It’s a joke, right?

Cover - Good Omens

Sometime around the time Jean-Francois and I started dating, he presented me with a few books to read. Some were his favourites (Kurt Vonnegut), two were books he picked because he wanted to show that he “got me”. One, Foucault’s Pendulum, was a literary historical suspense thriller by Umberto Eco. It had me researching references for weeks. The other was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a comedy about the Second Coming that was also lush in layered interpretation, jokes, allusions and generally good fun.

There is one joke in Good Omens that is like a latent virus in my memory. It flares in response to certain events or topics centred on food and nutrition. It is a joke about one of the four riders of the Apocalypse: Famine. In this novel, Famine is a ruthless 1980’s business executive in the food industry. His latest two projects, Nouvelle Cuisine and Highly Processed Fast Food, both so beautifully meet his primary goal, that he cannot help being a bit smug. His goal, starving humans to death.
Why does Famine keep coming to mind? Because I think anyone who works in the industrialized food industry worships, intentionally or not, at his altar. My reading list this week supports this theory:
Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, looks at the science behind make food we crave–even if it is bad for us. I am on the second chapter of this one, and really loving his investigated challenge to these moguls. It’s like he wants us to ask them all: How could you not know that you are helping to make us all sick?
Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner is more about how the demands of our lifestyles created a market for processed foods that now is making us fatter, slower, and sicker. Combined these two books look at the relationship between our desire for convenience to enjoy the good life and our desire to make enough money to have the good life.
And then there is Just Food by James E. McWilliams, published in 2009. This book looks at how those of us trying to make smarter, healthier, and more sustainable choices about what and how we eat, is creating deep anxiety in regular people. Basically we feel guilty all the time.
Each of these books is well-written and researched. But the subject matter makes me flip between the three. Why? Because each reminds me of Famine, and his cool, clean, metro sexual smugness. Pratchett and Gaiman were joking, trying to remind us that not all food is created equal. So, why are we still choosing to grow, make, market, and buy foods that hurt us and some many of our friends and family? Famine is winning despite the availability of nourishing food for many of us. (Don’t get me started thinking about all the food deserts created by executives who put cost benefits above humanity when deciding where grocery markets should be located.)
Yes, Jean-Francois always did understand how to set my mind on fire. He still does.
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Weekend food waste roundup – 21 April 2013

21Apr13I suppose some of you are wondering why our weekly digest of global news on food waste is getting less weekly. The answer is simple, the people writing on food waste are stuck on three basic themes:

  1. Shock: calling attention to the problem of how much food is wasted annually. Most pointing fingers at Americans and then driving the outrage home with a “but even on the local home front, we are wasting XXX tonnes of food a year.”
  2. Turning food waste into a useful resource: Methane generators, food scraps into animal feed, and composting.
  3. Food waste and Hunger: This one probably speaks for itself, but the issue of getting food that is heading to the bin rerouted is a more complex civil challenge than most of us realise.

And while all three of these are great, not one addresses the problem of our excesses at grocery store, markets, restaurants, and anywhere where food is available (think weddings, conferences, amusement parks, banquets…).

Thankfully, tomorrow is Earth Day and at least one reporter went a little deeper.

The Star, a Malaysian paper, reported on a Toyota led initiative in that nation to help turn the next generation of Malaysians into solutions-focused Eco-Citizens. These sixteen year olds are not starting with the food waste already generated. No, they are looking at ways to reduce portion sizes in cafeterias and restaurants BEFORE people even buy the food. I like how they are thinking.

Getting Wasted: L.A.'s food excess

Getting Wasted: L.A.’s food excess
photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

And this brings me to an act of shameless self-promotion. On 20 May, Jean-Francois and I have been asked to join a interactive panel discussion to think about how excess contributes to the food waste problem and steps might be possible to curb it through grass-roots initiatives, technology, and individual actions.

However, our experience is limited. If you could share your ideas, opinions and local solutions, it would help us in our brainstorming. I’d love to share your practical, non-compost, solutions with like-minded Angelenos.

We’d also love to see you there.

Composting–one year later

About one year ago, Jean-Francois and I adopted a small colony of red wrigglers, following a sustainability session at the Natural History Museum. As proud parents, we immediately set about finding the best bedding, bins, and strategies for keeping our new arrivals happy. The biggest challenge for us, as apartment dwellers in a large complex with strict rules, was finding a bin that would pass as patio furniture. (Since we don’t consider compost trash, we assumed that the rule about trash did not apply.)

We settled on the Worm Factory 360. It looks enough like a Japanese Stone Lantern that it could be argued that it is decorative. We supplement our system with a bamboo compost pail for the kitchen. And, we spend an evening making our worms comfortable.

A snapshot of our colony on feeding day.

A snapshot of our colony on feeding day.

Our worms get regular doses of coffee grounds and tea leaves, toilet paper rolls and scrap paper and linens. They also get a lot of egg shells, banana peels, okara (when I cannot find a use for it in time), and bread that goes mouldy.

And they are thriving. Sure, we are still trying to figure out the right mix of brown and green (see pdf below) to add to the mix, but we are learning.

This pdf is useful for helping us determine what browns and greens our worms needs.

At six months, we even expanded our bin by adding a new layer. All winter things moved along fine, albeit a bit slowly. But as Spring set in, so did culture shock.

  1. Our worms were reluctant to move to the new layer.
  2. Worms were escaping both the bin and the balcony.
  3. Other bugs started to appear.
  4. The worm castings on the second layer were WET. We could not get them to dry.

We are now trying to manage moisture, bugs and a growing ickiness-factor (at least on my part, Jean-Francois seems to enjoy mucking around in the compost). And, we have no way to share our worm tea or our beautiful worm pooh with gardeners. The grounds here are landscaped by a company that has no interest in going green.

Any thoughts on how apartment building and condo dwellers can help urban gardens and communities by composting? We are moving to a street lined with apartments, and I’d love to find a community solution that we can advance. It may also be a way to help people eat better and waste less food BEFORE it goes to the compost.

I am not alone either. Others have written about the challenges facing us Urban Composters and some offer solutions. If you are square foot challenged, and lack a green thumb, but really want to try composting, here are a few resources we have found useful:

BTW, I would not recommend the bamboo pail. It looks old and beaten up after two months and is also too soft a material for life on our kitchen counter.

Cords, adapters, disks, and leftovers

I stress about things. Not like most people, but with such a degree of obsessive focus that I can forget all about the bigger picture. This tendency gets worse when I have deadlines or when Jean-François is in Singapore. When both hit during the same week, I become a crazed hermit-like creature who mumbles to herself and forgets to brush her hair.

Such has been my life for the past week or so. My current obsession: reducing the amount of stuff in our closets and cabinets as we prepare to move. I even created a daily routine with a task-based schedule so I do not miss a beat.

My “Move Routine”

  • Wake up
  • Prepare Coffee, when I run out, switch to tea.
  • Eat breakfast. (Strategy: Finish Oatmeal first, then cream of wheat, then use up flour making biscuits.)
  • Pack one box of books.
  • Test one computer and two hard drives.
  • Test four computer cables.
  • Lunch: start with fresh veg and fruit in lower bins. Serve with steamed rice (couscous when rice is gone, other grains when that is gone) and use ingredients on door in cooking.
  • Do my job for 6 hours.
  • Dinner–Veg and herbs with pasta. Use cheeses and condiments for sauces. When pasta is gone, make cheese plates with veg, biscuits.
  • Do 2-4 more hours of work.
  • Visit clothes pile–sort by season first, then toss/donate stuff not worn in two years.

So far, I have stuck with the routine, but I am getting tired of rice and pasta. Oddly oatmeal is going down well. With luck and persistence, I may get our food stock to near zero before  moving day.

But any pride I might feel for not wasting food fades when I look at all the computer and IT stuff that we need to send to recycle. It looks like we replaced food waste habit with an e-waste habit. Just look:

Two Japanese-English electronic dictionaries, three external hard drives that are no longer compatible with our computers, cables galore, speaker for iPod that does not work with newer models, several electronic mice, and electronic toys.

Two Japanese-English electronic dictionaries, three external hard drives that are no longer compatible with our computers, cables galore, speaker for iPod that does not work with newer models, several electronic mouses, and electronic toys.

We have six notebook computers (seven if you count the Dell that Jean-François needs to drag around for one client). Two 27-inch monitors. Two bluetooth keyboards for notebooks, two for our iPads, one for my mobile phone. One raid storage, one server, six external hard drives, three mobile phones from Japan that we no longer use, one from Singapore, two point and shoot cameras, two flip video cameras, two DSLRs, three robots (two are cat toys and one a flying thing we just had to have), cordless phones for a landline that we do not have, a recording pen, an old digital voice recorder that is not compatible with newer computers… I could go one.

To be fair, we both work from home and the monitors, iPads, phones and three notebooks are always in use. One of the DSLRs travels with Jean-Francois, the other I use when he is travelling, sometimes. But the bulk of this stuff is junk. These pieces are too old, or broke during the move from Japan, or do not provide enough speed or capacity for what we think we need. It is easier to upgrade than fix.

And this may be why I am annoyed. What good we are trying to do by changing how we consume food is more than offset by our nonchalant attitude to our digital assets. We are tech-gluttons and I am sure there is a special place in hell for people like us.

The four on top have battery life issues (no life at all, really). And no, we don't have a Mac-gadget addiction. No, not us. No sirey.

The four on top have battery life issues (no life at all, really). And no, we don’t have a Mac-gadget addiction. No, not us. No siree.

Any thoughts on what we should be doing to stop the insanity? Better yet, anybody want a free, 5-year-old 1TG hard drive with all its cables? Or a free Nikon D70 with two lenses?

[Sorry for the off-topic rant, but it has been all I have been thinking about for days now.]

Weekend Round Up: 7 April 2013

paint roundupWe are moving next month and now I have two new food waste related goals. First, I  want empty the current kitchen without wasting any food. Second, I want to find ways to make sure the next kitchen becomes a “Zero-Waste Kitchen”. It seems the key to success is better planning. Here is the round-up of what I learned:

Tips on wasting less in the kitchen

The Nourishing Gourmet recently published 7 waste-reducing tips on her website. These are more conceptual tips with one real exception–date your leftovers. I mean this is two ways. First, she recommends writing the date on all leftover containers. And, she recommends including a leftover day/night in your week to clean out the bits and ends of the week’s meals. Dating leftovers? Yes, rebound relationships do work, after all.

For more practical ideas, look at the Reader’s Digest slide deck. This presentation has over 13 tips for wasting less food in the kitchen, many of which are practical, easy, and clever. For example, did you know that you can regrow scallions? All you need to do is cut the ends, drop them in glass with water, and give them some sunlight. They also recommend keeping lettuce in brown paper bags, using citrus peels to ward off ants and mosquitos, and re-crisping celery with potato slices or lemon juice.

The Green Cycler also had general tips for creating a zero waste kitchen, but the one Jean-Francois likes best: Get A Chicken – a hen to eat food scraps, provide eggs, and terrorize our little cats.

And how do you set up a kitchen for zero waste?

This answer is going to be harder to find, but I fell in love with one site that I am going to lose hours on. The Kitchn website has a whole section with ideas for setting up your kitchen. True, the goal there is for ease of use, but a number of these ideas are inspiring for a girl with a container fetish.

If clutter is your challenge, you may want to check out Sue Rasmussen’s website. She provides tips for de-cluttering each activity that takes place in a kitchen.

And finally, Real Simple has approaches to organizing your kitchen based on the type of chef that you are (daily, gourmet, Sunday-only…).

But what about all those jars of spices?

This is the real issue in my chef’s (a.k.a. Jean-Francois’) kitchen. He is search challenged when it comes to looking for ingredients on the spice shelf. We’d love a solution that keeps our spices out of the light, but easy to find. If anyone can point us to good ideas, I will send Jean-Francois to your home to cook you dinner.

7 April: World Health Day

Yesterday Danielle Neirenberg sent me an email telling me that 7 April is World Health Day and that the focus for this year is high blood pressure. Her email had me thinking all day about nutrition, our health and the food we eat. Let me be clear: I have never met or spoken with Danielle, but I always read her emails when they grace my inbox because she and her organization, Food Tank, have a mission. She wants to feed every person on this planet. No, “feed” is the wrong word–she wants to nourish each and every one of us.

The distinction is important. Her email explains why. Our food is not as nutrient laden as it once was. High yield agriculture and other practices (like sending food to landfills rather than composting) have altered the “nutrient life-cycle”. Her email came a few days after I read “Modern chicken has no flavour” in Salon–which laments the sad reality of high volume food production. It robs our tongues of pleasure by stripping our food of its sensuousness and its purpose.

Rooster profile

The Salon article talks about the science of additives to make our food taste the way it should, often using vegetable by-products to increase nutritional content and flavour. Which, if you think about it, is doubly wasteful. I mean, why not just eat the vegetables and let the flavourless chickens live?

Danielle’s concerns are different. She argues that what we are feeding ourselves is making us sick, harming our planet, and making it harder for us to nourish the 7 billion people who live on this planet. In her email, she outlines nine things we can start doing today to be healthier and kinder to ourselves, our neighbours, and our planet.

This is what she recommends:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  2. Encourage farming practices that keep essential nutrients in the soil.
  3. Learn how our food nourishes us. (How many sources of calcium can you list?)
  4. Eat whole grains.
  5. Eat at home more.
  6. Opt for organic produce whenever possible.
  7. Support family farms that are more likely to produce foods that are more nutrient rich than commercial farmers.
  8. Choose meats from grass-fed, pasture raised animals. (Anyone know where I can find pasture-raised fish?)
  9. Support farms that cultivate indigenous, heritage, and heirloom plants and livestock.

Okay, so none of this is a surprise. But the question buzzing around in my head is: Are we starving ourselves by eating processed foods and could that be one of the reasons for the alarming rise in obesity we are seeing in developed nations?

The spice of life

Aside: Thanks to the Salon article, I plan to read Pandora’s Lunchbox next week. If anyone has read it, I’d like to hear your thoughts about this book and any others that have been published recently about the quality of our food supply.

Avoiding “Dinner Party Aftermath”

We rang in 2013 with an Epiphany. More precisely, we celebrated the 12th day of Christmas with a gathering of friends, a mound of good (mostly vegan) dishes, and an embarrassing amount of alcohol. We celebrated decadence.

The epiphany? That a decadent feast need not be wasteful. We simply needed to plan with an eye to repurposing the leftovers. This we did–but only after we had identified the  signature dish for the meal.

The Hook

Our dinner parties usually begin with a single idea. It can be a new dish, a technique, a flavour, or a beverage. (Yes, we once planned a five-course meal entirely inspired by our homemade Dark-n-Stormies.) Our desire to feed others is almost always triggered by one event. The trigger for our epiphany party? Veggie-based dips and spreads shared by some of the amazing chefs we’ve met through this blog, Two Spoons and Food to Glow.

On 19 December, Two Spoons posted a lovely instructional guideline for using vegetables to make flavourful spreads and dips. And the ideas are clever. I made two dips using ideas from her post that relied on winter veg, nuts, olive oil, and mushrooms.

And then there was the Spinach Pkhali with pomegranate and fragrant fresh herbs that Food to Glow posted on 13 November. We’d found a prettier, and tastier, version of the nut crusted cheese loaf.

Spinach Pkhali

We served four dips:

  1. Spinach Pkhali (vegan)
  2. Roasted mushroom, walnuts & feta
  3. Roasted carrot with miso and maple (vegan)
  4. Pistachio, olive oil, carrot greens & feta

One week later, these dips (and the rest of the food on the menu) were fully enjoyed. None of that meal went into the bin.

How? It helps that one of our guests was vegan and snapped up most of our vegan remains in his doggie bag, including the two non-cheesed dips and the two remaining okara falafel.

The pistachio  dip was used as a pesto over pasta. I put the mushroom dip on toast (like a terrine), used it as filler for wonton ravioli, and included it in an egg omelette. I suspect there is are many other ways to incorporate the dips into soups, salads, biscuits and muffins. But I ran out of dip before I could test the theory.

For those who are interested, here is our menu from that party. We’ve shared the recipes for the falafel and ginger beer in previous posts. The others, I will share in the coming weeks.

The Menu

  • Jamaican-style ginger beer (homemade, with a much stronger ginger punch than the commercial varieties) and rum cocktail,
  • Dips & cheeses served with crackers and crudités
  • Fenugreek, red onion, grapefruit and pomelo salad with a tangerine, tarragon dressing
  • Okara falafel with tahini
  • Roasted cauliflower tossed with homemade curry and other spices
  • Vegan tagine with couscous
  • Roast pork with a jerk rub and mango salsa

Country pork rib jerk

  • Stir fried rice pudding with flambéed shredded pineapple and raisins, shredded coconut, nutmeg and orange zest (the most decadent thing you can do to leftover rice)
  • Raw cheddar, goat cheese, gorgonzola and camembert

Frozen Food Month: Celebrating with Bananas, Rhubarb, & Strawberries

My task list and I have a passive-aggressive relationship. I look to my Reminders app to help me remember things I must do, but get angry each time a reminder pops up on my calendar, iPhone, and tablet. I mean, the app is stalking me. Nagging me.

It nags me to write-up the recipes for the dips and dishes we served at a party way back in early January. It reminds me to take photos of our Japanese lantern inspired compost bin (inside and out) and write about lessons learned. It reminds me … sorry, I am sure you don’t care about my relationship with my task list. I never seem to cross things off. With each new, yummy success, I find it harder and harder to revisit the meals and food waste ideas we tested last December and January. But I will get to time someday.

But today’s entry is based on a treat that is too good to wait. And seasonal. It combines a springtime favourite of ours, rhubarb, with strawberries and frozen bananas. Its vegan. It healthy. Its easy. And, its yummy. What is it?

Mock Vanilla Ice Cream with warm Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

Mock Cream with Compote

Make the compote first. If you are fans of rhubarb, make lots. It can be used on toast, mixed with yogurt and muesli, added to muffins and smoothies, and served with pork and chicken. We also make a crumble with the compote that Jean-François devours. The compote is a great way to save fruits and berries that are showing their ages.

Also, we freeze bananas. Every banana that enters our home is immediately stripped and frozen. This is a great way to keep fruit flies at bay and have bananas on hand when you need them for pancakes, smoothies, breads, and mock-ice cream. If you do not do this, put one unpeeled banana per person in this freezer at least three hours before making this  dish.

For the compote:

  • 8 oz. fresh Strawberries, washed with tops removed, and quartered
  • 6 stalks of Rhubarb, washed and chopped into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 cup fresh Orange Juice (with lots of pulp)
  • 3 tablespoons Coconut Sugar (Honey would also work if you are not vegan)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cover and let sit for 2-3 hours until the rhubarb sweats and the strawberries begin to release their juice.

Bring fruit mixture to a simmer on medium low. Simmer until rhubarb is very soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Mock Vanilla Ice Cream

To make the mock-vanilla ice cream:

  1. Remove one Banana person from the freezer
  2. Slice Banana(s) into 1/2 inch discs. (This is highly advisable, or you risk damaging a beloved household appliance.)
  3. Add Banana(s) to food processor, mini-prep, or blender with a good dose of Vanilla (we added 1 Tablespoon per person) and a tablespoon of the juice from the compote.
  4. Pulse until creamy.

Spoon the mock-ice cream into bowls. Top with compote. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Weekend food waste roundup – 24 March 2013

Weekend RoundupI found a few good stories on food waste this week, but one has so completely captured my thoughts that I want to give it centre stage.

Let me set the scene. About two weeks ago at a dinner party, I adamantly argued that the Good Samaritan Law protects any business and individual in the United States that wants to donate leftover food to non-profits working to feed the hungry. By adamantly, I mean I was dogmatic and unwavering in my opinion. (Any one want to place odds on whether or not I will be invited back?)

Well, the Los Angeles Times published an article this week that makes me wish I had been less pig-headed that night. The Good Samaritan law protects donors, but it does not, it seems, protect the non-profits who distribute food from local health and safety codes.

This strikes me as odd. I mean, the caterers must abide by the same codes, so why would the non-profits refuse food? Because, they cannot afford to be shut down because of a violation or lawsuit.

I am annoyed enough about the red tape and obstacles facing food redistribution that I want to learn more. If any of you know of communities that have found ways to work around these codes, or change the laws to help donors and charities get food to people who need  it, I’d love to hear from you.

Is it still edible?

Found a nice resource from Eat By Date that answers that question for many of the foods we buy.

In our house, “Best Before” and “Eat by” dates are taken with a grain of salt. For foods we are less familiar with, they provide guidelines, but they are not hard and fast rules. But, we rarely base on judgements on anything scientific, preferring to tempt fate by relying on our senses of smell and taste.

Others live by these dates, thinking that science has already answered that question for them. The end result: a lot of good food ends up in the bin. This online resource attempts to save Jean-Francois and me from ourselves and a great deal of food from the bin at the same time.

Eat By Date’s mission is to answer one question: How long does food really last. And with what they have learnt, they have created a useful resource that goes beyond the date. Along the way, they give us more insight into common foods and help us be smarter consumers.

Take their entry on Lettuce, for example. Not only do they provide a table showing the leafy veg’s shelf life in the fridge, but they also share tips for longer storage (like rinsing and drying lettuce before it even goes in the refrigerator) and give insight on how lettuce fairs in a prepared dish (like that take-away Chinese you ordered three days ago).

Screenshot from website showing shelf life of lettuce

Screenshot from website showing shelf life of lettuce

The site is clean, easy to use, and informative. If more people refer to this resource or others, I am sure less food would make it into the bin.

How Long Does Food Last? Shelf Life & Expiration Date Guide.