Sunday, May 30, 2010

Health Food-Junk Food: Pancake Syrup

Lately I have been changing the way I eat. I had long considered myself a pretty healthy eater throughout my life: I ate fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods and not too much meat. But I also ate junk food, without paying too much attention to the ingredients. Somewhere in my mind I knew I probably shouldn't be eating artificial colours, chemically engineered flavours, high fructose corn syrup and all the other unpronouncable ingredients in some of my favorite treats. But I mostly ate healthily, so I figured I couldn't be doing that much harm.
A few different influences have come together for me recently to really push me towards consciously removing those additives from my diet.  Not least of those influences  have been the books (and lectures) of Michael Pollan. I think when I started reading his books, a lot of ideas that had already been swimming around my head really crystallized.
 I also read this article about fast food that never seems to decompose, which  put me even more firmly off eating food from certain large fast food chains.
Another thing that has helped me steer away from this category of non food is that I have been living in Paris since September. I would like to say something lofty here about the great markets with produce and fresh meat, eggs and dairy, or the great cheese shops, or the artisan crafted whatever, how my eating habits have been transformed by the great food traditions of France. All those things are great, but what has actually helped me a great deal is the taste of Diet Coke in France. I hate the way Diet Coke tastes in Europe, having sampled them scientifically in England, France and Italy. There is a different formula, or different water or something, but it is definitely not the same. I don't like it one bit. Which is great, because it was not my proudest or healthiest habit.
I am now trying to avoid foods that contain ingredients I can’t pronounce, foods that will never go bad, foods with unnatural neon colours… I am trying to avoid highly processed food and manufactured junk food.  Some of my favorite things fall into exactly those categories though.  My favorite childhood foods included a chicken noodle soup that came in a little plastic packet, which is so bright yellow that it dyed one our white serving spoons a toxic looking shade.  I have bought large bags of artificial calorie free sugar substitute. I liberally applied food colouring. I gravitated towards salt, sugar, MSG, really really refined carbohydrates and chemical additives.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Food Scavenging at Aligres Market, Paris

      The Marché d'Aligre is an outdoor market in Paris' 12th arrondissement that sits snuggled up against the Marché Beauvau, a covered market.  Marché Beauvau has some fantastic shops and stalls: butchers, fishmongers, produce stalls,  an Italian deli with fresh pasta, and my favorite shop in the covered market, Sur Les Quais.
        Sur Les Quais stocks beautiful spices, gourmet salts, charcuterie,  mustards, tapenades, olives, and a beautiful array of bulk olive oils. The shop is normally crowded, and this Saturday was no different.  When I visited, a line was forming into the hallway outside the shop. I squished past the crowd and the row of shiny olive oil drums and my eye fell on a little jar of fat caper berries. I love caper berries, and haven't been able to find any reasonably priced ones in Paris. I counted out my change and walked up to the counter. The gentleman behind the counter greeted me and asked "How much are these again?" I told him the price that was on the sticker beside the jar and I handed him my pre-counted change. He glanced at the pile of coins and said "Did you count this right?" I said yes, and he tossed the change into the till without counting.
       This is one of the reasons I really like doing my food shopping in the markets. I regularly see people hand over their coin purses to the stall owners and let them sort out how much change they need.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Edamame with Red Wine Reduction and Garlic

I have been thinking about edamame a lot lately: they are great steamed and salted like you find them in  Japanese restaurants. They don't seem to show up much elsewhere, which is too bad because they are delicious and versatile.  I have had edamame dishes at a couple different restaurants that inspired me to experiment with some different seasonings.

 When most people think of soy they tend to think of tofu, soymilk, and a whole range of processed soy products. Nothing is wrong with those, but I'd choose unprocessed soy beans over the more popular soy products any day.  If you haven't seen edamame in your grocery store, have a hunt through the frozen foods section, or go to an Asian specialty market. I usually buy a big bag of frozen edamame in their shells and another bag of frozen shelled edamame beans. The pre-shelled beans get boiled until bright green, about a minute, and thrown into pasta, soup, salad— everything. The beans in their pods have been getting every seasoning I can think of, and I will post some of the others soon. This red wine glazed recipe may very well be the best so far. The big slices of garlic get stained really deep purpley-red.