Cindy Burke is a former chef and food writer who lives in Seattle. After receiving a B.A. in Marketing from the University of Washington, she began to develop a healthy skepticism about how food is marketed to consumers. As the author of To Buy or Not to Buy Organic and recipe writer for The Trans-Fat Solution, she has educated her readers about how to make healthier choices when they shop for food. In her own kitchen, she tries to cook food that will appeal to her daughter, Allison, age six, who only likes food that is sweet or slathered with melted cheese, and her spouse, Pat, forty-something, who really does try to eat five-to-seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
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When Allison started first grade in September, we received a note that said her classroom would be a “peanut-free zone.” To avoid problems for nut-allergic students, all peanut products would be taboo — not only in treats brought for the entire classroom, but even in individual student lunches.
Her classroom is not unusual in banning all peanut products. At many schools across America, the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich — that childhood lunchbox staple — has been permanently banned.
I wouldn’t want to endanger any child’s health, so I strictly follow the peanut-free rule for school lunches. I have a lot of sympathy for parents of children with severe food allergies. But I have to admit that my first thought when I read the note was more selfish than sympathetic.
Continue reading Welcome to the peanut-free lunch »
Late summer is a lush season. Locally grown, perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables fill the farmers’ markets with a riot of colors and flavors. This is a time for eating simply and well — not with expensive luxury ingredients, but with skillful preparation of seasonal foods.
Ripe red tomatoes, drippy, juicy nectarines, freshly dug potatoes, corn on the cob, woodland mushrooms, tart blackberries and huckleberries — September is the month for eating well at low cost. I have a set of dishes I call “feasts of simplicity,” and I make them frequently when the variety and harmony of local produce is at its peak.
Continue reading Feasts of simplicity »
Transforming summer fruits into jeweled jars of preserves and jams feels like alchemy to me — a magical chemistry that turns the fleeting pleasure of fresh berries, peaches, and apricots into a long-lasting treat. It’s also wonderful to open up your pantry during the winter holidays and take out a few of these gems to give as gifts for friends.
With fruits at the peak of ripeness and flavor right now, it’s a great time to make jam and preserves, and it’s very easy. Really! With only three ingredients — ripe fruit, sugar, and lemon juice — you can distill the tastes of summer into luscious jams. The better the quality of the fruit that you use, the better your jams will be.
Continue reading Jammin’ with summer fruit »
My always-curious six-year-old daughter and I were talking about good eating yesterday. She asked, “If I wanted to live for a long, long time, what would be the best food to eat?”
I told her that she could eat nothing but fish and vegetables and still live a long and healthy life.
“But mom, what would I eat for breakfast?”
Vegetables, of course. “Oh no, Mom, I’m not ready for that every morning.”
Unlike my little pancake lover, I do eat vegetables for breakfast almost every morning during the summer. When I wake up and the sun is already hot, I love the mild crunch and silky textures of a breakfast salad. But, I wondered, am I the only one, or are there others out there who enjoy a veggie breakfast?
Continue reading The breakfast salad »
I’m having the same relationship with this post that I used to have with vegetables. I want to write about eating your vegetables, I think it’s important to write about eating your vegetables. But then, I decide the weather is finally sunny, so I’ll take a walk. Or I feel an urgent need to clean out my spice cupboard. I feel certain that I will get around to writing about the importance of eating vegetables, but there are just so many other things that I need to do first.
I can’t argue with the logic of including more vegetables and fruits in my diet. With benefits that range from lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers, and stabilizing blood-sugar levels, there doesn’t seem to be any downside to eating your five-to-seven daily servings of vegetables. Except that you have to find a way to make four cups of vegetables appealing — every single day. And potatoes don’t count — tragically, French fries and potato chips can’t be counted as a vegetable serving.
Continue reading How to eat your vegetables »
I’ve always enjoyed breaking rules, especially when it comes to circumventing some of the regulations around food. I try to buy most of my food directly from farmers that I know, either from our local farmers’ market or from my visits to their farms. Lately, that has meant buying “organic” produce from sustainable farmers who use organic methods but choose not to be certified organic. I also buy pork that is not USDA-inspected because my farmer does not want to stress her pigs by trucking them four hours to a large USDA-inspected slaughterhouse.
Continue reading Raw deal »
As I cleared away winter’s debris from my garden this morning, I came upon a clump of slim green shoots poking through a pile of dried leaves: chives. A perennial herald of early spring, tender blades of chives show up just as the crocus and snowdrops begin to fade. They are the first plant growing in my garden that we can actually eat, and I enjoy plenty of them while they are tender and young.
Continue reading Chive days »
On Sunday, I noticed that my crocus and tulip bulbs are nudging their way out of the dirt. I love seeing this hopeful sign that the dark cold days of winter are drawing to a close. It is still too soon, however, to find the bright greens of spring — asparagus, peas, lettuces, arugula — anywhere local. Yet I find myself wanting to eat something green. I’m so tired of eating winter squash, root vegetables, and potatoes.
I’ve been busy discovering winter greens — escarole, frisée, curly endive, watercress, and other hearty greens that will grow in cool temperatures. Winter greens can really hit the spot during this transition time from late winter to spring.
Continue reading Discovering winter’s greens »
I received a bit of surprising news late last year, and it’s changed the way I eat. My cardiologist recommended that I have a special blood test, called the Berkeley HeartLab test, to check for advanced cardiovascular risk markers. Not surprisingly, I had several.
Just over three years ago, I considered myself a healthy, non-smoking, average-weight, 44-year-old woman who had a young child, a spouse, and a challenging job. Then, three days after my daughter’s third birthday, I woke up around 1 a.m., vomiting and faint, with both arms numb from fingers to shoulder. Luckily for me, Pat works in medicine and knows the symptoms of a heart attack. I didn’t even want to call 911, thinking I just had a bad case of the flu, but she immediately called an ambulance to the house.
Continue reading She almost died once; now she’s eating to avoid diabetes »
Earlier this month, Culinate ran an article about “baby-led weaning,” or making your baby’s meals similar to the family dinner as soon as they begin to eat solid foods. Years ago, I did exactly that with my daughter, who is now six. After reading mamster’s comment on the article — “But it will not prevent picky eating or promote a diverse palate” — I said to myself, “Tell it, bro. I’ve been there, too.”
If you have one of those children who eat ratatouille, beef stew, and tofu scrambles, please keep it to yourself. Because until recently, I was at the other end of the spectrum. My daughter loathed every vegetable with the exception of carrots — raw only, dipped in ranch dressing. If I tried to covertly brush the barest veneer of salsa on a cheese quesadilla, she’d cast an accusatory glare at me after the first nibble. “What’s in this? I don’t like it.”
Continue reading From toddler food to family meal »
I haven’t knowingly eaten a non-organic apple in many years. I won’t even let my daughter eat apple slices from her school lunch service unless I’m assured they’re organic. That’s because, unless they’re certified organic, those shiny red and green apples are often riddled with detectable amounts of dangerous chemicals and pesticides.
If you read this blog, you’re aware that there are some foods I’m willing to buy that are not organic. Apples, however, aren’t among them. Every year, a representative sample of random non-organic apples from retail outlets across the country are washed, cored, and peeled, then tested for pesticide residues by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Their Pesticide Data Program (PDP) stores the results in a large database that is publicly reported. Year after year, apples are consistently in the USDA’s top-10 list of the most contaminated fruits. Even after being washed, cored, and peeled, an average conventionally grown apple contains detectable residue from 4 to 10 different pesticides known or suspected to cause nervous-system damage, cancer, and hormone interference.
Continue reading Why I buy only organic apples »
Organic box delivery services have become very popular in urban locations and college towns, particularly throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. They offer consistent access to fresh organic produce, plus the convenience of online ordering and home delivery.
Organic boxes differ from a CSA (community-supported agriculture) share, where customers buy a portion of the crops from one local farm or a collective of small farms. Organic box companies don’t grow veggies and fruits; they purchase organic items wholesale from produce suppliers and farmers, then resell them to consumers.
Continue reading The 10 things your organic delivery company won’t tell you »
I’ve enjoyed reading your many comments about my last post. Comments such as “I completely disagree with you about not choosing organic whenever possible” are exactly the kind of comments I would have made myself three years ago.
In fact, I am so crunchy that the original title of the book I planned to write was 100 Foods You Must Buy Organic. My publisher and I signed a contract to write that book, and I began doing more research on organics. What I found out changed my mind — blew my mind, in fact — and caused me to have several long conversations with my book’s publisher about why I could not write the book we had originally agreed upon.
Continue reading ‘Organic’: What’s in a word? »
Shopping for food during the winter can be a challenge. Organics are often very expensive in winter and the price of many diet staples has increased dramatically in the past year. What are your best strategies for eating healthy while still getting a good value for your grocery dollar?
Continue reading What to buy organic in winter »
Corporate food marketers are a crafty lot, who tend to leave out any bad news and play up any feature that may appeal to consumers. I should know; I have a degree in, yep, marketing. But my original career plan — to become a marketing director for a national food corporation — became impossible to reconcile with my distaste for the way unhealthy food is marketed to shoppers. Instead, I’ve made it my job to uncover the facts about food, particularly food that is marketed as healthy, and put that information out to you, the consumer.
Continue reading Greenwashing on the high seas »
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