Saturday, April 25, 2009

Packaged Foods

Unfortunately, (almost) everyone at one time or another, relies on packaged food, whether the package is labeled Hostess or comes from a farmers' market. As a general rule, however, the more sustainable the packaging, the better the food.

At one end of the packaging spectrum is vegetables from your garden. This produce, you should not be surprised to learn, does not come in a package. Perfect!

At the other end are these "all-natural" chocolate chip cookies I once bought at the supermarket. The package you see is a cardboard box, but once you open it, you see non-recyclable transparent plastic wrap around the cookies in a plastic tray. And the kicker? Between each individual cookie lay a round piece of wax paper.

I've established a hierarchy of packaging based on energy and resource intesnsiveness, presence of chemicals, ability to biodegrade, and ability to be reused. The list starts from best to worst.

  1. No packaging. Seriously. Just avoid it if you can.
  2. Reusable bottles. Claravale Farms uses glass bottles for milk that the buyer brings back to where the milk was bought. The farm washes the bottle and reuses it. Also, glass does not leach.
  3. 100% post-consumer recycled paper packaging. Why is this so high on the list? Because it is both recycled and compostable. You can put in the garden!
  4. Recyclable aluminum and glass. These materials can be recycled over and over again, and don't leach.
  5. Recyclable plastic. I'm reluctant to even mention plastic. It is not sustainable, sometimes toxic, limitedly recyclable at best, and oftentimes not recycled at all. Avoid bringing plastic into your home, really.
  6. Non-recyclable plastics. These are about as pleasant as mercury in the arm or Chuck Norris in a thong. My only advice is to avoid it.
  7. Packaging involving multiple layers of non-recyclable plastics. I would relate this to watching multiple Chuck Norris's dressed in thongs kill plane crash survivors. Perhaps that was graphic, but it was necessary.
Remember: bring your own bags to the farmers' market, avoid plastics, reduce/reuse/recycle, and compost!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day 43 - Eggs, DLT, Meatballs

Breakfast: scrambled eggs, with my favorite recipe, on organic whole wheat bread. Unfortunately, at my fantastic trip to the farmers' market, I did not find eggs, as I was expecting to. However, I also missed the dried beans and mushrooms, both of which I needed, so perhaps the eggs were hiding behind the beans. I also ate a conventional California mandarin. Yum!

As you may, or may not, have noticed, I was not satisfied with lunches at school. Also, I stumbled upon this, so I think it will be a while before I go back to eating cafeteria food. Maybe when they make the leaps that schools in Berkeley did years ago. Regardless of what percent of cafeteria food is organic (I'm fairly confident that statistic rests at 0% currently), or for that matter digestible (that's probably closer to about 80%), I am making my own lunches now. ConAgra and Tyson can suck it.

So, for lunch today, I had a DLT: Deli, lettuce, tomato. The lettuce was from a farmers' market bargain bag. And I think I know why it was a bargain bag. It lasted only two days. (Speaking of which, I will be posting a guide to the farmers' market soon.) The deli I used was pastrami. I actually think it was from Aaron's aka Agriprocessors, the evil kosher meat company. Well, they're not evil anymore. Supposedly. I'm just counting down the days until KOL Foods West gets going, so I can have my meat and eat it too.
Along with the sandwhiches, I had a farmers' market tangelo.

We had more meat for dinner. Both my parents are on high protein diets when it comes to dinner, so if we want to eat together (which we do), we end up eating meat a lot. Less than we used to, but it is difficult to consume a lot of protein without diversifying the diet away from eggs, cheese, and tofu. Right, so we had meatballs in heavily processed spaghetti sauce over allegedly, but not really, whole wheat spiraly pasta.

It's not that I'm sick of "Da !@#$ am I eating?", I just have something else to talk about: The Raw Milk controversy. I bought some for the first time at the farmers' market from the claravale farm booth, but without my father's express permission, which I will take the blame for, since I knew he would be unhappy about it. What's wrong with raw milk, you ask? It's not clear, really. There's no solid proof it's remotely dangerous.

For instance, the number of illnesses caused by raw milk from organic grass-fed cows in plenty of open space and away from waste is reportedly zero. And yet, the FDA has waged war on raw milk. Personally, I think they have better things to do, like regulating solid waste in feedlots, soil erosion in the US Corn Belt, poor hygiene in factories leading to outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli, use of antibiotics on healthy cows, hens in battery cages, depletion of water tables, and, well, need I continue?

Here's what happened with my milk: since I was sick several times this semester, I am not allowed to drink. I have a quote "weakened immune system", which I don't believe is true, but should it be, it was probably caused by my history with industrial milk, a product shown to lead to weakened immune systems. It's a catch-22 as far as I can tell. So, half in protest of industrial milk, half in protest of my parents' what-I-believe-to-be-fallible logic, I won't drink pasteurized milk until I am allowed to drink raw milk. I will be topping my Weetabix with organic, vanilla flavored soy milk instead (and sugar, most likely. Weetabix is pretty tasteless without sweetener)!

Other news: I will be joining my local Slow Food Convivium, and starting a club at my school for sustainable food advocacy and appreciation.

New Guides

Changes are coming to Asparagus Soup. I've started two guides, Asparagus Eats and Asparagus Endorses. Asparagus Eats is designed to help you make the right choices about eating out, produce, and other groceries. Asparagus Endorses brings you products that I find especially forward-thinking. For example, Organic Pastures is a raw milk dairy farm with perhaps the most pristine standards for dairy production anywhere in the world (and certainly in California), and Equal Exchange is a company that brings foreign goods from organic farms free of slaves (yes, still a big problem) and free of trade issues. 

You can find these guides at the sidebar to the right. They will be regularly updated. Expect a segment on raw milk coming up in Asparagus Eats.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Argument for Eggs, and Where to Find Them

If you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, or perhaps Grist lately, then you know you don't want conventional, liquidy, stark white shelled, and available-cheap-all-year-round eggs. Why not? You don't even want "Free-Range" Organic eggs if you can help, because, as a contrast to what their name suggests, they are actually rarely allowed outside their cages, and when they are, the closest they get to a pasture is a single square meter of dirt. Not soil, not grass, just dirt.

No, ideally what you want is this: eggs that are seasonal, colorful, and healthy. You can get them from farmers markets (but far from every one. You need to actually go to one and look.) and some CSA boxes (like this one). As we already have a box that we are very happy with, we are not about to switch, but if you haven't started your CSA yet, you should at least consider receiving one with pastured, farm fresh eggs. In most people's cases, we just need to find eggs at a farmers market. The next time you are at a farmers' market find eggs and ask how they're raised.

And stop buying this crap. If you' buy your eggs from Trader Joe's like I do, and don't have pastured, farm fresh eggs available for whatever reason, make sure to get Trader Joe's brand eggs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Matzah Meal Pancakes

4 eggs
1 cup matzah meal (for k-for-p and organic, look here).
1 cup water
1 t. salt
butter as a grease
some topping

Servings: 1-2 Time before you get to start eating: 15-20 mins

Add the ingredients above together in the order listed. That's important, the order matters.
Then just grease a large skillet (with plenty of butter) over medium heat and make about four pancakes. They should be pretty large, so you will probably want to do this in two go rounds with the frying pan. 
When they're finished, serve as soon as possible with some form of topping. You can use any type of preserve, jam, jelly, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon sugar, syrup, greens sauce, cheese sauce. Really, the recipe is so simple, you can eat the pancakes for any meal, and with any topping. Personally, I used grape jam, but I think next time I'll do something with fresh strawberries.

This recipe receives the Asparagus Soup Seal of Sustainability. Sort of. The matzah meal has to be handled with care, but it is available (if you ignore food miles...shh).

Day 36 - Pancakes, Untitled, Turkey

Yeah, I didn't actually have pancakes. They're "matzah meal pancakes"! Y'know, it's Passover. You can find the recipe here. Simply add a full carton of eggs and matzah meal.

Now the reason I called lunch, well, untitled, is that there's really no name for it. I sort of threw everything at arm's length together and heated it in the microwave. What do I mean by that? A base of whole wheat matzah, topped with shredded cheese, pretty finely chopped broccoli (from the CSA), chopped mushrooms, and herbes de provence. I made two. They actually tasted really amazing. In the future, I will leave more time, and use the oven.

We ate leftovers from the seder for dinner: boiled potatoes, turkey with gravy, canned jellied cranberry sauce, steamed broccoli, and canned peaches. Peaches in April! A delight, even if they were canned.

As it happens, I know what matzah is; but I am not sure that everyone else does. So instead of "Da !@#$ am I eating?", we'll be discussing what da !@#$ all the Jews are eating.

The story: This is how its told. When the Jews were finally freed from bondage in Egypt, they started baking bread. Then Moshe (or Moses, if that's how you know the name), comes running through the city, yelling something along the lines of, "We gotta go! Now! We gotta go now! Go go go!", so all the Jews just grab their half baked bread and beat it. Since the bread didn't have time to rise, it was just this cracker sort of thing. Over the years, it became a symbol of being freed from bondage in Egypt, and now, when we celebrate Passover, we eat it instead a bread for a week. Which is why all my posts have matzah in them. It tastes like a cross between a saltine and a cracker, in case you're wondering.
How to make it: Mix flour with water. Stab a lot with a fork to allow it to bake quicker in the oven. Bake at a really high temperature for less than 18 minutes. It has to be less than 18 minutes.
Better yet: buy it pre-made, so you don't end up eating burnt, tastless crackers shaped like abused clouds. I've been there. You don't want to be.

Wait! Where do I get organic, local matzah if I am not supposed to make it myself?
Eh...sorry. The Jews are a little backwards on this one. Outside of Chicago, Dayton, and extremely rich communities lacking taste buds (as in they're willing to pay a fortune for organic shmurah matzah which tastes even worse than the usual stuff), there really aren't a lot of options. Here you can find the few there are.

One dinner left for this Passover, and then I'm heading over to The Basin (hopefully).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Matzah Egg

1-2 eggs, depending on your preference
1/3 T. unsalter, organic butter
1 t. kosher salt
1 board of matzah

Servings: 1 Time before you get to start eating: about 10 minutes

Wash the matzah in warm water for a few seconds. Spread on the butter, then sprinkle on the salt. Break up the matzah into pieces into a bowl.
Soft boil the eggs. Here's how I do it: start with boiling water. It doesn't need to be rolling, it just needs to be boiling. Place in the eggs, and make sure they're covered. Leave them there for about 3 minutes. When you take them out, they'll be hot to handle, but you won't hurt yourself. Hold an egg in one hand and crack the wider end (where the air bubble is) with a spoon. Start peeling away the shell until you can just get your spoon in (so use a small spoon). Then just scrape out the yolk and white from the inside into the bowl.
Mix up the matzah with the egg, and voila, breakfast.

This recipe does not receive the Asparagus Soup seal of sustainability. I just can't find organic matzah, let alone local matzah. If you want to make it when it is not passover, use organic crackers or just buttered and salted toast.

Day 34 - Matzah Egg, Tuna. Chicken

Ack, look! Two types of meat in one day! I didn't even realize until now.

Matzah Egg...what is it? Well, as you may well know, we're right in the middle of passover, so I had to do something with matzah. To make matzah egg, you soak a matzah in warm water, spread it with butter and salt, break it up into a bowl, and top it with a soft-boiled (free-range organic) egg or two. I botched it, for what is perhaps the fifth time, by not boiling the egg long enough. I almost always manage to do something wrong. You can find the recipe on my blog.

For lunch I made tuna salad with the canned stuff and mayonaise, then spread it on whole wheat matzah. Is that better than white matzah? Not much I guess. On the side I washed and peeled the rest of the baby carrots from the newest CSA.

We went to a pot-luckish dinner with some other families in the area, so I did not have much maneuvaribilty with what to eat. Simply put, I ate everything. Brisket, chicken, roasted potatoes, cilantro salad, spinach pie, steamed broccoli, sauteed mushrooms, cake, fruit, and probably a couple other things. We brought the cilantro salad. I think I'm welcome to the occasional dinner where I eat whatever I want...and at least everything was homemade and fresh.

In the conventional Gefen mayo was potassium sorbate (and EDTA, but you already know all about that). "Da !@#$ am I eating?"

Function: stops yeast from reproducing, effectively preventing fermentation or spoiling.
Used in: wine and grape juice to prevent fermentation. The more alcoholic the wine is, the less you need, so grape juice (or my mayo <__>) needs far more than a 14% alcohol pinot.
Structure: found in solutions as K+ ions and ascorbic acid.

Apparently, somebody tried to get potassium sorbate authorized as a seed coat for preserving soil elements (I couldn't say how that works) in organic production, but thankfully the review panel shot the chemical down as completely synthetic, which it is. According to one of the reviewers, who has a Ph.D. in food science and nutrition and a minor in biochemistry and is an organic processing consultant, organic inspector, and nutrition researcher, synthetic potassium sorbate production is not environmentally sustainable. The chemical can be derived from blueberries, anyways, so why make it synthetically?

Asparagus's call: if you know that the potassium sorbate you're eating is from blueberries, fine, go ahead. If you don't know, get something else to eat. And just so we're clear, it will probably be effectively impossible to know. Sorry about that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Upcoming Environmental and Foodie Events

Asparagus Soup now has a calendar! See it at the very bottom of the page.

For more information, click on the event. Look into later months and check back later as I add events.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Day 29 - Coffee, Quesadilla, Pizza

I had a fever all day from a virus (I think), so I did not have much of an appetite, but when I did, I would eat anything.

For breakfast, I could only stomach coffee (I have no idea what kind or from where), and a tangelo we bought at the Mountain View farmers' market on Sunday.

This means that when we went to Whole Foods for lunch, I was hungry enough to eat a cheese quesadilla, with guacamole, chunky tomato salsa, and lettuce. I mean this was a big quesadilla. I also bought a pretty deep cup of potato & leek soup.

After this, my appetite never really returned...I only ate a single slice of pizza from Pizza My Heart for dinner.

As far as "Da !@#$ am I eating?", we'll be delving into the tangelo, as it is perhaps the least straightforward food I ate today. Which is saying a lot, because about a week ago I was enjoying some sweet calcium disodium EDTA.
Anyways, the tangelo: it came about by the hybridization of a mandarin orange with either a pomelo or a grapefruit. If you taste one, like I did today, it tastes like a mandarin orange, and it is bursting with juice like one, too. But it is pretty large, so you can see where the other part of its ancestry shows. This cross may originally have been accidental or intended, nobody knows. Why? Well, it happened 3,500 years ago at the very least, and that is at the fringe of history.

In summary: the tangelo tastes good. Enjoy.

O/L Restaurants

My dad had asked me to do some research on restaurants in the area where we could eat out and get food made from organic or local foods. So I did the research, and this is what I found for the area. I've listed the restaurants by how organic/local it is:

  • Parcel 104 2700 Mission College Blvd. Santa Clara, CA 95054
  • The Basin 14572 Big Basin Way Saratoga, CA 95070
  • Country Gourmet 1314 S Mary Ave. Sunnyvale, CA 94087
  • Birk's 3955 Freedom Circle Santa Clara, CA 95054
  • Manresa 320 Village Lane Los Gatos, CA 95030
  • Garden Fresh Vegetarian Restaurant 1245 W. El Camino Real Mountain View, CA 94040
  • Theo's 3101 N. Main St. Soquel, CA 95073
  • La Fondue 14550 Big Basin Way Saratoga, CA 95070
Better than most
  • Whole Foods Market (there are a ton)
  • Mudai Restaurant 503 W San Carlos St. San Jose, CA 95126
  • Aqui Cal-Mex Grill 1145 Lincoln Ave. San Jose, CA 95125
  • Blue Sun Cafe 324 W El Camino Real Sunnyvale, CA 94087
  • Chipotle (again, there are a ton)
  • Alvarado Street Bakery 500 Martin Ave. Santa Clara, CA 95050
  • New Leaf Community Market Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Print this off, put it on your fridge, and the next time you want to go out to eat, choose one of these places (if you live by me. If you do not, see the list of websites that follow). Do you know of any other places to eat O/L?

How to find O/L restaurants? Start with these: