Mango Mania

Until a couple of years ago, I had no idea how terrific the mango is. No, not that Mango.

I mean this mango:

Mango [mang-goh]: the oblong, fleshy stone fruit belonging to the genus Mangifera, consisting of numerous tropical fruiting trees in the flowering plant family Anacardiaceae (a member of the cashew family).

Right, the tropical, edible fruit!

However, I would never have bought, known how to prepare, or learned what I might use them for if I hadn’t discovered Erin’s Homemade Coconut Mango popsicles recipe on her $5 Dinners blog a couple of years ago. Once I tried ’em, mango popsicles immediately became one of our Summertime staples! Liam loves these cold treats during the often triple-digit Texas Summer days. And I feel great about being able to get more fresh foods into our diets, especially at a time of the year when we’re outside more and doing less from-scratch cooking. Mangoes are tangy without being overly-sweet, have a better than average shelf life for a fresh fruit, and are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and the powerful antioxidant beta carotene.

Mango Ice CreamBut I’ve been remiss and hadn’t even bothered to make these this Summer until I stumbled across Holly Baker’s Mango Ice Cream last week, realized how much we’ve missed ’em, and got inspired all over again. I also liked the idea of using our neglected electric ice cream maker, so I sorta combined the best parts of both of those recipes, doubled the ingredient amounts, and added about a half cup more heavy cream to make it freeze smoother. Really, you can tinker & adjust any which way you like and still come up with something that’s awesome, but I think the banana & coconut milk makes the tropical flavor soar!

Note: Mangoes are incredibly slippery devils! Cutting out the oblong seed in the middle with a knife can be quite a hazardous affair so even as much as I’m usually opposed to unitasker tools in the kitchen, I highly recommend something like the OXO Good Grips Mango Splitter for making that task easy. Once you’ve used the splitter to remove the seed, there’s still the trick of how to get all of the fruit out of the halves and here’s a crazy-simple & fast “inside out” technique for doing just that:


By the way, if you get a little carried away at the grocery store with those 3 / $1 mangoes, you can also use a leftover spare to whip up a very easy marinade for chicken. Mush up some very ripe mango with a little pineapple juice, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, some sea salt, a splash of lime, sprig of cilantro a squirt of honey or agave syrup and a quarter cup or so of olive oil. Let your chicken marinade in that mixture for an hour or so and you’ll have a tangy, spicy but still subtle flavor. Again, this is just the sort of recipe that lends itself to endless individual interpretation—go crazy!

Savoring Stone Soup

We ate lunch with Liam’s Pre-k class today. His class helped prepare stone soup and all of the parents were invited to come eat. Our little guy was very excited that we were joining him for lunch and that he got to help cook the meal. All of the kids were very proud of their contributions to the soup.

If you don’t know the old folk tale of this communal meal, here’s a short summary from Wikipedia:

Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers. The travelers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire in the village square. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they’re making “stone soup,” which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with just a little bit of carrot to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

Liam’s teacher informed us that they really did put a rock in soup but assured us that it had been washed and scrubbed thoroughly beforehand. Being the germiphobe that I am, this wasn’t the best news of the day but I survived and the soup was quite tasty! See for yourself…

stone soup

I love this time of the year when there are so many activities going on and this year is extra special because with my new job I’ll be off more days through the holidays to spend with my family.

Liam Stone Soup

Stone Soup Class

The Crust of the Matter

Ever heard of Smucker’s Uncrustables for kids? These frozen peanut butter sandwiches (of dubious nutritional caliber) come in a variety of flavors, are made from whole wheat or white crustless bread, and are thawed out an hour or two before lunch or snacktime.

I bring this up because earlier this week I read a brief post over at Bargain Briana about a kitchen tool that lets you make your own Uncrustables-style sealed pocket sandwiches. I read the article and promptly left a comment hoping to generate a little discussion on the broader topic of cutting crusts. Frankly, I’m kinda miffed that Briana apparently not only opted to toss out my comment, but didn’t even email me. Okay, fair enough—her blog, her prerogative. Perhaps she just didn’t want to get mired down in the dicey, controversial waters of crust-cutting. So, I thought I’d broach the topic here:

Let’s not mince words: I’m opposed to the idea of cutting crusts off of sandwiches for kids on a number of levels:

  1. Babies don’t come out of the chute with an inbred hatred of bread crusts; parents implant that notion. Why foster the idea that crusts are bad?
  2. Crust-cutting not only creates more work for harried parents, but unnecessary waste as well. Why instill the expectation that someone will always gladly take the time to needlessly trim off and discard an otherwise good portion of a sandwich?
  3. The crust is the most nutritious part of bread, containing 8 times more antioxidants and more dietary fiber, which helps prevent colon cancer! Why wouldn’t you want your kid(s) to have the full benefit of the foods you’ve chosen (and paid hard-earned money) for them to eat?
  4. And lastly, in support of my pro-crust position, I offer the following:

    If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars [and] heavens.
    —English poet, Robert Browning (1812-1889)

  5. But maybe I’m missing something here. Is there a valid reason for crust-cutting that simply eludes me? Am I some kinda retrograde Luddite or just being downright negligent by not trimming the nefarious crusts off of Liam’s otherwise delicious sammiches?

    So, what do you think? Do you cut the crusts off of your kids’ bread?

Food For Thought: Wrapup

I hope the food-related topics information & ideas covered during this series have been revealing, thought-provoking, or maybe at least sparked some discussion. Some of these topics have certainly dominated our dinner table conversations this week!

As promised, I’ve had an impartial participant draw the names of two people who’ve posted comments this past week to award the free books. And here are the results:

book drawing winners

     Brian T. — by Eric Schlosser.

     Mark & Sinziana — by Michael Pollan.

So please send me your mailing addresses and I’ll USPS ship ’em right out to you! A big “Thank you!” goes out to all of you who left comments and helped make this blog series more interesting!Food For Thought

Articles in this Food For Thought series:

Of course, I’d like to encourage you to take a few minutes to peruse through some of our previous food-related blog posts too!

Food For Thought: Loco For Locavore

One of the focal points in The Omnivore’s Dilemma is the value of eating locally-grown food and although I don’t believe the term is specifically used in the book, author Michael Pollan clearly supports the principles of the "locavore" movement.

What is a locavore?   Well, much like a carnivore is someone who eats meat and a herbivore is someone who eats plants, a locavore is a person who eats locally-sourced food.   The locavore movement has sprouted in the past few years to encourage people to consume more food from regional farms, area farmers’ markets, at stores which carry local products, or even to produce some of their own food.

farmers market graphic

There are several reasons in makes sense to favor locally-grown food:

  • Regarding food quality, even if local products aren’t formally certified as "organic," chances are still very good that they’ve been grown or raised using much healthier methods.   The result is better quality, fresher flavor, and more nutritious food.
  • Locally-sourced food is "greener" or more environmentally-friendly.   It has a smaller carbon footprint due to the lower "food miles" — or how far food has to travel from the farm to the fork.   Importing non-regional and international foods can sometimes require vast amounts of fossil fuels & non-renewable resources.
  • Locally-grown and/or produced food is often likely to be the result of more Earth-friendly & sustainable practices.   This translates to fewer unwanted chemicals making their way into your family’s plates.
  • There’s also the satisfaction of knowing that you’re supporting your local economy when you purchase from regional farmers & growers.

Green Blog Diaries offers a bushel-load of great locavore-themed blogs to chew on.   The blogs featured in that roundup are an excellent starting point to discover lots more about the local food movement.   There’s also a great new group blog called Civil Eats that strives to promote critical thought about sustainable agriculture & food systems.

Of course, there has to be a balance struck between lofty ideals versus what’s practical — buying local is far easier in fertile regions than in other, more agriculturally-barren areas.   Some people will be discouraged by the radical narrow-focus surrounding the locavore "movement" and its 100-mile limit.   And there’ll even be the wacky few who drive gas-guzzling SUVs all the way across town to buy locally-grown tomatoes because they’re more environmentally-friendly.

So, what do you think?   Have you already been focusing more on local food?   Do you believe efforts to be more local-minded can make a difference or do you dismiss this as just another pointless yuppie fad?

Remember to post a comment by midnight (P.S.T.) so your name will be entered for a chance at one of the two food-related books I’m giving away to commemorate this Food For Thought series.

Food For Thought: Kids Cuisine

Inspiring & passionate, Chef Ann Cooper (a.k.a. the Renegade Lunch Lady) has spearheaded a dramatic overhaul in the school lunch programs in Berkley, CA. She’s on a mission to change the way children eat and transform cafeterias into culinary classrooms. Don’t be put off by her intensity—she’s just very outraged and committed to getting the word out about how our children’s’ nutritional needs are being so poorly addressed in school.

 

Check out Ann Cooper’s blog and also follow Ann Cooper on Twitter to keep up with all of her latest happenings.

Of course, some of Ann’s ideas may not work universally. Sure, fresh regional veggies & fruits are abundant in California, but locally-grown, organic produce isn’t necessarily so readily available in other parts of the country. Still, consider the benefits for children of applying even a few of Ann’s progressive changes.

What are your thoughts on school lunches and kids’ nutritional needs? Do you believe schools are doing enough already? To be entered in the book drawing at the end of this Food For Thought week, just leave a comment!

Food For Thought: Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation book cover by Eric Schlosser is an in-depth look at how the fast food industry has revolutionized the landscape, culture, & health of America—and ultimately the entire world.

Not quite what you’d expect, Schlosser’s book doesn’t demonize fast food as it pertains to health—in fact, the author plainly states that his family still does eat some fast food —but rather, it’s more of an indictment of the corporate entities behind the drive-thrus.

This is a revealing look at sanitation & food safety that’s very often far from the primary concern of the big fast food chains. It’s also a disturbing investigation into some of the deplorable ways in which these companies commonly, almost criminally, (mis)treat their employees.

But as much as he slams many of the major fast food companies for their unethical practices, but I’ve got to commend Schlosser for also making a point to highlight the few that do it right, like In-N-Out Burger, for example.

This book is also packed with details and loads of interesting backstory, so it’s not an quick & easy weekend read. As broad a topic as fast food cultural is, Schlosser’s points wander appropriately across a very wide range. But “Fast Food Nation” is definitely well worth the time! Just a few of the persuasive nuggets:

  • The fast food industry has aggressively lobbied against improved health and safety practices in the meat-packing industry, while pushing for lower product costs, faster production and more uniform product.   One result of this is that any single hamburger patty may be comprised of ground bits from hundreds, sometimes thousands, of cattle rather than a single cow.
  • The meatpacking industry has become totally industrialized. Cattle are fed a continuous diet of corn—something which cows would not naturally eat in volume—laced with massive amounts of antibiotics to counteract the devastating effects that solely eating grain has upon the bovine digestive system (resulting in ever more resistant pathogens). In addition to being unhealthy for the cows, corn-fed beef is comparably higher in unhealthy saturated fats than that of grass-fed.
  • To comply with international standards, the quality of meat being processed for shipment to non-American locations of the big fast food chains is several times higher than that of the meat used domestically. That means that a Big Mac in Dubai has better, safer meat than the same burger at a McDonald’s in Dallas.
  • Fast food has infiltrated every corner of American society and is now served at restaurants & drive-throughs, at stadiums, airports, zoos, public schools & universities, on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at retail stores, gas stations, and even in some hospital cafeterias. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion.
  • To make a strawberry milkshake at home, you’d probably use ice cream, strawberries, milk, and maybe a touch of vanilla. But the ingredients in a typical fast-food version include milkfat & nonfat milk, sweet whey, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, guar gum, monoglycerides & diglycerides, cellulose gum, sodium phosphate, carrageenan, citric acid, E129, and artificial strawberry flavor.   That elusive “strawberry flavor” isn’t even derived from actual fruit, but rather an elaborate laboratory where “flavorists” perform wizardry with chemicals such as amyl acetate, butyric acid, dipropyl ketone, methyl heptine carbonate, and undecalactone.

This book has certainly changed the way I look at the food I’m putting on my family’s table. And it’s the second of the two books I’ll be drawing a name for at the end of this Food For Thought week, so be sure to leave a comment so that you’re entered to win!

Has there been anything that’s changed your opinions about fast food? Do you still eat fast food as often? Do you ever veer away from the big chain restaurants and instead get burgers & such from “Mom & Pop” fast food places?

Food For Thought: Smorgasbord

smorgasbord banner

Today’s entry in the week-long Food For Thought series is a veritable smorgasbord of assorted food-related topics:

  • Finding locally-produced foods can sometimes be a bit difficult, especially if you don’t live in an agriculturally-diverse area.   Two websites that can make locating local farmers & growers much easier are Local Harvest and Eat Well Guide.   Both are online directories of sustainable food suppliers, searchable by location, where you can just enter your Zip Code and get a list for your area.
  • Did you know that the crust is the best part of bread?   It not only contains 8 times more antixodants, but is also rich in dietary fiber, which can help prevent colon cancer.   So, don’t trim the crusts off of your kids’ sandwiches!
  • The typical American breakfast of cereal, lowfat milk, & orange juice — often recommended by dietitians & doctors alike — is a nightmare!   According to some, the processing involved with the manufacture of much of our food riddles it with oxidants known to cause degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, brain dysfunction, and cataracts.

    For example, naturally-occurring cholesterol in fresh dairy products is used by your body to build & strengthen cell membranes, muscles, brain & nerve tissue.   But the drying process in making powdered milk — which is commonly used as a thickener in skim & lowfat milk — oxidizes the cholesterol which, once oxidized, can longer be used but instead collects along the walls of arteries.

  • If you cook, you’ll want to bookmark the Cook’s Thesaurus right now!   It’s a kitchen encyclopedia that covers thousands of ingredients & tools with pictures, descriptions, synonyms, and pronunciations of each.   But what’ll bring you back — and just may save a holiday meal — are the suggested substitutions.

    (Who knew you could substitute 3 tbsp. mayonnaise, ¼ cup of applesauce, or half a mashed ripe banana plus ¼ tsp. baking powder for each egg in a recipe?)

  • Honey can be a surprisingly effective, easy, & inexpensive solution for some allergy sufferers.   Ingesting small amounts of the airborne pollens that are also contained in the honey helps your body to build up a natural resistance to the allergens.   So adding a couple of teaspoons of local, pure, wildflower honey into your daily diet can decrease (and possibly even prevent) seasonal allergies.

    However, this is typically not what’s found in the cute little bear-shaped jars in the supermarket because mass-produced honey is stripped of its medicinal value via processing & heat sterilization.   And commercial bees are often fed corn syrup rather than their own honey, which diminishes the health of the hive as in addition to decreasing the nutritive benefits of the honey.   So look for locally-harvested (try within a 50 mile radius of your house), unpasteurized, unfiltered, 100% pure wildflower honey — the kind that you commonly find at farmers’ markets or produce stands.

  • For complete nutritional data on honey and a whole host of other health-promoting foods, visit the World’s Healthiest Foods.   This website, run by The George Mateljan Foundation (a not-for-profit foundation with no commercial interests) aims to discover, develop, and share scientifically-proven information about the benefits of healthy eating.
  • Foster Farms, a California poultry company, created the Say No To Plumping campaign.   Plumping is the practice of needlessly injecting chickens with saltwater, stock, seaweed extract, or other fluids to radically increase sodium content, weight, and price—which the USDA estimates costs Americans up to $2 billion annually!
  • High fructose corn syrup has become so abundant & incredibly cheap that manufacturers sneak it into practically everything.   HFCS is used liberally even in foods that have no need for any sweetener in them.

    But if it isn’t bad enough that so much of our foods are secretly loaded with the stuff, we now we find out that HFCS is contaminated with mercury.   Two studies recently found significant traces of the toxic metal in 30-50% of sampled foods containing HFCS.   So if you weren’t sufficiently convinced of the evils of HFCS before, it’s high time to reconsider!

Do you have some interesting morsel of food-related goodness to share?   Be sure to leave a comment to be entered in the book giveaway at the end of this Food For Thought week!

Food For Thought: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

The Omnivore’s Dilemma book coverTo start this Food For Thought series off I’d like to highlight one of the best, most compelling books I’ve read about the food we eat & its origins.

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a fascinating exploration of the origins of modern food and the implications that our choices have for the health of us—and our planet. Pollan’s account of his stay at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms was especially fascinating.

This is a bit of a dense read, because it’s so packed with information, but it’s an incredibly eye-opening & thought-provoking book. A few takeaway points that stuck with me:

  • If we are what we eat, then we are corn. Corn is in everything, from frozen vegetables to sandwich meat to yogurt to pasta sauce to bread to grape juice and even cough syrup, most often in the form of high fructose corn syrup or modified corn starch — or both.
  • Corn fields have become little more than a very inefficient means of converting petroleum (in the form of fuel, fertilizer, & pesticides) into food. And corn seems "cheap" at the consumer end because we’ve already paid for it once via tax subsidies that support the Farm Bill.
  • Industrial farms often use very sketchy loopholes to qualify for using the “organic” label on their produce. When buying produce, it’s far better to shop for locally-grown or regional items first, organic or otherwise.
  • It’s worth understanding the distinctions between organic, free range, hormone-free, etc. Some of these terms are used more loosely than others. For instance, “free range” animals are often provided only the opportunity to roam in a small open area but not necessarily given any incentive to do so. They typically live no differently than non-free range animals.
  • If farms were to switch from monoculture (only one crop grown) back to growing many different crops and raising a variety of animals as well, not only would the farmers benefit, but so would the livestock, environment, and community as a whole.

Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is one of the two books I’ll be drawing a name for at the end of this Food For Thought week, so be sure to leave a comment so you’re entered to win! I’d love to hear from others who’ve read this book or if you’ve read another book that made a real impact upon how you view food, please share that!

Food For Thought

Food For ThoughtOver the past few years, I’ve become very intrigued by food and much more mindful about the quality of what we eat, where it comes from, and how it affects us.

Having never written a consecutive blog series before, I’ve been eager to try.   So each day this week, I’ll be featuring a food-related article in the hope that sharing these nuggets may inform, inspire, incite, or at least interest you as much as they have me.

I’ll post the first in the series tomorrow, but until then please browse through some of our past food-related blog entrées.

And there’s more…

To commemorate this blog series, I’ll be doing a giveaway of two of my favorite food-related books.   Simply leave a comment on any blog post here on 2Dolphins this week to enter the random drawing.   On Saturday, I’ll select the names at random and promptly ship the books to the two lucky winners!

Articles in this Food For Thought series: