Posts made in June, 2013

The Seafood Lover’s Dilemma

I love seafood, and, if I lived closer to the coast, I could easily give up all meat and just live off of seafood. I’m a great-great granddaughter of a halibut sea captain, after all. It’s in my blood.

Eating seafood is a constant dilemma for me, though, as I’m sure it is for many other ocean lovers out there. On the one hand, I’m constantly hearing about how good fish is for you. The Omega-3s found in seafood are very important, especially for children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers, and it can’t be found anywhere else. Yet I’m also constantly hearing about how much the oceans are overfished. Though the news so often focuses on oil spills and floating plastic in the ocean, the biggest threat to marine life is industrial fishing. I love seafood, but I also love the oceans. So what do I do?

Luckily there are many organizations out there that are trying to make it easier for consumers to buy sustainably-caught seafood. I personally love Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide. They even have an app, so when I’m standing at the fish counter or looking at a menu, I can check the app and try to figure out what to buy. Here’s the one problem, though. With so many different fishing methods out there, and so many different names for fish, it can be confusing. For example, Atlantic cod is a good choice if it’s from Iceland and caught using a hook-and-line. Atlantic Cod from the Gulf of Maine, caught with the same method, is not as good of a choice, and Atlantic cod caught by trawl is an altogether bad choice. Plus there’s the issue of mercury in seafood, which is yet another thing I have to think about. More often than not, by the time I make a choice, I’m not confident I chose the right thing.

That’s why, when I saw the new book The Perfect Protein The Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the WorldI was intrigued. It was written by Andy Sharpless, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the ocean conservation group Oceana. Surely, if anyone could help me figure out what to eat and what not to, he could.

Now that I’ve read it, I can highly recommend it to any seafood lovers out there. He certainly doesn’t say to stop eating seafood. As the title of his book states, he’s the first to acknowledge that fish are the perfect protein and how many people depend on it to live. Though I encourage anyone who eats seafood to read his book, I’m going to share many of his tips here, because it’s crucial knowledge if you want to help save the oceans, and I know perfectly well not everyone will actually read the book.

So here we go. Some tips on how to make better seafood choices:

Fish to avoid, or eat less of:

  1. Don’t eat fish from fast food places like McDonald’s or those frozen fish sticks found in a box. I know. You’re shocked that I’m saying this, right? Really, it’s not just because I hate McDonalds and fast food in general. There’s another reason. The fish caught for these items is called pollock, and the pollack fishing industry is a billion dollar business. Cheap fish for the masses may seem like a good idea, but it comes, like so many other cheap things, with a heavy price. It is caught off of Alaska, where the chinook salmon are found. These fish could easily sell for at least $17 a pound, yet when they’re caught as bycatch, they’re thrown back into the ocean. During the best year so far, due to strict regulations, only 8,000 chinook were caught as bycatch. During the worst year, 130,000 were caught. Why is this a problem? The native people of Alaska depend on that fish to live. One family needs about 120 to make it through the winter. Their main food source is thrown back in the ocean and wasted, just so that the world can get cheap fish through a drive through window. Think about it. 
  2. Avoid fish that are caught with trawls, driftnets, gill-nets, and longlines. These are the methods that catch a lot of bycatch, including sharks, turtles, and dolphins.
  3. Avoid farmed carnivorous fish, such as salmon. At first, farmed fish sounds like a good idea. You’re raising fish instead of taking them out of the ocean, right?  Yet it can take at least 5 lbs of wild fish to feed a farm raised salmon. So in order to raise a fish, you need to kill wild fish and a lot of them. These wild fish could be feeding people in developing countries, not fattening up a salmon. Plus farmed fish often carry diseases that can pass to their wild counterparts and raising fish can damage the environment. And FYI: There’s no such thing as wild Atlantic salmon anymore. If it’s from the Atlantic, it’s farmed. (I did not know this until reading this book.)
  4. Avoid, or eat very little of, the large predator, top of the food chain fish. Avoid sharks and swordfish. They reproduce slowly, which makes it difficult for them to rebound when overfished. And when the top of the food chain is in trouble, the entire ocean suffers. Women of child-bearing age and children should especially avoid shark and swordfish. Since they are top of the food chain, they are high in mercury.
  5. Be cautious of fish caught around other countries, especially Asia. According to the book, “the FDA is supposed to inspect foreign seafood, but it actually looks at only about 2 percent of the millions of metric tons of seafood that arrive in the United States every year.” Seafood fraud is a big issue, so buy from sources and fishmongers who fillet the fish themselves.
  6. Eat less shrimp. Until reading this book, I had no idea how much damage shrimp causes. Gulf of Mexico shrimp are found in the same areas as endangered sea turtles. Shrimp trawlers kill hundreds of endangered sea turtles every year. In fact, according to The Perfect Protein, “76 percent of the marine life that shrimp trawlers haul up isn’t shrimp at all.” Instead it’s shark, red snapper (which is very endangered), and sometimes up to 9,000 sea turtles a year. Is farmed shrimp better? Unfortunately the industrial farms spread pollution and disease. In the end, eating less shrimp is the only answer.

Fish to Eat:

  1. Shellfish (except for shrimp). Farmed clams and oysters actually improve the quality of the ocean because they are filter feeders. 
  2. Wild Fish, especially the big fish, such as salmon.
  3. If you eat farmed fish, choose types of fish that eat vegetarian diets, such as catfish and tilapia. US catfish is actually a very sustainable choice.
  4. Small, oily fish. I confess the thought of eating sardines and anchovies isn’t exactly appetizing to me. Like most Americans, I only know anchovies as the things that are on Caesar salads and sardines as those gross things in a can. Many other countries, such as Spain and Italy, eat sardines and anchovies daily. Numerous chefs in the US are trying to change our attitude towards these little fish. Chefs such as Alton Brown and health advocates such as Andrew Weil eat sardines for lunch on a regular basis and for good reason. These fish have even more Omega-3s than salmon and, because they are small and towards the bottom of the food chain, they are low in toxins and reproduce quickly, which makes them a very sustainable choice. Plus they are in abundance, though most of the ones caught these days are used to feed livestock and farmed salmon. I, for one, am determined to get over the ick-factor and give them a try.
  5. Eat fish that are caught with pole, troll, hook-and-line or harpoon. Say goodbye to bycatch.
  6. If you don’t live on the coast where you can rely on an expert fishmonger, shop at Whole Foods. Unlike Kroger and other chain stores, Whole Foods refuses to sell red-listed seafood. It also displays where the seafood comes from and gives the Monterey Bay rating. Plus they fillet the fish themselves, which greatly reduces the chance of seafood fraud.
  7. Eat as local as possible. Obviously hard for me to do, living in Ohio, but eating a fish from US waters is almost always better than eating one caught on the other side of the globe.

The above  just barely highlights the amount of information you will find in this little book, so once I again I strongly encourage any seafood lovers out there to read it. (It also has recipes and an excellent Suggested Reading list.) And help spread the word. The fishing industry will only start to change once consumers demand it.

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Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Cook.

When I decided to start this blog, I did so with one big thing in mind: I was determined not to be intimidating. I don’t want anyone to ever look at my blog and think, “I could never do that.” Sure, I do some crazy, time consuming recipes sometimes, such as the Asian dumplings. But most of the recipes on here, including those time-consuming ones, I strongly believe that anyone could do. I am, after all, just a twenty-something year old who loves to cook.

I do believe, though, that the “foodie” world can be very intimidating to those who aren’t used to being in a kitchen. Food magazines are filled with page after page of perfect looking food. The stars on Food Network always deliver flawless dishes.

Yet what people don’t see is the work that goes into creating those perfect images and shows. One photo in a food magazine, for example, can easily take half a day to shoot. Not only is there a photographer present, by also at least one food stylist. The final plate of food that is shot has been touched and fiddled with so much that most photographers say that they would never eat it.

And as for the cooking shows, unless it’s a show like Top Chef or Iron Chef, they can do as many retakes as necessary to make sure everything looks flawless.

As for me, though I certainly don’t have a food stylist, I can still turn a plate to only photograph the side that isn’t burnt, and I can take 50 or so shots of one plate of food and only post the one that makes it look good. I don’t post everything I cook. Most days, I cook three meals a day, and notice that you don’t see all of those meals. I just post the ones that turn out right. 

But trust me, I’m far from perfect in the kitchen. I make mistakes. A lot. So I promised myself when I started this blog that I wouldn’t only show the good things. I’ll let you see the bad things too.

And so, I’ll begin my making a list of the things that are bound to happen in a kitchen, and why you shouldn’t let these things stop you from cooking.

Not everything turns out that way it should.

  • Some recipes aren’t worth trying again and others take work. Pick the ones worth working on and keep trying until you get it right.
  • Take tonight, for example. I decided to try a new recipe. It was Alice Walter’s method of baking salmon. I followed exactly what she said, but when I pulled it out of the oven, it just didn’t seem like it was cooked enough, so I put it back in. I’m still not sure if I overcooked some of it or not, yet it tastes wonderful and I plane on trying it again until I can do it with confidence.

You will burn things.

  • Every time I make pancakes, I burn at least two of them.
  • I burn bread on a regular basis.
  • I’ve even managed to burn things that I didn’t know could burn.

You will burn yourself.

  • I burn my arms on a regular basis, but that other day I managed to burn my leg and foot as well. How? I was doing a chicken stir fry and, when I dropped the chicken in the wok, the oil splattered and hit my leg and foot. It’s been over a week and my leg still looks like this:

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You will make a mess.

  • Anyone who has ever lived with me will tell you that I’m a messy cook. This is what my kitchen looks like tonight:

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Yes that’s rice on the floor:

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You will do really silly things.

  • Just tonight, I put mushrooms in a pan and after five minutes couldn’t figure out why they weren’t sizzling. It took me several minutes of staring at the stove to realize that the burner wasn’t on.
  • A few weeks ago, I managed to dump half a bottle of paprika on a casserole.
  • I once caught a potholder on fire.
  • The first time my mom and I tried to brine a turkey, we chose a container far too small. Let’s just say that it ended with turkey-contaminated water all over the floor and my mother.
  • Nearly every time I make pizza or roast vegetables, I forget to turn a fan on and, therefore, set the smoke alarm off.
  • More than once, in the past couple months, I’ve grabbed a hot pan without potholders.

Why do I tell you all of this? To make you afraid? No, just the opposite. I want you to see that even someone who cooks as much as I do, still does all of the above on a regular basis,  yet I still plow on. If you let things like this stop you, you’ll never learn to cook.

After all, even Julia Child made mistakes.

And some more Julia Child quotes: 

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” 

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed — eh bien, tant pis! Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile — and learn from her mistakes.”

And my favorite:

“Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?”

So need I say more? Just start cooking. Make mistakes. Burn things. Drop things. Make a mess. And more importantly: Never apologize. Have fun!

 

 

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Some More Spring Food Photography

Have you been to the local Ohio markets yet? .Here’s a list of some of the amazing food I’ve found so far, this spring, at the markets (and this is just what I’ve bought. There are so many other things there too):

Strawberries
Asparagus
Bok Choy
Spring Mix
Lettuce
Kale
Spinach
Radishes
Broccoli
Garlic Scapes
Cucumber
Zucchini (just starting to come out!)
Red Onions
Green Onions
Sugar Snap Peas
Tomatoes (green house grown)
Chicken and Eggs

And in case that’s not incentive enough to shop locally, some photos:

garlic

red onions

And the day I picked strawberries, I also picked some sugar snap peas. I love these raw, shell and all.

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Cookbook Review: True Food

True Food by Andrew Weil and Sam Fox, with Michael Stebner 9780316129411

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This cookbook is proof that healthy food can taste like a 5 star meal without a heavy amount of cream, butter, and salt. I’m still working my way through the cookbook, but everything that I’ve tried so far tastes gourmet, yet I know I’m eating something that’s going to help my body thrive, not hinder it. Included in the book is an essay and food pyramid which demonstrates Andrew Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Mind you, this isn’t the “I want to look good in my bikini” type of diet, but one that allows your body to reach its optimal health. Though I don’t follow this type of diet at every meal (I love my butter here and there), his recipes have given me new ways to incorporate nutritional food into my everyday diet. Here’s a short sample of some of the recipes found in the book:

Immunity Soup
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Quinoa Johnnycakes
Chocolate Pudding
Kale Pesto
Corn-Ricotta Ravioli

And whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a meat-eater, you’ll find suitable recipes in this book (though you won’t find beef!). There’s really something in here for everyone.

 

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Cookbook Review: Moosewood Cooking for Health

Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health 9781416548874

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I bought this for my mother once, and I borrow it every change I have. (Ok, I know, I should just buy my own.) It’s a wonderful collection of vegetarian and vegan recipes. Unlike a lot of cookbooks, it doesn’t have any photographs, so you really get a lot of recipes jammed into the 300+ pages.  It’s the perfect kind of all-around healthy cookbook to have on hand. Plus it also has a lot of essays about fats/oils, eggs, soy and so on. And it has a moose on the cover. Need I say more?

Some recipe examples (many of which I have yet to try but will):
Whole Wheat Banana Berry Muffins (I have tried these and they are wonderful)
Avocado Citrus Dressing
Vegan Cornbread
Greek Tomato-Yogurt Soup
Savory Mushroom and Asparagus Bread Pudding (Next on my list)
Chocolate Bark

And really, that’s a very tiny sample. It has over 300 pages of recipes.

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