Thursday, December 16, 2010

Revamp and Other Cultures' Diets

So much for keeping record of my wine drinking.

This is a blog I definitely do not want to discontinue, but I am not as ambitious in recording my beverages as I originally thought I was. However, I am finding that I am passionate and interested in food (wine included), and so I've decided to use this blog to preserve my thoughts and insights about all things food - and that includes the great grape.

Ready?

Here's my latest mental meanderings:

My parents are coming to my house for Christmas Day dinner, and this year, my mom wanted to really do something different. I suggested doing a Mediterranean meal, and she was all for it. As I researched, I found (and it's really not new news to me) that Mediterraneans eat much differently than we do.

For example, this is our food pyramid, courtesy of the USDA:


At first glance, it seems to tell you so much...but then you realize it's telling you so little.

1. What does it mean to "go easy" on juices?
2. Choose foods low in "added sugar"? Like what?
3. 5.5 oz. of meat daily? How much is that?
4. Oil is the tiniest sliver of the pyramid.
5. What's up with new design anyway?

As a contrast, take a look at the Mediterranean diet food pyramid, courtesy of www.oldwayspt.org:



A couple of points of interest here:

1. No confusing oz. portions.
2. Red meat ONCE a MONTH!? (Sweets can be eaten more often than that!)
3. Olive oil - daily?!
4. The Western idea that meat should be the basis of every meal - not so in the Meditteranean.
5. No harping about serving sizes, cups, ounces, etc. The implied advice is MODERATION.

Mediterraneans generally have less chronic diseases, heart issues, and live a little longer. Whether that is attributable wholly to the food is unclear. All I know is this: I am dissatisfied with the Western diet...we depend too much on meat and processed foods.

Maybe in this case, it's best to do as the Romans do?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Education Makes The Man(icotti)

First, a thing about our No-Restaurants experiment. This past weekend, we traveled with good friends to Kansas City to the Renaissance Fair. We made a pit stop at Gino's Italian Cuisine in Kearney, and I'm not exaggerating (much) when I say Brent and I both copiously salivated for days before the trip. It would be our first outing since the inception of NR. And really, the food was good...but I wouldn't say it was the most amazing meal of my life. And yes, both Brent and I spent some time on the toilet the next morning because of it. (Better on it than in it, I say)

So, end point, the experiment continues (although, it seems less of an experiment now and more of a lifestyle choice). The kids agreeably are on board with continuing, so now maybe the challenge is to see how long we can go before we cave into the pressure/desire to visit a local eatery.

Second, my obsession with purchasing food-related texts is nearly at a climax. I have not even finished with Marion Nestle, and yet, my latest purchase is Fix Freeze and Feast. Essentially, the book's recipes are doubled, tripled, quadrupled (and beyond), so that the reader can freeze several entrees in advance. The variety of recipes means I'm not stuck making a helluva lot of casseroles for the rest of my natural-born life.

As I learn more about the production of frozen foods (via Nestle), the more that making my own "frozen dinners" appeals to me. I can guarantee the pan of Pizza Casserole I froze Wednesday night does not contain Yellow No. 5 or Xanthan Gum. The 20 cups of Black Bean and Vegetable Chili I made today has probably most of a day's worth of vegetable requirement, as opposed to vegetable-sounding products one may find in a can of store-bought soup.

Some people stockpile arms and ammunition, I stockpile pans of manicotti. I suppose it is my cross to bear in this life.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Teach Me To Fish...

I've been reading Marion Nestle's "What to Eat" lately, and let me tell you, it is quite a tome. Overwhelming, perhaps.

The more I read, the more I am convinced that

a. Food consumers are not stupid, but yes, ignorant.

b. The food industry is fraught with unscrupulousness.

c. Various concerns about public health and safety come in second place nearly every time to companies who have a lot of money and lobbyists.

d. All of the above.

I suppose you could look at it two ways: one, it's depressing to think how duped the American consumer has been for all these years...and yeah, an isolated tropical island free of politicians is looking pretty appealing right about now.

OR

Two, this is Enlightenment. This is evolution of the human species. Knowledge is power, and knowing is half the battle (via G.I. Joe). Now, we can start making good and right choices.

Me, I choose No. 2. Nestle's section on fish is rather extensive...at various points, it occurs to me a degree in Marine Biology or similar would be very useful. Anyhow, out of all the pescatological chaos, I came across this:

Seafood Watch

Depending on what part of the US you live, it lists fish that are okay to eat (safe, not overfished, etc). It also details seafood that is unsafe to eat. Good stuff! It folds up into a size that fits into your wallet and you can schlep it with you in supermarkets and restaurants. Double good!

I look forward to using it. Maybe you will too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Month Restaurant-Free

On September 5, 2010, the Nelson family undertook the great task of withdrawing from all restaurant outings.

The final pronouncement: Not painful at all, and actually, worth continuing.

Oh sure, there were times we craved non-homemade-food. I mean, how can we physically not crave it when we live in such a processed-food-world? But mostly, suppressing the urge to indulge was easy (or at least, grew easier with time).

So, dear readers - let me give you the highlights.

1. I purchased a nice, new food processor, which has allowed me to make fresh salsa, mashed sweet potatoes, and broccoli pesto - just in the last week.

2. Slowly but surely, Brent and I keep dropping weight. I believe this can be attributed to smaller serving portions and the elimination of junky, processed foods from our pantry.

3. We have become more resourceful. Bags of lettuce or produce are no longer being thrown out because of spoilage - we are actually eating them before they go rotten. This in turn leads to smaller grocery bills (this I really can't confirm with hard evidence, it's more of a gut feeling).

4. Our children are more invested in the meals - because they help us prepare them now. Also, we are more creative when it comes to meals, and we are actually excited when a new recipe is up on the rotation.

5. Okay, yeah, part of me misses being catered to and served. I mean, eating every meal at home means I am somewhat a slave to my kitchen. Happily for me, though, it's a place I like to be!

6. Many of our (Brent and I) conversations are based around food. How we take it for granted, how we use it to solve our problems, what kind of role it plays in our lives, etc. This provides for good conversations.

7. Dinner times seem to be more relaxed these days, more chatty. I have no idea why that is.

8. Doing this project does require a bit more planning and forward-thinking. That could be stressful for families who are pretty busy. I mean, who really wants to spend time packing a cooler full of bologna sandwiches for a weekend soccer tournament when it would be easier to go to Subway?

9. Brent and I have begun to compile a list: "Foods We Will Eat More Of When Our Kids Leave The House" (currently: squash, sweet potatoes, tortellini soup, and salmon).

Ultimately, we (even the kids) have no real desire to eat out now. So, we are going to soldier on for another month.

However, I foresee a weekend in mid-October where a trip to an out-of-state Renaissance festival might necessitate a trip to an out-of-state Italian joint.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Three-Week Mark

Week Three of No Restaurants is rapidly approaching, and I honor that anniversary with a quick rundown of important happenings.

1. When it comes to literature I have read about food, there are three that form My Power Triad:

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver
"Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan
"Food Rules" by Michael Pollan

So, I have recently purchased a new book, which I think I have mentioned here already: "What to Eat" by Marion Nestle.

And now, the Power Triad shall become the Power Quad.

Page twelve is when I came across this tidbit: "Nearly half of the typical family's food budget goes for foods prepared and eaten outside the home, where businesses with motives having nothing to with health are in control of content and amounts."

<---- That was me when I read that. We were about a week or so into the OOR Experiment, and talk about vindication! Never had I felt so justified about this project we're doing as when I read that.

2. Here's something else I realized this week: restaurants are an insanely significant part of our lives. This past Thursday was a pretty good day, and because of that, I thought we should celebrate the benevolent nature of the universe. My very first automatic thought: Let's go out for dinner! After recognizing (rather quickly) that was not an option, I was at a loss for how to observe the occasion. Then, Brent and I embarked on a Date Night last night...and we chose to enjoy drinks at a local eatery and engage in some karoake. This destination was selected after a process similar to Thursday's...once dining out was ruled out, it was very difficult to decide on a date plan.

It occurs to me that eating out goes very hand-in-hand with celebration and good news and good times. Why is that? I don't know - so I guess that means it's time for research.

3. I turned my husband on today to the wonders of the discount grocery chain Aldi's. He very nearly salivated (openly!) at the choices of goods and their prices. Twenty-five cents for a can of tomato sauce! Fifty-seven cents for a can of french-cut green beans! A $1.25 for a box of Corn Chex! Egads!

All off-brand, of course. But who cares?

My favorite deal is the low price on the bags of frozen cooked shrimp and salmon fillets. We love seafood around here, and are grateful to be able to enjoy eating more of it. In fact, one of our new favorite dishes is penne pasta tossed with basil-infused olive oil and shrimp and topped with freshly grated Parmesan. It's simple, you know? Thus, the basis of its appeal! It sure beats the tired spaghetti sauce topper we've known forever.

On deck this week is salmon burgers, broccoli-pesto pasta, cheese ravioli, minestrone and oyster soup, and pork chops and sweet potatoes....

Definitely one delicious week ahead!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nostalgic Crisis Averted

Yesterday might have been, by far, the dark nadir of this whole desperate No Restaurants experience.

Ok, nah, scratch that. Not really...but a little.

Energy levels were running pretty low yesterday. Soccer practice, bowling league, and Opening Night were the key factors in this late-week exhaustion. Subway beckoned to us, ever so seductively...

But then I asked, what's in it for us? Sure, Subway is tasty food, but we could probably get that at home too, if we looked hard enough. It certainly wasn't going to be quicker than eating at home; not by the time we piled everyone (clad in various soccer or bowling or theater accoutrements) in the Sedona (this would probably be after several minutes of hassled shouting, “Hey, get your damn shoes on!”)

The point here is, there was no legitimate reason. So, why? In the town I live in, there are many chain restaurants and a few local joints – places I’ve eaten at several times. I wasn’t hankering for anything special. So, the question is, what exactly was I craving?

Here’s my answer: I crave feeling special. My family did not go out to eat very often when we were kids – very rarely, truly. But, I remember Pizza Hut more than any other meal my mom made…probably because it was the one time we were allowed to drink soda. It was the one time everyone behaved and was civil. It was the one time my mom was in a great mood (probably because she didn’t have to cook). It was a change of scenery; white earthenware plates, opaque plastic tumblers, bouncy vinyl booth seats.

I guess eating out brings back that for me – especially the change of scenery. Now that I’m older, I sometimes like being served (probably because I’m a slave to public education). However, it’s all fickle and fleeting. At some point, everything I wanted to escape at home will need to be addressed (laundry, dishes, checks for lunch money). I spend money on a reprieve from my everyday life (which I am not against), but what are my gains? Nothing monumental, really.

Anywho, back to the original story. Subway was out, instead we opted for another “Fend For Yourself” night, which always works out well; it clears the fridge and pantry. The kids ate roast beef sandwiches, cottage cheese, and applesauce, while Brent and I went for salads and chicken noodle soup. Everybody wins.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Opting Out of Restaurants (The Manifesto)

One week has passed since the Great Resolution of 2010.

And how have we been doing?

Twenty-one meals have been consumed either here at home or with food taken from our home. No restaurant meals!

It hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be. The kids have not complained, and Brent has been an oak, as well. Friday night was a bit of a weak moment, as I contemplated an end-of-the-week trip to the local sandwich shop (as a reward for completing the week, I guess??), but in the end, opted for a much more fun and interesting "Fend For Yourself" pantry scavenge at home.

Today was our first real challenge, as Kirby had a soccer game this afternoon in a town 20 minutes away. In the past, we probably would have headed straight from church to Subway (or similar) to grab something before we left town. Today, though, the kids packed their own lunches and drinks...to be eaten on the road. Nobody missed the turkey flatbread or meatball sub.

I'll admit, I've craved a Cheeseburger Chowder bread bowl or Garden Bagel sandwich over the last week. But I also know that once I scarf that food, the enjoyment will be gone. And I will have failed the challenge. So yeah, a little bit of guilt has helped me stay the course. But, I can't help feeling a little beatific when I think about what we're doing.

We've had a couple of people tell us "Good luck. I could never do that!" when we mention the experiment. And that makes me sad - how limited those people must feel? Their capacity for personal growth stunted when it comes to restaurants?

Because I haven't gotten around to it yet, I thought I'd quick-list the reasons we decided to live restaurant-free.

1. Costs - the two oldest don't want kids' meals anymore, and the prices are adding up quickly.

2. Stress - whether our kids would behave well in a restaurant on any given night was a crapshoot. Usually, I'd end up more stressed out because I was on constant misbehavior watch!

3. Pounds - portions served in eating establishments are larger than they should be and we couldn't help but finish everything on our plates (and maybe even the kids' plates too).

4. Traditions - food is an important part of our lives, whether we believe it or not, and what legacy was I handing down to my kids? ("My best childhood memories are of eating at Subway a lot; my mom only cooked once or twice a week!") Now, my hope is that when they think of me, they think of walking tacos and tater tot casserole.

5. Health - when I prepare every meal for my family, I control a lot. When my kids don't eat at McDonald's and I refuse to buy chicken nuggets at the grocery store, those infernal pieces of UnChicken reach their lips very, very infrequently.

6. Purpose - we could discern no substantial reason for going out to eat. It wasn't a special treat; it was habit - once or twice a week (maybe more). We went out because we were lazy, or didn't feel like eating spaghetti, or felt like we needed a break. We knew it was time to revolt when we'd get in the car to go out and the general attitude was "ho-hum" about where to eat. Why? Because we'd been everywhere in town! It was no longer special.

7. Creativity - without restaurant menus to ponder, I'd be free to consider new recipes like Spaghetti-Turkey Pie or Seafood Paella.

Pretty good reasons all, I think. And, naturally, we couldn't start the experiment without setting some parameters.

1. Breakfast, lunch, dinner were not to be purchased in a restaurant-type establishment.

2. However, drinks were exempt from this rule. I frequent a coffeehouse here in town, and I wanted to still be able to indulge in a Flavor Dujour every so often. The same could be said for trips to the local ice cream shop.

3. Any trips out of town require special planning and/or purchases...the goal is not to eat at restaurants AT ALL, regardless of ANY special circumstance that may arise.

4. The children would choose one meal a week for the family; this includes: helping to prepare and clean up.

5. Whenever possible, double servings of vegetables will be provided to help combat the "eight o'clock hungries".

There have been a myriad of positives to come from this: quality family meal times, children honing culinary skills, mama loving her kitchen, and weight loss (yours truly is down 2.5 pounds from last week). There is (and will be) more, I'm sure...but for now, we are feeling good for removing ourselves from the restaurant scene.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One Full Day Of Opting Out

One day down, twenty-three days to go.

All quiet on the Nelson front...so far. I haven't heard any griping, pining, or salivating for a cheeseburger, quesadilla, or reuben.

Our first significant test comes this Saturday with kid soccer tournaments in a nearby town. We will most likely be done right around lunchtime - and previous tendencies would have been to hop on over to Subway. This time, though, Momma's thinking ahead and will be packing a cooler.

Nothing like sticking it to the Man on this lovely Wednesday morning.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Without Restaurants

...of eating in restaurants, that is...

...just for month of September...

You know, kids, me and the mister aren't getting any younger. We've hit what I call the "mid-thirties paradox". I mean, finally, we're wise enough to understand just exactly what "good health" means, and we're also financially stable enough to invest in the whole grain/fruits and vegetables/exercise hullabaloo that "good health" commands.

But...it's our bodies that betray us.

Ol Mr. Metabolism ain't what he used to be...and consequently, every donut, peanut butter cookie, or handful of Lucky Charms conspicuously shows up on the scale in the morning. It doesn't matter how ascetic our diet is during the week...all that self-flagellating hard work is wiped out in one Fantasy Football Draft weekend of burgers and beer.

Depressing, yes. But there are two things I know for sure...

1. I'm loath to give up those Fantasy Football weekends. The same goes for chocolate and butter. Hell, that goes for food, in general.

2. I am unwilling to exercise two hours a day. Thirty minutes a day - that's about all I'm willing to go right now.

Whoever said moderation is the key was damn right (Ben Frankin, maybe?). Common sense tells me I can have chocolate and butter in moderate amounts and I can exercise in moderate amounts...and I can be healthy and happy.

As it turns out, the husband and I have certain triggers...certain things that completely send us off the diving board of Moderation into the swimming pool of Total and Utter Decadence. That's why you'll not find a crumb of Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, etc. in my house. A handful here, a handful there added up to extra poundage and uber-tight jeans.

And now...the next to go...restaurants. Turns out it's a trigger...for both of us. I dunno, something about a Subway turkey flatbread or meatball on Italian that causes all food-decision-making sense to go bye-bye. And if it's chips and salsa at the local Mexican joint...well, it's off to hell in a carbohydrate-covered handbasket.

So...family experiment for the month of September...no restaurants. At all. No exceptions. Except...

Brent is going to a wedding in Illinois in September, and he'll have to eat at the reception. This doesn't count as a restaurant. Otherwise, we...

prepare food and eat it at home

and

pack food whenever we know we will not be near our house (i.e. upcoming soccer tourneys for a few fall Saturdays).

Corking good plan, yes? The children were certainly okay with it when we proposed it to them earlier tonight.

However...

I predict my husband will be the first one to crack under the pressure.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lately

The wine-drinking has been infrequent as of late; hence, no update for the last week and a half. However...

I found a decent Beaujolais at the local WalMart (!), and we tried it by itself. Not a glugging wine, for sure, I don't care what the literature says.

We've really been turned off by red wines in the past, honestly, I think because we tried the wrong one with a meal or just went too intense, who knows. The Beaujolais, we found, improved upon further tasting. It wasn't terribly off-putting, but it didn't change my life like some of the Rieslings we've had. So, in short...we will probably be trying a Beaujolais again.

Now, a week ago, I picked up a 2007 Selbach-Oster Kabinett Riesling at a Co-op food store. $24 a bottle, by far, the most I've spent on wine. German wine labeling/categorizing is kind of confusing. Basically, from what I understand, there are four categories of German wine, and within the top group (Pradikatswein), there are four sublevels. Well, Kabinett is the fourth sublevel of this top group. So...it's the worst of the best, I guess??

Anyway, it's a shame because this wine was REALLY good. I mean, excellent. I can tell I'm getting more wine-savvy, because I could smell the petrol (typical for Rieslings), and I could pick up the tart, fruity flavor (although separating them out into particular fruits was tricky). High in acidity, this one was medium-bodied and light and crisp.

In short, I really, really, really enjoyed it. Brent was ambivalent, especially when I told him it was $24! But, like I said before, it's a shame, because I don't think I'll be shelling out $24 too often for a bottle of wine.

*Sigh* Maybe I could put in on my Christmas list.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Must Find Decent Wine Shop

Today, on a whim, I walk into one of two local booze shops we have here in town. Here is the conversation:

Clerk: Can I help you find something?
Me: Yeah, I'm looking for a Beaujolais.

PAUSE

Clerk: Uh.
Me: It's a red.
Clerk: How do you spell that?

PAUSE

Me: B-E-A-U-J-O-L-A-I-S
Clerk (Looking at a random label): No, I don't think we have that.

I didn't find at the grocery store, either. My next places will be the other liquor store and Walmart (cue doom music).

Anyway, yeah. I haven't gotten anywhere near through my Riesling phase, but I'm thinking Beaujolais might be a fun foray into red wines, not to mention a change of pace.

Anyone here have experience with the stuff?

Monday, July 5, 2010

German Riesling Wine

So, anybody else here celebrate an American holiday with a German wine?

Or...is it just me? Happy Belated Fourth, Everyone!

Last night was a Polka Dot Riesling (Germany, Pfalz) with chili for dinner, and yes, I concur when the experts say R. goes with nearly any dish, especially spicy. How marvelous is it when one can enjoy wine with a simple bowl of chili?!

Sometimes, and I have especially noticed it with beer, food can completely ruin the taste of alcohol. Not with the PD! I was able to eat, sip, eat, sip, ad nauseum, without grimacing. That says a lot for the wine. I don't recall a high level of acidity, but enough to clear the palate for every bite I took.

But, I will say, I pay a lot more attention to my food and drink now that I've sort of taken up this food pairing stuff.

Now, the stunner. I finally cracked into the Monchhof Estate Rielsing, paired tonight with an Asian Beef Noodle recipe and WOW! Tantalizing acidic, bubbles on my tongue - and there's no carbonation! Fruity, light, fresh. Really, really good stuff. I may be tracking down other Robert Eymael wines - I think I'm a fan.

But, also, I happened to be finishing my wine as I ate some cantaloupe, and YUCK! The Riesling tasted heinous after I did that. Lesson learned!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Blame The Grapes

So, did I have weird wine-related dreams last night!

It's all very sketchy, but I recall ordering some Riesling from some obscure place, and being on pins and needles waiting for it be delivered. Because of that (and other factors), I slept fitfully.

That's it.

On tap for tonight is a Washington state Riesling - Chateau Ste. Michelle and another German - Monchhof. The first one was right around ten dollars, and the German was right around fourteen bucks.

My goal is to try a more expensive Riesling, but the Monchhof was the top priced at the liquor store here in town. Surely, there's got to be some $30 Rieslings out there for me?

Also, I'm totally regretting finishing off the Schmitt-Sohne last night; it would have been very educational to test all three together.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Little German Who Started It All

My husband and I polished off a bottle of Schmitt-Sohne German Riesling tonight, and perhaps there was something in the grapes.

I mentioned the idea of a wine journal to him, and he seemed receptive (although, he did not offer to be the scribe, I noticed). But, then it occurred to me - why not blog? Then I can include pertinent info, reviews, impressions, etc. Not to mention, this might just be a great place to discuss books I'm reading, places I'm visiting, and people I'm talking to.

Ultimately, you all here are looking at two people who have little experience with wine...hopefully that will change.

So, join us, follow along, as we morph into sophisticated cosmopolitans!