Archive for February, 2010
By now everyone has probably heard of the Forbes article designating Cleveland as the distinguished “most miserable city” in the US. Among Cleveland’s many accomplishments listed in this article are its nickname (from the 50s), its failing sports teams (hello, CAVs?), and its political corruption (ok, they’ve got us on that one). Call me crazy, but something about this article is just plain un-American. Normally I don’t throw that kind of terminology around, as I’m against blind appeals to nationalism, fear/safety, and other emotion-inducing propaganda, but this time I’m making an exception. We have a culture that loves the under-dog, embraces optimism and positive change, and puts a tremendous amount of importance and pride on working hard for the future good. Therefore, this big, money and fame loving magazine creating a wildly generalized list of ”miserable” cities (talk about kicking communities while they’re down) just seems in poor spirit. I’m surprised the issue even sells.
But what really irks me about this article is its flawed methodology (yes, it’s time for economic smack-talk). As an economist by training, I’m surprised how poorly designed this ranking system really is. It doesn’t take a genius (or therapist) to know that unhappiness isn’t solely determined by what’s going poorly (likewise, happiness isn’t only determined by what’s going well). It has a lot more to do with the balance between the two. And Cleveland, while we have our flaws, has A LOT of good, even excellent, attributes. Honestly we’re a little too modest about a lot of them. Q104 put together a nice little list of things we can and should brag about. My favorite things about Cleveland include the cost of living, the awesome restaurant scene, the ethnic diversity, University circle (museums and orchestra esp), Little Italy, the absolutely gorgeous historic neighborhoods (that I can afford to live in), and the metroparks. That is to name just a few.
Calling a city miserable because it has a few political a-holes and some bad weather is a little like calling a day in which I eat some ice cream and a piece of pizza a nutritional waste, even if I also ate oatmeal, a pound of kale and a veggie and brown rice salad (sorry, this is supposed to be a nutritional column after all). It omits the good, which is at least half of the equation. So Clevelanders, I say focus on the positive. When people come here from out of town/state/country to visit they’re rarely disappointed – in fact they’re usually pleasantly delighted. In fact we could do ourselves a favor by getting out a little more and discovering the joys our community has to offer. How many people have never ridden their bike along the Towpath? Or seen a play at Playhouse Square? Or checked out Michael Symon’s newest restaurant? It’s good times. Go out, have some fun, and tell people about it. Spread the joy. It’s the best way I can think of to kick this nonsensical negativity.
Yes, Sardines. I love talking with clients about the glories of the Sardine, partly because they’re so surprised. Many recall how they were army rations for their parents. You have to wonder- if people survived in deplorable conditions, away from sunlight and fresh foods, for months on end, without major malnutrition – how impressive was that canned food? The superfood nature of the sardine is largely due to its high concentration of DHA and EPA – the most powerful Omega-3s. One small can of sardines (1 serving size) has 2 grams of these omegas – the same as 4 pills of my fish oil supplements. Omega-3s, as you probably already know, are powerful anti-inflammatories, and can reduce your risk for heart disease, alzheimer’s, aches and pains, and a host of other ailments. But this is not the only attribute to the sardine – it’s also extremely high in B12, which helps protect your blood vessels from damage, and thus prevents heart disease. And, it’s also quite high in Vitamin D, the nutrient that we get (or don’t here in Cleveland) from sunlight. There is mounting research on the benefits of Vitamin D to prevent disease, including cancer. One final nugget, because I’ve been studying a lot about the connection between mood and food lately, sardines are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is a pre-cursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical that makes us happy, relaxed, content, and contributes to good sleep. Eating sardines can literally make you happy.
So how should you enjoy these little guys? How about a simple sardine salad sandwich? Make it just like tuna salad! Mix a can or two of sardines with a spoon of mayo (I prefer canola-based mayo), and add in some diced onion, a spoon of mustard, salt, pepper, and some relish if you’re feeling feisty. Put it on a tasty whole grain bread with some lettuce, tomato, avocado, or other sandwich topper. Or warm yourself up with an open-faced sardine sandwich melt by topping the salad with some melted cheese. If you’re nervous, don’t be – it tastes a lot like tuna, and I think it’s even better. Happy eating!
People ask me all the time – which foods are most important to buy organic? I’ve seen many lists of top 10s, and they tend to vary, so generally my advice is to buy organic whenever possible (why eat dangerous herbicides and pesticides when you don’t have to?), especially when you’re eating the skin of the fruit or vegetable. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the dangers of these chemicals – many of the most commonly used chemicals on fruits and vegetables act as carcinogens (cause cancer), endocrine disruptors (meaning they mimic the effects of hormones in the body), and/or nervous system disruptors (they screw up the system that maintains your nerves and nerve impulses). That’s scary stuff – and we don’t really know the long-term effects of small exposure over time. Most of us have traces of these chemicals detectable in our bodies.
That said, it is helpful to know the worst offenders, and whether there is anything conventionally grown that isn’t a large risk. The Environmental Working Group, a public and environmental health non-profit, conducted extensive research on 47 differents fruits and vegetables to create their Dirty Dozen list of 12 common fruits and vegetables that are most highly contaminated with pesticide and herbicide residue. They ranked the list based on consistency of residue found (percent of product tested), quantity of residue found, and number of different chemicals found. They scored all fruits and veggies based on a 100-1 scale, worst to best, so that you the consumer can understand what your risk of exposure is with any of the tested products. The worst offenders are peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, and nectarines, followed closely by strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, and imported grapes. The good news? Turns out we can relax a little on onions and avocados, where 90 percent of the products tested had no residue detected. Keep in mind that chemical residue varies tremendously product to product, producer to producer- the above research indicates averages.
If this stuff freaks you out, here are a few tips to help control your exposure to dangerous chemicals, on top of buying organic:
1) It’s always a good idea to give your produce a good wash (diluted vinegar works just as well as those veggie washes!) before eating – conventional or organic. You can wash a lot of the exterior residue off. Don’t forget to wash your organics too. In tests they certainly have less residue than conventional, but they can still contain some simply due to proximity to conventional produce, nearby farm run-off, etc.
2) Check out your small local farms. In NEO we have such a vibrant farming community. Smaller farms tend to be more conscientious about using chemicals, and it’s great to be able to ask the farmer directly about their practices. Check out my resources tab for some local farmers market info.
3) And whatever you do, don’t let fear of chemicals prevent you from eating these delicious and nutritious foods. Do what you can to reduce exposure, but it’s better to eat conventional fruits and vegetables than to not eat any.
For more info, check out the Environmental Working Group’s website, they have lots of great info. Happy eating!
I woke up this saturday thinking about buckwheat pancakes (I usually wake up thinking about food!), and ended up inspired to make these as something a little special. I was so happy with how they turned out! I want to make more and keep them around for quick breakfasts and snacks, they’re so versatile. Buckwheat flour is traditionally used in France for savory crepes and it has a delicious nutty flavor. I found they’re just as good with fruit fillings.
Whole buckwheat is a whole grain that is good for your heart, is high in the phytonutrient rutin -which acts as an antioxidant, high in magnesium (which has been proven to help many migraine suffers!), and is gluten-free. Buckwheat has no relation to wheat – it’s actually not a cereal grain, but a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb.
From How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
1 cup buckwheat flour
¼ cup regular flour (or substitute gluten-free baking mix)
½ cup milk (I used rice milk)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar (or honey, agave, etc, optional)
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for cooking
1) Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. You can do this in a blender.
2) If possible, let the batter rest in the refrigerator for 1-24 hours. If time doesn’t allow, go ahead.
3) Put an 8-10 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat until hot. Use a heat resistant (i.e. silicon) cooking brush to brush a little melted butter around the surface of the pan. Ladle or pour a few tablespoons of the batter into the pan and immediately swirl the pan so that the batter coats the bottom in a thin layer.
4) When the top of the crepe is dry, after about a minute, turn and cook the other side for about 30 seconds. The crepe should be only slightly brown on both sides
5) After each crepe, re-butter the bottom of the pan with a brush. You can stack the crepes on a plate, or keep them warm in a low oven. Or, you can fill the crepes while they’re still warm in the pan.
6) You can make the crepes one day ahead and store, tightly wrapped in the fridge.
Tasty crepe fillings:
- Eggs and cheese
- Homemade fruit filling (take any frozen berry or fruit, put into a med sauce pan with a squeeze of lemon and a little honey or agave nectar, and heat until simmering. Reduce until slightly think – mixture will thicken more as it cools)
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Sautéed green vegetables such as asparagus or spinach
An awesome article on food labeling tricks and falsehoods appeared today on yahoo. Here’s a sampling of the fascinating doozies that the article exposes:
- Some products that advertise that they “contain whole grains” actually use carmel color to mimic the brown color that would appear from whole grains, while containing almost none of the good stuff. Instead their main ingredients are refined flour, salt, and sugar.
- Ingredients on food labels are listed in the order of greatest to least quantity, however there isn’t a clear way to aggregate ingredients when they appear under multiple names. For example high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, juice concentrates, fructose, etc are all sugars. A product could be 75% or more sugar but you can be mislead when the first ingredient on the label isn’t sugar.
- “Real fruit” marketing on products, which are typically targeted at kids, only technically need to contain a trace of fruit juice concentrate, =sugar. This is like squeezing a raisin and then dumping in a bunch of other sugar. Not the same thing as fruit.
- Fiber – apparently the fiber that is being added to multiple products (juices, powders, bars, etc) is inulin – a synthetic commercially manufactured product that does not act in the body like a natural fiber. That means no health benefits. But it shows up as fiber on the label.
- And my personal favorite, outrageous health claims. Kellog’s Cocoa Krispies recently tried to claim that their cereal improves kids’ immune system function. The FDA stepped in on this one, but there are plenty of other sketchy claims out that play on health claims like intelligence, heart health, cure cancer, etc. Unfortunately most packaged products are heavy in cheap ingredients – enriched flours and sugars, that outweight the benefits of any fringe ingredients. But the marketing focuses on those fringes.
It’s a great article and I encourage you to read the whole thing. Food marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s convincing! Learning what to look out for will help you make smarter decisions, be healthier, and provide nutritious foods to your family.
Is the winter cold and lack of sun getting you down? Here’s a great way to warm your body and soul and rejuvenate your entire system. This recipe has nutritious dark greens, creamy potatoes, and satisfying spicey chorizo sausage, which pairs incredibly with the greens. (If your kids, or grown-up “kid” doesn’t like greens, pairing them with a high-quality sausage is a great way to make the taste irresistable. You can even make the sausage look like little meatballs..Look for sausage that was made from hormone and antibiotic-free meat and isn’t preserved with nitrites/nitrates). The benefits of kale, my favorite superfood, are absolutely incredible. Not only is it being studied for its ability to prevent cancer, it’s also beneficial for your vision, lungs, can improve arthritis, is high in calcium, and the list goes on. Take the leftovers for an easy lunch at work.
Potato Soup with Kale and Chorizo, recipe from Bon Appetit
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion; cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add chorizo and paprika; stir 1 minute. Add potatoes and broth. Increase heat and bring to boil. Add kale; stir until wilted and soup returns to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cool, then cover and chill. Rewarm before serving.
For an extra treat, serve with a crusty whole grain bread from a local bakery, and butter from one of our great local farms!