Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Food and Social Change



I was a kid in the 1960s, when protests were a popular communications tool. Whether you agreed with the protesters message or not, you agreed they had the right to express themselves in a fashion that is at once peaceful and disobedient.

It's tough to balance these two states of being. The Democratic Convention of 1968 demonstrates this. Peaceful intent gives way to conflict. We watched it on tv, read about it in the newspapers, talked about it around kitchen tables with the neighbors.

When my parents sat with the other adults in the neighborhood, lamenting the loss of their generations' social construct, they would eat and drink. There was soda and beer, potato chips and dip, sandwiches and snacks. No matter how much they agreed or argued, they ate.

The Protester Diet

Well, it's déjà vu for me, watching the latest, greatest protest hits on television. While I empathize with some causes, and others not, I find myself wondering what they eat.

Of course, energy bars and bottled water come to mind. Tuna packets are also popular, as are foil wrapped bean burritos, dried meats and trail mix. Stick a few on-the-go foods in your riot-gear ready backpack and you're ready for battle.

While perusing the numerous sites that enumerate the items needed to protect yourself against local authorities and the weaponry they carry, I came across this article from The Guardian regarding the intended Women's March on Washington in January of 2017.

From the article:
Food: every participant is allowed to have one 12in by 12in by 6in plastic container or gallon bag for meals. The FAQ also mentions food trucks, and DC of course has plenty of restaurants.

This is a clear and practical approach to feeding oneself while protesting the election of a capitalist to the White House. You can take a break from the hate and dine at Mirabelle.

Occupation Fare
Long term protesting requires a food supply. Food Not Bombs recognizes that need and has created a sort of inverse catering industry.

From the website:
We also provide food and logistical support to often marginalized people and social movements by feeding striking workers and their families, people participating at protests, and organizing community projects.

They collect food from food sellers and disperse it, food that would have been thrown away. It's still good; it just can't be sold. They collect the food and use it to feed people. So if you need some way to feed a large group of social warriors, Food Not Bombs are your kind of people.

Future Foods
Protesting is a growing industry. Sales for items like scarves, baggies, backpacks and fume masks must certainly be on the rise. It is a distinctive look this particular brand of soldier is going for, and I'm certain the fashion industry is watching.

I try to imagine what sort of foods will come from all of this. The Depression brought us a multitude of vegetable dishes that continue to occupy menu space. Will we see Food Not Bombs–branded energy bars in the convenience stores where we fill our cars with petrol?

Branded water bottles seem a natural outgrowth of this wave of civil disobedience. Water distributors could offer custom labels: A message on a bottle.

Some enterprising soul will certainly come up with a food product that suits the protester lifestyle. Some sort of pre-packaged dehydrated foodstuff that requires neither heat nor refrigeration, brought to life with a water packet. Whatever they come up with, it will probably taste like chicken.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Adding New LIghts to My Kitchen




Of all the improvements we've done to this house over the years, lighting my kitchen is a favorite. For years I worked with the low-cost, not-so-attractive track lighting that did not light my workspaces.

In a kitchen, task lighting is essential. Cooks handle knives, hot foods, breakables of all sorts. And the various tasks required to make a dinner for a small group of people happen in separate spaces within the kitchen. One light source is not enough, even in a small kitchen like mine.

The Design

The open ceiling centered to the kitchen is designated Zone 1. Two 24-inch flush mount light fixtures in this space provide general lighting. They light the space up, but when I turn to work on the island, I'm still working in shadow. A second light source is necessary.

The island is the workspace of the kitchen, and the area above it is Zone 2. Here we add three recessed lights with adjustable optics. With a widespread light source now above and slightly in front of me, I can see what it is I'm cutting with my super sharp chef's knife.

Zone 3 is the under-the-counter space. This is where the small appliances live, like the coffee pot. Bob adds puck lights, stringing the thin wire through the cabinetry. In the evening, these lights serve as night-lights; I can pour a cup of coffee safely without turning on all the lights in the room.

The Result

The installation of these three types of lights requires certain skill sets, electrical and drywall among them. If you're not versed in this sort of installation, consult with various contractors to get the best price for the highest quality work.

The results are transformative. My kitchen looks freshened up, but all we did was bring in the right lighting. I actually work faster and more efficiently now, because I can see what I'm doing. The project cost about three hundred dollars in materials, and was worth every penny.

You can see the video of this install at YouTube. And we hope you'll visit our channel for videos on home improvement, gardening, aquatics and of course, cooking. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Don't Cook on Thanksgiving Day Menu



I cook just about every day, so cooking on a holiday isn't really much of a thrill. I realize that for many, it's more about having a crowd of people over and getting the meal together, which is as much a part of the event as sitting at the table and sharing food.

For us, a small gathering of five, Thanksgiving is more about a day free of work, free of chores, free of outside obligations that get in the way of doing nothing.

There will be football, Netflix, and potato chips and dip. I'll put the chips in a bowl, because it's a holiday.

For the main course, we'll have Boston Market. Turkey, potatoes, gravy, mac & cheese, stuffing, cornbread and something green. The beans are good.

I do cook one thing: a steak. I do this for my son who has celiac disease and does not eat anything Thanksgiving.

What about Tradition?

My mother's ghost makes an appearance as I write this. She scolds me for not making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, believing as she did that without traditions, civilization as we know it will fall. I disagree. I believe that depending on tradition to carry the weight of human behavior is an unrealistic expectation.

The thought of womankind trapped in the kitchen with big bird and his entourage makes it difficult for me to honor tradition inherent to the holiday. Someone has to cook, though, and while a number of men may now participate in the culinary rituals, I'm pretty sure it's still mostly women.

The commercially prepared Thanksgiving Feast has set this woman free for the holidays. I no longer labor under the illusion that spending my day off making a ridiculous amount of food for a 20-minute nosh makes me a better person. It just makes me tired.

What about Modernism?

A new paradigm is often perceived as a threat, or at least a disruption. Further, it calls into question the validity of the tradition. Turkey, for example, wasn't part of Thanksgiving dinner until late 19th century. Before that, there hadn't been much in the way of traditional foods except the meal would be seasonal. For many, this meant wild game, fish, and hearty root vegetables.

So when Turkey came round to make itself the center of attention, I'd bet someone said, "Turkey for Thanksgiving? No thanks, I'll stick to my venison."

The traditional cooking rituals that have accompanied the holiday for decades are still celebrated, and will be for decades to come. I, on the other hand, choose to take on a new tradition, one that honors the custom of turkey and sides while giving me equal rights to enjoy this holiday. I'm going to let someone else do the cooking, and they in turn are duly compensated in accordance to their contracts with their employer. Could anything be more American?

And that's holiday cooking in the 21st century.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Butter, Margarine and the Other Stuff



There are different kinds of spreads; these derive from either animal fat or plant oil. What we refer to colloquially as butter is the stuff churned from cow's milk, and it is 80 percent fat. Milk is churned, separating the butterfat and buttermilk and the final product is tasty, but contains cholesterol.

Margarine is not a dairy product. It's produced from vegetable oils, and while margarine also has an 80 percent fat content, it doesn't contain cholesterol.

Butter is made from animal milk and is a dairy product. Margarine is made from vegetable oils, and is a vegetable product. Both butter and margarine, in a pure state, are gluten free. But additives are deceiving, so if you're buying butter or margarine, check the label.

The Third Alternative

Both butter and margarine are considered spreads. To market these spreads as butter or margarine, they must contain 80 percent fat.

A spread that is neither butter nor margarine is usually a plant-based choice, has no cholesterol and is lower in fats.

But spreads also contain more ingredients, such soy or flavorings. They contain a combination of oils, with palm oil making a frequent appearance. People with food allergies or sensitivities should note that these substitutes might contain milk and/or soy, both common allergens.


When It Comes to Baking

The video "Butter vs I Can't Believe It's Not Butter in Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Cookie Mix" demonstrates the difference between butter and spread. The butter cookies had a better crumb than the spread, and tasted richer.

But the competitor did well, making a good cookie without milk fats. A lower fat spread though, with less vegetable oil content may not perform well with this, or any, gluten free baking mix. The fat content was very close in both products, but we see by the results that it isn't just how much fat is called for, but the kind of fat we use. 

Butter, though, contains cholesterol, and for this cook, that can be a problem. Testing the alternative spread in this mix I see there is a difference in the results. But as you can see in the pull-out, each cookie has 10 mg of cholesterol from the butter. The spread cookies may not be as rich and may crumble a bit, but I Can't Believe It's Not Butter makes a pretty good cookie.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Transitions for the Contemporary Cook



Cooking for those with special dietary needs requires an added level of attention to the process of making meals. That's what I've been writing about in this blog – addressing special dietary needs in my own family. I've posted about some of the problems encountered during the years, and I've posted recipes.

Now, my husband and I are a few short years from retirement from our day jobs and our kids are pretty much grown. Our lifestyles are changing, and so to our eating habits.

Of course, Bob and I still adhere to the low-fat, low-sodium mantra of good health. And our son follows the gluten-free diet faithfully. Our daughter is now and always will be a vegetarian.

But I don't have to cook every meal now, and food makers and manufacturers have stepped up their game to capture the gluten free market. Bob's Red Mill, Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, and others all provide high quality baked good mixes; I don't always have to bake from scratch. Flour blends are also readily available and in some cases, are cup-to-cup substitutes for wheat flour.

Fresh and healthy, with a bit of dessert
So I'm going to move along, and explore the world of food from a different perspective. There's still dietary restrictions to deal with, but healthy eating is now a standard and gluten free is the media darling. For those of us dealing with specialty diets for the last decade, the rest of the world is just catching up.

Now, I want to look at how we can simplify the process of providing meals, in particular to a mature family. Cooking for kids and busy parents is different from cooking for adults, but the techniques and methods aren't mutually exclusive.

JustAz.com Productions has various projects in the works; among them, a series of videos for Contemporary Cooking focused less on recipes and more on ingredients. We'll also be looking at some renovations in the just az gardens, focused on providing some fresh herbs and vegetables for this cook.
 
Over the next few months, we'll transition from the more singular focus of recipes and techniques to a broader approach toward providing meals, looking at more than just cooking in the kitchen. Healthy take-out, make-ahead meals, and product reviews are all on the menu. Sorry, couldn't resist.