Saturday, October 27, 2012

Same Song...Second Verse?

First of all, one million spacebucks to the person who can tell me exactly what the difference is between the FDA and the USDA.

About a year and a half ago, the USDA discarded the oft-revamped Food Pyramid and replaced it with this guy...

As if the previous pyramid didn't confuzzle us enough with its distorted, convoluted rainbow-ray configuration, I would say the USDA's latest effort does a fair job at it as well.  And actually, I think I might feel insulted with the above diagram...while on the surface, it looks like a cute, colorful shape-sort puzzle...but as I ponder the wedge-shaped pieces, I realize, I have no idea what the pieces mean.  I. Don't. Understand.

And that realization leads to other, scarier ones about government agencies.  But I digress.
This MyPlate graphic here indicates that I should eat a large wedge shape full of vegetables every day, followed by a slightly smaller wedge shape of grains...and I dunno, a quick eyeball seems to conclude that I can have the same wedge-size of fruit and protein every day too.  Oh, and there's a cute little blue circle on the side that indicates I get a cute little blue circle's worth of dairy every day as well.  But, judging by the circle and its placement, it appears the government wants me to drink my dairy requirement.

Oh, where do I begin with the questions?

1. Firstly, what size of plate are we supposed to be using to form our wedges?  I mean, the difference between a 8" and 10" plate could be the difference between an extra asparagus spear (and thus, the difference between life and death).

2. Am I doomed to a life without cheese?  Or, I am supposed to melt it and drink it?

3. I know that peanut butter is high in protein.  So, let's say I want to fill my purple wedge with Skippy Extra Crunchy.  Because, you know, that's pretty much what the diagram indicates.  But what about the saturated fats?  Aren't those what clog my arteries and cause massive heart attacks?  But...but...but...

4. What if I'm eating a casserole?  Where does that fit in on the diagram?  I mean, MyPlate is pretty exclusive, and I'm nervous that if a Protein crossed in Vegetable territory, there would be gang wars of devastating proportions.  And where the hell do I put the Cream of Mushroom Soup (that acts as the binder)?  Dairy?  I'm drinking it?

5. No mention of fats on this schematic.  No EVOO.  What's Rachael Ray going to say?

I think I'll stop there.  As I search the Internet, it's obvious other people have problems with this diagram as they provide their own interpretations, for better or worse.  For example...

This guy here makes mention of fats, sodium, and sugar.  And exercise.  We also get more specifics, like 4.5 oz of whole grains a day (but no examples of what those grains might be).  The most guidance comes in the veggie column, compensating for the poor fruit recommendation that follows it.  The protein column sort of addresses my peanut butter question...but my plate size question, my dairy beverage question, and my casserole question go unanswered.

And then here's this guy, courtesy of the nutrition folks at Harvard.  The blue circle is now called 'Water'...and Dairy has a brief cameo within Water's description.  I personally get a kick out of the dig aimed at tuber-lovers in the Vegetable section ("Potatoes and french fries don't count").  This diagram might treat exercise the most maturely of all the pictographs I found - 'Stay active'.  Yeah, that's about all that needs to be said about that.

There's a significant amount of fine print on this one, and for good reason.  Each section on this poster includes tips on how to more easily include this items into your diet.  Some are old-hat ("top cereal with berries or diced fruit") and some are sort of less so ("add barley, bulgar, or quinoa to soups and stews").  But still...

And look at our friend Dairy...look at his bullet points!  One of the four subpoints talks about dairy beverages, the other focus more on dairy and food!  And now, finally, at the end of it all...I feel as if I sort of have the answer to the casserole question. 

But now, I have more, why is the government making healthy eating so damn complicated?  I feel like I've just played an exhausting game of nutritional Tetris, where more is at stake than going to the next level.  My health, present and future, hangs in the balance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Improvisational Cornbread

With the weather turning colder, chili is one of my family's favorite dishes.  Personally, I can eat it all year round, I can eat it sitting on the ground, I can eat it with a fox, I can eat it on a box...

Wait.  I'm going all Seussical.  Let me bring you back to the topic at hand:

Chili + my husband's Improvisational Cornbread = The Hallelujah Chorus

But...strangely enough, the week's menu did not call for chili, nor cornbread, this week.

Tonight's dinner was supposed to be Corn Casserole.  Brent was in charge of making it.  I'd left a note, pointing him to the specific recipe in the cookbook...because he gets very anxious if there's no recipe to follow.  But my mise en place was most certainly not en place today...but my husband manage to make it work anyway.  He is evolving!

The Corn Casserole I'd planned originally called for two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix and a can of yellow corn.  I had neither in the pantry.  Oops.

So, Brent modified the recipe on the back of a can of cornmeal...and created a beautiful, moist, corn-licious, cornbread...and here's how it went down.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 (16 oz) can cream-style corn

He mixed everything together, poured it into a 9 x 13 inch pan, baked it at 350 for 45 minutes.

And this is what happened...

A golden, corn-laden square of heaven
And then, in the best interest of time, we quickly procured two ready-to-eat cans of chili (would have been homemade if there had been time).  Some chopped onions, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and cut carrot sticks...AND THAT WAS DINNER.

And it was SO blanking good!

That was my husband who made it, people.  My husband did that.  Deviating from the recipe made him very uncomfortable, but he prevailed in spite of it!

He's the man!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tools Rule!

It is very likely that I have an illness.  An addiction illness.  An addiction illness that compels me to get cookbooks every time I am near a place that sells or loans books.

Even THOUGH, I have more than enough cookbooks on my shelves already...and there MORE than enough recipes in those cookbooks to keep me occupied three meals a day/seven days a week/fifty-two weeks of the rest of my life.  When I bought my first cookbook (not received as a wedding gift), a conversation with my husband went like this:

Me (with fervent excitement): Hey, look at this!  I got a new cookbook today!  Whee!

Him (with equal excitement): Great!  You'll make lots of amazing food with that!

But years later...

Me: (with fervent excitement): Hey, I got a neeeeeeeew cookbook today!  Whee!

Him:  Er.  Yes.  Okay.

But I don't let him stomp on my parade.  It makes me happy and it's less expensive and damaging than an addiction to methamphetamines.  So I carry on.

Imagine how happy I am these days with the advent of the Internet, because I now have access to millions more recipes online.  Free!  With pictures!  Somebody catch me whilst I swoon!

I've had success with recipes at and  Yesterday, however, I came across two websites that might surpass all recipe websites and cookbooks. is an organizational site that looks very similar to Pinterest, except exclusive to food.  When I reviewed my pantry inventory, the standout ingredient (thanks to Costco) was farfalle pasta.  Seventy-nine recipes turned up when I searched 'farfalle' at Punchfork.  And not a whole lot of cream soup-type casseroles, either.  These recipes come across as a bit more upscale (although, not pretentious, I think), containing items like porcini mushrooms, salmon, spring peas, pistachios, etc.  The only drawback is that many of these recipes are concerned about taste and look, primarily, with nutrition coming in third.  But, you know, everything in moderation... is the second neat little site I came across on the Internets.  While the look of Punchfork is much more alluring, initially....Yummly might be the diamond in the rough.  Entering 'farfalle' into the search engine garners 501 recipes, and the variety is nice (Farfalle and Tuna Casserole next to Farfalle with Mascarpone, Asparagus, and Hazelnuts).  Nutritional information is available as well.  But, here's the gem: look at the left-hand side...nearly twelve filters that will pare down the 501, all to the searcher's particular taste.  When I changed the 'Savory' bar to 'Really Like' and the 'Sweet' bar to 'Really Dislike' and clicked the 'Vegetarian' box, the 501 was whittled down to thirteen.  And when I clicked the 'Cholesterol' bar down to less than 16mg per serving and the 'Main Dish' bar - that number dropped to two. 

It may be too early to predict and it certainly pangs me to say it...but maybe the days of buying cookbooks are over.