Category Archives: Food & Recipes

Good News Monday: Cooking During COVID

I can’t remember the last time we ate at a restaurant. By which I mean inside, not grabbing takeout. I’m all for cooking at home but it’s begun to feel a little, well, punitive.

So I was happy to read that being forced to cook more during lockdown has an upside: developing healthier eating habits, according to preliminary results from a worldwide Corona Cooking Survey.

11,000 people in 11 countries have weighed in, reporting fewer purchases of microwave foods and sweet or salty snacks. At the same time, consumers say they’re eating more fruits and veggies, wasting less food, and eating more leftovers.

“Consumption of salty, fat and sweet products usually goes up when people are under stress, but during the pandemic this heightened craving has been fulfilled in many countries with home-baked delicacies,” said Charlotte De Backer, chairman of FOOMS, a research group on food and media at U. Antwerp.

She probably didn’t mean this as a license to go crazy making endless batches of cookies but hey, the very act of baking is a terrific stress reliever. One takes solace where one finds it.

De Backer expects some of these new eating habits to outlast the pandemic, because the lockdowns have been longer than the six weeks it takes to form a new habit.

FOOMS posts updates on the Corona Cooking Survey research on their Facebook page, and anyone who’s interested in participating can take the survey on the U. Antwerp website.

If only I had a recipe for broccoli brownies.

COVID-19 Spending and Saving

Perhaps the only upside to what I call the “pandammit” is that I’m not shopping like a drunken socialite, to quote my friend S. Which doesn’t mean I’ve stopped shopping altogether; it’s more that I’m buying different things.

Big-ticket items flew out the window as life got simpler and our activities remain close to home. Meanwhile, entire categories (hello, hand sanitizer) became essentials. What a topsy-turvy world! (Google reports that the expression “may be an adaptation of the medieval verb ‘tirve’, meaning ‘to turn or to topple over’. It has also been suggested that ‘turvy’ is an allusion to ‘turf’ and that ‘topsy-turvy’ means ‘with one’s head on the turf’.”) 

Spending more

  • Amazon – miscellaneous household items, esp. hard to get stuff
  • Whole Foods delivery in the early months
  • Fresh fruits and veggies from farmers’ market and small specialty grocers
  • Cooking gadgets
  • Wine and booze – do you even have to ask why?
  • TV streaming services
  • Zoom membership
  • Books
  • Vitamins, supplements, acetaminophen PM
  • Face masks — whoever predicted one would need a wardrobe of these?!
  • Cute socks
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Fresh flowers to maintain sanity and illusion of elegant normalcy

Saving more

  • Makeup, especially lipstick – kind of pointless when wearing a mask, no?
  • Hair salon – spreading out appointments and doing trimming/touch-ups myself until desperate
  • Pedicures – My toes are not worth dying for
  • Restaurants
  • New clothes – to go where, exactly?
  • Travel
  • Cultural events/theatre/opera tix
  • Massages and facials (see pedicure)

Yep, things are definitely tirving these days.

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The Pandemic Ten

Remember the “freshman 15”, aka the pounds everyone seemed to gain their first year at college? It’s déjà vu all over again.

Back in the day, the culprits were pizza, beer (and/or weed), and nerve-wracking new experiences like late-night cramming and unprecedented freedom.

This is different, and not just because I’m older. Month after month of the same old, same old has led to inertia and tedium with a constant low hum of anxiety buzzing along underneath.

I don’t really care what the government is recommending… Dear Husband and I are staying put except for essential and unavoidable tasks. Since we can’t travel or eat out with friends, we’ve amused ourselves by cooking food from different cultures and pretending to be elsewhere. Unlike traveling, however, we are not burning calories by walking extra miles through cities, museums, and the like. Even my Fitbit is bored.  The result: packing on extra poundage like a wild animal in captivity.

Like many of you, I eat when I’m stressed even if I’m not physically hungry. And what I’ve realized, as my own little world keeps shrinking — while I’m not — is how many of my essential needs aren’t being met… which leads to stress… which leads to snacking.

  • Order and control. Toss this one right out the window. We have no idea when this will end and can’t do much about it except to continue social distancing and wearing a mask. Plus, staying informed is highly overrated when so much of the news is just plain sickening.
  • Anticipation. It’s hard to plan for a trip or special event when there’s nothing on the calendar.  And being worried about catching the virus en route does dim one’s enthusiasm.
  • Personal space.  If you’re someone who needs lots of alone time, a pandemic is not your friend.
  • Sleep. Stress and worry make sleep elusive, or fitful at best. Which in turn affects your body’s balance of the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. When the body is sleep-deprived, ghrelin levels spike, while the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger, especially for junk food. (I don’t know how it knows, but it does.)
  • Variety of experiences. When going to the grocery store is the weekly highlight, life’s a little blah no matter how nice your home or neighborhood is.

Anyway, it’s useful to know the triggers. Now I need to get serious about my action plan, as I refuse to buy a larger-size wardrobe. Who’s with me?

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Wistful Thinking

There are so many things I miss these days, from the prosaic to the profound.  Among them:

  • Free samples at Costco and Trader Joe’s
  • Visiting with my kids
  • Dinner out with friends
  • Responsible government leadership
  • A proper haircut
  • A decent pedicure
  • My group exercise class
  • Anxiety-free sleep
  • News that’s actually news
  • Space to roam
  • My waistline

But perhaps the one thing I miss most of all is the anticipation of upcoming travel.  For those of us who love a change of scenery — whether exotic or familiar — there is something deeply satisfying about planning a trip down to the last detail, while leaving lots of room for unexpected developments. (The good kind, not the “oh s*** I’m suddenly quarantined in a foreign country” kind.)

I’m enjoying vicarious adventures through other bloggers’ posts, but we all know it’s hardly the same.  Having cancelled our London trip planned for March, and now deciding not to play “beat the odds” with the trip to France we’d scheduled for this summer, I feel a bit adrift.

And wondering… what do YOU miss most these days?

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To Brie or Not to Brie

Armed with gloves, Purell and facemasks, we sallied forth this morning to explore the dangerous terrain of a grocery store.  Terra incognita for over a month, we’d finally caved to the need for items beyond Amazon’s ability to deliver.

First, a great deal of strategy was required.  The store needed to be overpriced and inconveniently located, so as to attract the fewest customers. The shopping list needed to be air tight, with no room for impulse buys or backtracking through aisles already traveled. All equipment needed to be checked in advance for pinholes through which sneaky microbes might invade. Sanitizer needed to be at the ready.  Ditto, credit card… no fumbling for cash.

Upon arrival, we spotted a few other intrepid souls, all great distances apart and moving cautiously.  We carefully stalked the produce section, standing well back to furtively scan the available items before plunging into the fray.  While no one seemed interested in artichokes, we did note a mysterious convergence in the imported cheese section.  Pasta was also dangerously populated and best avoided.

For approximately the price of a skydiving session, we completed our daring expedition and emerged triumphant with empty wallets and a full cart. I, for one, am exhausted by all this exertion and plan to take to my couch with the vapors.

As the famous Earl Nightingale quote has it: “Wherever there is danger, there lurks opportunity; whenever there is opportunity, there lurks danger.”  Hopefully, the crisis will be resolved soon.  There’s only so much excitement I can tolerate.

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Hot Stuff

I’m finding cooking to be a major antidote to boredom and anxiety during these trying times.  (Unfortunately, so is eating… but that’s a topic for another time.) Recently, our daughter B suggested I write about mustard. Can’t remember what prompted this, but here goes.

Did you know that mustard is one of the world’s oldest condiments? According to my “deep” Internet dive, the Romans used to grind mustard seeds with grape juice (called must) to create a spicy paste known as mustum ardens (“burning must”) in Latin. Travelers brought mustard seeds to Gaul, where they were planted in vineyards alongside the grapes. French monasteries cultivated and sold mustard as early as the ninth century, and the condiment was available in Paris by the 13th century.

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Very simply, mustard is a combination of the ground seeds of the mustard plant and some form of liquid such as water, vinegar, lemon juice, or wine. Different types of each create different varieties: some sweet, some spicy, some eye-wateringly hot. While the level of heat is mostly related to the style of seed—yellow seeds are mild, while brown and black seeds are spicier— it’s the liquid that activates their natural enzymes and determines a mustard’s potency.

These enzymes convert to mustard oil once the seed is broken. The more acidic the liquid, the longer lasting the burn will be; less acidic mustards tend to be quite pungent at first, but quickly lose their punch.

Generally low calorie, especially compared with condiments like mayonnaise, mustard also provides important nutrients. Mustard leaves contain significant amounts of calcium, vitamins A, C, K, and copper, while the seeds are rich in fiber, selenium, magnesium, and manganese.

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What follows is adapted from an article at spoonuniversity.com, which includes recipe suggestions.

YELLOW mustard (aka ballpark mustard) is the most basic. Made from yellow mustard seeds and vinegar, it gets its yellow color from turmeric. It’s one of the mildest types of mustard, popular on hot dogs and other sandwiches.  I think of it as “starter” mustard.

DIJON takes mustard to the next level. White wine is used instead of vinegar, and the seeds are brown rather than yellow.  This results in a complex flavor with more of a bite, perfect for salad dressing, potato salad, and sauces for fish and chicken.

SPICY BROWN mustard is made with coarsely-ground brown mustard seeds that offer more heat than classic yellow or Dijon, along with turmeric and a combination of spices such as allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Commonly found in delis, the warm flavor goes beautifully with meat.

Too tame? HORSERADISH MUSTARD packs even more heat.

HOT MUSTARD You’ll find this searingly hot mustard in most Chinese restaurants. What makes it so brutally strong is that brown or black mustard seeds are mixed with water. These seeds are naturally more pungent than yellow seeds, due to their alkaline nature. An acidic liquid– like the vinegar used in yellow mustard — would calm that natural heat, while water’s neutral ph lets it go roaring forth.  Your sinuses know what I’m talking about.

WHOLE GRAIN This is more of a manufacturing process than a type of mustard—as the name suggests, the seeds are essentially whole. Type of seeds and mixing liquid can vary, with most brands available in the store featuring brown mustard seeds mixed with white wine.  Expect a flavor similar to that of Dijon with a coarser texture that pairs well with cheese, potato salad, and sandwiches.

STONE GROUND mustard is the middle ground between smooth Dijon and the chewiness of whole grain. Most commonly, brown seeds are ground between two stones in the form of a mortar and pestle. This type of mustard is typically made with vinegar, and has a little more heat than yellow mustard with less spice than brown mustard.

HONEY MUSTARD is both sweet and tangy and works well in salad dressing, especially to soften the taste of bitter greens such as kale. You can whip some up yourself by mixing your mustard of choice with honey in a 1:1 ratio. Use half as much honey if you prefer less sweetness than commercial brands.

Do you have a favorite type? Or a recipe to share?

 

Good News Monday: Rotten Luck

Garbage: it’s not just for landfills anymore! A company in New York City has created an all-purpose cleaner made from 97% food waste plus 3% sustainably sourced natural fragrance. Lab tests indicate that it’s 99% effective at cleaning tough dirt from multiple surfaces.

Rather than adding water — which accounts for as much as 90% in most household cleaners — all the liquid in this product is directly derived from the recycled food waste.

And instead of a plastic spray bottle that might or might not get recycled, the product comes in a refillable aluminum bottle.

How’s that for cleaning up a mess?

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Gobble, gobble: US Edition

Happy Thanksgiving, dear US readers!

If you’re wondering what wine to bring or serve with turkey, here are the top suggestions, according to a search of the all-knowing Internet:

  • Chardonnay.
  • Pinot Noir.
  • Viognier.
  • Gamay.
  • Dry Riesling.
  • Zinfandel.
  • Champagne.

Plus, a few hints to avoid overeating today — or at any large holiday meal this season:

  1. Your brain can only crave 3 or 4 things at a time.  So decide what you most want to eat, instead of trying a little bit of everything.  If you go back for seconds, that’s the time to sample other foods — you’ll eat a lot less.
  2. Experts say that a serving is the size of your loosely held fist, not the entire plate.
  3. Eat slowly and stop after 10 minutes to let your brain register whether you’re satisfied. After a five-minute break, you may find that you don’t want much more.
  4. Plan ahead to “save” room for dessert, rather than “making” room for dessert; ie, be sure you’re actually still a bit hungry.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday, however you’re spending it! xx, Alisa

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Good News Monday: Where’s The Beef?

Did you ever wonder what “sustainably produced beef” actually means? According to the World Wildlife Fund, there’s a big difference between cattle ranching where the intact grassland ecosystem is compatible with grazing — such as the Northern Great Plains in the US — and in parts of the world where forests are converted to pasture.

Costco to the rescue! Collaborating with the WWF, ranchers and others, the Northern Great Plains Sustainable Beef Pilot Project — now, there’s a mouthful — is working towards greater transparency so that consumers will know just what they’re eating and understand its environmental impact.

Dare I say the “steaks” are high?

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…But Liquor is Quicker

Anyone else remember the saying, “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker”? The expression is a quote from American poet Ogden Nash’s 1931 poem, “Reflections on Ice Breaking”.  It also appeared in the 1971 movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”.

In honor of Halloween, I’m sharing the following.  My commentary below in red.

HOW TO QUIT CANDY AFTER HALLOWEEN

Weaning yourself off the good stuff once and for all.

By: Noah Lehava

There were tons of reasons Halloween was the best holiday as kids. One, you got to walk around all night in a ridiculous outfit, holding big bags that strangers would just throw full-sized candy bars into. Two, you’d have a cache of Starburst and Reese’s to last you weeks (or months, if you had a parent moderator). Three, your metabolism (and energy) and general lack of nutritional knowledge meant the guilt of stuffing your face with one last mini Snickers before bed didn’t exist. But alas, we’re adults now, which means we know that eating piles of candy isn’t actually all that good for us. That’s not to say we’re expecting you to avoid itty-bitty bags of sugary stuff all Halloween week long (that’s a thing, right?). But the struggle to quit sugar post-indulgence is real. Which is why we’ve come up with a few ways to wean yourself off the good stuff (in the palate sense).

GO FOR THE COMBO

This technique is what we like to call step one of the recovery process. When you really just want to pile M&Ms into your mouth until your stomach hurts, instead, eat or drink something healthy, like a green tea and vegetable-loaded salad for lunch, then finish it off with a bite of candy. You’ll be full from the nutrition-packed meal, but have just enough sugar-coated chocolate on your palate to satisfy a craving.

To go one step further, try drinking a combination of 1 part orange juice to 7 parts water.  There’s just enough sweetness to satisfy cravings, and the water fills you up. This is also great to have in the morning — often what we think is hunger is actually thirst, especially after fasting all night while we’re sleeping. You might not even crave those pancakes!

THE SWAP-OUT

We all know that the really bad stuff in candy is the added sugar (and, OK, there’s other stuff in there, but let’s not get too technical). But good sugar, fructose, by way of fruit, is an easy way to crush cravings, plus you’ll be filling up on the extra stuff in fruit like water, fiber, and, you know, actual nutrients.

Sugar is sugar. It’s generally better to avoid it, and satisfy the urge for sweetness with carrots, red or yellow peppers, etc. Experts suggest that it’s best to eat fruit with your meal rather than in-between.  And choose whole fruit, not juice.

SNACK

Not on candy! Waiting too long between meals and the impending hunger that comes with that will have you reaching into the plastic pumpkin every ten minutes. Eating regularly throughout the day keeps your blood sugar level stable—aka no crazy, irrational cravings.

Disagree! True hunger is actually a good thing — it tells you that your body needs sustenance. If you eat a satisfying meal (eg lunch) that includes lean protein, you should not be physically hungry for around 5 hours.  What we think of as mid-morning or mid-afternoon “hunger” is often anxiety, boredom, or another emotion.  Rather than eating, do something to distract yourself, such as taking a short walk. The brain can’t hold on to cravings for very long.

If it’s late afternoon, and you know you won’t be having dinner for a few hours and are starting to feel real hunger, try eating a handful of nuts (slowly) to help avoid temptation. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t resist an occasional peanut butter cup.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, dear readers!

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