Monday, January 24, 2011

Chickens do not have fingers.

i recently posted a link on my facebook page that caused a bit of really good conversation. the link was to a site for a product called "kid cuisine" a frozen "meal" designed especially for children (and daft parents) that boasts "real ingredients like white-meat chicken, real cheese, vegetables and premium beef."  The ad copy goes on to extol the virtues of kid cuisine's whole grains, important vitamins, and minerals and nutrients like calcium and protein (none of which exists in usable form in this product - not to mention the microwave preparation which destroys nutrient value in food).  for $4.99 you get to choose from bug safari chicken breast nuggets, grilled cheese, campfire hot dogs, cheese blaster mac and cheese, rockin' ravioli, deep sea adventure fish sticks, magical cheese crust pizza and many more, all with inappropriate sugar laden crap side dishes, blah, blah you get my drift.  for some this might seem like a bargain but its not. it's effects are costly and dear. nowhere on the site does it say organic. nowhere on the site does it say no hormones or antibiotics. nowhere on the site does it mention the use of GMOs. nowhere on the site does it say a word about the plastic trays being BPA free. it's a pity this poison doesn't kill instantly, then we could easily illustrate how deadly it really is and have it ripped from the grocery store shelves. instead it slowly makes our children sick, fat and stupid. it distorts our children's perception of healthy nutrition and kills slowly and painfully. it hurts our kids and is definitely not what we should prepare to bring our family2table. okay, so, that's enough time wasted talking about this putrid, poisonous, empty, SAD (standard american diet) excuse for food that ConAgra Foods, Inc. is currently pushing on our innocent children via their uneducated and economically depressed parents.    

the bigger issue here calls for an examination of what is "kid food" and why we as a culture have decided that children should be gastronomically segregated and eat differently (read:poorly).  in my opinion there is really only one time in a human's life when they should eat food that is completely apart from all others and that is from the time we are born until we are between 6 and 8 months old.  that food is breastmilk.  nature's most perfect food (as is all raw milk). it nourishes for proper body growth and brain development, imparts an immune system, a digestive system and so much more.  when a baby is able to sit up on its own and self feed, then it is time to introduce solids.  that's when new mothers panic.  i get a lot of calls from new moms asking me to teach them how to make baby food. my first reaction is sure, i'll get paid to show you how to mash up what you're eating (provided you are eating well).  then i remember that new mothers want to do everything perfectly.  rule #1 is stay away from jarred baby foods.  they have additives, preservatives and are bland tasting which sets baby up for wanting more bland food. blech! this leads me to another great reason to breastfeed.  the diverse flavors that make their way from the mother's diet into the milk change it's flavor at every feeding.  a formula fed baby receives the same overly sugared flavor at every feeding and therefore becomes conditioned to expect and then want the same thing at every meal. the perfect petri dish for the birth of a picky eater.

"kid cuisine" should not exist. end of story. a proper diet for growing children should. however, if there has to be a category called "kid food," or as some people call it "kid friendly food," then i recommend changing the paradigm.  a complete do-over. i would challenge that no one has ever had a hard time learning to love pizza, fried chicken, plain pasta with butter, hot dogs, burgers, grilled cheese, french fries, ice cream etc. these foods are easy to love and don't require much practice or education. i propose that we turn "kid food" on it's head. imagine going to a restaurant and seeing a children's menu (another vile invention) that offered the freshest wild sushi, chicken liver mousse, seared wild alaskan salmon, braised greens, lamb stew, caviar, fermented veggies, grass-fed burgers, pastured egg and cheese omelette, stewed chicken on the bone with fresh herbs, grass-fed butter and oxtail jam on sourdough toast and raw milk ice cream sweetened with maple syrup. what a revelation! nutrient dense foods designed to promote growth, brain development, healthy digestion and an educated palate.  as for restaurants who want to offer a "children's option," i recommend a small plate option at a reduced price, or an appetizer size of an entree that already exists on the menu. on the rare occasion that my family does venture out to a restaurant these days we always share, as portions in most restaurants are already way too big.

as a mother, a chef and a cooking instructor, here is my big secret to getting children to be good eaters....come closer.....are you ready? children will eat what we feed them. we make the rules and we control the food supply.  of course it helps if you, the parents (aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc), demonstrate good eating habits and include the children in the meal planning and preparation.  but, from the time they are able to eat solids, we MUST consistently provide the foods that will shape their eating habits.  once they are out of the home and in school -- and children are being sent to school and daycare earlier and earlier these days -  we lose a certain amount of influence and the battle becomes more difficult. as a matter of fact i have a real problem with the way schools and restaurants undermine parents when it comes to feeding our children. school lunch menus follow the lead of restaurant "children's menus" and dumb down the choices to the usual toddler fodder and load them up with empty carbs that will not make for stable blood sugar during the course of a day. this results in the child needing to snack often (usually on more carbs - rice cakes, crackers, gold fish, etc that burn as sugar and keep the vicious cycle going) and leads to lack of focus and irritable behavior. in my humble opinion, no one should be responsible for feeding (nourishing) my kids except me. that is the sacred right of every parent to know exactly what is fueling their child's perfect body.  that is why i recommend preparing and packing your child's lunch everyday.  i also recommend having a conversation with the other parents in the class regarding snacks and those ridiculous birthday cupcakes that keep popping up every other day. sugar does not make for a very good time when it comes to children's developing bodies and brains.  cupcakes are not kid cuisine. remember? there is no such thing as kid cuisine! 

okay. i am going to stop now but i will not leave you all feeling depressed and without hope. you and your children are all going to be just fine.  you will figure it out, eat well, grow to be big and strong and see your efforts pay dividends for generations to come. i love the saying "be the person you want your children to be." i am asking you to please eat the foods and practice the nutrition, health and wellness you would like your children to eat and practice.  that is the best start.  bring only real food into the house and they will only eat real food (fresh, local, organic and whole).  family meal time is family real time. real food, real love and real relationships. that's what brings our family2table.  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Making Vital Choices

salmon sausage over sunflower sprouts with mustard & flax.
at 8:30 this morning i was in a cab on my way to brooklyn to pick up real food from my csa (community supported agriculture). we pay a yearly membership fee, we pay for the product we order online and then an extra delivery fee since the goods are being delivered from farms who are dedicated to preserving time-honored, traditional food preparation and culture from days gone by.  i usually order once a week and pick up is done by my husband, after work.  this week, however, we fell short on some staples and the next pick up would not be till thursday of next week.  that is why i was in a cab, on my way to brooklyn at 8:30am.  we need real food!

alaskan halibut slow cooked in a raw lemon butter bath. 
today my order consisted of milk (for the entire family), kefir for me (even though i make my own at home i like to purchase some now and again for quality control on my own product), mozzarella (for the kids), lacto-fermented pickles (for hubby and kids), cured ham steak (for family brekkie), dried mint leaves (for tea for me and syl), and a loaf of traditionally prepared whole speltz bread for all.  The food bill was $50, the cab $17 (i was tired this morning, give me a break, okay?).  the train back to manhattan was $2.25 which took me to union square where i then picked up my usual saturday stuff. back on the bus and off to abingdon square where i sniffed out my moo fix, cukes, a few turnips and finally home at 11am. a full two and a half hours of traveling, schlepping and spending for what? 

100 years ago the average family spent approximately 50% of their annual salary on food and at least 3 hours preparing food/meals in the home.  today according to various studies and surveys i am seeing on the ole' interweb, the average american spends just under 15% of their annual income on food and just 30 minutes a day preparing food/meals - which could mean popping it in the microwave, heating, thawing, opening a can, unwrapping the take away paper -- you get my drift.  this is my point. we are spending less money and time on our food and our feeding choices and as a nation we have never been more sick, fat and confused.  our children have no real food education or feeding survival skills. most children think food comes out of packages or grows in supermarkets.  we have a choice. a vital choice.

vital choices are what we make everyday.  my vital choices usually concern the health and wellness of my family which will invariably lead back to food, nutrition and a commitment to education in both of these areas.  some people say that buying organic or sustainable is too expensive.  it's not. i want you to really compare. do the cost analysis. a pound of good grass fed beef is cheaper than a mcdonald's happy meal and you will save a bundle on medical bills down the road.  what we put into our bodies pays dividends over time and who doesn't like a good investment. not only for us but for our children. feeding our children this way is a way of insuring that they will grow up healthy and happy and raise healthier and happier children than we could have ever been.  feeding ourselves and our families this way is a vital choice of respect.

alaskan sockeye salmon jerky just out of the dehydrator.
another vital choice i make is the use of my time. some say time is money and fast is better. they order from services like fresh direct and think this gives them more quality time with the kids or more time to get really "important" things done.  to me this is just missing another important opportunity to put your hands on your life and take stock. feel the richness of what you are building.  i enjoy shopping and hand selecting what my family will enjoy.  i also love to take my children with me to help pick things out.  it helps me learn, in-depth about who my kids are and what they are thinking. i get to witness their becoming. in our adventures they develop relationships with farmers, checkout people, bus drivers, other commuters on the train, etc and this is super important for learning (theirs and mine).  one of the things i detest about "schooling" is that children are segregated into groups of people their own age. not much real learning going on there. getting children involved so that they are interacting with people from all ages and different places is paramount to real learning. i especially like when my almost 6 year old daughter wants to take the bus because she loves talking to old people.  we often take home the phone number of some 70 year old (usually woman) who my kids wind up calling grandma by the time we exit the bus. children are social and curious. they need to explore everything. nyc is a grand opportunity.

time is another factor when preparing food. a low heat, all day braise means you can save money by using cheaper cuts of flavorful meats. you can make your own yogurt for the fraction of what it costs to buy yogurt and you can ferment fruits and vegetables that will aid in the digestion of your food. making sauerkraut is just on example, making your own kombucha is another.  in the store kombucha costs $4 for 16 oz. our homemade 16oz. costs less than $1. we make all these things at home to save money, enjoy the taste and nutritional benefits, control the quality and teach our children that production of food is something that can happen in the home and that you have that ability to make that vital choice to do it on your own, be self reliant and not be at the mercy of the government.  our food supply is tainted. toxic fertilizers, soil depletion and GMOs are just a few of the reasons why we need to make vital choices.

speaking of vital choices.  this year when my family received a xmas gift of cash we decided to put that bonus into our bodies by ordering wild sockeye salmon, halibut and salmon breakfast sausage (not just for breakfast)  from vital choice seafood.  their product is pure, wild and delicious.  we stocked the freezer and enjoy these omega 3 rich foods whenever we want. it's expensive but worth every penny.  i recommend it highly as a gift to yourself or to your loved ones.  nothing says i love you like good food and nourishment.  it satisfies the belly and the soul. 

henry with his side of sockeye salmon.
is it convenient to trek out to brooklyn at 8:30 in the morning to pick up real food?  is it fun to schlep on buses and trains in the freezing cold and snow with two little kids? do i like spending close to 40% of my annual income on food? you bet i do. i love the inconvenience, the schlep, the cold, the snow (sometimes) and the kids running amok at the market touching and tasting everything in sight.  because at the end of the day it's my choice and i know exactly why i am doing it. it's empowering and i hope you might someday learn to love it too.  

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thank you, Farmers. Thank you, Friends.

Saturday morning, a new year, freezing cold and what's at the market today? when i wake up on saturday morning i can't wait to get up hudson street and see what's happening at our little market in the west village at abingdon square. i survey what's on offer (grabbing something special if i feel it might not be there when i get back) say good morning to dave, nevia and laura and then jump on the 14A to take me to union square where i will see Ron, Vinny, Denise and many other friends. These people are my friends. real friends. i have known some of them for over 20 years and have shared a sacred bond of trust and kinship with them based on our love and mutual respect for life, death and the cycle of growth that deliciously & nutritiously feeds us. people often ask which farmers i like best so i thought i would include a few words about these people i consider local heroes who cultivate and haul good product to nyc a few times a week to make sure the stress of city living will not drag our spirit under.

for all things bison and angus i adore ron at elk trails ranch. he is at union square market only on saturdays. he not only has the best buffalo kielbasa but can tell a story like nobody else. vinny and denise sell organic sprouts, greens, the sweetest carrots of all time (no kidding) from late june till xmas and tender, beautiful greens from their greenhouse all yearlong. hawthorne valley farms in ghent ny has an unbelievable range of products available year round. their lacto-fermented products should be in everybody's fridge (if you are not making your own ferments - and i can and will teach you how to do that!) to insure optimal digestive health and overall immunity and well-being. i LOVE their yogurts, cheeses, breads, biodynamic seasonal veggies of all kinds and praise their meats. I can't say enough about their liverwurst and have made some of my most gelatinous, nutrient dense broth from their beef and marrow bones. YUM! then there is keith farm, grysinski, patches of star goat farm and dairy, windfall farm, bread alone and don't forget apples from locust grove fruit farm. their pink lady variety is crisp and just the right balance of tart and sweet.

when i arrive back at abingdon square market i head straight for nevia's stand from bohditree farm where i get my moo radish fix. i am addicted to these in a big way. i peel, steam and sprinkle with celtic sea salt. holy moo are they fabulous. nevia's greens are all outstanding as are her many varieties of sweet potatoes. her "burpless" cukes are pricey but well worth the coin. crisp, refreshing and full of flavor in the dead of winter - just the remedy for the winter blues. dave at muddyfarm has perfect sunflower sprouts and pea shoots. his red skinned potatoes and butternut squash are sublime. in the summer look for herbs that scream with flavor. he is a pretty cool guy and also has a blog on blogspot where you can see what he has to offer that market day. nevia and dave both offer pastured eggs that are full of omega 3s and enzymes. stay away from supermarket eggs. i don't care if they say organic. buy your eggs from trusted, small farms that are not using soy or grain as a "vegetarian diet."

it is my biggest wish that those who read this will visit their local greenmarkets and make a real effort to buy most of their ingredients (and some ready made products too) from these farmers and help them make their living. without our support they are not able to continue to farm with integrity and soul. these are the people who make bringing your Family2Table a hearth and soul experience. grace at my table goes something like this...."Thank you, farmers and thank you, friends for blessing my family with this food. may we always eat well and always eat together." enjoy!