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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pyramid Ponderings

The food pyramid has been niggling my grey cells recently. Setting my "phew" up in his first apartment and The Princess'’s second year of domestic bliss reminded me of food quagmires that young adults are thrown into by falling out of the nest and into their first apartment. By now they have mastered doing laundry-in fact The Princess was quite tired of my turning her delicates weird shades of chartreuse and relieved me of her laundry duty early in high school. I recently taught my "“phew"” about my secret cleaning weapon when his Polo was stained by a broken bottle of aftershave. The secret? "“Shout"” it out or throw it away. He bought a big bottle to combat his dirt demons. Now we are faced with fuelling the learning machine.

My "“phew"” arrived on our doorstep needing help in this final transition. What does he eat? What does he know? Can he follow a recipe? Will he call for help?

I made copious notes, pondered quantities and variety. Could I get him organized for independence? Then panic set in and I called my worldly Princess. "“What do you think? Should we get eggbeaters? What about spices? Kosher salt?"” my voice was rising as I estimated the set-up charge and thought about our car filled to the brim.

“Mom,"” her tone dripped of forced patience. "“Listen, boys eat anything that comes in a box- so get cereal, Rice-a-Roni, box Mac and Cheese. If he'’s interested get him some Hamburger Helper to create with. But forget the Wondra and chicken broth."

"“But what about veggies or fruit? Can we get frozen...?"”

"“Ma-its overkill- he'’s a big boy and believe me he won'’t go hungry."”

I sighed as I hung up on such sage advice and crossed off a few items on the list as I added canned tuna, sponges, and dish soap.

There we were, The Ant, Uncle, and "“phew"” hurtling down aisle after aisle pondering what to stock in the larder. We were informed that a trip to Costco was necessary for the survival of the "“phew"”. And true to form, steroid enhanced boxes jumped off shelves into our pimped out cart. Part of me was in heavy nesting for him and another part was in Costco denial. It was a tug-of-war down the aisles. He won with the gallon of salsa, and frozen orange juice (make note-need to buy pitcher); we won by talking him out of 96 rolls of toilet paper. He was captivated by a case of Ramen Noodles and eight pounds of penne pasta. We suggested frozen hamburger patties and double loaves of bread.

Then it was off to Albertson'’s to fine tune the chicken breasts. I was in my glory with The Princess slapping my wrists when I reached for a bunch of celery or other non-boy food. We settled on 24 rolls of toilet paper and in the box section I reached for one of our family favorite items- Near East Rice Pilaf Garlic Pasta. With a knowing look I snagged his attention and told him to save it for a special dinner with his GF. My dear "“phew"” flashed me the most wonderful smile and I knew he would survive.

I called The Princess later and regaled her about our adventure.

"“He bought a case of Ramen Noodles! Will he really eat all of that? And he only wanted one can of fruit. How will he... survive…"”

"Don'’t go there Mom, he'’s a big boy. And the Noodles? Trust me Mom, it'’s one of the boy food groups- remember boxes- he will eat them all- Trust me."

Now back to the pyramid. I recently discovered that the first food guide for children was published in 1916 by Caroline Hunt who divided food into five groups: milk and meat; cereals; vegetables and fruits; fats and fat foods; and sugars and sugary food. Now granted the term vegetable includes starch and non-starch vegetables it was a guide that was relatively easy to follow.

Reality struck a blow to the food guide in the 1930'’s. The government decided to change the guide into twelve categories which recognized different "“nutridense"” foods suggesting a balance between "“protective" foods that furnish essential nutrients, such as milk for calcium, and vegetables and fruits for vitamins A and C and high energy foods such as fats and sweets. At a time when any food on the table was an achievement for many I wonder how many were balancing the big twelve?

1943 turned the basic twelve into seven food groups: green and yellow vegetables; oranges, tomatoes, and grapefruit (interesting food group…); potatoes and other vegetables and fruits; milk and milk products; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dried legumes; bread, flour and cereals; and butter and fortified margarine (I guess olive, corn, and peanut oils weren'’t discovered). Since it was war time, portion and substitution suggestions were patriotically addressed.

The simplicity of suburban life and life with Ike was felt in the food guide and in 1956 those tiresome seven groups were reduced to four- much easier to follow- when foraging in the new brimming frozen aisle and burgeoning convenience sections. This is where my history begins with the food guide and those colorful posters with food divided into dairy, meats, fruits and vegetables, and grain products. I do understand that a lot of what we eat these days is hard put to fall into any of these simple categories. Life just isn'’t that simple anymore. Where does sushi go? But wait- it was easy to follow and figure out if we were listing toward a healthy meal.

Those heady days of 1979 brought back a whimper of moderation with the "“Hassle-Free Guide"” (how perfect is that title?) adding a shame-on-you fifth category; fats, sweets, and alcohol to drink sparingly. This still was a guide that any American could understand and connect the dots on healthy nutrition.

Much fanfare introduced the 1992 Food Guide Pyramid. I guess our growing sophistication rallied the USDA to create a guide that takes a nutritionist to interpret. The food pyramids of today have micromanaged our eating habits to the point of exhaustion. Each tablespoon of butter and ounce of oil can be pigeon-holed on the color-coded triangle. Now the pyramid is replete with a running figure dashing up the side of nutrition and what pretty colors our food groups are! We can even interact with our own private food pyramid on www.mypyramid.gov!!

I find this all well and good but getting back to my young adult relatives. I think a basic four or at the most five guide (they do need to know where the beer fits into the diet) is all they need to put basic nutritional components on the table. Once the rhythm of eating is established and the novel idea that a variety of foods makes for a healthy body, a pyramid can be slipped in with more nutritional fine tuning.

For now I hope that a bowl of fortified cereal is eaten each day, a can of tuna occasionally eaten, and the Ramen Noodles holds out until the next Costco run.

Scarlet Runners

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Dinner at Eight

For those of you who get TCM,netflix, or have access to a good video store (and yes, some blockbusters carry it), check out Dinner at Eight a 1933 black and white movie about a gaggle of stars culminating in their entrance to dinner. It is a wonderful story of morals and America on the cusp of the depression. I won't bore you with the amazing cast. TCM will be showing it on September 25 @8pm. Please leave me a comment if you are able to track this gem down or can watch it.
Watch and Enjoy!
Queen Art-o-Eat

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Finished Meal!

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A Corn Pancake Recipe

I was wandering too far down memory lane and forgot to share a recipe! This is based on The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison.
2 ears of cooked corn (about 1 1/2 C kernals)
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/4t baking powder
1/4 C Eggbeaters
1/2 C skim milk
2 egg whites (from large eggs)
pinch of salt

Crumble corn kernals and mix with flour and baking powder.

Beat egg whites until they hold a stiff peak (a test is if a shell-on egg will sit on a mound of egg whites and only settle down 1/4". If the egg sits right on top, the whites are over whipped. If the egg quickly sinks- keep whipping).

Add Eggbeaters, mix well, add milk and pinch of salt, mix well. Lighten batter with a small scoop of egg whites. Then fold in the rest.

I use a 1/2C measuring cup for the pancakes.

Cook in a lightly oiled medium-heat pan and create your own memories!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Grandma and her Corn Pancakes

My grandmother was sitting on my shoulder last night. Images of her kitchen with its 1930’s glass front cabinets and red linoleum counters jarred my memory. There are dishes that are hard-wired into my psyche that she made those hot New Jersey summers when we would drive Back-East from Iowa. Meals were hot and served in an even hotter kitchen. But there were rewards for eating roast pork and sauerkraut in August. There was her sublime lemon meringue pie with its secrets laid to rest with her. There were German pancakes that I learned later were actually Crepes from a different country. But last night, my grandmother and I, made corn pancakes.

I don’t know where they came from- other than that they were a result of leftovers. We used to have them as breakfast after a night of more hot meals and corn on the cob. But having retired from breakfast duty, they became dinner for me. Everything Grandma did was economical and frugal. I’m sure she never planned leftovers as I do, looking forward to the second meal almost more than the first. Ah, but those pancakes were special. You see my Grandma had (what I thought was unique until recently reading Stand Facing the Stove about Irma and Marion Rombauer and the Joy of Cooking on page 242-243 where they mention the same technique) a special way of whipping egg whites. It was the only kitchen task that she did sitting down.

Resting on her lap was a smallish chipped platter. Egg whites sloshed together on the plate. With her right hand she grasped a fork and rhythmically beat the whites into perfect peaks. You should have seen her biceps! They turned from a flaccid mass under her arm to a muscle that could arm wrestle the trickiest white into full bloom. To this day I remember watching her with childhood eyes and listening to the sound of fork against china. As you can see it was a mesmerizing experience.

The pancakes are quite simple. I add ingredients as if I am making a crepe batter with least wet to most wet additions. Before I worked in the restaurant trenches, I also sat down and whipped my whites as she had done. My puny biceps ached as I beat the whites into submission. Now knowing the ways of copper and a balloon whisk I whip in the French method creating tiny tight white bubbles of air. I’m sure my grandmother would approve of this “modern” convenience.

I savored the pancakes as if I was young once again sitting on the grey painted wooden chairs with my feet swinging. My sister and I were in sugar high delight eating late summer’s bounty as a magical Pyrex coffee pot turned liquid from clear to brown as it brewed percolator coffee on the electric stove.

When my NSSP called from the Other Edge and I told him I was having corn pancakes, he sighed at the loss. These aren’t pancakes from his past but from our culinary collective stew. He knows that I eat them with Grandma and wishes he was there to indulge. When he comes back I will buy extra corn and we will share in my late summer celebration.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Deconstructed BLT or The No-Carb Version

Deconstructing food is all the rage-taking elements of tried and true dishes and giving them a twist without loosing the tasty comfort factor. Last week I made a BLT salad with chunks of lettuce, chunks of tomato, bits of perfect bacon, and a dressing of only diluted mayonnaise with milk. It worked but was hardly a gourmatized dish. The elements were rattling around in my brain. How could I make this a dish that would be worthy of a restaurant?

Then it occurred to me to cut hefty slabs of ripe tomato, chiffonade iceberg lettuce for the BLT crunch, and mix with perfectly rendered bacon pieces that had been slowly cooked to remove as much fat as possible. I tossed the lettuce and bacon with the diluted mayonnaise dressing a few grinds of fresh black pepper and Voila! A totally outrageous first course. Crunch, Salt, and Sweet sans the toast. Bon Appetit!
Queen Art-o-Eat
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