Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tune in to a recounting of a Colorado Springs dilemma

In case you missed it, National Public Radio's This American Life recently recounted the story of what happened when Colorado Springs chose to turn off streetlights and close parks in response to its budget problems last year. Interviews with community leaders explain the situation as it unfolded from their point of view. I like the way the baton is passed among these key players to help shed light on what they were thinking and responding to. It's a unique take on a local issue that inspired passionate debate, made national headlines, and continues to speak to a dilemma painfully pertinent in our time.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Medicine's shift from treatment to testing questioned

A new book -- Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health -- and a corresponding op-ed in the New York Times, raises the intriguing philosophical question of how to approach preventative health care. H. Gilbert Welch contends that the growing emphasis on testing versus treatment is obscuring the bigger picture, that the fundamentals of good health are nutritious food and exercise, not screenings, drugs and preemptive procedures.

The reductionist desire to apply a simple yardstick to complicated problems is seen everywhere in society, not just in medicine. When we evaluate marketing, is it all about clicks and followers, rather than the legitimacy of the message and whether the company's unseen practices actually match up with the rhetoric? Do employment statistics or a business's bottom-line take into account that what people really need is gainful employment that allows for healthy, personally enriching lifestyles, families and communities as well?

We are in an age when the sheer glut of information often overwhelms legitimate answers to legitimate questions.

Michael Pollan famously remedied this "can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees" affliction toward food, when he told eaters to throw away their diets, scales, food lists and calorie charts and adopt a common-sense mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Modern medicine is capable of miracles. It is also capable of becoming a distraction from the bigger goal of life well-lived and makes a blunt substitute for the need to balance prudence with pleasure and curing with caring.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Eat, Drink, Cook: Food haiku to greet the new

As the old year leaves
get out cans of black-eyed peas,
review recipes

How's that for a New Year's Day haiku? The Southern tradition of having black-eyed peas to encourage good luck has spread nationwide, and bean dishes have heft and nutrition, a good way to start the year off. One option is to make a rich shimmery beef and beer stew and add some black-eyed peas to it. Allow me to recommend Amanda Bristol's beef stew made with a locally brewed, seasonal ale from Bristol Brewing, (you might even have some party extras setting around)... We've published the recipe a couple of times in our Ranch Foods Direct newsletter, but I'll repost it here.

If the crisp air and bright sunlight of this first day of 2012 leaves you less than ambitious about spending time in the kitchen, how about a stovetop version of cheesy black-eyed pea dip, served with Colorado-made crispbread crackers left over from last night or some fresh broccoli and apples slices?

Here's how to do it (in my case, modified to suit the pantry ingredients already on hand; make substitutions as needed or to taste):

Diced bacon (just a little for extra flavor), onion and Jalapeno pepper, gently pan-fried together in smoked olive oil; a can of diced tomatoes and some corn kernels (frozen or canned); seasoned with a teaspoon of cumin and of thyme and a half-teaspoon of paprika and chili powder; a 15-oz. can of black-eyed peas, drained; and a big pinch of salt and ground black pepper; topped with 4 to 8 ounces of creamy Haystack Mountain goat cheese, crumbled and melted.

In honor of "Bean Day" on January 6, look for more bean recipes in our forthcoming January 2012 customer newsletter (shown here).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The ultimate "family restaurant"?

New York City restauranteur Massimo Galeano wanted to serve his customers the same traditional Italian dishes he grew up with and still craved. So he started bringing his mother from Bologna for weeks-long visits to handcraft the tortellini, ravioli, tagliatelle and other pastas he serves at Gradisca. At her flour-dusted table in clear view of diners, she rolls, shapes and stuffs the dough, conjuring a soothing presence that makes the meals feel truly home-style, in an age when the term "family restaurant" gets batted around a bit too lightly. Read the delightful story in the Dining Section of this week's New York Times.

And while there, here's another piece to enjoy: author Jennifer Steinhauer describes why we feel slighted with the frequent appearance of store-bought items at the neighborhood bake sale or pot luck. Her article vindicates my decision to make German Chocolate Brownie Bars at Halloween, even though I wasn't sure they'd appeal to trick-or-treating kids or protective parents. (By all appearances, they did, although the store-bought chocolate-dipped M&M granola bars ultimately proved most popular.)

In a world where so much of what we eat is conveniently mess-proof and cookie-cutter, it's nice to see that hand-made and one-of-a-kind can still hold its own. (And yes, even on those occasions when the pan of bar cookies is crispy brown on the edges while the center isn't completely done... and the harried cook scrambles for a remedy... kinda like the fourth quarter of a Broncos football game. Sigh.) 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Eat, Drink, Cook: The Potato Pancake Tradition

Over at Hungry Chicken Homestead — where blog writer Bonnie Simon says her citified chickens rule the roost — there's an opportunity to weigh in on the best way to make potato pancakes.

Bonnie is Jewish, and potato latkes are a traditional food for her family at this time of year, even if she and her mom trade friendly barbs over whether the potatoes should be blended or shredded first. (And don't we all know what those fun little food disputes can be like?)

Bonnie's story and recipe reminded me that my mom, who is not Jewish but rather of German Mennonite ancestry, often made potato pancakes for us when we were kids. (Hers were pillowy smooth rather than free-form shredded too. Maybe it's a generational thing.) Those tender pancakes were fragrant, warm and soft, perfect for cold winter mornings or long dark winter evenings on the farm. Comfort food, that's what they were. Bonnie's remembrances are feeding my own, and now I'm thinking about making some myself. Plus, group me with those who think potatoes have been unfairly demonized (Dr. Daphne Miller devotes an entire chapter to the healthy upside of traditional potato-centric diets in her wonderful book, The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World — Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You.) My view: Fast food french fries, bad. Colorado potatoes with skins on, good. Especially during the winter.

For something leaner, lighter and literally greener, though, I couldn't help noticing a recipe from Gourmet (God rest its soul, my all-time favorite magazine before the clueless bean-counters parachuted into the Conde Nast corporate office and decided since Bon Appetit published recipes, too, the best literary food journalism available in print should be canned) for zucchini latkes. If you're like me, you find yourself craving all things green during these dark (but sparkly) days of plant dormancy. Here's a way to have your pancake, and eat something green too.


Add a little color to the Festival of Lights with zucchini pancakes that shine green. Lighter than potato latkes, they’re the Mediterranean cousins who’ve traveled north to visit family in eastern Europe.
  • 3 lb zucchini
  • 1 1/3 cups plain fine dry bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • About 1 cup vegetable oil for frying

    sour cream

    a deep-fat thermometer
  • Grate zucchini using medium shredding disk of a food processor. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 2 tsp salt. Let stand 30 minutes.
  • Squeeze zucchini in batches in a kitchen towel to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer zucchini to a large bowl and stir in bread crumbs, eggs, marjoram, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.
  • Preheat oven to 200°F.
  • Heat 1/3 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Scoop 2 Tbsp mixture per latke into skillet (6 to 8 per batch). Flatten with a fork to form 21/2- to 3-inch pancakes. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side (adding more oil as necessary). Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven.