuppie' Health Conditions), lessening the public's opinion of what is a very serious disease for many. But on the other hand, the more people who are actively seeking to avoid gluten, the more pressure there is on food manufacturers to produce true and palatable gluten-free foods (a fledgling industry, at best, in need of some serious palate and taste guidance).

There is a lot out there written about Celiac Disease and gluten -- so I do not intend to squeeze a treatise on this subject into my little blog.

Here are some of the best informational sites, if you are interested in finding out more:
  • GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group® of of North America)

And here is the best book written on Celiac Disease ...
CELIAC DISEASE: A HIDDEN EPIDEMIC by Peter H.r.Green and Rory Jones











For decades, European countries and their governments have recognized Celiac Disease as a major medical condition. It has taken the U.S. a long time to catch up, but it is finally happening. As a result, much is available now to read and learn about gluten and Celiac Disease. Most people who are in this fix have already read it all -- so I won't be paraphrasing it here.

I will limit myself to just a short list of personal observations to share with those who don't have to live this life:

  • Gluten is present in almost everything. If it is not an actual ingredient, so many packaged, canned and bottled goods are cross-contaminated by it. Surprising foods that contain gluten are: soy sauce, beer, many sauces and salad dressings, French fries at just about any restaurant (because they are fried in the same oil with wheat-battered items) and many veined cheeses (due to using wheat bread to start a culture).
  • There is no such thing as a "little" gluten. One must strive to eliminate every bit of gluten possible. Gluten is not always listed among ingredients on food labels, so hours and hours of research are necessary to know what foods are gluten free.
  • A growing number of restaurant chefs, managers and waitrons understand about gluten, and go out of their way to help one eat gluten free -- almost like a normal person. My message to you, and you probably know who you are: YOU ROCK!
  • My fantasy "last-meal-before-execution" (in the event I ever eat a Twinkie and "accidentally" off someone): KFC (Original Recipe, of course), a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme and genuine San Francisco sourdough bread.
  • Never let it be said that I cannot see a silver lining in all of this. Having to eat gluten free forces one to look to freshly prepared foods, and to give up an awful lot of junk food -- usually riddled with gluten. Instead of seeking my jollies in a Big Mac with Fries, I'm far more likely to get excited over really great freshly prepared meat or fish, with a wonderful salad of organic baby greens with a sprinkling of nasturtiums, plus freshly roasted gold and red beets with thick aged balsamic vinegar and Greek EVOO. (Oh, yeah, right ... unfortch I can't get the latter for 3 bucks. Whoops! Where did that silver lining go all of a sudden?)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gourd



BEAUTIFUL gourd art from Vickie's Sketchbook

GOURD: A word used to differentiate winter from summer squash. Summer varieties being delicate, fragile, quick to slice, speedy to cook. Winter varieties being hearty and dense, heavy and encased in armor, such that they have been used by ancient civilizations for art, bowls, spoons, dippers, ceremonial rattles ... and Seminole Indians used the seeds for "adult's sickness caused by adultery."

I love winter squash. The taste is lush and deep, just as are the colors of its shell and flesh. However, user-friendly it is not. To extract its edible goodness requires wielding your biggest baddest blade to remove it from its unyielding carapace and cut it into pieces. Thankfully, as vegetables go, winter squash is also nearly imperishable, and will keep on your kitchen counter until you are able to gather up sufficient courage to attack, strip and dice it.


Although high in carbs, Butternut Squash (for example) delivers a relatively low glycemic load, and is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese.

So, it isn't just about pretty colors!
There are many approaches to how to attack a winter squash, with two extremes linked below:SIMPLY RECIPES: Elise's rational, logical and artful approach in How to Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash


VIDEO: Not me in this vid, but exactly how I often feel when faced with this daunting task ... How to Cut a Really Big Squash

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Waters

This entry is not, as the reader might expect, about water in bottles or water from magical springs. Nope. This entry is about Alice Waters, proprietor and visionnaire of the oft-celebrated Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California.
(Beautiful book cover below by David Goines, long-time illustrator for Chez Panisse, the image below linked from his site.)



Alice came to the Indiana heartland to speak this week. Such a juxtaposition could be barely imagined: the woman arguably responsible for California Cuisine -- all about locally grown, organic and sustainable foods -- speaking right here in Naptown, where each summer there is a contest to decide which “food” -- the Twinkie or the SlimJim -- turns out the best battered-then-deep-fried offering at the State Fair. As a quick aside, the greatest joke of all that the Fair now touts that no trans-fats are used at the venue! Somehow, when you’re talking Elephant Ears or Corn Dogs, I think it matters little whether the fats are “trans.”

Alice’s lecture was sold out -- which means many here are at least interested in Alice’s message, which begins with opening minds to the limitless delights of food, and transcends to opening the mind about culture, diversity, politics and the blessings of The Earth. That can only be a good thing.

Rather less-than-good was a food sampling, served up afterward, by a local culinary school. With to-be-expected gluten in everything, I could not partake, but could smell and see food that was sloppily plated and redolent with stale (and far too much) garlic -- such that I was a not bit disappointed that I could not eat any of it. Had these students and teachers even heard of Alice Waters before this? Perhaps not, and we can only hope they were able to hear her speak to stir some inspiration in their hearts.

However, a sweet surprise was to find Peet’s Coffees and Teas being served -- straight up out of Berkeley! I could, of course, partake of a Peet’s Coffee, but was left to wonder how it appeared there. In a decade, I’ve never seen Peet's in Indy. A request from Alice? Perchance a thought of “let’s have coffee from Berkeley because Chez Panisse is in Berkeley?” I care not -- I could drink it and it was splendid.

Alice spoke regretfully of the vanishing family meal, where everyone would sit together at the table to share in the everyday experiential event of food and conversation. Per Alice, only 15% of families in this country still come together regularly at the dinner table. One of her major projects is currently The Edible Schoolyard -- a wonderful experiment in a formerly rundown Berkeley middle school.

Image linked to The Edible Schoolyard

Rightfully, it can no longer be called an experiment but clearly a shining success. Here, through hands-on gardening and preparation of fresh food, children are learning the basic values of hard work, self worth, rewards, respect, integrity, appreciation and so much more.

The real reason that Alice is special enough to warrant her own page on The Naked Fork is that Chez Panisse was highly formative in my own relationship to and learning about food. Just out of college, I had the supreme experience of eating at her wonderful restaurant during its early (and, yes, more affordable) years. As now, Waters offered a single
prix fixe meal each night at the main restaurant. It was often new and even challenging food -- but one always trusted in Alice and ate it, always to great amazement and admiration. Eating at Chez Panisse taught me to keep an open mind about food, and (almost) never to turn up my nose to anything unless it was unclean or unsafe in any way.


For more about Alice
, her history and the restaurant:

The California Museum/Alice Waters

Chez Panisse Restaurant

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Egg

I thought it appropriate to make my first Naked Fork stab into The Egg.

This blog, after all, was "hatched" from my obsessions with food. And, when I was very little, my family lived on a chicken farm in rural Utah. So, before I get to the crux of this story -- the egg, that is -- please walk with me along a short stroll through these formative years.

My memories as a 5-year-old are scanty, but there were other flora et fauna on the farm -- along with said chickens -- a goat plus a few deer and antelope, tamed by one of my grandfathers. There were many bountiful fruit trees, surrounded by rows and rows of plants redolent with tomatoes, green beans, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, soooo many carrots, sweet peas, rhubarb and the list goes on. Meat for dinner, cooked by one of my grandmothers, was often pheasant, duck or quail, hunted on their land.



One of my grandfathers specialized in raising humongous ("the size of your head!") vegetables -- novelties that inevitably would end up in some local newspaper's "AMAZING!" photo. My other grandfather -- a gruff, surly, no-nonsense man who, to me, seemed to stand at least 8 feet tall -- personally took charge of canning all vegetables and fruits. Several times each year, he would take over the old kitchen. My grandmother, usually kitchen commander-in-chief, was relegated to beating the dust out of the rugs and fluffing horsehair pillows for a few days. Eventually out of the kitchen would come dozens of bottles filled with the most amazing and perfectly preserved produce. Grandpa would let me "help" -- which only meant I could watch, but that was more access than he allowed anyone else in the family. I felt rather special. When I was a teen, eight years after Grandpa died, we were still eating his delicately spiced applesauce, stored in our basement.

Thus is the backstory to set up my Forked relationship with The Egg. We had lots of eggs -- big, little, white, brown, light green, mottled. My dad was an early riser, and I with him -- he being a hard worker and often out of town, these were the only hours I got to spend in his company. Every morning when at home, Dad made: EGGS. Mostly simple eggs, showing off their beauty of brilliant orange against bright white freshness -- usually basted, over-easy, poached or soft boiled. My favorite: a four-minute boiled egg, cradled in a special ceramic egg cup and eaten with a tiny sterling silver egg spoon (the only sterling we owned). Dad knew how to perfectly lop off the top inch with a sharp knife -- with nary a speck of shell left behind.

"Double-yolkers" were coveted prizes in our family. However, my two older, conspiratorial brothers somehow convinced me that whites were the most special -- so that they could trade my yolks for their whites. What did I know? Because, with these eggs, all was good. Very seldom were eggs scrambled -- and, if they were, Dad's scrambled eggs were not whipped, but distinctly velvety white against lush yellow. I never had an omelet
until I was a grownup.

I do not even remember cereal from my childhood. The few times we had it, it was typically oatmeal or mush (in our case: fried "gooey" leftover oatmeal with maple syrup -- usually accompanied by AN EGG). And a favorite supper: corned-beef hash and soft-poached EGGS, not generally as perfect as our breakfast eggs, as my mom made these and just did not quite have the knack.

But my family moved away from the farm, around my 6th year on earth. Somewhere between the moon and the big city, our eggs came from the supermarket and eventually lost their luster. Make no mistake, I still liked eggs, but they just were not the same.

Eggs, of course, have had their own skirmishes to scramble. They became vilified as hefty little bombs of cholesterol and saturated fat. In my own family, my dad -- the "pusher" of all things Egg -- died of a massive coronary at age 55. So, one had to put down the Fork and consider it all.

Fast forward to some 50 years later, however, and enter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) free range eggs. Shortly after the turn of the millennium -- and after a move to the Midwest -- my husband and I discovered a world at our feet of fresh farm produce available from CSA local farms. And among the most special parts of this CSA relationship were EGGS ... just hours from beneath the hen, and into the pan.

These were the eggs of my childhood! Both smooth and pungent in color and flavor, they beckoned to me once again. Most supermarket eggs are often many weeks old before they ever reach your refrigerator. Plus, they come from chickens crammed into tiny pens, that never see the sun, never stretch a wing, never eat a bug, and they gorge themselves on manufactured feed. Apart from the humanitarian angle, such conditions simply do not make for eggs with the same flavor and healthiness of old.

One might imagine the circles of joy that came to the Naked Fork, in learning that free range eggs actually are more healthy than regular supermarket eggs. In fact, they are are not just better for you -- they are GOOD for you!

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has reported on some impressive findings from very recent research:
Eggs from hens raised on pasture, as compared to those commercially raised factory farm eggs, contain:

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2X more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3X more vitamin E
• 7X more beta carotene

Pastured eggs have anywhere between 4-6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs.

Well, all things in moderation, I suppose. Eggs still have calories, and a certain amount of saturated fat. But eggs are a happy part of my life again. I still try to respect the probability that an apple, an orange or a stalk of broccoli might generally be a better choice than that second or third egg.

With free-range eggs always fresh in the fridge, I no longer feel quite as guilty. At my 60th birthday celebration, my sweet hubs made a list of things he loves about me: high on the list was the magic I make with egg dishes. I'm proud. I think it is also a fine tribute to my father, who -- after all -- contributed to the hatching of ME!

For a great recipe for Baked Eggs -- "minimalist style" (my favorite!), see this Mark Bittman VIDEO from the NY Times.

You might wonder how to obtain the freshest free-range eggs where YOU live? It most likely won't be in your local supermarket, or, for that matter, even a natural foods superstore, such as Whole Foods (who will certainly have organic and free range eggs -- but not likely local ones). Start with a Google search! Just enter "pastured eggs" + the name of your home town, and it's likely you'll come up with some wonderful resources. In the case of Indiana, below are a few great examples that I'm personally aware of. I really encourage finding LOCAL resources for eggs -- not just a box of eggs that says they are "free range and organic." Make sure they come from nearby where you live! Not only will these be the freshest imaginable, but you'll be supporting your local farmers ... and THAT, my friends, is fodder for another Naked Fork treatise (diatribe?) down the road.

Seven Springs Farms/Rush County, IN (and purveyors of the egg pictured above!)
Lone Pine Farms/Montgomery County, IN
Brown Family Farm/Montpelier, IN
Apple Family Farm/McCordsville, IN

Some other great places to learn about The Egg:

Mother Earth News: The Chicken & Egg Page
The TODAY SHOW: Which Eggs are Best?
Eggs A to Z (Georgia Egg Commission)
FAQ About Eggs
Organic Free-Range Eggs Less Likely to Carry Salmonella
The American Egg Board "Learn More About Eggs"