Adventures in Pasta

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I met a woman last week who calls herself a food educator, though not a trained nutritionist or dietician.  She is spending her time at back to school nights and giving presentations at libraries about eating healthfully, reading labels and what things like “whole grains” really mean.  Much of what she talked about was an affirmation of information about the food industry I had already absorbed but I did pick up a few new things.  While Greek-style yogurt is great for me because of the high levels of protein, I really need to watch certain flavors and brands because they pack in the sugar.. not something I had been conscious of every time I ate it.

It was interesting to hear a room full of parents ask very detailed questions about certain food items and habits and take copious notes.  Because of my background, food decisions have very much been conscious decisions in the past few years especially.  But these parents were asking which flavor of Cheez-It was best.. hardly a question in my mind.  As Mark Bittman states in his recent op-ed article in the New York Times (Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?), we are in need of a culture change.  But we MUST understand that millions of people in our very own country don’t have access to grocery stores, let alone Whole Foods, local food co-ops or farmer’s markets.  Cooking is NOT the culture in every home, some don’t even have working kitchens or a home in which to cook.

I’m looking at a box of pasta right now and my eyes are drawn to the ingredient list.

Ingredients: Semolina (Wheat); Durum flour (Wheat); Niacin; Iron (Ferrous Sulfate); Thiamin Mononitrate; Riboflavin; Folic Acid

While this is not the worst ingredient list I have ever seen, I certainly have no idea what good or evil Thiamin Mononitrate* is doing in my body.  I do however know that eggs, flour, salt and olive oil are all whole ingredients that will fulfill my needs when paired with the right partners.  These four ingredients create pasta dough, made at home with family and friends.  This isn’t a paid advertisement by the pasta-machine company.  Its an ask by me to you to cook when you can, what you can, with what you have.

I am blessed to have a fantastic working kitchen, a full pantry and adventurous family and friends.  But not everyone is so blessed.  Do some research.. see if there is a local community kitchen or workspace that teaches cooking classes.  Find out what they’re cooking (or not) at your child’s school; this will affect their food choices and preferences for a life time.  Instead of beans in a can, try soaking dry beans and cut out a great deal of sodium.  Small steps turn into big ones.

The photos above are of some friends making pasta with a pasta-maker at home.  Though time-intensive, we have come to plan for pasta nights every week. (This would be our third Tuesday pasta night!)  Maybe in your house, it can be ordering take-out or going out one less night a week and making a quiche or a whole wheat pasta dish.  Stay tuned for some more pasta and recipes!

*According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, thiamin(e) mononitrate is a B-1 vitamin that is “perfectly safe, despite adding minuscule amounts of nitrate to our food.”

The (Food) Love of my Life

Hummus.  How did I live 20 years without you?  Your versatility, deliciousness and general sassiness make you a fantastic complement to sandwiches, crackers, pita.. Let’s be honest here.. I eat hummus on its own.  It wasn’t until this year that I attempted (along with my JVC housemates) to make my own hummus and let me tell you.. its a grand time.  Lots of tweaking it involved but its been a beautiful friendship since the very beginning.  Here’s my super simple go-to recipe:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From The Moosewood Cookbook:

  • 2 to 3 medium cloves garlic, sliced
  • large handful of parsley (super easy to grow yourself!)
  • 2 healthy scallions, in 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (2 15 1/2 oz. cans, rinsed and well drained or soak dried beans)
  • 6 tbs. tahini (found in specialty aisle, ground sesame seeds)
  • 6 tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 to 1 tsp. salt, to taste
  • optional: cayenne and cumin, to taste

Place garlic, parsley and scallions in a food processor or blender and mince

Add chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and salt, and puree to a thick paste.  (You can also do the mincing and mashing by hand.  The hummus will have a coarser texture, but that can be nice, too.  My note: We did not have a blender that worked in my house last year so all mashing was done by hand.. it was coarse for sure but made for a nice arm workout!)

Season to taste, if desired, with cayenne and cumin and correct salt if necessary.  Tansfer to a tightly lidded container and chill, not before lots of taste tests of course.

My favorite pairings are carrots, pita chips, crackers and red wine.  The red wine is a necessity.