walking good for healthI love to exercise.  But I don’t do it as much as the die hard people do.  I try to do something every day more or less.  I dance, walk, bike, swim, and vacuum (yes this counts).  But I mainly walk.  Now, I do drive, but I live with my parents currently, and they live in a town where you can walk everywhere and so I take advantage of that.

I don’t see a lot of people out walking.  I see a lot of cars and people who drive very short distances when they could be walking.  Walking is so easy and so practical too.  You don’t need a gym membership and when you look at New York City and all the walking people do there, it’s no wonder everyone is so slim there.

Sometimes I think if we got rid of cars and started making everything walkable (or bikeable) we’d have a lot more environmentally friendly people.

When I’m at the gym and see an overweight person drinking sugar water while exercising, I feel like telling them, you can’t do that to yourself if you want to lose weight.  You’re not going to get better unless you start caring about what you put into your body!!!

I have always exercised.  I was a pretty outdoorsy type person growing up (still am) but have sometimes had a problem with weight gain.  It was when I started to care about every little thing I put into my body, that I started to enjoy exercise more or at least got better at it.

I read years ago that fidgeting keeps weight off, and if this is true then that explains why I stayed skinny when I worked at a library for 6 years.  I was constantly keeping myself busy and didn’t have time to think about food.  Maybe this is the problem with people who have issues with weight gain.  We’re constantly bombarded with food messages every day and we can’t avoid them if we watch TV or are on the internet.

So if you are tired of all the food messages contradicting themselves wherever you go, then I challenge you to put your frustration into exercise.  Trust me, it works!!

co-op pic

If you noticed one of my previous posts about where I like to food shop, I felt that I needed to say why I like food shopping so much.  I like to go to any of my food shops because they seem like safe places to be in.

Food stores seem safe because the people who work there are nice and it’s fun to just take in the atmosphere.  Sometimes, I think the world is too crazy for the likes of me, and going to a food shop makes me feel like the world has not completely collapsed.  There’s still lots of food everywhere, and that makes me feel at ease; or at least less threatened in this dog eat dog world.

Why, do you ask, should I feel threatened, when there’s still so many things to do out in the world we live in?  Well, I guess just going through my day to day motions makes me feel ill and I need a break from this crazy world we live.  So I go to food shops to look at the plentiful amount of food this great nation of us has to give.  That sounds kind of corny, but really there seems to be a reason why people say the USA is such a giver, in terms of giving away food to other countries that need it.

Food in America is big business.  I took two years of culinary courses, and we learned all about how to set up a menu, specifications (which are the requirements to sell a certain food product), and the process by which food is bought and sold, among other things.  I think it’s fascinating that there are so many rules to go by just to eat, or sell food.

We all probably see the big food stores on the highway like Costco, Giant, Wegmans, or even Trader Joes.  But what about the little known farms, co-ops, or stores that also operate as mini restaurants?  I go to a lot of these in the Philadelphia suburbs and it seems that they are doing ok, some great!

But when I think of what an ideal food shopping experience would be like, I think of places like India, China, or even South America.  I was in Bolivia a couple years ago and I remember going to a market there outside where a lot of the food was from the tropics, like bananas and avocados.  And there were potatoes, spices, and other products local to the area.

So, I’ve been to China too, where I was in a village in Hunan province.  The food we had was stuff I had never seen before.  Well, we had rice and meat (like fish, duck, and pork), but the vegetables we awe-inspiring in that I had no idea what they were!

When I go to any of my small business food stores, I feel like I am partaking in a very real and vibrant part of American culture!  Going to these places makes me feel like I am a bohemian, even if I’m just going there to browse or buy something.  Maybe that’s why starting a food business is so very popular, but also so very hard to do.  Cheers to wherever you buy your food!

people clubbingI don’t consider myself very worldly, even if I have been to a variety of different countries and like supporting and reflecting upon them.  But because I have grown up somewhat over the years, and have had friends from a variety of countries, I would like to understand some of where they came from so I try to be open minded.  I’m guessing knowing them in college and post college has inspired me to write this blog and be more observant.

When I hear those songs from the eighties celebrating people from Africa and all over the world to join together, I think, this is why cities seem like the place to be these days and they make us a stronger community/country.  My Dad says the reason the United States is so strong is because of the people.  Maybe because we have so many different personalities, we are forced to deal with each in a positive way or go crazy.

I sometimes consider the people who are from a different country as being more sought out and getting special privilege.  I know, they must come from different circumstances and maybe when you are an outsider, you really do learn more and become stronger because of it.  With that being said, I remember seeing a Time or Newsweek article back in the nineties about what the average US person will look like in forty years with all the cultures intermingling and such.  And I keep hearing how “minorities” are becoming the majority around us, so those illegal aliens that we hire to nanny our kids and cook our food, might just be the ones to overrule us someday (a certain president comes to mind when I say that).

But anyway, one of the reasons why I feel like I can relate to those from other countries, (3rd world, 2nd world, and 1st world) is because I live a simpler life, or like to think that I do.  I sometimes do buy expensive food and do other artsy related activities, but I believe that simplicity is at the heart of all that and so I focus on being in the moment.

I know I’ve focused on hummus for the majority of this blog, but when I’m eating it, I feel like I am subsisting on my fair share of the world’s resources.  I also feel that one’s lifestyle is so important all over the world, which may explain why people from other countries view the US as living beyond their means.  But then I hear that other countries are adapting American ways and think that they are giving up their cultural identity to live like us.

I bet you’ve guessed how incredibly frugal I am from reading my blog right?  See, I don’t have much money, so I force myself to think that thrift stores are the wave of the future, cds are here to stay, going out to eat is a once in a blue moon thing, and oil is sooo last season.

pita breadI have always loved bread, but I know it’s not necessarily all that good for you.  A couple hundred years or so ago, white bread was considered a wealthy class food, while whole wheat bread (and probably barley, millet, and rye) were considered fit for the poor.  How times have changed.  Now the rich buy the more expensive grains like those mentioned above, while the poor eat the highly processed white bread.

Which brings me to pita bread.  Pita bread seems so free of chemicals, which is the way I see naan, french and Italian bread, and baguettes.  This may explain why artisan breads have found a home in America.  We just love the way other countries do bread.  I wonder how hoagie rolls and pizza dough originated?  People get so particular about their pizza and hoagies/ cheesesteaks, that I’m sure the Italians were adamant that their bread use the best ingredients.  Because bread really does make the meal.

I cook bread on my own sometimes.  I love making pizza, and have made pretzels, anadama bread, bread sticks, and rolls/biscuits.  It seems like there is a very big difference between processed bread/cakes/cookies, and the bread that we buy from artisan shops.  The differences seem huge and I hope we narrow that gap into something more presentable to the public.

Maybe these breads that colonials used to eat 200 or more years ago developed because we used to do hard labor like farming and fighting.   Now, in addition to the cornbread and whole wheat bread that have carried us to this point, we also have quick breads, cakes, cookies, etc…  These calorie heavy carbs are now a staple in American cooking.  We have a huge pastry and bread section in our grocery stores, plus lots of independent bakeries.

Maybe that is our downfall.  We have such a rich tradition to choose from like the banana nut breads and carrot cake and now cupcakes and anything chocolate that we forget our roots.   We never want to give up these sweet treats completely which explains the attraction to gluten free goodies.

Breaking bread is something we consider religious since the time of Jesus, but maybe we have gotten a little carried away with the habit since then.   Just look at our food pyramid.  It says we should eat 6-11 servings of carbohydrates a day and only 2-3 servings of beans, eggs, nuts, and meat.  I know if I followed that pyramid, I’d probably be somewhat heavy.  However, the Mediterranean food pyramid suggests not only eating bread daily, but also olives, fruits, beans, nuts, vegetables, cheese, and yogurt.  I wonder how many people eat by the pyramids anyway.

The Mesopotamia region (dating 3000 BC) had a difficult time starting one of the first civilizations.  This area, also called the Middle East, was among the most productive of its time, according to a Think Quest online article.  Now, it seems their centuries developed culture is being forgotten.  The crops from the 2500 BC time were flax, date palms, onions, barley, leeks, and fruit like figs and grapes to make wine.  I kind of wonder how the current Middle Eastern food culture was developed.  Maybe with globalization, even way back then, affected what we eat today.

The Mesopotamia region was historically dry, but yet had fertile soil due to the rivers that surrounded them.  Times have certainly changed since then and in the food culture as well.  Maybe wars have broken out in the Middle East due to the fact that they have all this history surrounding them and no one understands each other’s plight so they argue.

I read that whole wheat bread has surpassed white bread in sales in the US, according to the Chicago Tribune.  The classic American white bread these day is just packaged boring slices.  The new artisan bread seems more homey and harks back to another time where we appreciated fresh quality food.

I don’t really like heavy whole wheat bread.  It has to be somewhat airy and I LOVE the Whole Foods variety with seeds to accentuate that tough, hard living feeling.

I still can’t believe that white breads used to be for the rich as recently as 300 years ago!  This is could be because A: they didn’t know that whole wheat was more nutritious than white, B: they didn’t care that whole wheat was more nutritious, C:  Because white was more expensive to make than wheat back then, the rich just felt like it must be the better one to eat, or D: the poor secretly knew that they were better off eating the whole wheat bread, and went along with the age old tradition until the industrial revolution changed social lines.

the culture of yogurt…

March 19, 2013

yogurt

I looked up yogurt on wiki and evidently there are many different kinds of it in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and India.  I make my own yogurt sometimes, but I use a yogurt machine, so it probably isn’t the proper way to make it.

I’m also reading a book about fermentation and it explains the history of yogurt, how to make it, and the science behind yogurt cultures.  While American consumption of yogurt has increased 400% in the last thirty years, it still lags behind Europe and other countries.

Yogurt is clearly the most nutritious dairy out there.  We Americans eat only 12.8 pounds of yogurt per person a year while Europe eats as much as 60 pounds per person a year.

I was just at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and saw that this state and others like New York make dairy a high priority.  However, at the food court, milkshakes were sold (and very popular I might add) as the dairy product on display.

We clearly love our ice cream in America, but yogurt is not for everyone.  Maybe it’s a middle class thing.

There are 40 million Americans who are lactose intolerant.  Yogurt is better for lactose intolerant people as it contains certain bacteria that make it easier to digest.  90% of some African and Asian countries are lactose intolerant and 5% of Europeans in some parts.

Ice cream is definitely not considered good for us, but frozen yogurt is seen as a healthy alternative.  However, frozen yogurt has a lot of the same ingredients as ice cream like sugar, artificial flavoring, but has milk instead of the cream used in ice cream.

Yogurt has been around for tens of thousands of years, so it’s no wonder that it’s so popular and ingrained in so many different cultures all over the world, but Africa and until the 1960s, the US.  I don’t think the US knows how to treat yogurt with the same respect as the Mesopotamia region, but we are embracing it more and more, according to wiki.

When I was in China, where seemingly everyone is lactose intolerant, there was some ice cream and yogurt drinks sold.  Maybe these aren’t real dairy products.  I know a lot of people don’t think dairy is really even necessary to the body and is in fact bad for it.  Now, I don’t eat a whole lot of ice cream, but I do like milk and yogurt and of course, butter and cheese.  Maybe because America is so known for other dairy products like cheese, ice cream, and milk, we don’t fully enbrace yogurt.

I guess veganism is the real deal in Asia, as they have tofu and tons of produce to choose from instead of dairy products.  But of course, they eat eggs.  Maybe we the liberal set like to be vegan because it is more humane, but in Asia, it’s in their nature not to eat dairy and they have the constitution to eat other foods that Westerners might shun, like lotus, cabbage, bok choy, and a variety of beans.

grape leafMore and more leaves can be eaten these days.  Iceberg lettuce used to be all the rage a century ago or so, but now we have kale, chard, dandelion greens, spinach, arugula, bok choy, etc…  And the more obscure they are, the healthier they are for you, it seems!

And with the production of oil 100 years ago, more and more of these obscure leaves (and other fruit, vegetables, and the like) can be brought fresh to our grocery stores.  Which brings me to grape leaves.  These ancient relic are not in vogue with other leafy greens, maybe because they are not fresh and seem ancient.

Grape leaf rolls seem to be a delicacy, as opposed to kale, and the other leafy greens like spinach that we can eat in more and more ways.  We are so into the whole local, fresh movement here in America, that who would buy grape leaves when there’s so much more to choose from?

Grape leaves seem fruity and has the history of wine behind it.  It doesn’t look like you should eat them, but their history is thousands of years old.  The grape and wine are more nutritious than the leaf, but other leaves are more valuable than grape leaves, in terms of symbolism.  Fig, oak, strawberry, apple, beets, honeysuckle, and grape leaves all produce kinds of fruit (or nuts like acorns) of some sort, and their leaves are artistic and celebrated as symbols of happiness.

Grape leaves seem kind of gross; like we eat them just to pay tribute to the grape.  They’re edible and the grape must give them some flavor or vice versa.  It’s interesting that they are edible.  I don’t know of any other real food with a leaf in which we eat the leaf, unless you count beets!

Lettuce is really just something that’s come into their own in the last 100 years or so, but grape leaves have some history.

Grapevines were grown in Mesopotamia (which includes Greece, Turkey, and Arab countries) and it is in Greece where wine was invented.  Mind you, this was six thousands years before the Romans introduced wine to Britain and refined the wine process.  Grapes (and of course wine) are so huge everywhere in the world, but stuffed grape leaf rolls are not especially popular.  They’re probably a food that we feel we should eat to appreciate where wine comes from.

Maybe the under the radar wine countries that boast stuffed grape leaves (Romania, Turkey, Vietnam, Arabic, Bulgaria) would rather be proud of their stuffed grape leaves than their wine, because other countries far outstrip their wines’ quality and quantity.

So I made stuffed grape leaves today, and was super scared about making them because I didn’t want to have to eat all of them (there were like 50 grape leaves in a tiny bottle!).  I’ve had grape leaves before and wasn’t particularly pleased with the taste, but thought the stuffing would make up for the gag factor this time.  I decided to make a vegetarian stuffing with zucchini, carrots, eggplant, onion, and tomato, cilantro, and rice.

I guess they turned out ok because the filling tasted better than the leaf (thank God), but they seemed kind of old-fashioned.  However, since they are such a Middle Eastern food, I decided they must be good for me, and so with that, I will decidedly have one (or two) for dinner tonight and see what my college friend thinks of them when I take them to her house tomorrow night.

persia

What I know about Iran is that it seems to be very much its own country and most consistently does not like the USA, or at least doesn’t want to be influenced by them.  I’ve seen my share of Iranian films, such as (most recently) A Separation and a variety of films starring children (Children of Heaven, White Balloon, Color of Paradise, and Turtles can Fly) with themes of innocence and simplicity.  It seemed to me that a lot of the children in these movies were fending for themselves out in the real world during the Iran crisis.

The films seemed very upbeat and focused on beauty in the crazy life around them.  It was almost like their culture was under attack and the children were saving the country from collapse with their innocent view of the world.  But that’s only my reflection.

One writer, Richard Nelson Frye, says that Iran’s most prized possession is their culture, which makes me think that the US could learn a lot from them.  America seems so focused on influencing other countries with our “culture” that I can understand why there is so much friction between us and other countries; especially countries that have ancient history with governments that are forced to change with the times, such as those from the Middle East.

Iran has gone through a hell of a lot of changes in the past thirty to forty years, such as the overthrow of the government.   It’s weird how the Middle East seems so rich in some countries (in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait)  and so conflicted in others (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Israel).  However, USA influenced Israel may have the best of both worlds in this case.

Maybe they should all join together like the European Union, but there seems to be too much at stake and also seems to be too late for that, in terms of geography, people, culture and oil.   Does culture rule over commerce?  It seems like it’s the one thing we respect and won’t go to war over.  But I’ve heard of stories of US officials in Syria who loved the country and got killed; maybe they (conflicted Middle Eastern countries) think we’re trying to change them like the US does with every other country, and they have a great pride in who they are and don’t want to be reformed.  If I’m right, I feel that they have every reason to think their culture is greater than our’s, because who are we to judge their tens of thousands of years of culture with our 300 year old one?

I saw the movie Argo, which is about American hostages taken in by Iran during their revolution; I thought it was very interesting that the CIA faked being a film crew in Iran and got Iran’s respect by wanting to film a movie there.  It seems that if the US wanted to film movies in coming of age countries that need the business, then respecting their culture seems to be the way to go.  Just look at Iraq.  It’s right next to Iran and it seems like it needs some serious image counseling.  What if US overtakes Iraq completely?  Will we go to war with Iran if the Iraq war continues for another ten years?

But let’s switch topics now to what this blog is really about: food.

The thing about Persian food is it wants the best of both worlds: Indian and Middle Eastern.  Maybe that’s why it’s located in between the Middle East and Asia.  Iran has a great location and that, plus the oil, seems to be the making of a powerhouse.  But I digress.  I notice in looking at Persian menus that saffron is a favorite spice.  And almonds, pistachios, and citrus are other staples.  Persian food almost seems like a delicacy, like you have to be in the know to get the good stuff.

But I must cook something from Persia/Iran because they seem particular about their spices, cuisine, and culture.  I’ll be back soon with some (hopefully) authentic basmati rice with saffron, slivered almonds and orange peel.  I will try to cook the basmati rice in the correct way so it is fluffy.  Cheers!

Tabouleh in its purest form

I don’t eat tabouleh very much, probably because I hardly ever see it offered at stores.  Or I do see it, and it’s so expensive, but has like no calories.  It’s a salad that I’m not as familiar with as say a Cesear, or one with spinach, goat cheese, carrots, tomatoes; you know, gourmet.  So when I made it for the first time yesterday, I thought to myself, “why this is easier to make than stuff I usually make.”  I boiled 2 1/2 cups water with salt and added the bulgur wheat (high in fiber and protein I might add- and no fat).  I finely chopped about 3 cups of parsley (it said to add 1 cup of mint leaves but there’s no way I’m finding them anywhere this time of year).  And I chopped tomatoes and onions (you can add cucumber too) and added 1/3 cup each of lemon juice and olive oil.

It’s a pretty beautiful dish, and it made me feel very artistic making it.  One thing that strikes me though, is that parsley is such a common herb it seems like you could find it pretty much anywhere.  It kind of seems like grass.  Wikipedia says that it is very popular in the Middle East (tabouleh that is) and is a popular ethnic food in the Western countries.  But it’s probably healthier than some of the iceberg salads we’ve got going here in diners and such.  I know salads have moved up in the world here in America, but we have this import that has a lot of good stuff going for it.

Making tabouleh made me think of other herbs that are more rare such as cilantro and basil.  People either love or hate cilantro and its origins are Asian.  It is known to have medicinal qualities which may explain the aversion to it.

Basil is my favorite herb, if only because my parents have at least five basil plants every summer and I make big quantities of pesto every week until it withers up in the fall.  Wiki says it’s from India but has since traveled all over Asia.  Parsley seems so common I don’t really think of it as a delicacy like I do cilantro, basil, or even rosemary, thyme, and oregano.  Just think, you see it as a little sprig next to that filet mignon that usually gets ignored.

I was hiking in Washington state a couple years ago and my cousin made tabouleh on the Pacific Crest trail for my aunt and I and it seemed like there could easily have been some growing in a ravine near by.

And then when you talk about dried herbs, I think that’s blasphemy.  My culinary teacher said dried basil is a sin, but my Mom just got some dried basil from Italy that smelled pretty awesome.  Cilantro is known as coriander dried and I don’t use that much either.  Parsley, however, seems like it would be the same, or similar to regular parsley because it doesn’t seem as fragile.

But I do love tabouleh regardless, even if I don’t eat it as much as basil or cilantro dishes (and did you know these herbs have protein, fat, and fiber in them- tres bien!  So it’s better for you than those cheap salads we get at the super market- just scavange around your local park for some parsley and you could be on your way to living off the land!

Hot Potato, Cold Potato

December 7, 2012

Baked potatoes are pretty healthy, but when you have french fries and potato chips taking over the country (and maybe the planet for all I know), than we really should try to salvage some nutrition from them.   I have been loving sweet potatoes, which I read have more nutrients than regular white potatoes.  However, when I wikipediaed it, I found that they’re both pretty similar, with the only major difference being that sweet potatoes (30 mg) have more than twice the amount of calcium than regular potatoes (12 mg).

Did you know that the man who “invented” the Russet Burbank potato (that would be Luther Burbank) got famous because of it back in the 1870s.  He got really lucky because he found an abnormal potato with a seed pod and cultivated that into the Russet potato we know and love today.  Russett potatoes are the main potato used today, most of that which goes into fries and potato chips.

Another factoid is that more potatoes are grown in China, Russia, and India than the United States.

I was reading this book called, “An Edible History of Humanity,” and it was talking about the corn laws in England from the mid 1800s.  The so-called “Corn Laws,” referred to the mercantile system of England when corn producers didn’t want to have to compete with corn producers from other areas of the world.  It was repealed in 1850 in part due to the great famine in Ireland.  It’s kind of funny how I’ve never heard of corn laws in the US and we produce double the amount of corn than the second highest producer (China).

There are, however, soybean and potato laws in the US.  A controversial potato law from 1929 that was deemed unconstitutional and monsanto has specific laws regarding seeds with soybeans.  But maybe corn is so controlled by the government that we don’t know what goes on on those fields and factories.  Maybe they don’t want you to know, but just keep preaching that corn is wholesome (I believe this actually).  I mean, its been around for thousands of years so maybe it can’t really be anymore messed up!

I like to buy my food from local sources.  I have hand-picked strawberries, black berries, green beans, and cherries at local farms.  At my local dairy farm, I buy milk, eggs, butter, and ice cream straight from the source.  Now some may say that they are vegan, but I say I can’t afford to eat veggies, fruit, and other extreme vegan products all the time and I really don’t have the stomach to cook with them a whole lot either.  Some people are on the Atkins diet, but meat is expensive so I eat it sparingly because everything in moderation.

I buy my tahini and pita bread from my neighborhood Middle Eastern store, Oasis and my dried chickpeas, walnuts, almonds, produce, and the occasional samosa from a Patel’s Indian grocery store on the freeway.  I have even ventured the 5 miles away to an elite farm to buy grass fed milk, nitrate free bacon, and other gourmet groceries.  But then they closed, probably due to their elitism and I now shop at less expensive places.

But the food experience that is by far the richest for me is Arnold’s Way.  Arnold’s Way is a hippie commune of a place that makes and sells raw food products.  They make banana whips and green smoothies (with pureed kale, dates, bananas and apples), but mostly I just buy their raw food like bananas, apples, avocados, kale, spinach, dried mango, sunflower seeds, olive oil, honey, dates, and many other pure foods.  Every time I go there I always feel like I’ve traveled back to the 1960s and am at some folk rock concert.  Everyone there is celebrating peace and love and food it’s a place that feels so separate from corporate America.

But every food store has its place and I find that Whole Foods is good for things that I can never find anywhere else like cheeses, incredible produce, and bread that I could pay 10 dollars a loaf for and still not feel guilty about eating that many carbs.  One time, I was making my way around my local supermarkets looking for pumpkin because I found out there was this big freeze on pumpkin.  At Whole Foods, they were out, but the clerk suggested I try making sweet potato cookies instead and I made some for him.  Ah, food and flirting, what a perfect combination.

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