Friday, July 27, 2007

Hot dog!

Only a few more days to blow your diet during National Hot Dog Month! A few factoids about America's favorite refrigerated processed meat:

In 2006, more than 730 million packages of hot dogs were sold at retail stores (oh, but that doesn't include Wal-Mart, which doesn't report sales data). Good golly!

In 2004, the Mad Cow scare prompted the USDA to prohibit the use of mechanically separated meat (MSM). Now what on earth is MSM? It's paste-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue. But don't worry about mechanically separated pork or poultry...they're perfectly safe, and a great source of calcium!

Now if you really want to start drolling, take a peek at the menu at Pink's, the world-famous dog joint in Los Angeles. And don't miss the Martha Stewart dog, a full 10 incher with relish, onions, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut & sour cream.

I can hear you asking, "aren't there alternatives to mass-produced franks, made from factory-farmed animals, packed with nitrates, binders, and fillers?". Yee-haw, you bet! Small family farms all around the country are raising beef and pork organically, humanely, and sustainably, and making tasty sausages that you can order direct from the farm. Check out these resources for sniffing out family farms, markets, and restaurants for sustainable, healthy food in your region:

Local Harvest
The New Farm

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and fam, I've been thinking more about eating seasonally, locally, and thereby, more healthfully and flavorfully. We're already living rather simply, but sometimes I cut corners in ways that compromise the quality of our meals. We're not eating packaged ramen or mac & cheaze, but the wine has been getting cheaper and I occasionally venture into Grocery Outlet for whatever good stuff I can find on the cheap (recent finds include frozen edamame originally from Whole Foods and anchovies for .99/tin).

But Kingsolver and her co-authors helped me rethink my notion of organic, local eating as an elite luxury for those with excess discretionary income. They demonstrate that making one's own bread and cheese isn't out of reach to everyone but Martha, and that buying seasonally at farmer's market can bring gems of the garden even with my cheap-o spending habits.

So today I took a pleasant walk to our neighborhood's farmers' market and brought home a few budget goodies. One of these days, I'm going to bring home a bushel of something and preserve it for culinary luxury into fall (likely, tomatoes, basil, or something else that's overpriced and underflavored at the grocery store). Next, my plan is to experiment with making my own sandwich bread, tortillas, and queso blanco. I started with the tortillas, the least demanding of the three.

This pleasant labor threw me back to when I was a kid, helping my Grandma Cabrales make tortillas back in Augusta, Kansas. Her movements were second-nature, swift, and gentle. She would roll the soft dough into little balls, quickly knead them with her thumbs to form little discs, roll them out thin, then pat them back and forth between her hands before slapping them on the griddle. My method wasn't so well-practiced, my rolling pin too big, and my dough too glutinous. I wish could consult her, or at least watch her at this task that she likely performed most of her adult days.

What's Cooking Grandma? is an online video project where you can upload video of your grandmother making your favorite recipes to preserve the moment, method, recipe, and memories. I wish I had such a document of my grandmother making tortillas, sopa, tripe. What do you wish you could see your grandmother making?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Inspiration for a cynic

Recently, I read that one only need scratch the surface of a cynic to find the wounded idealist underneath. How true for me. Somedays, ok, MOST days, the cynic is my dominant voice. But occasionally, the idealist struggles through the sticky, slimely viscera, like Ripley writhing around in Alien Resurrection, breaking through, giddy and cheerful. A few things that elicited recent emergences:

Remembering, even in grief, a great artist who's touched me can bring out my idealist. Beverly Sills died a few weeks ago, a rare classical musician well-known by the general public. I first remember hearing Sills in duet with Miss Piggy on the Muppet show, and the last time I saw her was as emcee for the Metropolitan Opera's movie theater simulcast of Tan Dun's world premier, The First Emperor. In both instances, she was smart, witty, accessible. She'll also be remembered as a staunch advocate for the arts. Listen to her recent commentary on NPR's Marketplace, where she explained to corporate donors, "I'm not just asking for your money, I want your body too".

Another favorite witty woman with a sweet, sharp tongue, the recently departed Julia Child. After reading, My Life in France by Ms. Child, and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, I had to get my hands on The French Chef, her TV show for WGBH in Boston, 1963-1973, (Emeril and Rachel, bow down in humility and gratitude). I can hardly count the laughing-out-loud moments watching Julia edify me with her passion, skill, and experience. Last night's episodes included a graphic description of the various types of tripe, and the sad but probably very tasty demise of a 20 lb. lobster named Big Bertha. At one point in her show on potatoes, she got a bit overheated, grabbed a handful of paper towels and vigorously wiped down her face as if she was an NBA star (I'm sure she could have dunked). I love her!

A few other random things that perk me up when I'm feeling goopy:

Artist's dates
The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington never fails to surprise, interest, and inspire me. And this summer, admission is free all the time for everyone, June15-Labor Day.

My animals
The felines (Jackson, left, and Bob), posing here as bad-asses, have surprisingly little baggage for their age. And they keep the canine in line.

Happy hour
Need I say more?