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Growing Up Gourmet: March 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Local Foods Meet Federal Foes

It's discouraging to know the federal government is getting in the way of feeding your family fresh, local, and organic produce -- which is typically much healthier and more nutritious than the mass-produced varietals.

If you were disturbed and dismayed to read farmer Jack Hedin's editorial "Forbidden Fruit (and Vegetables)" in the New York Times earlier this month, you won't want to miss Evan Kleiman's interview with him this week on KCRW's show Good Food. You can listen online with their new media player, Tuned In. Despite the fact that the local foods movement is growing, and the demand for pesticide-free vegetables increasing, the government would much rather support the monoculture farmers who reap rows and rows of corn, while your zucchini is trucked in from a thousand miles away.

But there's hope. Read the Fresh Mouth blog, which chronicles "a family of 5, with 1 mission to eat only fresh food or processed food with 5 ingredients or less for 30 days". This Mom's mission:

We're an average American family trying to eat better and enjoy it more. We'll convince our three little kids that fresh food is about pleasure, rituals and family - and not about red dye #40, high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Boxes of Fun Straight from the Farm

A tightly sealed package filled with wonderful goodies... euphoric aromas seeping from the kitchen...

No, it's not Christmas. It's your CSA box arriving weekly with freshly harvested local bounty!! But with spring's sweet treats like green peas and asparagus, it sure does seem like Christmas in March.

Community Supported Agriculture is one of the best ways you can inspire your tot-chef to chow down on mysterious vegetables and juicy fruit. And is there a better opportunity to discuss where food comes from (Albertson's? the can?) than when your delivery arrives straight from the local farm? Anticipation and wonder will radiate from your kids as they peel open the box to see what will be on the menu this week. And with truly the tastiest produce at their finger-tips, they'll be clamoring to help you cook up new recipes for carrots and beans.

If you live in the Los Angeles or San Diego area, sign up for a CSA box from J.R. Organics. The Escondido based family farm is committed to providing its members with the freshest, most nutritious vegetables around. Try them out by picking up a few veggies from their stand at many local Farmers' Markets.

Coming soon... kid-friendly recipes inspired by the weekly harvest.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Free Range -- Not a Cash Cow

No doubt you've noticed it takes a few more greenbacks to buy things these days. With gas prices soaring past $3.50 gallon, the mortgage crisis heating up, and unemployment rates rising, it's no surprise that groceries are becoming gastronomical too. The cost of eggs were up 40% in 2007; milk and coffee are 26% more expensive than they were just 6 months ago.

You may be thinking that the rising cost of living is one more reason to skip Whole Foods (deemed Whole Paycheck by many) and head to the 99 Cent Store. In fact, the LA Times offered advice last Sunday for really eating on the cheap with a review of the new 99 Cent Store "gourmet" cookbook.

But as it turns out, this might just be the best time to appreciate the free-range, organic, cage-free, grass-fed and typically more expensive goodies from organic farmers and green grocers. Why? On many organic, natural, and local farms that depend less on corn products, operating costs such as feed are staying fixed. What does this mean to the consumer? Grass-fed chicken may still cost a few cents more than their corn-fed brothers, but the price gap is most definitely shrinking. Higher-quality organic produce may not cost more for long. Similarly, industry experts are predicting that the rising price of whole foods -- those in their most natural form like eggs and milk and apples -- are beginning to peak and perhaps drop. Whereas processed foods -- those foods that require economically volatile products such as corn syrup, extensive packaging, and long-distance travel from farm to factory -- are most definitely going to be hit by price inflation throughout 2008.

You knew your heart would thank you for choosing fresh spinach from the produce aisle over a spinach and sausage Hot Pocket from the freezer section. And you knew your conscience would be thankful you chose eggs from free-range birds over those that were cooped-up.

Finally, your pocketbook is beginning to appreciate both.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hey, It's Pizza Night! (Or How to Clean Out the Fridge)

A few slices of prosciutto... a handful of aging mushrooms... some leftover grilled zucchini... last night's rotisserie chicken... cherry tomatoes... pesto... pasta sauce... feta...

What's calling to you from your fridge, begging to be eaten instead of wasted and thrown away?

If you think your kids won't get excited for pizza unless it's covered in grease and hails from a take-out box, think again. In our house, pizza night is nearly once a week and rarely planned. Instead, it's a quick solution for using up leftover veggies, meats, cheeses, and sauces. With a side of arugula tossed with parmesan and pepper, it's a perfect and delicious dinner. I usually have fresh pizza dough in the fridge or freezer -- Trader Joe's can't be beat -- just be sure to defrost it in the morning. If you don't have dough on hand, whole wheat pita bread and flour tortillas make even quicker pizzas when you're in a pinch.

The secret to such kid-friendly leftovers? 1) Melted cheese is always sure to please. (Mozzarella and fontina melt fabulously. 2) Your kids release their inner Iron Chef; your home is transformed into Kitchen Stadium. Have the kids help roll the dough for individual pies. Take out the topping options and let them get creative!

Be the super-mom tonight and serve pizza. Don't worry; your clean-out-the-fridge secret is safe with me.

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