What It Means To Eat Responsibly

To eat responsibly is Wendell Berry’s recommendation to urban dwellers. He elaborates on his recommendations in The Pleasures of Image Eating, where he initially delves into his philosophical perspective on the agricultural act of eating and then catalogs a list of seven concrete steps the consumer can take to be a more conscious eater. Berry suggests that true freedom involves freedom from total control and reclaiming the food control that is now in the hands of the food industry that threatens to leave eaters “suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous.” (Berry, 56) The seven suggestions and my analysis of them are as follow:

I. 1. Grow your own food: Direct participation in food production can be as simple as growing a small garden, with the tangible benefit of fresh food for consumption and the intangible benefit of understanding the life cycle from seed to a dinner plate. Being fully responsible for the food grown instills a sense of accomplishment, understanding, and gratitude for the food that directly contrasts the concept of mindless eating that is characterized by ignorance of food production. This proposal is honorable, with understandable rationale. I suspect, though, that it can be impractical for most of the urban dwellers that Berry is addressing. Speaking for myself, I know I regrettably do not have means nor the time to grow my own garden. Depending on the climate, this too can be problematic. Urban dwellers, by definition, live in cities. Cities are crowded with living accommodations mostly made up of apartments that have limited space. My apartment does not even have a balcony. Full time working adults and students are generally crunched for time, part of the biggest reason for the success of fast food – both in restaurants and in packaged/prepared foods found in grocery stores. Addressing the American work culture, though a larger and more complex feat than growing a garden can be, ought to precede direct participation in the food system through growing your own food.

 

II.  2. Prepare your own food: Cooking! “…Reviving the arts of kitchen and household… should enable you to eat more cheaply and will give you a measure of quality control.” (Berry, 61) This is a more practical recommendation that I think people should take on, not necessarily daily, three meals a day, but maybe just to start on weekends, and then moving onto days of the week that have more time to schedule in cooking. Cooking is a rewarding, engaging, and fun activity that with a bit of practice and passion yields delicious results.

 

III. 3 & 4. Eat local, Buy Local: When possible, purchase locally produced and sourced foods, as the local food supply is “the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and influence.” (Berry, 62) This is all true. Eating local addresses many problems associated with the modern food industry and needs to be more encouraged. Living in Colorado, seafood is clearly not going to be locally sourced, so there are obvious regional limitations to this. My parents who grew up in the central coast of Tunisia describe living off of the land and not tasting certain fruits until later adulthood, as these fruits were not local to their region.  A celebrated success of the food industry is this abundance of availability of diverse foods, regardless of the local limitations of production. I, of course, enjoy this luxury of eating oranges in the summer and watermelon in the winter. I doubt that with the current consumer culture people will accept a decrease in food supply due to seasonality and origin of produce.  Consciously eating is not an all or nothing endeavor. When given the choice, always opt for the local food. Sometimes, local foods produced in smaller farms can be more expensive, as compared to the foods mass produced through industrial agriculture. If more people purchase the local food, the price will decrease. The difference in price, I think, is worth paying for the cause.

IV.  5, 6, &7. Feed the mind: Learning about food – its origins, history, biology, the science, industry, technologies, and techniques.  These last three recommendations bundled together are the most important to me. To always learn and be proactively engaged, with an open mind and an eager interest to feed the open mind with facts and wonders. Conscious eating is equally about consciousness as it is about the actual actions involved in eating – purchasing, cooking, consuming.  I genuinely believe that this is a cause that is not even about the food industry, though it does seem to receive much criticism and negative attention. This cause comes back to us, as a culture, as a society, as a people. The realities of the food industry among other industries are a sheer mirror of us as a society and one could argue all day whether the industry makes us the way we are or we make the industry the way it is. This ultimately just results in a which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-argument. I don’t think it matters which came first, or which has more influence over the other – both consumers and producers indubitably play an active role in the relationship and feed off of each other. I do, however, think it matters the perspectives we share of ourselves and our role, and it matters a great deal that we primarily concern ourselves with what we have the direct power to change: which is us. We can change our behaviors and change the realities of the world through our deeds. And indeed, feeding our minds with the right knowledge will direct us toward the appropriate behavioral changes.

 

The Pleasures of Eating by Wendell Berry can be read here.

A Review of El Monte Grill & Lounge in Fort Collins

El Monte promises an authentic, exotic Oaxacan dining experience, conveniently located 2105 miles north of Oaxaca, Mexico. Image The restaurant distinguishes itself with its “creative cuisine” and unique atmosphere that blends traditional art with a modern and chic set up. Some friends and I came in for dinner on a Wednesday evening to see what it has to offer. El Monte

Upon entrance, the restaurant feels vibrant, both with guests and all of the decor. We waited a minute until seated at a table for 4 after which we were promptly greeted by a server and given menus. The dinner menu consists of a page starting with appetizers, tamales and ceviche, salads, entrees, tacos, tortas, and sides.

We started with salsa and tortillas as well as the large exotic guacamole. There was a salsa verde and another red, more spicy salsa, both delicious. I do prefer the salsa verde for the fresher, more citrusy taste. The tortillas were warm and soft, which was a little confusing considering that they were meant to be dipped into the salsa. The salsa was a bit messy, but maybe I was eating it wrong? The exotic guacamole was a different story. This guacamole is by the far the best I have ever had! It combines avocados, mangoes, strawberries, goat cheese, and haberno sauce to create this to-die-for rich, sweet and spicy taste! The goat cheese adds a creamy texture and flavor and surprisingly compliments the fruits very well.

elmontelightsWe were all ready to order and 3 out of 4 of us decided to order tacos. Different kinds, but it seems that the tacos here are El Monte’s specialty. I decided to be a little different and ordered the shrimp enchiladas with a side of rice and black beans. The wait for the food was fairly short, somewhere around 5-10 minutes for the first order to arrive. Everyone seemed to enjoy their tacos as no complaints were heard during dinner. ImageMy shrimp enchiladas were fairly cheesy and the shrimp inside was grilled, not fried. I enjoyed them quite a bit. The rice and beans side, however, was really not great. The beans were not seasoned at all and the rice had no flavor to it. The sauce that topped the enchiladas was likewise fairly plain and mild, with real flavor coming from the cheese and the shrimp.

For dessert, I ordered their corn cake while a friend ordered the coconut flan. The cake actually surpassed my expectations. It’s a fruity cake that has the taste of orange marmalade and cranberries. I’ve always loved orange cranberry muffins and this tasted quite like them, only smoother and creamier with a prettier presentation. My friend described the flan as “light” and “coco-nutty”;  It looked fantastic and I would think it would not disappoint anyone who enjoys flan and coconut flavors.

Overall, my dining experience at El Monte was good. I loved the atmosphere: the lightning, decor, furniture, art/paintings. I’m not sure I would order the entree that I ordered this time again, but I would return. The last time I Cakestepped inside the restaurant I actually came in for a quick lunch. I enjoyed my lunch much much more and would recommend for anyone visiting El Monte to try creating a unique entree through a combination of the sides and a meat selection. For lunch, I ordered a side of quinoa salad and grilled vegetables, along with a grilled ahi tuna fillet. The cost is similar if not less than a regular entree and you are able to customize your dish more.

If you’re in the area and are looking for a medium price range Mexican restaurant with a fun atmosphere, give it a go.Lunch

 

Coconut Turtle Fudge Cake

In my pursuit of making the richest chocolate cake known to humanity, I learned about the wonders of powdered sugar. By substituting half of the amount of granulated white sugar in a recipe for powdered sugar in most cake recipes, you end up with a slightly less sweet and definitely more dense cake with a finer, richer texture. Combined with unsweetened cocoa powder and dark Imagechocolate chips, this sweet treat is pretty much fudge in a cake format. I use coconut milk and coconut extract in the cake for the sweet coconut taste, offset by some instant coffee and unsweetened cocoa for the rich deep flavor. And I finish it off with drizzled home made dairy free caramel and pecan chips. If you like the sound of what you’re reading, try making it and let me know how it goes!

What you’ll need:

For the cake

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cup of vanilla coconut milk
  • 1 stick of sweet cream butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee

For the Caramel Sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cups of granulated white sugar
  • 1/3rd cup of water
  • 1/2 tsp lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 oz chopped pecans

Making the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Measure all dry ingredients and mix in a large bowl flour, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, instant coffee.
  2. Soften butter in the microwave for 30 seconds.Soften/partially melt chocolate chips for in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  3. Measure all wet ingredients and add them into the dry mixture: eggs, vanilla extract, coconut extract, coconut milk, softened butter, softened chocolate chips.
  4. Use a hand mixer to mix. The consistency will be thick. If it’s too thick and you are mixing by hand, add more coconut milk.
  5. Grease a round cake pan. Invest in a good nonstick pan as this is definitely important. Pour in the cake batter and let bake for 45 minutes or until a fork comes through clean.

Making Caramel:

I feel like people over-complicate things. If you follow my instructions, you will get caramel. You don’t need a candy thermometer or anything. Just the ingredients and a good pot.

    1. Mix water, sugar, and lemon juice. Pour in a pot and turn on a medium heat.setting. Let the sugar cook for 15-20 minutes. It should turn into a golden light brown color and gradually get darker. Turn off heat once you notice it is the light golden brown color.
    2. Let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes and then add the coconut oil and coconut milk mixture along with the vanilla. Be very careful with this. The mixture will start to bubble and smoke a bit. This is normal.
    3. Turn the heat back on and let simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes. I like to have my caramel a little on the darker and thicker consistency side so I cook it longer.
    4. Once you reach your desired color, poor the caramel in a glass container and let cool. It’s ok if it seems thin, it will get thicker as it cools. If it really is too thin, you may have not let it simmer long enough. You can return it to heat and let it simmer longer.

caramel process

  1. Set aside to cool.

Returning to the cake..
Once the cake is done, make sure to let it cool for at least 20 minutes. I always make the mistake of not letting it cool long enough and regret it because I end up not having the best surface to frost/glaze. Once cooled, flip onto the serving plate. Glaze with the caramel and top with the chopped pecan pieces. An optional addition is coconut flakes. Enjoy!

 

Local Restaurant Taste Testing & Product Reviews

It has come to my attention that the actual blog portion my of my food blog is lacking content. Image

Recipes are great and I will try to add more on a regular basis, but the blog category looks rather pathetic.

My part time job which permits me early exposure to new food products coupled with my unique dine out experiences inspire me to add a new section to the blog. This new section will be all about local restaurants and product reviews. I live in the wonderful city of Fort Collins, in Northern Colorado, which happens to have the highest number of restaurants per capita in the entire country. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this fact and to not explore the local restaurants. While I’m at it, I’ll also share my experience and recommendations. Often times, my cooking inspirations do directly come from dine out experiences. I try my best to recreate favorite dishes of mines.

I already have a few places in mind to write about and I hope that this new content will be of interest. Stay tuned! 🙂

Sweet Mushroom Casarecce Pasta

Pasta is such a treat, especially when the sauce is made to match the quality of the pasta. This pasta sauce is both sweet and spicy. The mushrooms and crushed tomatoes create a thick homemade consistency that I prefer to the store bought sauce.

Here’s what you’ll need for the sauce:

  • 1 medium sized finely chopped sweet onion
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 freshly minced garlic cloves, or 2 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 cup of mushroom slices
  • 6 medium roma tomatoes, lightly blended, or a large can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf or tsp of crushed bay leaves
  • A pinch of oregano and basil
  • Parmesan cheese and chopped cilantro to top off (optional)
  • Sea salt, ground black pepper, and hot chile flakes to taste

Pasta:

  • 16 oz of Casarecce Pasta
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp of salt, 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp of unsalted butter (optional)

Directions:

  1. Set a large port of water to boil. Add the olive oil, salt, and lemon juice.
  2. Chop the sweet onion and mince the garlic.Wash and slice the mushrooms. Set the mushrooms aside for later.
  3. Wash and cut off the ends of the roma tomatoes.Lightly pulse the tomatoes  in a food processor to have a chunky consistency. Add the herbal seasonings to the tomatoes and set aside in a bowl.
  4. Once the large pot of water is boiling, add the pasta. This pasta is to made al dente so it will only boil for about 10 minutes.
  5. Set a medium sized pot on a high/medium heat setting and pour 2 tbsp of olive oil.
  6. Carefully add the sweet onion and minced garlic to the hot oil. Stir with a wooden spoon. Once the onions are browned, lower the heat setting to a low/medium heat setting.
  7. Once you hear the oil sizzling less, very carefully add the tomatoes. Stir in the mushrooms and add the remaining seasonings – sea salt, black pepper, chile flakes.
  8. Cover the pot and let simmer for 5 minutes then turn off heat. If the pasta sauce seems too chunky/dry, you can add water to get your desired consistency. Taste for salt, spiciness. Adjust seasonings to taste preference.
  9. Check on the pasta. Make sure not to overcook it. Once the pasta is tender but not too soft, drain it and set aside. If you like more buttery flavor to the pasta itself, add a tbsp of sweet cream butter while the pasta is still hot. Mix it in until it fully melts.
  10. Serve as desired 🙂 Top off the sauce with cilantro and Parmesan if you like.

A Creative Consumer’s Slant on the Evolution of Food and Society: Cook More

           36842403 In a world that responds to the touch of a fingertip, click of a mouse, push of a button, it comes as no surprise that the culture of instant gratification has seeped into food preparation and consumption trends. The not so subtle rise of fast food and decline of everyday home cooking are embodying developments of the modern times. Somewhere along the consumer’s quest to save time or money, or optimally both, regular home cooking has been sacrificed in exchange for the convenience of prepared foods. Interestingly, food has even come to play a large role in constructing personal and social identities. From food moral restrictions to political causes to wealth status symbols, there is no denying that what and how food is consumed communicate values both on a micro, routine level, as well as a macro, cultural level.

The types of foods consumed communicate the types of people consuming them. For example, a recent interest in raw foods has set off an entire lucrative raw foods industry that introduced unpasteurized beverages, “living super foods,” and other whole, unprocessed – yet still packaged – foods. The consumer base that this industry is tending to is a niche group that aligns with certain moral and political values. Moreover, this is a consumer base that is willing and able to pay $8.99 for a 16 ounce bottle of juice. [1] By following specific guidelines outlined by the raw food core principles, consumers are able to identify with the movement. Carrying a single serve $9 bottle of juice most certainly communicates minimal financial concern and a belonging to certain social class. By contrast, a consumer who shops for bargain food items on sale is acting in a more cost-efficient fashion and identifying with a varied mindset than the raw juice buyer.

Whether an individual chooses to take the time to prepare a meal or to eat out communicates priorities. These priorities, as they become consistent, help to shape the individual’s values. A working professional may commonly choose to work longer hours and stop by a drive through restaurant on the way back home for the sake of convenience. The individual prioritizes the importance of time at work over the time to prepare food at home. Time efficiency is highly valued in American culture. Financial efficiency is likewise central. Cooking food as an individual can often be pricier than purchasing it through a fast food restaurant. Even for families, for which cooking could likely save money, eating out is common. Most households earning over $50,000 eat out once a week. [2] The overall emphasis on quick fixes can be observed in consumer choices as well as the marketing that is targeting the average consumer. A walk through a typical grocery store aisle reveals a prominence of quick foods: rice that cooks in less than five minutes, ready-to-serve pasta sauce, and microwavable entrees. This is all consistent with the societal, cultural demands of convenient and immediate results.

Although the forces driving the evolution of food and society in the direction of a convenience based consumer culture are often beyond the scope of individual control, a simple suggestion of integrating scratch cooking into a regular routine can lead to superior health, increased focus, and most importantly, greater happiness.

The merits of cooking compliment the longstanding American tradition of efforts to increase food choice consciousness. Today, health awareness is on the rise. People are reading labels and are increasingly concerned with the type and quality of ingredients listed on those labels. In an online survey conducted in September 2009 that included 600 respondents between the ages of 20 and 64, sixty percent of respondents reported they are willing to pay up to 10% more for food that promises to be healthier, safer or produced to higher ethical standards. [3] Research suggests that the number of consumers concerned with health is on the rise, year after year. Despite this respectable passion for health, consumers are not cooking, even when the health value in cooking is undisputed. A 2012 study published in PublicHealth Nutrition, a Cambridge University journal, found an association between frequent home cooking and longevity. [4] Home cooking allows the consumer to control the exact foods and amounts present in the dish that is prepared. This fact alone increases personal accountability for food choices and results in wiser nutritional decisions. If health is the objective, there is no more proactive approach to food preparation and consumption than cooking it at home.

Focus has taken a large hit as a consequence to the contemporary culture of instant gratification. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found the rapid pace of technology can lead to more nimble thinking and impatience. [5] Nimble thinking is problematic, especially considering shortened attention spans in personal and professional circumstances. The adverse ramifications of a culture of streamlined shallowness are grim. Decreased patience inhibits thorough enjoyment of many aspects of life that do take time, such as the aging Parmesan cheese, or more practically, the building of trust in a relationship. Cooking is a creative activity that can help enhance focus. Edward Brown in his documentary How to Cook Your Life describes this best when he says: “When you cut the carrots, cut the carrots. When you stir the soup, stir the soup.” Such simple procedures do require attention and focus, lest one wants to lose a finger or scald a hand. Patience is a virtue that cooking requires and also helps to build. There is a vast difference between microwaving a dish for 3 minutes versus cooking an entire meal from scratch and setting aside a couple of hours to do so. This delayed gratification works in positive ways. One study found that postponed gratification in children resulted in higher scholastic performance and better coping with frustration and stress.[6] Delayed gratification in food enhances the ultimate experience of eating that food and increases the value of that experience. Cooking improves the cook on a personal level.

Perhaps the highlight of the cooking experience lies in joy it brings. Food brings families and friends together. Everybody eats. It’s a bonding experience that is relatable to all people around the world. A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health found that even if the family members are not very close to each other, having a meal together as a family reduces the risk for many of troubling behaviors among youth.[7] Involving family and friends in cooking is a fun and healthy way to learn and enjoy foods together. Happiness thrives where people are active and engaged. Cooking at home has great potential to activate the senses and engage the mind.

As for me, my food decisions are most definitely an extension of who I am and how I express myself to others. I feel much happier to cook food at home and also to feed others, however, I acknowledge firsthand the impracticality of cooking from scratch daily. I abide by few and simple rules: variety, balance, and moderation; First, a variety of foods with varied preparation methods, second, balanced meals, and third, moderation in all, including indulgences. This is reflective of who I am and always try to be, a moderate, skeptical of extremes.

Even with the understandable temptation to opt for convenience, strive to cook more. If not for one meal a day, try once a week. It is worth it every time.

[1] What’s Behind the Green Juice Fad? Carrying a bottle of vegetable juice has become a status symbol

[2]  How and What America Eats

[3] Beyond Organic: How Evolving Consumer Concerns Influence Food Purchases

[4] How Cooking Increases Longevity, Cambridge Study Shows

[5] Instant Gratification is Making Us Perpetually Impatient

[6] Delay of Gratification in Children

[7] Family Nutrition: The Truth About Family Meals

Pear Bread Pudding

I had all 4 of my wisdom teeth removed yesterday and have been pretty limited in the types of food I can comfortably eat – soup, yogurt, and pudding mainly. I wanted to make something soft yet still chewy to enjoy for dessert and there happened to be 4 large, ripe pears in the dining room fruit basket. I was initially going to just make some pear sauce. Instead, I made some baked pear bread pudding. I think it turned out pretty good and it was very simple to make.

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Ingredients:

  • 4 large, ripe pears
  • 1 cup whole wheat or white flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3rd cup crushed pecans/walnuts/almonds (you choose, optional)
  • 2 tbsp of honey (optional)
  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk
  • Nonstick oil cooking spray

Preparation:

  • Wash and cut the pears into quarters. Set aside in a bowl.
  • Measure out the flour , almond milk, and sugar. Set aside eggs and butter. Set oven to heat at 350 F.

Making the Bread Pudding:

  1. Set a small pot on the stove top at a medium heat setting and pour in the almond milk.1
  2. Add the cinnamon to the almond milk and then carefully add in the quartered pears. Let simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat and take the pears out of the pot. Set aside the almond milk. Place the pears in a blender. Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar to the mix and pulse lightly to get a chunky consistency.
  4. Melt the butter. In a large bowl, mix the butter with the flour, eggs, almond milk, and 3/4 cup of brown sugar.
  5. Spray an oven safe pan with oil and lightly flour the surface.
  6. Pour a thin layer of the bread mixture to the bottom of the pan. Add a second layer of the chunky pear mixture and then add the remainder flour/egg/butter mix on top.
  7. Lightly flour the surface and place in the oven to bake for 40 minutes.
  8. Once finished, let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Flip onto a serving platter and glaze some honey on top. Garnish with the crushed nuts of choice.
  9. Enjoy!

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