Louisiana Maque Choux

Being married to a man from Southern Louisiana is an ongoing lesson in food and history. Tonight's dinner, Maque Choux, reminds me of the very first things I learned about the lives of Acadian descendants in Louisiana: 1. An "x" on the end of a last name is silent (Boudreaux, Malveaux, Thibodaux, etc). 2. The difference between Cajun and Creole cooking (Cajun = one pot/bayou, Creole = lots of pots/NOLA). 

The story of the Acadians in South Louisiana is a fascinating one. One that I'm quite proud to have married into. If you want read more about it click here.

Maque Choux, takes the Acadian's traditional food base (the "holy trinity" of onion, celery, bell pepper) and combines it with the Native American influence of corn. It is often topped with a local protein: chicken, shrimp or crawfish. It's a perfect midsummer dinner!

Locavores, Pescatarians and Paleo's - oh my!

In the seven months since I decided to stop using this blog as my soapbox on how to make healthy living choices both O and mine's siblings have both adopted new restrictive eating habits. One became paleo, the other pescatarian (and I don't think either reads this blog). Confused? So was my Mom (understandably). This is how I broke it down for  her: 

• Paleo - If cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. This means no refined sugar, dairy, legumes or grains (cavemen didn't farm). Instead your entire diet must revolve around foods that the caveman could find, kill/pick and eat himself. This means: meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and veggies. 
• Pescatarian - a diet that includes seafood and excludes all other animals. Think of it as stepping stone towards becoming a vegetarian.
• Locavore - someone who is committed to eating food that is grown or produced within their local community or region. 

Before I dive into why I don't recommend paleo and pescatarian eating habits I'd like to further explain my own: The term "locavore" touches only part of my food goals. Foremost: I focus on heart healthy foods and portion sizes. Second: I choose local foods over organic foods (farmer's market kale instead of organic kale from California). Third:  I choose long distance real/whole foods over local processed foods (example: banana from Guatemala instead of a pre-packaged snack food made near Atlanta). Fourth: No CAFO* meats! Fifth: Processed foods of any kind are only eaten as a splurge (example: Lay's Potato Chips or corn chips with queso) and all above rules may be broke when I am someone's guest (as a Southern Lady, I enjoy anything offered by my host). 

The paleos and pescatarians in my life arrived at their new food lifestyles in completely legitimate and respectables ways. I appreciate and applaud their goals and reasons; I just think they're a little misguided. Here's why:

  1. Paleo very specifically forbids the foods that O & I put so much emphasis on eating. Foods such as black beans, oatmeal, Greek yogurt and whole wheat rice. A healthy food lifestyle shouldn't ban it's participants from adopting more healthy eating habits.
  2. Paleo focuses on asking yourself the wrong question. Instead of "did Cavemen consider this food" a better question would be "did my great-grandmother consider this food**"? Your great-grandmother might stare in disbelief at Fruit Loops but she'll be happy to dig into some oatmeal with real maple syrup.
  3. At it's core the Paleo diet is not one that is realistically maintained for a lifetime. For the short term it's too reminiscent of the awful Atkins fad. And you remember Atkins don't you? People lost tons of weight eating red meat and cheese - only to put all the weight back on when they returned to their normal eating habits.

Our pescatarian sibling made this choice out of respect for the mistreatment of CAFO* animals. It's true, not eating meat is a sure fire way to make sure you're not responsible for the mistreatment of factory farm animals; but I feel more strongly aligned with the alternative "vote with your fork***" philosophy. Instead of giving up meat altogether spend a little more money on meat that was raised ethically. If it's too expensive then eat less of it. Supporting the "good" farmers helps reduce factory farming more then boycotting the "bad" farmers. 

This last point, supporting farmers who ethically raise chicken, pigs and cows is one that I want to work on myself. I have a reliable egg source and all our meat comes from a farmer's market that promises organic origins - but what do I really know about those animals' living conditions? Organic labeling may also hint about being "free range" but it doesn't always guarantee it. I talk a big talk but it's time for me to walk the walk. My goal for this spring: find a meat CSA or local farm to start buying from.

* Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Also known as Factory Farming
**credit to Michael Pollan's Food Rules
***"The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world. Now, it may seem a little daunting to think, 'Oh my God, I’ve got to vote right three times a day.' And, you know...you don’t and you won’t. We all have our junk foods that we can’t resist, and that’s fine...But if you get it right once a day, you can produce a more sustainable agriculture, a cleaner environment, diminish climate change, and improve the lot of animals. That’s an amazing power that we have, and we all have it." - Michael Pollan: http://www.nourishlife.org/2011/03/vote-with-your-fork/

Healthy, real food, we've been eating

Labor Day: Mini sausages on ciabatta rolls with a fun assortment of toppings (pickled cauliflower, homemade kimchi, carmelized leeks, avocado, etc).
Tuesday: Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, okra and tomato salad (it was a rough day for me so Oliver cooked up some comfort food - super thoughtful of him, thanks Bou).
Wednesday: Chicken salad (and some experimentation with filters on my camera).

Good advice from my favorite Food Network star: Alton Brown

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Alton Brown at his own home. The man I was dating at the time was an actor on the show and Alton was generous enough to invite all of his employees (and their significant others) over for the holiday. In case you're wondering, he did in fact fry his turkey with the ladder and pulley method he featured in a Thanksgiving episode. But that's not why I'm bringing Alton up. I mention him because I just stumbled upon a video in which he clearly outlines his current healthy, real food, eating habits. Having met him in person half a dozen times I was struck by how very thin he appears in the video. When I met him he was barrel chested yet robust - now (as seen in the video) he is quite lean. His new eating habits are clearly serving him well.

I am so impressed with his eating advice that I wanted to share the video with the hopes it will influence more people. (My only objection is the red meat and alcohol once a week - but we all pick our vices.) Thanks for the video Alton and best of luck on your newest endeavors!

Healthy, real food, snack ideas

One of Michael Pollan's food rules that I did not mention in my last post is about snacks. The rule is "limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods".  He explains that "the bulk of of the 500 calories Americans have added to their daily diet since 1980 (the start of the obesity epidemic) have come in the form of [processed] snacks foods laden with salt, fat and sugar".

While limiting my snacks to unprocessed plant foods does sound ideallic I had to open the options up a little wider in order to stick with it. The following is a list of my favorite healthy, real food snacks. Some are good for bringing to the office, others are better as quick post-workday/pre-workout energy boost and a few I only have time for on the weekends or when hosting a party.
  • Raw, shelled almonds (Oliver almost always has a pocket-full)
  • Fruit: apple slices, avocado slices, clementines, grapes, in-season tomato slices with salt and pepper, blueberries
  • Toasted kale with a touch of olive oil and kosher salt (this is my FAVORITE because it offers the same salt and texture satisfaction as original Lays potato chips)
  • Friendship brand California style cottage cheese
  • Celery stalks with tzatziki dip
  • Radish slices with hummus
  • Broccoli with yogurt/cucumber/dill dip 
  • Edamame (this is one of my Mom's favorites)
  • Home-popped popcorn (Avoid pre-packaged microwave popcorn as the bags are lined with a chemical that breaks down into the popcorn when heated. Many recipes for homemade stovetop or microwaved popcorn can be found online.)
  • Greek yogurt with walnuts and golden raisins
How about the rest of you? What are your favorite, real food snacks that other people might enjoy trying?

What to eat

I'm struggling with posts this week. I've wanted to write something that would convince everyone to give up "food like" substances as well as recipes based on "cream of this or that" - but I've found I'm not that good of a writer. So instead, I'm turning to my old faithful, Micheal Pollan, for his help. 

The following food tips come from his book Food Rules - an eater's manual. These are my ten favorites (in no particular order):
1. Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.
2. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well. (I like to add "lived well" too).
3. Eat well grown food from healthy soil.
4. Favor oils and grains that have tradtionally been stone ground.
5. Avoid food products that contain more then five ingredients.
6. Treat treats as treats ("...special occasion foods offer some of the great pleasures of life, so we shouldn't deprive ourselves of them, but the sense of occasion needs to be restored...")
7. Pay more, eat less. ("...you get what you pay for. There is also a trade-off between quality and quantity...")
8. If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don't.
9. It's not food if it's called by the same name in every language. Think Big Mac, Cheetos, or Pringles.
10. Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space, a window box if you don't.

Fiber - what it is, what it does and where to get it

I was recently reminded how confused many people are about what it means to be heart healthy. Over the next few months I want to include blog posts about specific ways to build a heart healthy life. I will also attempt to better explain why prepackaged and processed foods should be avoided - regardless of their health claims.  These will be in addition to my learning-to-cook-adventure and the usual (read: awesome) Oliver meals and garden updates. I thought I'd start where Oliver and I started two years ago: with Fiber. 

When we decided to make a conscious effort to eat healthy I did some research on high fiber foods. On it's most basic level dietary fiber is defined as the edible, yet digestion resistant, portions of plant cell walls. Dietary fiber is then subdivided into soluble and non-soluble. After two years of thinking about their distinctions I've decided that as long as the fiber is coming from a piece of whole (non-processed*) food then I don't bother making a big effort to consume one type over the other. But if you're someone with specific reasons for eating fiber (easing constipation versus lowering cholesterol) then understanding the distinction between the two types is helpful.
  • Soluble fiber is "soluble" in water.  When mixed with water it forms a gel-like substance and swells.  Soluble fiber has many benefits, including moderating blood glucose levels and lowering cholesterol.  
  • Insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water.  It passes through our digestive system in close to its original form.  Insoluble fiber offers many benefits to intestinal health, including a reduction in the risk and occurrence of colorectal cancer, hemorrhoids, and constipation. (From www.myfooddiary.com)
Women should get about 25 grams a day and men at least 35 to 40, but the average person gets just 15 grams a day**. There is goods news; a lot of really delicious, real foods are also very high in fiber. People just need to decide to eat them instead of whatever "fake foods" they are chosing to eat instead. The following is a list*** of the best high fiber foods. I'm sure anyone can find at least 5 foods on it they like enough to eat everyday. Some of my favorites include avocado, kale, spinach, sweet potato, almonds, collards, lentils and black beans.

*Non-processed foods includes breakfast cereals. It annoys me that blatantly sugar based cereals are allowed to call themselves good sources of fiber. 
**Carolyn Brown, R.D., a nutritionist at Foodtrainers, in New York City.

Holiday Frenzy

Hello friends! Like most of you we have a busy Saturday ahead of us. Last minute shopping, a stop at the post office, gift crafting and wrapping and a Christmas party to top it all off. (Oliver has gone to help the hosts shuck oysters.) No time for a new post by the Topher too crew but I hope you'll read this great post from 100 days of Real Food. In it she addresses the sad fact that our country has created many "food deserts" where finding real food can be a true challenge. If there isn't a farmers market within reasonable driving distance of your home this post will help guide you to your best choices at the neighborhood big box grocer. 

While you're on her blog also check out 10 Reasons to Stop Eating Processed Foods.

And to everyone with a hectic pre-holiday day planned: keep calm and carry on!