Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book Club

It's time for another book review, and keeping in line with my first book club post, I'm reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Between his revealing exposé of the corn industry and his brutally honest critique of what he calls 'industrial organic', Michael Pollan again strikes literary gold.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is the precursor to In Defense of Food and I'm loving it as much, if not more. Pollan has this uncanny way of, oh, I don't know, making sense! While our government continues to subsidize cheap corn and harm both us and the corn growers themselves, Pollan is a bold, refreshing voice of truth about the unfortunate state of our agricultural system. I tend to avoid political statements here, but I'll indulge for a moment. If Obama was serious about making veritable changes, he would have picked Pollan as his Agriculture Secretary and not Vilsack, once again buying into Iowa cornfields.

But I digress. Now get ready to fall in love once again:

So what exactly would an ecological detective set loose in an american supermarket discover, were he to trace the items in his shopping cart all the way back to the soil? The notion began to occupy me a few years ago, after I realized that the straightforward question "What should I eat?" could no longer be answered without first addressing two other even more straightforward questions: "What am I eating" And where in the world did it come from?" Not very long ago an eater didn't need a journalist to answer these questions. The face that today one so often does suggests a pretty good start on a working definition of industrial food: Any food whose prevenance is so complex or obscure that it requires expert help to ascertain.

When I started trying to follow the industrial food chain--the one that now feeds most of us most of the time and typically culminates either in a supermarket or fast-food meal--I expected that my investigations would lead me to a wide variety of places. And though my journeys did take me to a great many states, and covered a great many miles, at the very end of these food chains (which is to say, at the very beginning), I invariably found myself in almost exactly the same place: a farm field in the American Corn Belt.

This man continues to amaze me. He is spot on in every way.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Are you hungry yet? =) Halupki, or my family's version of pigs in a blanket, is a ground meat and rice mixture wrapped in cabbage (savoy works well since the leaves are so large) and cooked in a simple tomato sauce. Oh my. The cabbage adds such a wonderful flavor to the sauce. The neat thing is that you can change the herbs and spices in the meat mixture. It's almost impossible to mess up!

I think I've made it clear that I have a strong Italian background, but I'm also lucky enough to be a mutt and have some Czech in my family as well! (And by mutt I mean Italian, Irish, English, Czech, Scotch, German--phew!) But the only 'cultural' foods in my family are Italian and Czech. Growing up, Halupki was pigs in a blanket for me. There was no other form. I once went to a friend's house and dinner was pigs in a blanket. I was so confused when it turned out to be a hot dog wrapped in a croissant roll with cheddar cheese!! I guess that was my introduction to the American take on pigs in a blanket.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Much like Dave in Top Chef from Season 1, I am a 'peppermonger'. I always have been. Probably always will be. I love the stuff. As a kid I used to coat slices of raw tomatoes with the stuff until it was beautifully speckled black on top. I load up my tuna fish with freshly cracked pepper and then grind more on top. I have to remind myself when cooking for others that not all people share this affinity. Is there anything you know you use too much of but don't care?

Why aren't you fat?

I realized I haven't added any pithy food commentary since I began my blog. So here it goes.

People, family, friends, etc. often ask me why I'm not fat since I love food, am always around food, talk about food, or always seem to be eating food. Now allow me to explain. I eat food. Real food. And not "foodlike substances" to borrow the words from Michael Pollan. If you know Cheez-Its aren't good for you, then chances are the low-fat version isn't a miracle health food, allowing you to indulge at every whim. It's common sense, people. I'm not saying you're going to get fat on Cheez-Its--the low-fat version or the original. What I am saying is that it characterizes a mentality all too common in the Western diet:

You can eat whatever you want as long as it's labeled low-fat.

Wrong. I eat food. Tomatoes, freshly made bread without additives, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup, real meat, fruits, vegetables, pasta, real butter (NOT margarine), cream, natural cheeses, etc. Are you following me here? Nowhere in there is HFCS, preservatives, aspartame, MSG, etc. Natural food doesn't need additives to improve its flavor. It's just, well, good. The flavor comes from the healthy soil it was grown in, the simplicity in its preparation.

My latest nemesis has been the yogurt aisle. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but finding a good yogurt is difficult. I don't want low-fat, reduced calorie yogurt. I want naturally sweetened-- no HFCS, no aspartame. They do exist; but they are few and far between. Stonyfield Farms organic yogurt is good, as well as Wegmans Probiotic Super Yogurt and Dannon's All Natural. Navigating seemingly 'healthy' aisles should not be this frustrating.

Thus the confusion of the Western diet.