The rural food desert

Even the supermarkets lack real food

August 16, 2013

Think fast: Where’s the nearest food desert?

The stereotypical food desert is a blighted, impoverished, minority-dense urban neighborhood — West Oakland, Anacostia, great swathes of Detroit. Supermarkets are scarce in these neighborhoods; the most common food sources are convenience stores and fast-food outlets.

But Seattle, that wealthy techie paradise, also suffers from supermarket shortages. In the Seattle neighborhood where I grew up, I can walk fairly easily to fancy restaurants and trendy coffee shops. But I can’t walk to a decent grocery store; in fact, it’s at least a 20-minute drive, if not more, to get to a supermarket like Whole Foods.

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Children’s cupcakes

For birthday parties

March 18, 2013

This week, my older daughter will turn 4. In previous years, she’s either been oblivious to the whole birthday-festivity thing, or just confused by it. But this year she gets it — especially the cake-and-presents part. So, for the first time, we’re making a relatively big deal out of it.

She has requested a cake flavor — chocolate, her favorite — and wants to help make cupcakes to take to her preschool on her birthday. In the interest of transportation ease, we are going to make Black Bottom Cupcakes, which hit both the required chocolaty (the cake) and creamy (the cream-cheese filling) notes. (The chocolate chips dotting the filling are a bonus.) And then, on the weekend, we will do another variation of the whole cake-baking thing for a family party — probably Texas Sheet Cake.

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Fat frustration

How bad is dietary fat, really?

February 4, 2013

Sure, I understand that health writers like to beat their favorite tom toms over and over: Eat less, get more exercise, yada yada yada. But when a particular health concept becomes a cliché, you know it’s become conventional wisdom.

Here are three recent examples:

In a New York Times travel article about Alpine cheese, Ceil Miller Bouchet wrote, “The winner, by far, was the Beaufort cheese soup. Basically, Maryse explained, it’s a combination of melted Beaufort, cream, egg yolks and garlic. Fortunately, I was more concerned about my limited skiing abilities than about my cholesterol level.”

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The fruit forager

Trying to fend for herself

September 11, 2012

Last week, on a hot weekday afternoon, a woman came to my front door. I saw her shadow through the curtained glass, and went to open it before she could knock; it was the quarter-hour of the day when both my children are miraculously asleep at the same time, and I didn’t want her to wake them up.

She was about my age, in her mid-30s, and she was holding a bunch of grapes in her right hand. She looked healthy and ordinary. But her expression was contorted, desperate, almost revolted.

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Tongue tied

How to cook a cow tongue

October 24, 2009

So last summer, my husband and I bought a quarter of a cow. Hung, butchered, wrapped, and frozen, it filled our entire chest freezer. Most of it wound up as ground beef, but a few less-than-choice cuts come with the territory. Thus far, we’ve tackled beef liver and beef tongue.

The liver was, to put it succinctly, a bust. We soaked it in milk for a few days, on the theory that this would dull some of the, well, livery taste. (It’s a good theory, since, as Matthew Amster-Burton explained in his column on milkshakes, the fat in dairy can flatten out sharper flavors.) Then we pan-fried it, ate a few bites, looked at each other, and gave the rest to the cat.

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African cooking challenge

August 20, 2009

We have friends currently living in Lesotho. (Never heard of it? Think South Africa, and you’re about there.) They are culinarily challenged right now, given their limited food options and kitchen supplies. Check out their post about it and feel free to leave them suggestions for one-pot meals.

How much $ does gardening really save?

From Caroline — Blog by
April 30, 2009

Everybody these days is gardening to save money on produce. Or raising chickens to do the same on eggs.

The articles tell you things like, say, one flat of bok choy starts will save you hundreds of dollars come harvesttime. sure, if your boy choy starts actually produce a prolific (i.e., lots of crop) and edible (i.e., the bugs and birds don’t destroy it) harvest. And if you can actually eat the dozens of pounds of bok choy you’ve grown come harvesttime. freezing all that extra bok choy? Not so appetizing.

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Hospital food

From Caroline — Blog by
March 27, 2009

After three post-partum days in the hospital, it was a relief to get home to genuine homemade food.

My hospital made an effort towards food awareness (statements on the patient menu about trying to source food locally, etc.), and some of the food was actually quite flavorful (salmon with fresh lemon and sour cream). But, by and large, the food was the expected amalgam of blah (lots of Jell-O and saltines) and pseudo-healthy (a breakfast sandwich that featured “reduced-fat cheese, lean ham, and a low-cholesterol egg”).

Most of the selections tasted canned (cream of tomato soup) instead of homemade as the menu promised. Worse, the food-service staff had been instructed to keep patients off whole grains and fiber for the first few days after surgery, on the theory that such foods would be difficult for recovering patients to digest. But if you’re already used to, say, oat-bran bread — and if you’re on constipation-inducing pain relievers — wouldn’t it be better to down some whole grains instead of white bread?

The mysteries of powdered milk

From Caroline — Blog by
March 12, 2009

Still haven’t made any homemade yogurt — although I like Sarah’s idea of using a slow cooker, a gadget I’ve been fooling around with lately. (See her comment in the Nancy’s Yogurt blog post, below.)

Mostly I’ve been poking around the Interweb and the library, trying to find out basic information about milk powder. It’s kind of like trying to research atomic scientists during WWII — very hush-hush.

One thing I’ve noticed, on ingredient labels and in the bulk bins at various local grocery stores, is that all the milk powder circulating out there seems to be of the nonfat variety. As Anne Mendelson points out in her book Milk, milk fat causes problems in the dehydration process, specifically the fat’s “tendency to develop spoiled or harsh flavors . . . This is why virtually all commercial brands [of dried milk powder] are nonfat.”

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Ultimate chocolate pudding

Better than Martha

March 8, 2009

Carrie Floyd, our food editor, was raving about a chocolate pudding her daughter made recently, from a Martha Stewart recipe designed to encourage parents to cook with their kids.

So I decided to try it out, although I was a little nonplussed by the instructions to stir the pudding in an ice bath to cool it after cooking it. I’ve done this for gelatin puddings, but never for a cornstarch pudding. The results? A lot of stirring and a rather grainy texture. And for all that the Martha recipe calls for a ton of melted chocolate chips, the recipe wasn’t particularly chocolatey.

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Culinate Member:

Caroline Cummins

Caroline — Blog

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