Category Archives: food fun

Growing Food In A Dryer, Hotter Future

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Yesterday I got a pleasant surprise when WordPress notified me that I had 500 posts. It seems like a long time ago that I started this blog, a journey prompted by the food safety scares of 2008: e coli in lettuce and tomatoes.  And while some of today’s stories are similar, I do see many hopeful notes of progress. One area in which encouraging news is growing is the issue of food production in a time of climate disruption. How will we grow rice in drought like conditions? The solution could be “Sahbhagi Dhan”.  Research is ongoing on how plants “remember drought”, or how they are equipped to deal with total water deprivation: efforts that could create varieties of alfalfa, sorghum, corn and soy beans that will flourish and nurture us in a very different environment.

And sometimes the research yields not only good results for nutrition but is also a treat for the eyes, like this lavender lime, full of beneficial bioflavonoids , that will add a lovely burst of color to our plates!

(Image Courtesy: “Agriculture Rice Green Field and Blue Sky Background” by blackzheep, freedigitalphotos.net)

Taking Up a New Food Tradition: “Hoppin John” on New Year’s Day

 

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Though I have lived in the US for  a while now, I just learned about the tradition of eating “Hoppin John” on New Year’s day. The first description I read of it involved black-eyed peas, pork, rice and some greens. The black-eyed peas represent coins and the wish for prosperity, the greens of course represent cash. This immediately reminded me of a favorite recipe from India  and I thought I would use it. And so our first meal of the year was this bowl of golden goodness, glowing with turmeric and a little chilli powder, with a sprinkling of cilantro standing in for the greens. To me, this represents the best of all possible worlds, memories of the infusing the adventure of the present.

Further reading brought interesting facts to light: the original dish used red cow peas not the black-eyed peas used today; the rice used was  Carolina Gold and the story of how this variety disappeared from the market is a fascinating story: the soft lowlands on which Carolina Gold rice was cultivated were unsuitable for the use of machinery and there was not enough labor for the intense work required, a hurricane added a further blow. So rice production shifted to other states and other varieties. But a resurgence of this variety was brought about from grains obtained from a seed bank and a small number of farmers are growing it. (One wonders though how the issue  of labor/mechanization was resolved, material for another post perhaps!)

As I write this, I discovered yet another Indian take on black-eyed peas, this time with curry leaves, which I love, and coconut, looks like day two of the new year may also involve black-eyed peas…

#Farming Friday 14: Holiday On A Farm

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All of us cannot be farmers and some of us might not even be ready to give it a try, that too on a holiday. But here is the charming account from someone who took a working holiday on a farm in Italy. I might like to go there now, after reading this, but am still not sure about the “herding the pigs” part!

(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)

Pumpkin Time is Here!!

 

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Happy Fall! In the US this is the time when “pumpkin flavored everything” hits the stores. The first time I heard of Pumpkin Spice Latte I did wonder “pumpkin and coffee…???” The reality is that its more about the spices associated with pumpkin: cinnamon, nutmeg etc; rather than the pumpkin itself, which brings in the pumpkin factor at this time of the year. Check out this link to know which of your favorite treats actually contain pumpkins.

Home is Where the Fish Are

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As I try to meet the packing deadline for a month long trip back to see my family, two images float in my mind’s eye: one is the monsoon rains bursting down and the other is my mother’s plate of steaming rice and fish curry waiting at my place at the table. While most people today are familiar with Indian food, cuisine from the state of Bengal is less well known. Bengalis are obsessive about their food and there is a strict code to the cuisine: the order in which dishes are to served, what is cooked in which season, which vegetables with what fish; the list goes on. In the old days, young girls were grilled on their cooking skills as part of the arranged marriage interview! Above all, Bengalis adore their fish, abundant in the rivers and ponds of the lush delta the Ganges river forms before tipping into the sea. And of all the fish in the world, the most precious is the “ileesh”. This used to be  the fish of celebration, on festive days, weddings or if India won at cricket!

So reading about the beloved ileesh  vanishing from the earth is liable to stop the Bengali heart.But that is exactly what seems to be happening now, ileesh is growing scarce and Bangladesh (which became a separate country later, but was originally a part of India and shares the language and cuisine of Bengal) has banned ileesh exports. At the root of this is that all too familiar, tawdry tale: we abandoned the code of cuisine which treated the fish with reverence, ensuring that it was used sparingly, never eaten during the egg laying season. Now, we demand it all the time, in ever increasing quantities, even freezing it great chunks of ice to be sent to distant countries. There, it is defrosted, prepared as best as possible, and though completely devoid of flavor after it’s  arduous journey to the plate, still revives memories of home and family, far from the paddy fields.

On a more somber note, this year also marks the 70th anniversary of the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 which took about 3 million lives.  World War II was on, and the harvest was diverted by the British toward the war effort while the  people who worked to produce the food were ravaged by hunger. An outstanding film on this famine, “Ashani Sanket” seen through the eyes of  people in a village, was made by Satyajit Ray. It is often named as one of the best films ever made and I was a young girl when I saw it but still remember some scenes with much clarity: the lush green fields contrasting with the desperation  and degradation of the villagers, forced to sink to unthinkable levels in their search for food.

Posts might be a little infrequent during the next few weeks…..whatever I can manage in between bouts of food coma! Wishing you all a lovely summer!

 

Starbucks Will Add Calorie Information to its Menu

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It was going to happen, sooner or later. How will it feel when the calorie count for a frappuccino is posted right there on the menu board?  Summer is here and many of us will be turning to blended coffee drinks. (Some of us, let us admit, will stick with them well into pumpkin latte season!). Posting calorie counts does not necessarily change consumer habits over night. The consumer still has to able to process the information and figure out what portion of the daily calorie intake is being taken up by a drink or a baked good. Some will ignore the posting, some might opt for lower calorie options.  If the consumer is on their daily visit, they might be more concerned with the calorie value than those on an occasional visit. For me and the other Moms, catching our breath with a chat in the middle of the week before scattering off to errands and volunteering duties, the calories are usually passed over in favor of fun. How many calories are there in that mocha frap, anyway? 200. Without the whipped cream. One cannot be too cavalier, after all!

New Day, New Diet Trend

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The Mediterranean Diet, long known as the “ideal” diet to follow , is problematic for those who live in countries where some ingredients, olive oil for example, are not readily available. So, researchers in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland came up with a dietary regime based on local foods and tested the results on two groups of people: one of which was put on the local foods based diet with the added rule of no red meat  and no sugar; and another which consumed red meat and white bread as is normally done in these countries. Not surprisingly, the people in the first group showed an improved good cholesterol/bad cholesterol ratio and also changes in a marker for inflammation.

The benefits of a diet based on local food are not only financial and environmental but are also reflected in improved health outcomes as we eat the diet best suited for the conditions in which we are living. But pursuing the goal of local eating alone is not enough, even better is to eat in season. When we explore, as this chef did, what is actually growing around us, we will discover foods we did not even know existed. Case in point: I could not have identified the greens in the image above last month but have just discovered how delicious these garlic scapes can be! This is the top part of the plant, we normally use the bulb, and; here is the best part: by using every bit of the plant we reduce food waste and crucially, a waste of the water that went into growing that plant.