Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Click on the following to catch up: Introduction, Part 1a.

Complex Foods

Most of the modern, processed foods we eat come from corn with soybeans at a close second. Corn provides the sugars and starches in our foods, soybeans the protein and both of them can provide the fat. Any of these words on a food label probably refer to corn: citric & lactic acid, glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, ethanol, sorbitol, mannitol, xantham gum, starches, dextrins, cyclodextrins, MSG, etc... It is an amazing science which can break corn down into its little parts and use those to create hundreds and thousands of new products for the American consumer.
On one end of the spectrum is corn and on the other is the human. Between the two are mega-companies trying to increase profits, hampered by the challenges that corn may get diseased or have a poor harvest and the limits of the human body to only be able to consume so much (called the "fixed stomach"). To battle the first problem, the companies have found that the more complex the foods are, the easier it is to substitute cheaper supplies without changing the consumer's experience. To quote the author's quote:

"As a management consultant once advised his food industry clients, 'The further a product's identity moves from a specific raw material - that is, the more processing steps involved - the less vulnerable is its processor' to the variability of nature."

To deal with the limited human, the only way to keep profits at a decent rise is
 to either market the same old stuff as more "expensive" products or to find a way to make people eat more. These companies have been working towards both goals. The first is obvious, but the second?  Well, apparently one of the new discoveries being made is an indigestible starch. Why is this good? Because if people are unable to digest it and the body doesn't break down those starches, then people (like diabetics) can eat more with out it "harming" them.


Three out of five Americans are considered "overweight" and one out of five are "obese".  Adult On-Set Diabetes has been relabeled as Type II Diabetes because it being found in more and more children. It is estimated that a child born in 2000 has a one in three chance of getting diabetes. There are many factors involved - Marketing to younger and younger demographics, decreased exercise, affluence and being able to afford high-fat diets, etc... However, what is interesting is that the rising rate of obesity is considered to have started in the '70s, the same time that preventions from the over-production of foods were taken away and cheap food farm policies were started (where the production is so great that the costs are lowered).

In 1980, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) started flooding into the consumer market. It was slightly cheaper than sugar and started finding it's way into nearly every processed food - from condiments, to processed meats, breads, cereals, all the gamut of sweets out there, and above all, soda. Ironically, as we consumed more HFCS, we did not reduce our sugar intake to compensate. In fact, with all sugars combined, Americans eat about 158 lbs of sugar annually. One of the ways we have increased our sugar intake so drastically is through the marketing ploy of "super-sizing". Researchers have found that when given larger portions, people and animals don't stop when they are full, but rather eat 30% more than they would have otherwise.
High fructose corn syrup gets subsidized in the US, but carrots don't. Obesity is reaching epidemic levels, but farm bills keep being signed to keep the unhealthiest foods the cheapest for consumers.

Cheeseburgers & Chicken Nuggets

Pollan takes his family to McDonalds to complete his journey following corn. He gets a cheeseburger, his wife a "premium salad" with Cesear dressing and his son chooses chicken nuggets, a milk shake and a desert of freeze-dried ice cream pellets. They also have fries and soda. Pollan then analyzes the meal they are eating, and he spends the majority of this portion breaking down the chicken nugget - one of the number one foods for American children.

There are 38 ingredients in a chicken nugget - 13 of which are derived from corn. Many of the other ingredients are various chemicals and additives to keep the nugget appealing in look and flavor. The worst of these is TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone), a form of butane - a lighter fluid! It is either sprayed on to the nugget or on to the box it is in to preserve freshness. The FDA allows no more than .02 percent of TBHQ in a nugget. That's *good* because 1 gram of the stuff can cause serious side effects and 5 grams can kill.

Pollan takes his family's meal to a friend with a mass spectrometer (a nifty machine that breaks down matter to its basic carbon identities). The cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, salad dressing, milk shake and the sodas each were found to be 50-100% derived from corn. Not such a diverse meal after all.

Next Pollan heads into the world of "Organic".  Stay tuned to find out if these more expensive options are actually better for our health.


Same-old; same-old.


Monday - Ham and Cheese Quiche, Take 2 (Poor hubby was quite sick on Sunday, so we had chicken noodle soup instead.)

Tuesday - Chicken, Potato and Green Bean Santan over Rice

Wednesday - Baked Ziti with Steamed Vegetables

Thursday - Middle Eastern Rice with Black Beans and Chickpeas

Friday - Pork Chops, Sauerkraut and Potatoes

Saturday - If I'm brave: Fried Sardines with Stir-Fried Vegetables over Rice

Sunday - Something Easy: Soup, Baked Potatoes, Toasted Sandwiches...?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

For the introduction to The Omnivore's Dilemma, check here.

Apparently I'm really bad at summarizing when there are so many interesting facts and information that I want to share about this book. I've decided to break section one up into two parts lest people get overwhelmed by the length of my posts.

Originally, I had divided this section up into five parts: Corn, Cow, Complex Foods, Consumers and Cheeseburgers & Chicken Nuggets. Today I will focus on the first two sections. Here we go....


Pollan starts off by taking us to a farm in Iowa which a couple generations ago was a self-sufficient community consisting of a variety of animals, vegetables and fruit, existing on the energy of the sun and working together to create a harmonious balance. Now the animals have been sent off to live their short lives in factories while the diversity of plants have given way to make room for rows upon rows of densely-growing, hybrid corn. Why? There is a lot of technical information to answer this question, but largely because of government policies both set up to help as well as to exploit the farmers, and lobbied by mega-food corporations.

This new corn, is actually not the sweet corn that we know, but a hybrid corn generated to grown densely, year-after-year, to feed the meat we eat and fill the foods we love. This corn drains the soil of nutrients, particularly nitrogen - which plants, and therefore humans, cannot live without. Formerly, corn would only be grown on a field 2 out of 5 years, rotated with legumes which replenish the soil. (Soil can only be replenished with nitrogen by two natural means: through a process involving the bacteria on the roots of legumes and when lightening strikes causing a chemical reaction with the nitrogen in the air allowing it to rain into the soil.) Thanks to modern technology derived from World War I's poisonous gas inventions, we now have synthesized nitrogen in generous amounts to spread over fields and feed the ravenous corn. Farmers use copious amounts of this fertilizer "just in case". It runs off into streams, rivers and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico, spreading large amounts of pollution along the way.

I haven't even touched the information about how the corn farmers are all in debt and surviving by government subsidies despite massive corn output year after year.

So what happens to all this corn after it is harvested? It heads out all over the US and overseas, but the majority of it is sent to feedlots to fatten up animals for the slaughter.

About two generations ago, it took 4-5 years to breed a cow to slaughter weight. Now cows are going from 80 lbs to 1,100 lbs in 14-16 months. While cows are always born on a range as we like to imagine, they only get a few months of grazing and eating as comes natural to them before they are weaned and shipped off to massive feedlots. There, they are fed what does not come natural to them - corn. And not just corn... Added to the corn are protein supplements, vitamins, synthetic estrogen, roughage (alfalfa hay and silage) and beef tallow - blood products and fat brought back from the slaughter house to "beef up" the cows. How disgusting is that!!? (They used to feed them meat and other bits of cow until they discovered this to cause Mad Cow's Disease.) To keep these cows healthy on this extremely unnatural diet, they also pump them full of antibiotics. Because the life span of a cow is so short, they don't really know what would happen to them if they just let them continue on this diet. Most likely they would die from bloating (not enough roughage) or the liver diseases that many of them already have.

One interesting note that Pollan pointed out is the amount of petroleum it takes to get a cow through this fast-track process. Thirty-five gallons of oil for one cow! The production and transportation of our food goods alone uses almost one-fifth of our total petroleum consumption.

I'll stop here and let you digest all that information. Stay tuned for Part 1b where we will find this corn showing up at our dinner tables in all sorts of disguises.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Before my son was born, I sewed him a baby blanket with safari animals on it. Now in anticipation of having a girl, I want to make something a little more feminine - pretty and pink (or purple). Unfortunately, I had to leave my sewing machine behind in China.. and the one before that in the States (*sigh*).. so this will have to be a crocheted blanket.

Here are is what I am using:

Here are my teachers:

Crocheting Solid Granny Squares
Slip-Stitching Crochet Squares Together

And this is what I have gotten so far:

I'll show you the final product when I finish... which hopefully I will.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I'm not sure where I first heard about The Omnivore's Dilemma - perhaps when I was looking at the New York Times Best Seller list or maybe on someone else's blog. It has been on my reading list for a while, but when I eventually moved to a country with English-language libraries, I found that all the books in all the libraries had been checked out. I've finally succeeded in getting my hands on one and I will share with you what I learn as I read through it.

"What's for dinner? " How many times have you asked that question? This book takes the question a step further: "What IS dinner? And from where does it come?" Pollan is questioning what the original source of our food is. If it is true that "you are what you eat" then he wanted to find out what exactly was it that he was eating. As he finds the sources, he follows them back step by step as they are broken down and built up again to become the foods we know today. What he came to realize is that the foundation of most of our foods in America is CORN.

His book is divided into three parts:

First, he traces CORN as the source of most of our current world's processed and industrialized foods.

Secondly, he will look at GRASS, the source for our organic foods.

Thirdly, he will talk about the FOREST, and how man used to forage for what he ate.

If you are interested in finding out what he discovered, then I recommend reading the book. It is very factual, and once you get past the first couple pages which seemed a bit technical, it becomes quite interesting reading about the journey of food to our plates. If you just want to know some of the details without reading the book for yourself, then keep checking back here as I summarize the three separate sections of his book.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

This Tuesday we are finally having our first guest over since moving to the UK!! Rachel is considering teaching overseas short-term with NTM, so I hope to be able to answer any questions she might have about my experiences as an MK.

I'm also trying to learn how to cook parsnips, so they might be on the menu for the next couple of weeks.


Same-old; same-old.


Monday - Quinoa Tabbouleh, Peaches & Yogurt

Tuesday - Chicken Satay, Stir-fried Vegetables, Fried Tempe and Banana Pudding

Wednesday - Pasta Pomodorra with Ham, Tomatoes & Spinach

Thursday - Fajitas

Friday - Sweet Potato, Ham & Apple with Homemade Brotchen

Saturday - Parsnip Au Gratin??

Sunday - Ham and Cheese Quiche
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Friday, March 20, 2009

My son has a rather amusing way of asking me to carry him up the stairs when he is being lazy. He will turn to me, raise his hands and say "Xie xie" ("thank you"). Sometimes I find it manipulative, but most of the time, it is quite endearing.

I starting thinking about this a few days ago and realized that it is a fitting picture of how we should be approaching our Father with our requests. I heard a good sermon once about how faith and thankfulness are connected. The basic gist is that a person who says "thank you" recognizes that the work that took place or the gift that was given did not come from themselves. Jesus looked up, gave thanks and broke bread for thousands of people.

God has given us an open door to approach Him with our needs and our desires. It is quite simple, really. We just need to approach Him with our requests and say "thank you" trusting that what He chooses to do with those requests will be for our own good.

My responses to my son vary from time to time. Sometimes I say 'no' because I think it is good for him to not be lazy and make me work for him - Perhaps God might likewise say 'no' because he recognizes the selfishness of our motives. (Sometimes I say 'no' because I am unable to carry him at the moment, but God doesn't have that limitation!) Sometimes, rather than carry him, I hold his hand and help him along. Very often I feel like this is God's response. I know He wants me to grow and mature, so rather than remove the obstacle, He is right there beside me the whole time, supporting me. Finally, I very often DO carry my son because I love him; I know he wants to be close to me and I know there are a lot of steps for little legs. Likewise, God knows our weaknesses and He is there to carry us when we just can't seem to make it anymore. Through it all, our hands should be raised to him and our voices saying "xie xie".

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Having spilled water on my keyboard (AGAIN) and this time losing my space bar, I'm a little behind on this week's menu plan.


Same-old; same-old.


Monday - Sandwiches and Mixed Vegetables

Tuesday - Leek Soup and Cheese Bisquits

Wednesday - Chicken and Bell Pepper Stir-Fry over Rice

Thursday - Stuffed Zucchini and Baked Parsnips

Friday - Beef, Potato and Vegetable Bake

Saturday - Chicken Tetrazzini with Broccoli

Sunday - Potato Bar

Friday, March 13, 2009

As someone who always seems to be cooking way more than necessary for one meal, I often have to deal with reheating those meals again. This always leads me to the same questions:

A. Should I reheat everything to kill off all the bacteria knowing that we still won't finish it all and must store it in the fridge again?


B. Should I just take out a portion that I think we will be able to eat and continue refrigerating the rest of it?

What do you think?

My husband and I both thought A, but after some research I have found myself to be wrong, and here is why:

Any heating of food has the danger of growing bacteria. Some of these are able to form a heat-resistant toxin that even reheating won't destroy. The more often you reheat your food, the more likely you are to get food poisoning.

The second question I've had is:

A. Should I leave my food out on the counter to cool before refrigerating - therefore not raising the temperature of my fridge with hot foods or creating a large amount of condensation in my leftovers?


B. Should I stick them straight into the fridge to cool down faster and give it less exposure to the bacteria in the air?

Again, my practice has always been the former, and I discovered that I am only partially correct in this. It is good to not put hot foods in the fridge or freezer because it does cause everything else to get warmer as well. However, food should not be left out for more than 1.5 hours before refrigerating (including the serving time).

The best practice is to divide your leftovers into smaller portions, cool as quickly as possible and then place in fridge or freezer depending on how soon you think you will use them again.

Many of the websites I went to were giving advice for catering companies and restaurants. They obviously have to hold to a lot higher standards than the average households. Goodness knows, I've reheated the same pot of soup 3-4 times before finishing it all off without any averse effects. But, it is good to know the information and be careful about what we serve our families (especially since my son was vomitting the other day for who-knows-what-reason).

Other tips that were mentioned were:

* Place leftovers in shallow containers and stir to allow faster cooling.

* Eat left-overs within 4 days for best quality. Otherwise, freeze them.

* Don't over-crowd your refrigerator.

* Left-over meats are best served cold (!!)

* Don't reheat food twice.

* Reheat sauces, gravies and soups to a full, rolling boil

* Microwaves heat food very unevenly. It is best to use stove-top when possible and stir frequently.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Well, here I am at 25 weeks in not the most flattering picture.

And there she is at about 20-21 weeks... at least the technician was fairly confident in saying "she" though nothing is 100%.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Recipes this week are going to focus on my much needed to eat bag of potatoes as well as testing out the new-t0-us crock pot that I got off of freecycle (see previous post).


Same-old; same-old.


Monday - Mr. PhD hob-nobbing with intellectuals at a book lecture/dinner; left-overs for the rest of us.

Tuesday - Ground Beef and Mushroom Sauce over Boiled Potatoes with Brussel Sprouts

Wednesday - Pollo (Chicken) Fricassee (crock pot) over Rice with Vegetables

Thursday - Spaghetti Pie with Boiled Green Beans and Ham.

Friday - Mr. PhD leaving us again for a conference in Birmingham; Left-over Split Pea Soup

Saturday - Chicken Taco Soup (crock pot)

Sunday - Creamed Eggs on Toast or Potato Bar as the mood leads

Friday, March 6, 2009

Who can really complain about the crumbs and food strewn across the floor when they see a little toddler trying to mimic his daddy and clear his plate from the table?  Not me! Especially not when said toddler comes carefully handing the plate to you and saying "xie xie" (shee-ah, shee-ah - "thank you"). 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

With it being a cold, windy, rainy day, it was definitely time to start planting in defiance.  This year I hope to grow tomatoes, green beans and green peppers in whatever spare part of the garden we can find (our landlord is partial to the flowers he has planted out there, so little room is left).  I also hope to have an herb section.  For the moment we are starting with tomato and parsley seeds.

Oooh!  Water!!!

There are our little seeds, all ready to start sprouting!

Water, water, water!!!

The end result: seeds planted and ready to grow....

....and a very wet and dirty boy ready for the bathtub.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I wanted to share a tip with those out there who might be looking for some good, Christian music for their children or classrooms. When I used to teach 4th Grade, we would always sing along with Jana Alayra during our chapels. More than once I have gotten tearful listening to the children worship God through singing His Word.

The songs are all original and Bible-based. You can listen to fairly long clips on her website (here). They have catchy tunes for children, and most, if not all of them have motions. I don't know if she teaches the motions on her CD covers. I know you can watch her on the DVDs and our school had little booklets with the CDs to teach us the motions. Either way, it is a great resource for praising God together with your children (or in our case, dancing around the dining room in a very chaotic fashion.)


Same-old; same-old.


Monday - Chicken Chop Chai over Rice

Tuesday - Spaghetti with Mixed Vegetables

Wednesday - Pork and Celery Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings)

Thursday - Hubby gone - leftovers will do

Friday - Split-pea Soup with Baked Parsnips

Saturday - Quinoa and Black Beans over Rice

Sunday - Creamed Eggs on Toast