The Olympics, Junk Food and Choice.

Last Friday marked the start of the London Olympic Games. They are an event that celebrates sport, competition, perseverance, national pride and dedication to physical health. So what does this have to do with food? Well, for one thing, there is a tonne controversy surrounding the junk-food sponsors of the 2012 Olympics. Two of the Worldwide Olympic Partners are McDonald’s and Coca Cola with sponsorship contracts until 2020. For the London 2012 Olympic Games Cadbury is among the official “supporters” and Heineken UK is one of the many “suppliers and providers” of the games. In the official IOC Marketing: Media Guide London 2012 document, Coca Cola boasts that it is “proud to be the longest continuous sponsor of the Olympic Games, in a partnership that has spanned 84 years.”

The issue, for many, is that McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Cadbury are makers of junk food, food that does not contribute to health. Some assert it is incongruous with the spirit of athleticism for which the Olympics stand. Opponents state that without such popular sponsors, the Olympics could not afford to be held (which may be true) and that it is up to each individual to make their own choices when it comes to food.

There are many great articles outlining the debate, but this one by CBS news, has Dr. Marion Nestle weighing in (love her) and this article by Neville Rigby for the Guardian UK is also definitely worth giving a quick read.

It is on the “individual choice” point that many disagree. I think it is also the most important point that has come from the controversy over the Olympic junk food sponsors and one I think could be paid a lot more attention. Do we really have the ability to choose? Does everyone have the same freedom to choose what they eat?

Last month, Courtney Shea interviewed Nick Saul of The Stop Community Food Centre for The Grid. The interview progressed toward the notion of choice when it comes to food. Shea asked what Saul thought of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sweetened drink ban. Stating that he was totally for it, Saul asserts, We’re not going to change anything by assuming that people can and will change their own habits. We’ve got to lead by regulating this stuff.” When asked if that does not leave much responsibility to the consumer, Saul responds, “There was a great study done in the States that showed that the marketing budget for one sugar cereal was the same as the entire public health budget in the U.S. This is not an even fight.We privatize profit and socialize cost. Look at diet-related illness. That’s our bill as taxpayers..”

I think that Saul is touching on something very important. McDonald’s and Coca Cola are very powerful companies, which is why they can afford to be counted among the biggest sponsors of the Olympics. They are literally everywhere.There are people who live in neighbourhoods that do not have grocery stores, referred to as “food deserts”. What these areas often do have are fast food restaurants and convenience stores. (Sociological Images has an excellent, very concise post about US food deserts, if you are interested.) A lot of money is spent on fast food advertising, branding and availability. Likely much, much more than what governments spent on nutrition education and to ensure access to nutritious food. When you consider this, it becomes harder to accept the idea that consumers can just chose to eat healthy food or, for that matter, chose not to eat junk food.

Is it the responsibility of the Olympics to take a stand? Is the contested illusion of consumer choice really their problem? Probably not.

What about diet-related illness? Nestle and others have made the point that you don’t see cigarette sponsors for the Olympics, presumably for the same health related objection that is currently being made regarding fast food. But the Olympics did accept sponsorship from cigarette companies up until 1984 as far as I can find. The Olympic Marketing Fact File 2012 Addition mentions cigarettes only once. Under the 1964 Tokyo Olympics reads, “The new ‘Olympia’ cigarette brand generates more than US$1 million in revenue for the OCOG.” Right beside this, in brackets, is the line: “The tobacco sponsorship category is later banned.”

For those who believe the decision to eat junk food is one everyone can make freely, surely cigarette smoking did (and still does) boil down to individual choice. The OCOG took a stand then. Why not now?

Squash and Bean Stew!

Like many recent university graduates, I live at home with my parents. Please don’t ask how “recent.” I use the word loosely.

I mention this because I prepare most of my meals with my mom. In February my mom suggested we start eating vegetarian. This was something I did at school (for economic and environmental reasons), but we definitely needed a few new recipes. Let’s face it, fried tofu and a sleeve of soda crackers is not an appropriate dinner for nonstudent adults. We have slowly been increasing our menu repertoire which now includes a few favourites. When we find something we really like, however, we get into a groove (I prefer this word to “rut”). Right now we are in a squash stew groove!

This recipe is really simple and makes enough that two people can have it for dinner and enjoy leftovers for lunch…for several days. What I particularly enjoy is that the vegetables stay slightly crisp and distinct from each other even after reheating.

Tools you need:

–          Cutting board

–          Knife

–          Big pot (I love that you only use one pot!)

Ingredients:

–          1 tablespoon olive oil

–          1 large onion, chopped

–          2 garlic cloves, minced

–          1 tablespoon chili powder

–          1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

–          1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

–          2 pounds butternut squash cut into 1-inch pieces

–          4 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces

–          1 15- to 16-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained

–          1 tablespoon minced, seeded jalapeño pepper

–          1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Unless I am baking, I generally use recipe measurements as guidelines and ingredients as suggestions. So if you want to substitute different veggies depending on availability, go for it! If you don’t like heat, omit the jalapeño. Hate cilantro? Try parsley instead. But I find a fresh herb is needed to brighten it up a bit. Add whatever herb just before serving.

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender and golden.
  2.  Add garlic, chili powder and cumin and stir until garlic is soft. This will take about a minute.
  3. Add tomatoes with juices; bring to boil.
  4.  Stir in squash and green beans. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until vegetables are almost tender. You can prick them with a fork to check. If you like really crisp green beans, add them a few minutes after the squash.
  5. Stir in black beans and jalapeño. Cover and simmer for a few more minutes (5 or so).
  6. Stir in cilantro.
  7. Eat it! (Remember to share).

Recipe originally from epicurious.

No-Need-to-Knead Bread

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard.

So I finally baked the no-knead bread!

It turned out well…the second time. The first time that I made the dough I added too much water. The dough was really wet and glue-like rather than slightly sticky to touch and shaggy looking. It is really humid where I live, especially this time of year. So my flour may contain quite a bit of moisture already. Trying it a second time, I found that I did not need the full 1 and 5/8th cups of water. I think I likely used somewhere between 1 and ½ cups to 1 and 2/3 cups. Once I figured this out, manipulating the dough was super easy.

Another challenge I had was finding the right time to make the dough so that it would have long enough to rise and be ready at a time that was convenient for me to bake ( not the middle of the night or while I am at work). I wanted to follow the recipe as closely as possible – at least the first time – to test my success. I followed the directions for a 12 – 18 hour rise and a 2 hour proof strictly. I decided before hand that a weekend would be best for this. I made the dough shortly after getting home from work on Friday night. This is how everything went down:

Time Bread Schedule My Schedule
6 pm – 6:05 pm Friday Dough creation. Ditto
6 pm Friday to 9 am Saturday (16 hours) Bed time: Rested in a bowl on top of the microwave covered with cling film. Had dinner, painted my nails, watched a movie, and then slept.Other things that can (hypothetically) be done while the dough rises: drive-in movie viewing, essay writing, pub crawling, ball room dancing, hiking through the woods, speed dating, sky diving, debate club…ing, browsing Pinterest for hours, etc.
9 – 9:15 am Massage: Folding. Folded dough over 3 times, and then left it to rest on the counter for 15 minutes.
9:15 – 11:15 am Knap time: Resting and leavening on counter. Shaped dough into a ball, sprinkled it with wheat bran and wrapped it in a tea-towel.Then I went for a nice jog, showered, made tea.
11:30 am – 12:30 pm Sauna: baked in a steamy pot in the oven.At the 30 minute mark I took the lid off of the pot to find that the bread was already golden brown. I left the lid off and turned the oven off to let the residual heat finish the baking. Drank tea, ate breakfast, browsed Pinterest, showered and dressed.
12:30 pm Met untimely demise. Ate lots of bread!

Bottom right: the heavy, green enamel pot I found for $35 at a discount kitchen supply store. It worked very well!

Recipe (from the New York Times)

By Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan, New York.

–          3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting

–          ¼ teaspoon instant yeast

–          1¼ teaspoons salt

–          Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 and 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover with cling film. Let dough rest for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature (22 degrees C).

2. After resting 12 to 18 hours, the dough surface will be dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton tea towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees F. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Thoughts:

Now that I know that the dough comes together very quickly and that the bread bakes in less than an hour, I might try making the dough before I leave for work (around 7 am) and then proofing after 12 hours. If all goes to plan the bread can go into the oven at 9 pm and be out by 10 pm. I may even see what happens if I make the dough one evening and bake it another. I don’t know if 24 hours (as opposed to 18) is really going to make or break (punny!) this bread.

I would also like to try the bread with whole wheat flour next time and then possibly with rye or whole grains. I have read that the grain in the whole wheat can shred the gluten molecules, making the bread tougher. But there are plenty of recipes and blog posts with advice on how to mitigate this. I anticipate that whole grains would be even trickier. I think the whole wheat will be a great, manageable next step.

Steamy Kitchen has a great photo step-by-step that I found helpful and provides proof that four-year old can make this bread!

Is Local Really Better?

I am currently in the midst of reading Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly by James E. McWilliams.

My copy of Just Food with my thoughts on sticky tabs.

It is incredibly intriguing read. McWilliams is painstakingly fair in his systematic criticism of the local and the organic food movements. What the title does not give away is that he is no proponent of the results of Green Revolution or the industrialization of food production either. Although I am super anxious to post about what I have been reading, I am not yet ready.

I did think I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention that there is a new book (published just last week) making a similar assertion. That is, in terms of the ability to save the environment, locavore/farm-to-fork movements are well-meaning but gravely misguided. The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet is by University of Toronto associate geography professor, Pierre Desrochers, and policy analyst, Hiroko Shimizu.

An interview with Prof. Desrochers can be found here.

Much more on this topic to follow!

If you have an opinion (on locavores/local food movement, globalization/industrialization of food, agriculture and the environment, the books specifically), please share!

Introduction to bread making

This past weekend I made Amish Friendship Bread. It tasted fine. It has a nice texture and an earthy sweetness that reminds me a little of my Baba’s bread.

This was my first time baking with yeast. To be honest, doing so used to intimidate me greatly. This may seem silly to some, especially because many people all over the world bake their own bread. I am hoping that maybe others share my trepidation, only so that what I write about below might inspire them as well!

Now that I know what the active yeast will look like and smell like – much like beer, actually – I am really excited to try baking a loaf of savoury bread.

I wanted a very, very simple bread recipe and I knew I could count on one man in particular. If you are not already familiar with Mark Bittman allow me to introduce you to my most current food-hero crush. Mark Bittman is a food writer and journalist with a wicked TED talk about the dangers and inadequacies of our Western diet. Mark Bittman explains, “I try to write simple, straightforward recipes that encourage people to cook rather than wow or intimidate them.” I decided to put his assurances to the test.

I was incredibly pleased to find exactly what I was looking for. I challenge anyone to find a simpler bread recipe than this one. To be fair, this is not Mark Bittman’s recipe. He is promoting Jim Lahey’s (of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan) very simple no-knead bread. Mr. Lahey has a super hip philosophy. Not only should his bread be simple enough that a 4-year-old could bake it, the recipe should be shared with as many people as possible.

I am not at all intimidated to try this recipe. In fact, I am really excited. The first step will be finding the appropriate vessel (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic pot with a lid). I am hoping to give it a whirl this weekend. Stay tuned!

 

If you would like to read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article on Jim Lahey’s bread you can do so here. The same link contains a video of Mr. Lahey demonstrating the process. You can also find the video here.

For more on bread – I am on a serious bread philosophy kick – here is a great TED talk by Peter Reinhart (breadmaker, teacher, author and theologian).

 

Simple Amish Friendship Bread (Sans Pudding Mix)

On Friday I was given a container of  Amish Friendship Bread starter.

I have to admit, the gesture is nice. You receive a bag/container of starter and ten days later you return a loaf of the bread to the person who gave you the starter. You also have a loaf or two for you and your family/friends/co-workers. In the end, you are left with enough starter to pass on one cup to a friend and enough to continue baking yourself. It should foster an appreciation for sharing food with friends. This is precisely what we are trying to promote on this blog.

While the idea is really lovely, I just have two small problems. I don’t want to tend to the starter unless I know that I love the resulting bread. Why would I want extra starter if I don’t want to use it myself or if I don’t have someone to pass the starter off to? Furthermore, I don’t really find the recipes for Amish Friendship Bread appealing. I think food should be simple. I don’t mind if a recipe requires time so long as that time pays off in terms of flavour or texture. What I do mind are long lists of ingredients and ingredients that have ingredients, such as the pudding mix. The majority of the recipes call for pudding mix. I don’t even know what is in pudding mix.

It shames me to admit, but the first time a friend gave me a bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter it went into the garbage. I don’t believe in wasting food. But that time I did. So in an attempt to not waste this second batch I decided I needed to simplify both the process and the recipe.

After reading over the instructions, it became apparent that the purpose of pampering the starter for ten days is to increase its volume. That is all. The majority of the recipes call for one cup of the starter. This is exactly the amount that was passed on to me. I really only needed to keep the starter for ten days (feeding it on day 5) if I wanted to have left over starter and more to pass on. So I made the decision to use all of the starter in one recipe. I also needed a birthday cake for my dad so things were going to work out well!

I realised there must be other people out there who want a simplified recipe for their Amish Friendship Bread. And after searching a few blogs, I found that there are plenty of people who are making this bread without pudding mix with varying degrees of success. Many of these people also don’t understand what, if anything, the pudding mix adds. So they have done away with it and have replaced it with mashed banana or apple sauce. Much healthier options!

I decided on the very simple recipe below because I had all of the ingredients in my pantry already.

Really Simple Amish Friendship Bread Recipe (Sans Pudding):

1 cup starter

2/3 cup oil

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

Tools you need:

–          2 glass, ceramic or plastic bowls

–          1 wooden or plastic spoon/spatula

–          2 loaf pans

–          Measuring cups (dry and liquid)

–          Measuring spoons

Most recipes advise against using metal tools. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a very scientific explanation. Apparently, metal will inhibit the ability of the yeast to act as a leaven.

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon) in one bowl. If your bowls are two different sizes it is best to use the smaller bowl for this (see why in step 3). I like to sift my dry ingredients together into a bowl because it is pretty humid where I live and this gets rid of any lumps. I used a metal whisk to fluff up my flour before measuring it. This is generally a good idea if, like me, you buy flour in bulk and it is kept in a container. Over time the flour gets packed down and this can skew the accuracy of your measurements. Weighing your dry ingredients will also work if you can find a recipe with weight measurements and you have a food scale.
  2. In the other bowl (the larger one, if they are different sizes) combine the wet ingredients (oil, vanilla, eggs and starter). If you can, try to use liquid measuring cups. I must admit, I did not use a liquid measuring cup to measure the starter. I already had the dry 1 cup measuring cup out so I just used that. I used a metal whisk to mix the eggs and oil. Then I used a wooden spoon to mix the starter and the vanilla into egg and oil mixture.
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients (which are in the larger bowl, thankfully) and use the wooden spoon to stir.
  4. At this point you can add any additional flavours you would like. I chose chocolate chips and chopped pecans simply because I had them in my pantry.
  5. Take a knob of butter and rub it around the inside of both pans and sprinkle in some sugar.
  6. Pour the batter evenly between the two pans.
  7. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees Celsius for 40 to 45 minutes.

Things I liked about the recipe:

  • It doesn’t call for pudding mix and I had all of the ingredients that it does call for in my pantry. Because this recipe omits the pudding, the sweet flavour imparted by the yeast comes through.
  • The recipe is very simple. I used only 1 dry measuring cup (the 1 cup measure), 1 wet measuring cup and one measuring spoon (the ½ teaspoon measure).

Things I didn’t like about the recipe:

  • It calls for a lot of white sugar and white flour. For a birthday cake, this is fine. It is a celebration after all. (I think “bread” is a misnomer. With this much sugar and white flour, it really is a cake.)
  • The cakes did not rise very much (maybe because I used a metal whisk and metal sieve at points during the preparation?). I think that the majority of the leavening came from the baking powder. I’m glad that I didn’t tend to the starter for ten days for this reason.

Improvements to be made:

  • I should probably remember to include the cinnamon next time! It would have added another level to the flavour. Fortunately, the cake tastes fine without it.
  • I burned the bottoms of the cakes a little bit. I have to remember that my oven is pretty hot. When I bake I often end up taking things out before the recommended bake time. 35 minutes would probably have been adequate. I am fortunate because my dad happens to like things a little burned. At least that is what he has told me my whole life. If you do accidentally burn the bottoms, don’t sweat it! Just cut the burned bottom crust off.

Hello and happy Food Revolution Day!

Mississauga and Kamloops (like most other pairs of cities in Canada) are very different and very far apart. Four thousand kilometres, give or take. It’s important to recognise our geography: Canada is a big place and the unique characteristics of each little corner play a big part in how we live our day-to-day lives, the weather, the things we do, the things we eat, the things that grow around us. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. That said, we also have a lot in common. Despite our distance, we wanted to do something together to celebrate, explore, experiment with, and share our common passion: good food shared with good people. Good food brings good people together, and good people come together and share good food, whether around the kitchen table, patio table, picnic blanket, campfire, or cookstove. [In our culture,] important discussions, crucial decisions, hysterical laughter, passionate dialogue, plans for the future, business strategy, and demonstrations of love and friendship and family often happen around a table of one form or another. These are important things in which food plays a big role, but we don’t spend nearly enough time really thinking about the food we eat, where it came from, who harvested and/or prepared it, and how it was prepared. Here, we think, write, and learn about food; across distances, one thing we all have in common.

We have been working on this blog concept for sometime now. We decided that Food Revolution Day would be an excellent day to launch.

Welcome to 4000 km + 1 table. We hope you will visit us often.

– Kate & Amy