Tuesday, 26 September 2006
Sometime between Labor Day and Halloween, “the holidays” begin. And, “the holidays” are a marvelously mixed bag of personal and cultural ceremonies, emotions, chaos and stress.
A harvest basket filled to overflowing at Thanksgiving contains all the gifts of the garden n vegetables, flowers and the opportunities to learn and labor. (Steve McEnroe, Journal staff)
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Thanksgiving because if you temporarily set aside its costume of feathers, pumpkins and folk tales, I feel there is goodness beyond measure in acknowledging and expressing gratitude. At some point in my musings, the question arose: What exactly are we being grateful for?
That’s when Thanksgiving started appearing to me as a holiday masquerading as an onion — a day with lots of layers of possible meaning attached to its observance.
For example, the story of the first Thanksgiving is sweet and highlights unselfish generosity on the part of the American Indians. The settlers, undoubtedly, were profoundly grateful that they had survived to that point. However charming the story, it’s hard, at least for me, to make a direct, personal connection to that piece of history.
Cultures around the world celebrate harvest, not always as a moment of communal gluttony, but rather as an assurance that there is seed for next year’s crop and food to keep the breeding stock and human families alive throughout the winter. Celebrating the harvest at the end of the growing season seems one thing; celebrating a harvest’s assurance of survival for one more year is very different.
The crucial connection
As a gardener, the observance of Thanksgiving seems to me to be inextricably bound to the soil, the sun, the rain, the pulse of things growing. There is a vital bond between the gardener and the garden, between he who makes a compact with the soil and the manifest harvest delivered as a sum of produce, knowledge, labor, trust, skill and luck.
I have trouble seeing the garden as bestowing gifts at harvest. I can’t think that the garden has ever given me much. I’ve worked hard, been sunburned, wind-blown, injured, bone-tired and loved every minute of it. What is it about the garden-gardener partnership then that I am grateful for?
- It’s all about the gifts of opportunity. Consider this: If I take the opportunity, being in the garden can fascinate and frustrate me to learn more about being a positive custodial partner in the nurture of the soil.
- If I take the opportunity, I can marvel at the wonder of seeds, ponder and appreciate that in the tiniest seed is everything that plant will ever be, will ever need.
- If I take the opportunity, the garden allows me to practice generosity and sharing with its harvest.
- If I take the opportunity, I can be a student of the dynamics of life of a garden, observing, practicing silence, patience and awareness.
- If I take the opportunity, I can be a teacher and freely share much of the harvest — wonder, enthusiasm, understanding and reverence.
- If I take the opportunity, I can accept the garden’s invitation to share time and experiences with other gardeners.
- If I take the opportunity, I can cultivate curiosity, learn to experiment, read and acquire new understandings.
- If I take the opportunity I can work hard, feel the sun on my neck and the wind in my face, and end the day truly tired from good work.
- If I take the opportunity I know that I can look out on the garden at any time and feel a sense of renewal and gratitude for all the experiences the garden presents.
While we may look with satisfaction and pleasure at the baskets of vegetables or the jars of canned fruit from the garden, to my mind, the real gift from the garden is this: the opportunity to cultivate, harvest and share gratitude continuously.
- Cathie Draine is a member of the Garden Writers Association and a SDSU/Pennington County Extension Service Master Gardener. She lives and gardens in Black Hawk. Readers may send comments or questions to her in care of The Rapid City Journal, Box 450, Rapid City SD 57709.
Thursday, 21 September 2006
Buzz through the years about the health benefits of wine may not be any more substantive than wine bubbles themselves.
The French Paradox -- the enigma revolving around the large consumption of fatty foods by the wine-drinking French and their relatively low rates of heart disease and obesity -- launched a sporadic amount of research starting in the 1990s studying if and how wine keeps its drinkers from developing heart disease and cancer.
A study reported in August by University of Connecticut and University of Milan scientists even found white wine may be as beneficial for the heart as red wine.
The interest in wine's alleged health benefits may stem from people wanting their favorite foods and drinks to also be healthy, said Mary Beth Green, a clinical dietitian at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.
"An example of that is chocolate," she said, because recent research proved dark chocolate contains phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are compounds found in certain plants that protect against diseases. One well-known phytochemical is lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, and has been found to protect against cancers, heart disease and other diseases.
But the health benefits of wine are not so easy to tease out through research, creating an air of suspicion about its efficacy.
Dr. John Foley, a cardiologist at The William W. Backus Hospital, said much of what professionals know about wine's benefits is anecdotal.
He said it is difficult to measure the relationship between disease and wine consumption because it would be unethical to expose humans to varying amounts of alcohol to figure out how much is good enough to lower risk.
Many other factors can play a role in risk reduction besides wine consumption, but it isn't easy to pinpoint, Foley said.
He also said he doesn't encourage his heart patients to drink wine because there is no direct link to health so far.
Dr. Michael Apstein, a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has written numerous articles on the link between wine and health, but he does not encourage everyone to drink wine.
"I think the consumption of wine is a two-way sword," he said, explaining it can be abused.
- Julie A. Varughese
Wednesday, 20 September 2006
Are you looking for an alternative to fast food? Are you in search of a way to serve healthy, delicious meals to your family? Research has proven that families that eat together lead more productive and fulfilling lives.
"This year's findings prove that family dinners and the communication that occurs over the course of a meal are critical in building a relationship with your children and to understanding the world in which they live," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA's chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
NEW YORK, Sept. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Teens who have infrequent family dinners (two or fewer per week) are twice as likely to smoke daily and get drunk monthly, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (at least five per week), according to a new report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University and sponsored by TV Land and Nick at Nite's Family Table. This is the first time the study has examined the relationship between a teen's current tobacco and alcohol use and family dinners.
The report, The Importance of Family Dinners III, also reveals that, compared to teens who have five or more family dinners per week, those who have two or fewer are:
* More than twice as likely to have tried cigarettes;
* One and half times likelier to have tried alcohol;
* Twice as likely to have tried marijuana; and
* More than twice as likely to say future drug use is very or somewhat likely.
Findings in The Importance of Family Dinners III draw from CASA's 11th annual back-to-school survey, released this past August.
We all know how challenging it can be to get hot, well balanced meals on the table, especially during the work week. We have all been there, buying fast food for the convenience or even deliberating the thought of spending all weekend just to prepare for the upcoming week. This is just too time consuming! Meals delivered to your door can make a huge difference in your life! Whether you are looking for dinner for two or you have a household in need of 5 day meal plans or 7 day meal plans, there is an option for you. At Gourmet Grocery Online you can choose for family dinners such as a Traditional Ham Dinner, Lasagna Dinners, or even a Classic Sunday Pot Roast. These meals and many more can be purchased individually or in a packaged combination, just perfect to fill your freezer!
CASA and TV Land and Nick at Nite's Family Table: Share More Than Meals -- Classic TV's very first pro-social initiative -- are encouraging Americans to commit to eating dinner together as a family on Family Day - A Day To Eat Dinner With Your Children(TM) on Monday, September 25, 2006. Visit http://www.FamilyTable.info to pledge to have dinner as a family on Family Day. CASA created Family Day in 2001 as a national effort to promote parental engagement as a simple, effective way to reduce youth substance abuse and raise healthier children. For more information, visit http://www.CASAFamilyDay.org.
Tuesday, 19 September 2006
Pumpkin Soup in Pumpkin Bowls
A delicious soup and a beautiful presentation - the perfect starter for an autumn dinner party!
Kick up your holiday dinner or any fall dinner party with this yummy, creamy pumpkin soup served in little pumpkins.
If you could choose only one thing to represent autumn, it might very well be a pumpkin. This Halloween staple is commonly found in smooth and comforting pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pumpkins are versatile vegetables that you can use to make muffins and quick breads, puree, side dishes, and this delicious soup that's served in small pumpkins.
This pumpkin soup makes a very special starter at a dinner party, or serve it with lots of fresh bread and a salad for a lunch gathering. You can serve it in a large pumpkin and use soup bowls to eat from, or pick up small pumpkins and carve them into individual bowls.
Use the unsweetened, unflavored canned pumpkin for the soup, not the pie filling type. For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth. Adjust the ginger and nutmeg to taste, if desired.
Make your pumpkin bowls just before you make the soup, or while the soup is cooling.
Begin with six small pumpkins for individual bowls, or one large pumpkin to serve the soup from. Wash the pumpkins well with warm soapy water and dry off.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the tops from the pumpkins in a straight line. Scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp from each pumpkin, being careful not to cut through the flesh. Slice seeds and pulp from the pumpkin "lids" as well, and cut a thin layer from the bottom of the pumpkins so that they will sit flat. When the internal sides are completely clean, dab a very thin layer of lemon or lime juice over the cut surfaces on the top of each pumpkin to prevent discoloring. Set bowls aside until ready to use.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup carrots, diced
4 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups solid pack canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup light apple cider or apple juice
salt and ground black pepper to taste
sour cream and thin slices of green onion to garnish, if desired
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, celery, and carrots and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender. Add chicken broth and canned pumpkin; mix well and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat; add ginger and nutmeg and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.
When soup has cooled, puree until smooth using a blender, stick blender, or food processor. Return soup to the pan and add apple cider; add salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook for another 3-5 minutes until heated through.
To serve, place each pumpkin bowl on a serving plate and fill with hot pumpkin soup. Top with a spoonful of sour cream and sprinkle with green onions if desired. Replace pumpkin lids to keep the soup warm while everyone is seated.
Makes 6 servings.
- Carrie Grosvenor
Monday, 18 September 2006
Because of the current interest in health and the growing waistlines of many Americans, manufacturers and retail stores are taking advantage of the consumer's desire to make healthier food choices. Check out the advertising on food labels and other food ads. What messages do you see?
What makes a food healthy? Generally, the more basic the food (less processing, fewer ingredients), the more nutrients it contains. It should also fit into one of the five healthy food groups and should not be too high in sugar, saturated or trans fat, or sodium. The obvious examples of healthy foods are items in the produce section of the grocery store fruits and vegetables. The more these items are processed, such as in jellies and ketchup, the fewer nutrients they contain.
Beware of many of the foods marketed to children. These often contain higher sugar, fat, and/or sodium to increase the appeal. In most cases, there are healthier choices that are just as convenient.
If a food item naturally contains more fiber, it is usually less processed and has more nutritional value. Some of the low-carb baked goods have been processed and then other fibers are added to be able to list more fiber on the label. Manufacturers may do this to reflect fewer "net carbs." This term (created by manufacturers and food marketers, not by the government) has been used to encourage consumers to buy these products as a result of the low-carb diet mania. Since most Americans get far less than the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber a day, this may be a good option, but it is not the best option as compared to a less processed food that naturally contains the fiber.
Another point of confusion when it comes to grains is the term "multigrain." This word does not always mean the food has more fiber, just that it is made of various types of grains, all of which may be processed. Try to choose whole grains when possible.
If a label touts "low fat" or "lite," it does not mean you can eat it without regard to portion size. Some lower fat items have almost the same amount of fat as the regular form. The term "lite" can mean light in color, lower in carbs, lower in fat, etc., so read the label carefully to see what it really means. If you are watching your sodium intake, items like low sodium soy sauce are still extremely high in sodium and probably not a wise choice.
Speaking of sodium, numerous foods that are lower in fat or sugar, are higher in sodium. If you tend to buy frozen dinners that are lower in calories, take a look at the sodium count on the label. People with high blood pressure should consider keeping total daily sodium intake to less than 1500 mg a day. If a packaged meal contains a high percentage of that, it might not be a good choice for your grocery cart. Some flavored waters contain sodium and can really add up if they are consumed in high amounts.
Usually the more ingredients listed on a food label, the more it has been processed and the fewer nutrients it contains. It may also contain a number of food additives/preservatives. Ingredients are listed in order of the largest amount to the least amount. Check out the first three to five ingredients to see the predominant ingredients. Are they part of a healthy food group?
The next time you go to the grocery store, look at the label of your favorite snack food. What ingredients are listed first? If many of the first ingredients are not part of a healthy food group, is there a more natural food you could buy to contribute more positively to your health?
Many processed foods have had nutrients added to make the food seem healthier. An example would be some of the beverages that have added vitamin C or other vitamins/minerals. These nutrients are similar to those found in your multivitamin and do not really make it a healthy food/beverage. Keep in mind that less processed foods often contain natural nutrients not found in nutritional supplements that are important for optimal health. We are just learning about how these nutritive substances work as team players in the body to keep you healthy.
If the label touts a food claim, make sure that it is not doing so at the expense of other negative ingredients like a high fiber cereal that is also high in sugar or a high fiber cracker that is high in fat. Some vegetarian meals sound as if they are a healthy choice but many contain high amounts of cheese high in saturated fat and calories. Every five grams of fat is a teaspoon; every four grams of sugar, is a teaspoon.
Beware of how much of the healthy ingredient noted in the marketing of the food is actually in the food item. An example would be cereals that have yogurt-covered fruit. The yogurt is so minimal, that it is not contributing much dairy value. Another example would be soups that contain vegetables. Some indeed have a high proportion of vegetables but others have almost none.
Often the less healthy foods are more profitable for the stores so are placed at strategic locations in the grocery store to encourage you to buy them. Be a savvy consumer.
- Pamela Stuppy, MS, RD, LD, is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, Maine, and at Whole Life Health Care in Newington. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy.
Friday, 15 September 2006
Is America at its culinary heart the land of fast food, of meals that are at once bland, uniform, and grossly unhealthy, as so many Europeans and disapproving Americans insist? Not according to David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation (Broadway, $26). Kamp is beamingly upbeat about how our eating habits have evolved.
A writer for Vanity Fair and GQ, he chronicles changes in the American diet with humor and enthusiasm. He presents real analytical cultural history too, but he doesn’t conceal his simple exuberance for a food world that moves “with the lets-top-ourselves alacrity of Apple Computers and the anything’s-possible ambitions of 1960s NASA.” He declares, “It is, in short, a great time to be an eater.” In a nation of fad diets and obesity epidemics, Kamp’s history succeeds in provoking pride, understanding, and, most important, appetite.
The United States of Arugula tells the story of what its author calls a “lifestyle shift,” the expansion of high-level culinary enjoyment from a small elite of beef- and cream-stuffed restaurant-goers to a nation full of middle-class gourmets. After a brief survey of the first 170 years of eating in the United States, Kamp turns to the late 1940s. Americans were increasingly dining on frozen and canned foods then, and the few fancy restaurants served predictable menus of rich standards and overcooked vegetables. Cooks were all anonymous laborers, and food writers were relegated to the “home-economics ghetto” of newspapers’ women’s pages. But for all its mundane stiffness, American dining was on the brink of a revolution.
Three visionaries launched the revolution—Julia Child, James Beard, and Craig Claiborne. Child, the six-foot-two wife of a foreign servant, was 50 and had no restaurant experience when she committed herself to introducing Americans to French cuisine. She hacked, flambéed, and warbled her way through her public television shows and several books on French cooking. James Beard, the son of an Oregon innkeeper, became the primary advocate for traditional American fare. Deeply passionate about food, he wrote books on grilling that helped bring male attention to what was widely seen as women’s work. Craig Claiborne, a Mississippi native, elevated American dining to an intellectual and artistic endeavor with his widely read New York Times restaurant reviews and recipe articles.
Kamp’s easy prose animates these trailblazers. Through his emphasis on their inexperience, their quirks, and their shortcomings, he demonstrates just how open the culinary frontier was in the postwar early-gourmet era. Claiborne, for instance, took his first step toward celebrity by simply telephoning The New York Times and asking the paper to do a story about him.
Yet as the cast of American chefs expands in the 1970s and ’80s to include organic farming proponents like Alice Waters and celebrity entrepreneurs like Wolfgang Puck, Kamp refuses to elevate his subjects too high. He quotes the food writer Barbara Kafka: “It’s like there was no food in this f---ing city until that miraculous apparition [Beard] came along . . . or there was no cooking at home until Julia [Child]!” He also follows the chefs into some of their darker moments, exposing Craig Claiborne’s alcoholism with tragic clarity. With its attention to its heroes’ ascents and declines, The United States of Arugula seems at times to be a culinary equivalent of VH1’s Behind the Music, chronicling the humble beginnings, remarkable breakthroughs, and bitter failings of the newest brand of pop celebrities.
Like Behind the Music, The United States of Arugula tracks influence as well as personal sagas to map out the drastic changes in our eating habits. Fifty years ago, only the most adventurous Americans would dine on sushi, pesto, or even an arugula salad; now millions purchase these meals from gourmet grocery chains like Whole Foods. There’s almost no place in America where people don’t snack on tortilla chips, re-energize with Starbucks coffee, and relax with Sam Adams beer. What was formerly gourmet has become so commonplace that we hardly notice it. It is this casual culinary revolution, launched by the big three and countless other innovators, that gives Kamp his faith in American eating.
Thankfully, he shows none of the snobbery that so often drives Americans from gourmet food. He happily points out that it was formerly low-end Italian food that suddenly became extremely trendy in the balsamic vinegar-drenched 1980s. He argues that our democratic discomfort with social hierarchy has led us to alter traditional European cuisines, so that that we tend to lump aristocratic repasts with the most common peasant meals at our French restaurants. Most uplifting of all, he refuses to dismiss food celebrities commonly seen as having sold out, extolling the tremendous kitchen skills of Emeril Lagasse and trumpeting Starbuck’s positive effect on the quality of American coffee. In the faddish and acerbic world of gourmet cuisine, David Kamp must be a brave man.
It is disappointing, therefore, that his history of earlier American cuisine falls short. To establish a nadir from which our tastes rose to their current heights, he discounts nineteenth-century American food, neglecting a previous culinary revolution when German immigrant cuisine—frankfurters, hamburgers, potato salads, and especially light lager beers—ascended to dominance in a nation with a primarily English food heritage.
American cooking was highly esteemed long before the mid-century dreariness Kamp rightly attacks. When visiting Europe Mark Twain pined for American food and even criticized Europe’s supposedly “feeble, characterless, undrinkable coffee” compared with “the rich beverage of home.” In Venice Twain wrote up a list of 81 dishes he planned to gorge on when he got home. James Beard dedicated himself to preserving traditional American recipes, from barbecue to oyster stew. Kamp doesn’t seem much interested in the fascinating hybrid of English, African, German, and Native American cooking this country enjoyed before the rise of industrialized agriculture. Strange in a book on American eating habits.
Yet this is all the criticism one can muster against such an outstanding work. Kamp succeeds, without a doubt, in linking changes in diet to history. He relies on exceptional storytelling to weave gourmet figures into generational tapestries, tying together personal and cultural history. The United States of Arugula vividly portrays several eras of American culture while leaving the reader genuinely pleased with the changes in our national diet.
—Jon Grinspan is a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.
Thursday, 14 September 2006
Are wine clubs worth joining? Of course they are — but here are some things to consider before you jump in.
First, a quick definition: For the purposes of this column, a wine club is different from a wine "group" (people who get together once a month to taste and discuss wine). A club is something you subscribe to by mail that will deliver a selection of wine to your home once a month.
You know — like the flower of the month club, the cigar of the month club or the cheese of the month club. Did you know you can even subscribe to a pizza of the month club?
Wine of the month clubs can be a great way to expand your horizons and taste some fabulous wines that you wouldn't ordinarily search out. Let's face it — walking into a good wine shop can be rather intimidating when you are not quite sure what it is you are looking for. So save yourself the hassle and let the club experts do it for you. All you do is wait for that delivery right to your doorstep.
This is your only responsibility: Think hard about what you really want from a club before you join. If you drink only sparkling wine, look for a club that offers just sparkling wine (yes, they exist). Some clubs do only dessert wines; others, exclusively reds or whites.
No matter what you choose, wine clubs usually fall into two main categories:
A winery club: Just as it sounds, this club is through a specific winery, perhaps one that you've visited and whose wines are some of your favorites. This type of club makes you an insider, giving you access to limited-production and trophy wines and will keep you up-to-date on yearly vintages. For example, PlumpJack Winery in Napa Valley — excellent wines, but you'd better love big reds.
An adventure club: A perfect choice for consumers who are seeking to discover new wines, new regions and new flavors. Your monthly delivery may include a white, a red and a sparkler from a country you never even knew made wine. Educate your taste buds and travel the world without leaving your home.
With thousands of wineries and hundreds of adventure clubs, I can't begin to list them all here. However, Google awaits you. Search "wine clubs" and you are sure to find something to fit your fancy and to please your pocketbook.
One note of caution: Beware of clubs that distribute bulk wines, closeouts, or private label, reclassified or rebottled wines. How would you know? Ask them.
Holly Howell, Copyright © 2006, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Tuesday, 12 September 2006
Welcome to the new Gourmet Grocery Online blog! Starting today you will be able to read about exciting gourmet food trends, party planning ideas, find recipes and much more on this blog. We hope to create a community of gourmet food lovers who want to share recipes and cooking ideas!
It's not too soon to start thinking about Halloween. And we are putting together a spectacular assortment of Halloween gifts that are perfect for all ages.
Check back often!