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December 2009

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy Food

Clock1
Ever since I became a parent, I've tried to get my children to eat tasty food that is good for them. I'm hardly alone in this quest. At cocktail parties, other parents have come up to me and asked, upon hearing about this blog, how I get my kids to eat what I cook. I told one father that my eldest likes mussels and clams. "That'll change." he said. Then he asked me for advice.

I didn't have any to give him, other than the old saw about putting a new food in front of a child a dozen times before giving up. Not that that's ever worked. I didn't tell him about some of the other techniques that I had witnessed. I once saw a friend tip his screaming toddler's mouth back and force him to eat whatever it was that we had at the table at that moment. That didn't work, either. 

I've always thought that what children eat or don't eat has less to do with the flavor of a given food than it does to do with the social dimensions of their lives. Children have very few opportunities to fully exert their power. The dinner table is a rare chance for them to control what goes into their mouths, if not what goes on around them. Ever have to sit through a dinner while parents exhorted their children to eat their vegetables? It can take the air out of the whole evening.

Tonight, the mystery deepened. The children ate quesadillas and broccoli with their babysitter, a fine dinner by any standard. I whipped up a mini-Mexican feast of black beans, rice, pan-fried chicken thighs, spinach, and sliced avocado for Santa Maria and myself. I love this dinner. Most of it is cooked ahead of time (the beans freeze well; the rice I cooked this morning while eating breakfast), and can be on the table in about ten minutes.

We sat down to eat while the children played at the table beside us. Then, Nina asked for chicken. Pinta requested black beans. Suddenly, Nina, too, wanted black beans. I raised an eyebrow. The black beans are certifiably delicious. I would take them anywhere and serve them to anyone and challenge them to resist their rich and savory flavor (I make them with bacon), but Nina has spurned them on so many occasions that I've stopped offering them to her. 

Here was further evidence of the social dynamic at play. Nina and Pinta both knew that after eating their snack, they would have to go to bed. The longer they spent at the table, the longer they could stay up. They would never say as much, but I wonder if this influenced their hunger. They each had two small bowls of black beans and rice. Promises were made to serve them more of it for lunch tomorrow. I'll be curious to see how that goes. In the meantime, I was thrilled to have them eating it. It verified my belief that the beans taste good, and that's always a relief.

More practical advice on how to get kids to eat healthily is available here.


Old Springsteen Eases Transition Back to the Kitchen

Between traveling and celebrating, the Christmas holiday has disrupted my culinary activities, in a mostly welcome and joyful way.

Santa Maria gave me an iPod Touch for Christmas and I took it out for an inaugural run on Sunday. More accurately, I used her iPod Nano because I couldn’t figure out how play music on mine. I’m a little late to the portable, digital-music game, though I’m not a late adopter of digital music per se: my hard drive has some eight-six gigabytes of music, which caused all kinds of confusion when synching it for the first time with my new, thirty-two gig Touch.


The important thing here is what I was listening to. All that time in the car driving back and forth from Pennsylvania to New York led to a dose of classic rock, which seems like the only thing I can ever find on the F.M. dial. Now that I’m past forty I’ve had the unfortunate experience of finding those familiar tunes on WCBS FM, the oldies station. When I was a kid, that spot on the dial reeked of doo-wop and the like. I hated it. Now it’s where I’m likely to find old Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen. This makes me feel old.

I was a huge Springsteen fan in high school, ever since my sister brought “Darkness on the Edge of Town” into the house. One of my first entrepreneurial projects involved standing on line (not going online) overnight to secure seats to his Giants Stadium shows for “Born in the U.S.A.” and then scalping a bunch of the tickets and turning a tidy profit. As a teenager, I would drive around playing that album and his earlier works, in particular “Greetings from Asbury Park,” which I always admired for its crazy lyrics. I’ve lost interest in Springsteen’s later work, but those early songs are etched into my psyche.

A few years ago, Springsteen released “Hammersmith Odeon London '75,” his fourth official live album. Springsteen is famous for his live shows, and this early concert shows why. The Boss had already been on the cover of Time magazine as the future of rock, but this was his first appearance in England. No one there really knew him, and he had to prove himself. Recorded shortly after the release of “Born to Run,” it is solely his early material, and I just love it. The quality of the recording is excellent and the set list impeccable. "Backstreets," "Thunder Road," "She's the One," are all there.

On Sunday I knew that the weekly shop needed to be completed. I listened to the album while running through my list—carrots, onions, whole chickens, etc., etc.—at the Park Slope Food Coop. Because of the holiday, the coop was less crowded than usual. I’m not sure how I would manage under its crowded, regular conditions with a head full of Clarence Clemons and the E Street Band, but those empty aisles were perfect for my first excursion with an iPod. I drifted around in a sonic haze, never before so pleased to be buying food.

The way I've been cooking lately, I do much of the work for the week on Sunday night. I prepare a week's worth of quinoa salad and poached chicken breasts for Santa Maria's and my lunches. I can do these tasks while finishing off the dinner dishes, and I put the headphones back on while doing this work. I enjoyed listening to the album on my iPod, but I would caution against buying the collection from the iTunes store.

For some mystifying reason, the digital version doesn't include one of the best songs—"Kitty's Back." It was midway through the album's rollicking, seventeen-minute rendition, when the band is vamping and jamming, and everyone is taking a solo (sometimes at what seems like the exact same moment), that I realized how music can enhance cooking. Marshall McLuhan talked about hot and cool media and the ability of technology to extend and alter our senses. He reasoned that when one sense is overloaded, the others start to shut down.

I was experiencing some mighty hot media in the kitchen. Not only was the stove on, but my iPod was cranking. With the late Danny Federici reaching heights of ecstasy during his keyboard solo, my other sensory perception were altered. McLuhan was only half right, though. My sense of smell was not shutting down. It was enhanced. I was standing over the poaching chicken as I had done many times before. On this evening, though, a delightful fragrance filled my nostrils—the scent of thyme. It was as thick and wonderful as the smoke of another, less-legal herb might have been at a rock concert years ago.

The concert was also released as a DVD, and the rendition of "Kitty's Back" has made it onto YouTube. Here it is.


Holiday Travails and Holiday Travels

Amish_stove
We're out of town, visiting Santa Maria's family in rural Pennsylvania. The trip is a welcome relief from the stress of our real-estate situation.

I haven't been cooking much while here. Santa Maria took charge yesterday and made seven (seven!) lasagnas. Some with meat, some without. Some without even cheese, to accommodate the needs of her emergency animal surgeon and animal rights activist sister-in-law. My brother-in-law is cooking tonight.

I've been getting lost in a Jack Higgins novel, "Thunder Point." Santa Maria's mother has stacks and stacks of paperback thrillers in her basement. The last time I visited I got hooked on Carl Hiaasen's "Stormy Weather." Let me just say what needs to be said. Higgins is no Hiaasen.

We took a fantastic trip this morning to ride on a horse-drawn sleigh. Santa Maria's mother arranged it with a local Amish farmer, proprietor of his domain and father of ten children, five of whom are still at home. He doesn't even have a telephone, and yet she made the plans. After crossing the snow-swept fields, he invited us into his house to warm up. The stove above is what his wife cooks on. It is also the only thing that heats his house.


The Importance of Chicken Stock

Chicken_stock1
As I've mentioned recently, I've been facing issues that keep me from cooking as much as usual. Our living situation has become complicated and we're preoccupied by having to deal with a vexing set of circumstances related to our apartment.

Monday I was out at a holiday party and Santa Maria roasted a chicken that I had dressed the night before. It was just about all I could bring myself to do over the weekend, though there was one other thing I did manage to put away before going to bed on Sunday night.

I made a gallon and a half of chicken stock. It is a beautiful thing to turn water, old bones, a carrot, an onion, and a bit of celery into a flavorful base for countless dishes.

It takes me two days to complete it. This is not two days of active labor, of course. It is ten minutes of chopping, a day of unattended simmering (one of my favorite stories about stock comes from a guy I once met years ago who would put on a pot of stock before going to bed and then let it simmer all night while he and his girlfriend slept; I don't have the courage to do that), followed by ten minutes of straining out the bones and other bits, and then a day of refrigeration followed by ten minutes of skimming off the fat and ten minutes of packing it all up and placing in the freezer. 

I always have bones around to use for stock. Whenever I roast a chicken, I freeze the leftover carcass. They are there for me whenever I need to make stock.

Part of the pleasure of cooking for my family is knowing that I'm executing my domestic labors in a loving way. Occasionally Santa Maria and I will get into a disagreement over who is doing more work around the house. One of her more radical ideas is to institute a time clock, measuring the exact number of minutes spent by each of us taking care of domestic duties. I'm all for using this kind of measure, figuring that my three-hour Bolognese and my two-day chicken-stock will fill up hours and hours of labor on my part and put me well ahead of her. Fortunately, our relationship hasn't devolved to the point where we've broken out the time clock, but if that moment comes, I'll be ready.

Making chicken stock has more traditional culinary benefits, of course. It enriches everything.  The trouble with our living situation is really taxing my well-being. With all the stress in my life at the moment, I'm really glad to have the opportunity to make and freeze the stock. It makes me calm just thinking about it.

Basic Chicken Stock

  • 1 or 2 chicken carcasses
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped

In a large soup pot, briefly sauté the onion, carrot, and celery.

Toss in the chicken bones.

Cover the bones with water.

Bring to a boil.

Reduce to a slow simmer.

Simmer for as long as you can manage, the longer the better.

Strain out the bones with a colander.

Strain the stock through cheese cloth to remove any bits of bones.

Put the pot of stock in the refrigerator for at least a day.

Remove the pot from the refrigerator. The fat will have congealed on top. Skim it off with a spoon and discard.

Freeze the stock in quart containers.


Great Monkfish Recipe Doesn't Lead to Domestic Harmony, Alas

The latest installment of "Cooking with Dexter," Pete Wells's column in the New York Times Magazine about the culinary and dietary habits of his son and family, details his effort to get home from the office and eat with his wife and children. It's a dangerous enterprise. Arrive too late, and one runs the risk of the unfed kids "bursting into flames."

I know what he means. When Nina and Pinta are hungry, there's no telling how they will behave. If the criminally accused can escape punishment because of temporary insanity, then children, by all biological laws, should have the opportunity to plead a low-blood sugar defense.

According to Wells, eating with the kids doesn't take so much a heroic effort as it does a simple pot of boiling water (and leaving work an hour early). He's an advocate of boiling his vegetables and rice and nearly everything else that he wants to eat. He also relies on the stars aligning enough to insure that there are groceries in the house. "There were sausage and a stalk of brussels sprouts in the refrigerator and, for once, an onion and a garlic clove in the cupboard when I needed them," he writes.

I have a different approach to weeknight meals. First of all, it's not luck that insures there are staples like onions and garlic in the house. It is shopping and planning. According to the nineteen-sixties English television cooking personality Fanny Cradock, Escoffier said that menu planning is the hardest part of a chef's job. I often detest the amount of creative mental energy that's required to draw up a weekly shopping list, but I love beyond words knowing that I won't have to look for ingredients when I'm trying to cook a dish on a weeknight.

My second strategy for weeknight dinners involves doing the prep work ahead of time. I'll chop the vegetables or dress the chicken for roasting before I head to work. That way, when I come home I can just start cooking and the time from stove to table is reduced like a fine French sauce.

My third strategy is a bit trickier to execute. It involves getting Santa Maria to actually do the cooking. Often times this is an easy thing to do, such as when all she has to do is put the chicken in the oven to roast, or defrost the Bolognese and make some pasta. If things are more complicated, it's less likely that she'll have the time or inclination to get involved.

On Monday, I was excited by the prospect of eating with the children. I had monk fish in the refrigerator following my Saturday trip to the Green Market (Strategy One: planning and shopping), and I wanted to make a fantastic old Mark Bittman recipe that I've enjoyed on a number of occasions over the years: "Poached Monkfish with Lemon Sauce," from his "Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking." Leeks are a central ingredient in the recipe; I diced two before breakfast that morning (Strategy Two: getting a jump on prep work). I was running late, so I called Santa Maria and had her start the recipe (Strategy Three).

Everything was in order, but for all my planning, there were two potential problems. The first was unseen. That Monday afternoon, I started to feel a bit ill, slightly nauseated, as if I was fighting a bit of food poisoning (maybe I shouldn't have had that sushi for lunch). By the time I got home, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to eat anything at all.

The other potential problem, I was aware of from the start. I was taking a risk with the kids. This was the first time I would be making the monk fish for them. I didn't know if they would like it at all. Logically, it should have worked. They like flounder. Monkfish is similar enough. The like lemon. They like butter (another key ingredient). I dutifully picked out all the leeks from their bowls to try and tip the odds in my favor, but it was not to be. Never bet against the house, I learned.

The kids hated the dish.The refused to try it. I can't say it was only because of the dish, though. It might have been because I was a few minutes late. They were howling when I got home. Things could only go downhill from there, and they did. I enjoyed the fish, though. It tasted so good that I forgot that I was sick. The kids ended up eating a bit of dried out and leftover pork. They loved it. Go figure.

(Note: Monkfish is considered a problematic fish to consume when it comes to the health of its stock--though those in the Northeast are thought to be okay—and the consequences of methods used to catch it.  You can learn more here.)

Poached Monkfish with Lemon Sauce (adapted from Mark Bittman)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 leeks, washed, trimmed, and diced
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or fresh, if available)
  • 1 lb monk fish, membrane removed and cut into medallions
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Melt the butter in a casserole pan.

Sauté the leeks until they are softened, at about ten minutes.

Add the wine, stock, and thyme, and bring to a boil.

Add the monkfish and reduce the heat. Simmer for about four or five minutes, until the fish is just about cooked.

Remove the fish with a slotted spoon, set aside, and keep warm.

Reduce the sauce to desired thickness. Add more butter if you want a richer sauce.

Add the lemon juice.

Serve the fish and sauce in a bowl with fresh bread.


FDA Food-Label Stories

The New York Times' Well blog is a font of interesting and important stories. A recent post there concerns a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest highlighting the need for new food labels. The Center is quite right. Food labels, those useful little black boxes on the back of everything from candy bars to cereal boxes, can be wicked hard to understand. The information can be confusing, and down-right misleading.

For example, a common trick of food manufacturers, especially soda companies, is to break a product into more than one serving when they know full well everyone who purchases it finishes it in one gulp, so to speak. Consider the amount of sugar in a twenty-ounce bottle of Coke. The number on the label is per serving, not per bottle. There are at least 2.5 servings in a bottle. When was the last time you saved half a bottle of flat Coke for the next day? And then saved half of that for the day after?

The Well blog's post is a good one, but it seems to miss a bigger story. According to Fooducate, a fascinating blog run by a highly educated Bay Area dad who can't find sufficient information in order to make rational decisions about buying groceries, the FDA is actually soliciting comments from the public about changing the labels. If you follow the Fooducate story, you'll be led right to where you can tell the government how to help you. We have until January 19, 2010 do to so.

(By the way, there are 27 grams of sugar per serving in a bottle of Coke. 2.5 servings per bottle equaling 67.5 grams total. But what does a "gram of sugar" look like? There are 4.2 grams of sugar to a teaspoon. As the writer Frances Whittelsey points out, that works out to 16 teaspoons in one sitting. Sixteen! That's a lot of sugar.)


A Rough Mushroom Pasta Recipe

Mushroom
I like mushrooms, and I always have. When I was growing up we got to have whatever we wanted to eat for our birthday dinners. When I turned eight, I angered my siblings by asking for spaghetti with mushroom sauce (and pineapple upside-down cake for dessert). My brothers and sisters couldn't figure out why I hadn't asked for steak or lamb or something fancier.

After last week's mushroom debacle, Santa Maria went to the coop and bought a bag of crimini. I later went out and bought a bag of dried porcini. We now are well stocked when it comes to mushrooms.

Tonight, Santa Maria had a meeting to attend and a party invitation to enjoy. I was alone with the girls for dinner. Nina has become infatuated with tri-color bow-tie pasta. She likes the way they look (saying they are the only pasta one can wear in their hair), and she's experiencing her first dose of nostalgia around them. She's four-and-a-half, which, apparently, is old enough to have had a friend who once ate the pasta and who has since moved to Chicago. She misses her friend and remembers the pasta.

I was serving flounder for dinner. I gave the kids a choice of cauliflower or asparagus as a vegetable, and they both chose cauliflower. I had been planning to make fried rice, but was happy to substitute the bow-tie pasta.

So the kid's menu was set, but what was I going to eat with my fish and vegetable? I wasn't about to make fried rice for one. And I wasn't interested in bow-tie pasta with olive oil, which is the way the girls like their "plain" pasta.

I knew there was a serving of leftover spaghetti in the refrigerator, and I thought of those cremini mushrooms. When I was single, I used to make a half-lame dinner of mushrooms, garlic, and pasta. It was tasty enough for myself, but it's not the kind of thing to serve someone else and I hadn't made it since Santa Maria entered my life.

She wasn't joining me for dinner on this evening, though, so I took a page from my bachelor days. I'd put the mushrooms with the pasta. But I've grown since becoming a husband and father, and I wanted something more than just mushrooms, garlic, and pasta.

Yesterday afternoon, Santa Maria searched through our jumble of yellowing newpaper cut outs and fading hand-written recipes to get us out of our (relatively tasty) rut.  She came across a 2005 recipe from the New York Times for pasta with zucchini, ricotta, and basil. I intend to make this dish later in the week and I've already purchased the necessary ingredients. The recipe calls for mixing a bit of the cheese with the pasta water to make a sauce. I figured if it worked for zucchini, it would work for mushrooms. And a bit of basil might give my original dish its needed boost.

What I didn't figure on was the children running around and distracting me. Without Santa Maria to corral them, they were free to run roughshod over the living room. I think that during the time it took me to boil the water for their pasta, they managed to take every toy in the house out of its proper place.

Nina then wanted to watch television, and when I told her that she couldn't do so until she put away the toys she was no longer using, she started to cry. I was late in getting them dinner, and I wasn't surprised that she was over-sensitive.

I was rushing to get their food to the table, and I didn't have time to re-read the original recipe, so I didn't know that the ricotta should be combined separately with the pasta water before tossing it with the vegetables and the pasta. I tried to do it all in the same pan.

The girls were crowding into the kitchen. I wanted to get them to taste the ricotta. I thought it would cut their hunger. The mushrooms were browned, and the garlic was at risk of burning. I needed to cool the pan right away. I told them to back up or else they might get burned. I splashed the pan with pasta water, which cooled it just fine. But when I put the cheese in it, I didn't get a a sauce. The cheese broke up into clumps instead of becoming creamy. I tossed in some basil and enjoyed it just the same. The whole point of the dish was the mushrooms, after all.

I haven't quite figured out the best way to make this dish, but I'm going to post a recipe for the way I did it tonight in case anyone is as fond of mushrooms as I am. I would advise combining the ricotta and the pasta water per The New York Times recipe, rather than the way I did it, though. 

After I refine this recipe, I'll post another version of it.

A rough recipe for Pasta with Mushrooms, Ricotta, and Basil (inspired by Mark Bittman)
  • 1 big bunch crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • fresh basil, to taste
  • ricotta cheese, to taste
  • spaghetti, or pasta of choice

Boil a pot of water and cook the pasta per its instructions and drain, reserving some of the pasta water.

Heat a cast-iron frying pan until hot, and add a bit of olive oil.

Sauté the mushrooms in the pan until brown.

Toss in the garlic.

Sauté a minute or two more.

Douse the pan with a bit of the pasta water.

Stir in the ricotta cheese and basil.

Add the cooked pasta and serve.


Planning and Food Shopping Tips from the Trenches

Washing_parlsely
My late father had many colorful expressions at his disposal. He wasn't a man who swore a lot (at least not around the children), and he had a great faculty with language (he was a litigator). One the things he used to say when something wasn't going his way was, "I need this like I need a hole in my head."

That expression came to mind tonight when I came home. I have a number of recent and unexpected stresses in my life right now. One is a career-related project that I'm very excited about and will fully describe in the near future. As thrilling as this project is, it does take up a lot of brain power. The other stress is related to my living situation, and it remains in my best interest not to detail it here. Suffice it to say that I need it like I need a hole in my head.

I've been so distracted that I can barely cook. Usually, I do the menu planning and grocery buying, but this week Santa Maria volunteered to take on this task. She's doing her best to pick up much of the domestic labor as I throw myself into this new work project of mine, but she is also subject to the same living-situation stress as I am.

When I plan a menu, I try to think three or four steps ahead, and I'm proud of one of my more recent tricks that helps me balance work, play, parenting, cooking, and shopping. For a long time, I've been frustrated by the way fresh herbs spoil before you can use them up. Take parsley, for example. How many times have you thrown out three-quarters of a limp head a week after using a pinch to gussy up a dish? Parsley is on my mind lately because it is a key ingredient in the weekly quinoa-and-sweet-potato salad I make for Santa Maria's lunch.

Due to the recent distractions, I forgot to put parsley on the shopping list last weekend. But I was still able to make the quinoa salad because of the trick I've learned. As soon as a head of parsley comes into the house, I wash it well and dry it thoroughly in the salad spinner. It will then keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

I'm very grateful that Santa Maria is helping out with the shopping and planning. Her menu for this week included mushroom risotto. Delightful, I thought. It was something I could put together tonight while the kids were playing before bedtime. I'm not of the persuasion that risotto needs to be stirred constantly. It's not necessary. I'm not a great chef, just a great eater. Though if you ate my food, you might quibble with that self-deprecating description. I can cook very well, and love to do it.

Tonight, though, I was stymied. I couldn't find any mushrooms in the house. I asked Santa Maria where the dried porcini were, or if we had any at all. "I don't know," she replied. "How could you not know, if you put the dish on the menu for the week," I snapped. 

"Porcini mushrooms are a staple." she said. "They should be in the house, like salt, Mr. Stay-at-Stove-Dad."

On to plan B, which was no plan. I found a head of cauliflower and Santa Maria offered to roast it. That was very nice of her, as it got me out of the kitchen. I was starting to feel angry because I wasn't going to have a delicious dinner. I sat with the kids while they played, and if ever there was an antidote to anger it's in their joyful laughter.

I snacked on some baby carrots, and gave my blood-sugar a boost. Pinta trotted around eating what she called a pequeño carrot, and I relaxed. There was left over asparagus from the kids' dinner, and I found some frozen empanadas to round out my dinner. A filling meal, but not one with any real culinary satisfaction.

One of my favorite artists, Prince, uses my father's expression in a slightly different context. It's not one of his better songs, but somehow it seems fitting. Santa Maria suggested it.


Winter Salad of Savory Satisfaction

Winter_salad
We crossed a major developmental milestone with Nina on Saturday afternoon. She told her first fully formed, all original joke. Santa Maria was at the other end of our apartment with the kids, who had just gotten up from their naps, and I was, as usual, holed up in the kitchen. I was trying to prep things for dinner that night. We were having friends over and I didn't want to be cooking while they were here. I wanted to be free to talk with them.

It was getting late in the day and I wanted to go outside to play with the kids. Santa Maria was exhausted from the Thanksgiving weekend, but I was hoping she could get them out of their pajamas and ready to go. I yelled down the hall to her, "Can you at least get the kids dressed?"

Nina heard me and said to her mother, "Does that mean you are going to cover us with olive oil and vinaigrette and eat us up?"

Last night, I crossed a developmental threshold myself. I tried to improvise a dish out of leftover ham and rice and some frozen peas and corn. I failed. Santa Maria likes to say "He who dares, wins." Not always. "Ham and curry," she said, "there's a reason you've never heard of that before."

The curry powder didn't work out last night, but no big deal. This evening, I had another chance to scale the mountain of food presently in my refrigerator. We had plans to go to dinner at a friend's house, but Nina is running a fever and has a bit of an earache, so we stayed home.

Recently, I've been in the habit of poaching chicken breasts at the beginning of the week and eating them for lunch and some dinners over the ensuing days. This week, I felt like a change, and I decided to roast an extra chicken on Sunday night, and use those leftovers to meet my protein needs for the week.

Nina's sickness started that Sunday night, and she didn't have much appetite. Santa Maria, myself, and Pinta ate a fair amount, but two chickens is a lot of, well, chicken. I realized this when I cut up and picked the carcasses clean that night. I had enough meat for a small standing army.

So, it seems like my task these days is to find new ways to eat the chicken. I often wonder what I would do for food if I didn't like chicken. It is the meat I eat most often. Having just read Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, "Eating Animals," which details and dismembers the factory farms that provide nearly all of our meat, it's getting a little harder for me to eat the bird. I tend to purchase chickens from Murray's Farms, and they are free-range and local and antibiotic free, etc. etc. They come with all the feel-good labels you can imagine. But the fine print reveals that they contain up to 5% retained water. I now know what that means, and it isn't pretty. Believe me, you don't want me to go into it now. You can read his book to find out what it means. Maybe later I'll find the courage (and cash) to change providers, and then I'll blog about it.  For now I'm practicing a sublime form of denialism. At least it doesn't taste bad.

We have some fresh arugula in the house because we were going to bring it to our friends this evening. I used that as a base for a salad with beets, bacon, goat cheese, and red onion. I had some leftover baked potato, and, of course, that chicken, on hand, so I threw them into the mix as well. This is the kind of meal that works on many levels for me. It is nutritionally rounded, with a green vegetable, a starch, and a protein. But it is also full of individual flavors--bursts of goat cheese, sweet bits of beets, savory and crunchy bacon. Delicious, sensual, and full of variety, no joking.

Winter Salad with Beets, Arugula, Bacon, Chicken, Potato, Goat Cheese, and Red Onion
  • A bunch of pre-washed baby arugula
  • 1 beet, boiled until a fork goes through it and then peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 slice bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • Diced red onion, to taste
  • 1 cold baked potato, cut into cubes
  • goat cheese, to taste
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and cut into cubes

        Toss the arugula with the beets, onion, chicken, bacon, and goat cheese. Dress with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.