Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Food Revolution, Episode 1

I've been hearing various reactions to Jamie Oliver's show on ABC, Food Revolution. The basic premise is this: Jamie helped re-shape the food scene at the schools in his native England, and has now turned his sights on America. He has two children of his own, and is concerned about the obesity epidemic sweeping our two nations. He figures if he can at least get good food into the kiddies at school, they might grow up to cook good food themselves.

As a starting point for his revolution, Jamie chooses a small town in Virginia. This town has been named as the most obese town in our nation...which makes it a proper challenge for our healthy Englishman and his crusade.

I'm watching the show online, and I'll list a few of my observations here. I would love to hear what y'all have to say about this. Do you see anything wrong with serving pizza for breakfast? (I don't.) Do you see anything wrong with chicken nuggets and strawberry milk for lunch...and dinner? (Guilty, if Dad's out of town.) What do you serve your kids for lunch if they're at home? Are you like me? When they get hungry, I have about two minutes warning before Cry-mageddon breaks out and the world dies a slow (and noisy) death. That's exactly enough time to make a cup of instant ramen, or a plate of chicken nuggets...which is why we end up eating one of those two things nearly every day. I usually end up snitching a nugget or two to tide me over, and then eating something else while the kids are down for "quiet time" after lunch.

I'm really interested to see where this show goes. I'm assuming, since it's a Let's Get Healthy! type of show that he's going to meet some resistance, and then we'll be shown a few tear-jerking success stories at the end. Do I think he can change the entire town? No. Do I think he can change a few families, possibly saving their lives? Yes.

(If you'd like to follow along, the link to this episode is at the end of this post.)

So, Jamie is in Virginia...and he's meeting with some resistance. LOTS of resistance.

I'll share my thoughts:

1. I love pizza for breakfast. If prepared right, I don't see a problem with it. However...the pizza they're reheating for breakfast most likely isn't prepared with health in mind.
Jamie is absolutely stunned that they serve pizza for breakfast. What?! It's a bread, some protein, some cheese. Granted, sausage and mozarella isn't a healthy breakfast. However, with some tweaking, I think they could make a perfectly acceptable breakfast pizza.

2. "Everything's got crap in it." I agree. There's so much junk...and I know I'm putting in my kids.
Jamie is looking at labels on the food they serve. The lunch lady defends her boxes of food product. "See? The first ingredient is chicken. I'm fine with that." There are at least 20 ingredients after that that AREN'T chicken. Jamie is NOT fine with that.

3. "They're not eating what they're supposed to be eating. It's being thrown away." ~Jamie
The lunch ladies cooked everything from a box...except for the rolls. Those were made from scratch...and were universally thrown away by the kids, along with any fresh fruit they had taken. Chicken nuggets, and accompanying dipping sauces, never found their way to the trash bin. 

4. The most obese city in the most obese region in the most obese the world. (the pastor, describing their town, per a national health report)
Jamie sits in on a sermon by the local Baptist pastor, and is relieved to find a kindred spirit. The pastor, afterwards, sits down with Jamie and pulls out an album of the members of the congregation. On each page, he can point out at least one person who has obesity related health issues, or who has died in the past year from those issues.

5. The lunch ladies don't agree with him. They don't think it can be done, preparing everything from scratch every day.
Jamie wants them to stop buying packages of salad, and instead chop their own. He says it can be done just as fast as opening a bag. The five lunch ladies do not agree with him. Mostly Alice - she's giving him a hard time. She is kind of the head chicken in the coop, and is getting more and more fed up with Jamie telling her and the other women that their current lunches are bad for the kids.

6. Piling up all that food that the family eats is NASTY. All golden brown - all cheese, all fried.
Jamie visits a family from the Baptist congregation who has agreed to work with him. First he sits them down and chats for a minute...then pulls out a list of everything they eat in a week, categorized. The mom is duly upset...but he drives it home by taking her into the kitchen, and preparing every single thing they eat during the week, breakfast lunch and dinner, and piling i on the table. They first notice that it looks disgusting - pancakes, a dozen pizzas, fried stuff - and then they notice that everything on the table is golden brown. Everything is cheesy or fried! Not a speck of green to be seen. 

7. I'd do anything for them...but I'm killing them.
Talking to Jamie after the whole food pile up thing. She wants the world for her children, but she now realizes that she's holding them back by feeding them food that will cut their lives short. 
8. I love that they buried the deep fat fryer!

9. I LOVED the mom's prayer when she buried the fryer. So touching.
Jamie wants to bury the deep fat fryer, the most used appliance in the kitchen. As he's burying it, he jokingly asks the Mom to offer a word of prayer. She does...and it's beautiful. 

10. This is making me think. I think our dinners are, in general, acceptable. Lots of raw ingredients...with a few jars of pasta sauce on hand for emergencies. Breakfast for the kids is almost always homemade bread with peanut butter or cereal with skim milk. Lunch...that's our weakness. We're playing all morning, and I need lunch that can be ready in minutes and WON'T force me to give the one year old a bath afterwards. That mostly rules out dinner leftovers. We have instant ramen or chicken nuggets...almost every day. N.A.S.T.Y. I can't eat that every day, so I either have leftovers, or eat something later while the kids are in their "quiet time".

11. It's interesting...the woman in charge of all the region's school lunches is not overweight...not in the slightest. She obviously doesn't eat what she's serving. But...all her little school-kids ARE overweight. Is there so much red-tape within the whole set up that she is FORCED to serve this stuff...rather than start from scratch, figure out the nutritional information in REAL food and serve that instead? I can see how nutritional labels would make it all easier...

12. Jamie thinks he's going to win - his fresh stuff against pizza. He's delusional.
Jamie sets up his food, head to head, against the Lunch Ladies' food: pizza vs. baked chicken drumsticks and green salad. Hrm. Sorry, dude. You're not going to win this fight. 

13. "Have I seen women like Alice before? Yeah. Do they scare me? Yeah. Am I going to have nightmares about her? For a while." Ha!
Remember, Alice is 'head hen' in the lunch lady squad. And she is NOT a fan of Jamie at this point.

14. Processed foods won. Obviously.
Referring to the chicken vs. pizza contest above. *sigh*

15. And...he got it. Take away the bad choices - kids will take the "processed" choice. Every time.
Jamie realizes what he must do to "win" is to simply take away the pizza/nugget options. Tomorrow, it's all "his" food. 

16. Disaster strikes - the local paper takes a bunch of Jamie's quotes and mixes them around to make him sound like some sort of pig-headed, patronizing brat of a chef. Now he's got to make it right.
The principal and entire lunch lady squad are LIVID. The article includes quotes like "their eating habits would make the hairs on your arms stand on end" and "their knowledge on nutrition is anemic." He was talking of a specific family that he had worked with, but the local paper has twisted it up to say that he was talking about the entire town. The residents, apparently, are accustomed to being portrayed as stupid and backward in the media...and now think that Jamie is just here to laugh at the fat, stupid Americans. Immediately following this discussion, a news crew shows up to interview Jamie and he tries to set the record straight - he is here to help, and he's here because he cares, and he thinks the residents of this town are wonderful, wonderful folk. The end. 

17. Jamie has taken time away from his family...because he thinks he can make a difference. And he's trying. And nobody wants him here. He's following his heart...and he's trying.
Jamie starts crying. He's away from his two kids, and his wife, because he thinks he can help. I'm not sure how much of this show is gimmick. Why is an Englishman here to help us with this problem? Probably because he's already built a reputation around this sort of thing. Kind of like Alice Waters here...but we can still take him seriously, whereas Alice is portrayed as a zealot and irrational in our media. 

My brain is whirling. This great if you haven't started to take these steps. If you're already living a one-ingredient-to-a-package lifestyle...this might be good entertainment for you.

It's made me think - last year, my sister and I both had a contest to see who could lose their baby weight first. We very nearly tied. We did moderate exercise and cut out dairy, as both of us had children with varying degrees of NASTINESS after eating milk. (Seeing as how we were those kids' primary food sources...this meant that no dairy could pass our lips if we wanted to have happy days.) Looking back on it, I'm not sure if the weight loss was from cutting out the dairy...or if was simply because we were forced to make most things from scratch. As I recall, I ate a lot of vegetables, lean meat and white bread with peanut butter that year...and my food has never tasted better.

Even now, I'm still trying to make more things from scratch. Summer is coming, and I'm going to try to incorporate more fresh veggies into our diet. (This will be easier this year than in years I expect my mother and sisters - both gardeners - to have more produce than they know what to do with. Heh. I have an idea.....)

If you haven't watched this, the full episode may be found here. I would love to hear your thoughts!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Aunt LoLo's Chocolate Granola Bar Cookies

*Edited - The amount of sugar should have been one cup total, not two cups. 
I could call these LoLo/Myrnie/Lera Oatmeal Cookie/Bars. Ok, that's an awful name....but I'm really not sure what to call these! The original recipe came from Lera, at The Sky is Pink. The lovely and affable Myrnie tried the recipe, and changed it just a smidge, patting it into a cookie sheet instead of scooping into balls. The result was a large sheet of cookies that disappeared at an alarming rate.

Then the recipe landed at Casa LoLo. And you KNOW I can't leave well enough alone. I tweaked, and I fiddled, and I forgot, and I compensated...and I came up with my Perfect Snack. I always make these before road trips, because they are healthier than other cookies, just sweet enough to be a treat for the kids, and with all the oatmeal and dried fruit, they have serious Staying Power. (Not to mention Magical Fiber Properties, but we won't go into that here. This is a food blog, after all.)

I like to press the mix into a 9x13 pan, and then cut the cookies into at least 42 small squares. Bite size! I grab one every time I pass the cookie jar. The perfect little mouthful...

Aunt LoLo's Chocolate Granola Bar Cookies
(Makes 1 cookie sheet full. Cut as desired.)

4 cups regular oatmeal (Quick Cooking oats will give you a more tender cookie.)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (loosely scooped) (Alternately, leave out the white sugar and use 1 cup of brown sugar for a chewier cookie.)
1 cup canola oil (Olive oil would work as well)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 beaten eggs
1 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Saigon cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 cup dried fruit
Chocolate Chips

The night before:
In a large bowl, combine your oatmeal, sugars and canola oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it set out overnight (or at least a few hours. Or not at all. You know, it's totally up to you.)

*Note - if you were to use quick-cooking oats here, you would get a much more tender cookie. I like them chewy, with distinct bits of oatmeal. To each their own!

Baking Day:
Preheat your oven to 350 and grease your pan of choice. (A 9x13 pan will give you thicker, chewier cookies. A cookie sheet will give you thinner, slightly crispier cookies.) Add to your oatmeal mixture vanilla, eggs, flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger and mixed dried fruit. (Use whatever is on hand. Chop it all up to approximately raisin-sized chunks, and you're good to go. Craisins, dried pineapple and raisins make an awesome mix.) Mix with a spoon, and then with your hands, making sure all of the flour is incorporated and the dough is uniformly wet. Dump your dough into your prepared pan, and mash it into submission. Make sure it is uniformly thick, and spread all the way to the edges of the pan.

Bake approximately 15 minutes for a 9x13 pan, or until the edges just start to turn golden. Remove from the oven, and immediately scatter chocolate chips across the top. (About 3/4 cup should do it.) Wait 5 minutes, or until the chips are glistening. That means they are ready to bend to your will. Muahahahahah. Get your off-set spatula and go to town, spreading out the chocolate chip icing. (Alternately, you could have used parchment paper to line your pan and then dumped the whole thing onto a cutting board before adding the chocolate chips. It might make it easier to cut up later.) Now walk away. Let your cookies sit for at least 45 minutes, or until the chocolate is hardened. Now you can cut it up into as many pieces as you like! I really prefer teeny, tiny cookies so that they are one comfortable bite.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Chocolate Tofu Mousse

I toyed with a lot of titles for this.  It's made with tofu.  If you think you don't like tofu, then....THIS is the dish that will change your mind!

The original recipe dictates equal weight tofu to melted chocolate, and that's IT.  The resulting mousse will have the same properties as the original tofu- silken tofu makes a silky pudding, firm tofu makes something more like cheesecake.  It also doesn't blend as finely, and so has a "ricotta-like" texture, but sets up very firm.  (You could spoon it into a graham cracker crust for a "cheesecake" if you liked.)  I used a large package (1 pound 9 oz) of firm tofu, and then messed with the original recipe a bit- your tofu will dictate the rest of the recipe, consider this a list of ratios!

Chocolate-Soy Mousse

1 lb 8 ounces tofu
12 ounces chocolate chips (or other chocolate) melted (half the weight of the tofu, more or less depending on preference)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter

Mix the tofu in a blender or stand mixer, then mix in remaining ingredients.  Let set in fridge until firm.