Monthly Archives: February 2009

I Heart Whole Foods

I just went for a fun lunch at Whole Foods with my friends from the gym, and saw that they started using reusable bowls for salads. Yay! No more wasting a container, even if it is compostable.

Here’s my yummy, GIANT salad. I felt very Kath-like.
Lettuce, baby greens
Radishes
Corn
Black rice (?) and cashews
Beets
Beet & carrot salad
Red onions
Kale & red onion salad
Blue cheese & Cheddar
Sprinkle of pumpkin seeds
3 candied walnuts
Artichoke hearts (I forgot I don’t really like these marinated!)
Roasted tomatoes
Hummus
Mango/chickpea salad
1 piece of kung pao tofu salad
A few grapes and a blueberry (boo – wasn’t thinking. These are probably from Chile. Bad green girl!)
Side of balsamic – boo for plastic! I should have just drizzled a little over the top. Next time!

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And then I added my own Wildwood super firm tofu that I sauteed this morning at home. I figured it was heavy, and I had it at home anyway, so I might as well bring it myself and save some cash. This giant salad only cost $6.71!

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Things I would change: bring my own fork (I need to figure out an easy way to keep a real fork clean in my purse). I appreciate the fact that they use compostable ones (and provide a compost bin, in addition to recycling & trash) but it’s still more wasteful than bringing your own! I’d also drizzle the salad dressing over the top and skip the fruit.

But, this was a fun, nutritious and relatively eco-friendly way to spend lunch! I usually bring my own, but it was fun to catch up with my friends and check out cute boys at Whole Foods. 😉

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Going Organic in a Tough Economy

People often tell me that they’d like to eat organic, but that it’s too expensive, especially in these tough economic times. I understand – trust me. Money is definitely tight for me lately, as I know it is for many, many people. However, I think it comes down to priorities. You – yes, you! – can afford organic if you want to. It’s a matter of how you choose to spend your money. My sister, who I really admire and look up to (despite her being younger than me. She is taller, though, so it still works!), is currently looking for work, and money is very, very tight, but she will absolutely not sacrifice the quality of the food she buys, for environmental, health, and other reasons, such as supporting local farmers. I feel the same way – what I put into my body is very important, and I am not willing to sacrifice that, or deal with the environmental impacts that go along with eating foods ridden with pesticides and grown in unnatural and scary ways. There are other ways I can cut back, such as cooking more at home, bringing my lunch, not buying a ton of stuff I don’t really need, etc. Conveniently, many of these are the more eco-friendly way to go as well! Though I spend more on groceries than many of my friends, cooking a lot of my own food, even organic food, is definitely cheaper than eating out most of the time.

I just read a statistic in Eating Well that said choosing organic foods can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 68%. I’ll have to do a little more research as I don’t like blindly reporting statistics without knowing where they came from (though I guess I kind of just did, heh), but really, there is nothing to lose by going organic, not even money. It’s better for the environment, it’s better for your body, and it can even be better for your local economy. One note: pay attention to where the food is from! I would never suggest eating organic if the only food you can find is imported from very far away. I definitely plan on doing a local vs. organic post in the near future, but paying attention to food labels and information is key.

Here are some tips to help you eat organic, on a budget!

1. Shop Farmers Markets! This tip is given often for a reason – it’s a good one! Farmers Markets have a bounty of delicious, affordable, local, in-season produce. Plus, you often get to interact with the people who actually grew your food – how cool is that? You’re putting money into your local economy, directly to the people who give you the food that will nourish you. Win-win. Something to note: just because a farm stand at the Market is not listed as organic does not necessarily mean they are not organic, or grow their products with pesticides. Often the process of becoming Certified Organic is far too expensive for small farms, but you can absolutely ask them how they grow their products. Also, I just read about an organization called Certified Naturally Grown which was created to “provide an alternative way to assure their customers that they observed strict growing practices. CNG strives to strengthen the organic movement by removing financial barriers to certification that tend to exclude smaller direct-market farms, while preserving high standards for natural production methods.” Very cool.

Find your local Farmers Market using Local Harvest

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(Farmers Market in summer)

2. Join a CSA. Similar to a Farmers Market, CSAs allow you to get produce directly from Farmers. Mine is super affordable – I believe I pay $17.50 a week for an Extra Small bag, which has 6 items (one item could be a bunch of carrots, 5 apples, a head of broccoli, a bag of Brussels sprouts, etc). I like to pay by the season so the Farmers know they have money coming in!

3. Grow your own. This is an option I would like to explore, but have not yet. I really want to attempt to grow some herbs and easy vegetables up on my rooftop. I need to do a little more research on what grows well in this foggy climate!

4. Buy in bulk. I would like to do a further post on this as well, after I go to a great local co-op in the next few days. Most natural foods stores, and even some larger chain grocery stores, if that’s all you have nearby, sell all kinds of food in bulk. My favorite co-op, Rainbow Grocery, sells everything from nuts and oats to shampoo and laundry detergent in bulk. You can save money and save plastic and other packaging at the same time, by bringing your own containers to refill. Sweet!

5. Buy what’s in on sale season, and freeze it yourself. Produce that is in season often goes on sale when it is abundant – think berries in the summer, etc. I had the “Extra Strawberry Package” from my CSA over the summer, and got 3 containers of strawberries a week. Next summer, I plan on freezing what I can’t eat so I can have delicious organic fruit-year round. Eating by the season is wonderful, and we have seasons for a reason. Down with off-season berries from Mexico! I plan to do some posts on how to freeze fruits and veggies in the future.

Those are just a few tips to get you started! Let me know if you have any questions or need any help getting started on eating organic/local – I obviously love to talk about it!

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What I’m Cooking Today: Local Exotic

A few weeks ago, I picked up a pack of Certified Humane beef at Prather Ranch in the Ferry Building. I wasn’t ready to use it right away, so I threw it in the freezer and brought it out this week. I don’t normally eat a lot of red meat, but enjoy high quality, ethically-raised beef from time to time. I bought almost a pound, though, which poses a bit of a problem – I had to eat it all! I hate to waste any food, but especially meat – if an animal died to feed me, I definitely want to eat it! I suppose I could have frozen it in individual batches, but I didn’t think that far ahead. So it was time to get creative! I made a burger with shallots, and topped with sauteed organic mushrooms, avocado (from my CSA) and organic ketchup yesterday, but today I wanted something different.

I hate to admit it, but when I’m looking for an easy recipe without too many complicated ingredients, I turn to Rachael Ray. I know, I know. She annoys me on TV, but she does have some good, easy and nutritious recipes. I searched for ground beef on her magazine website, and came up with this recipe for Moroccan Beef Patties. I’m a big fan of meat and cinnamon – I’m dying to try this bastilla recipe my friend Kim posted a few weeks back. I adjusted the recipe a bit – I had only about 3 1/2 ounces of meat left (I also made a meat sauce to save for later this week), so I adjusted down the spices, cut out the olive oil, and it made only 2 patties. On the side, I made whole wheat couscous with toasted almonds (toasted on the stovetop – it was 1-2 minutes on the stove vs. 10-15 in the oven, an easy decision to save energy) and roasted cauliflower. If I had been thinking ahead, I would have toasted the almonds while I roasted the cauliflower, but I did the veggies a few hours early. I mixed the couscous it with a dressing of wild mountain honey, white balsamic vinegar, local (yay!) olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. YUM! The patties were great and the couscous was awesome. I would have loved to throw in some parsley or mint, but I didn’t have any on hand. The plate definitely lacks some color, and my photography skills leave something to be desired (I’m thinking about taking a class), but it was a great meal!

Local olive oil!
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Check out that steam!
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Save some plastic, yo(gurt)!

I’m a big fan of yogurt, but not, obviously, a fan of plastic. I try to buy the large cartons of plain yogurt (my favorites are Nancy’s Organic, followed by Clover) and flavor them myself with fruit, honey, jam, etc, but occasionally I get sucked in by fun flavors (pink grapefruit! vanilla bean! Bartlett pear!) and buy the individual containers. Bad Green Girl! Must stop this behavior!

I made homemade yogurt once before with my friends Sophie and Jen, allowing it to sit overnight in a warm water bath. However, I don’t quite have the cooking and scientific skills of Sophie, so I decided a yogurt maker might be my best bet. Inspired by this post on 101 Cookbooks, I ordered a Salton yogurt maker, picked up some organic milk (1 quart), some plain organic yogurt (you need 1/2 cup), and a thermometer, and set to work!

Here’s how to do it! It’s super easy, and how cool is it to say you made your own yogurt?

I started with a quart of Clover Organic 1% milk (I generally buy Straus milk, since it comes in glass bottles (love!), but Sophie had mentioned that it makes a runnier yogurt. While I love Straus milk, I do find their yogurt to be a little thin for me. Plus, my friend Jen knew some of the Clover-Stornetta folks growing up – they shared farmland – and says they’re good people. Plus, they’re local! God, I love Northern California).

Pour the milk into a saucepan, and heat to approximately 170 degrees, measuring with a thermometer. Do not let the milk boil (you can see in this image I may have let it bubble a bit too much).

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Let the milk cool to approximately 110 degrees. This will take a little while, so be patient! While it is cooling, plug in your yogurt maker and allow it to preheat.

Once milk has cooled, add a little bit of it to your 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (I used Nancy’s Organic nonfat). Then mix the yogurt/milk mixture back in with the rest of the milk. I skipped the step of adding powdered milk, because I used 1% which already contained it, but I might try it next time (see notes at end). Then, pour into the preheated yogurt maker (anyone else thinks this thing looks like R2-D2?). You can see that I saved a large yogurt container to pour the finished good into!

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Leave milk in yogurt maker for 4-8 hours, depending on the consistency you are looking for. According to the instructions that came with the maker, a longer time will make for a tarter yogurt. I intended to leave the yogurt overnight for 8 hours, but happened to wake up at 4am (I placed the milk in the maker at around 10pm) and it looked pretty yogurty at this point, so I unplugged and refrigerated. There was a bit of a yellow liquid on top from the milk, but I poured this off.

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And that’s it! Refrigerate the yogurt for a few hours after it is finished, and enjoy with your favorite toppings! I love jam, frozen (defrosted) berries, honey, chopped apples, etc. So far, I’ve had it once with honey, and twice with strawberry jam. Yum!

Notes: The yogurt has a delicious flavor, but came out a bit lumpy. I am going to play around with different starters, types of milk, time in the maker, and adding powdered milk. I may also try straining the finished product with cheesecloth to make a thicker, Greek-style yogurt, which I love. All in all the yogurt tastes great, and I saved plastic! The maker is obviously made of plastic, but I’ll use it many, many times instead of buying a new plastic carton of yogurt! Does anyone with experience making yogurt have any tips about the lumps?

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The Sushi Lover’s Dilemma

For years, I didn’t eat sushi, because I was afraid of the texture. I finally got hooked on it a few years ago – delicious! I didn’t know what I was missing. But as I’ve learned more about environmental issues, I faced a dilemma: many of the fish served at sushi restaurants are overfished, harming other ocean life, and causing other detrimental effects on the environment (c’mon, people – don’t you want your grandchildren to be able to eat sushi?). What’s a raw-fish-loving girl to do? Luckily, the Monterey Bay Aquarium came to the rescue! They publish excellent Seafood Watch Guides, suggesting Best Choices and Good Alternatives (and which choices to avoid) for fish in general, and they just came out with a guide for sushi using names you would see on the menu at Japanese restaurants. You can download the Sushi Pocket Guide here.

The Blue Ocean Institute also has general fish and sushi guides, and has a really neat texting feature. You simply text FISH and the name of the fish you are inquiring about (eg FISH TUNA) to 30644 and you’ll get a response to help inform your decisions. Here’s the response I got to the example above:

pole or troll caught (GREEN) very few environmental concerns; purse seine or longline caught (YELLOW) some env concerns, HEALTH ADVISORY: high mercury; bluefin tuna (RED) significant enc problems. HEALTH ADVISORY: high mercury

(Obviously, Green means GO, Yellow is a maybe – though I’d avoid it myself – and Red is an absolute No-GO. This response also highlights the importance of asking how your fish was caught, and where it is from!)

Lest you think eating sustainable sushi means you’ll be missing out, check out the offerings at this fabulous local restaurant in SF, Tataki. On a recent trip there, I had some of the most delicious, fresh sushi I’ve ever had, and it tasted even better eating it with a clear conscience! I realize I am very lucky to have access to a restaurant like this (gotta love the Bay Area). Hopefully the trend of sustainable sushi joints will take off, but if not, you can come prepared with your guide, order smartly, and leave these Become Aware and Thank You Cards at your favorite restaurant, encouraging them to start serving sustainable choices, or thanking them for already doing so!
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