What Would Wheat Want?

In the battle against genetic modification, the Swiss have determined that their geneticists must “conduct their research without trampling a plant’s dignity”.  This WSJ article outlines the mandate, which says that “the dignity of plants could be safeguarded “as long as their independence, i.e., reproductive ability and adaptive ability, are ensured.” In other words: It’s wrong to genetically alter a plant and render it sterile.”

It does sound a bit strange to frame this as plants’ rights, but the efforts to maintain a plants integrity and natural evolutionary progression benefit us all.


High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Have you seen this creepy high-fructose corn syrup add put out by some corn-growers lobby?

Doesn’t have “artificial ingredients” and “fine in moderation” my ass.

Here’s a description (from the Weston A. Price Foundation) about how this stuff is made:

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is produced by processing corn starch to yield glucose, and then processing the glucose to produce a high percentage of fructose. It all sounds rather simple–white cornstarch is turned into crystal clear syrup. However, the process is actually very complicated. Three different enzymes are needed to break down cornstarch, which is composed of chains of glucose molecules of almost infinite length, into the simple sugars glucose and fructose.

First, cornstarch is treated with alpha-amylase to produce shorter chains of sugars called polysaccharides. Alpha-amylase is industrially produced by a bacterium, usually Bacillus sp. It is purified and then shipped to HFCS manufacturers.

Next, an enzyme called glucoamylase breaks the sugar chains down even further to yield the simple sugar glucose. Unlike alpha-amylase, glucoamylase is produced by Aspergillus, a fungus, in a fermentation vat where one would likely see little balls of Aspergillus floating on the top.

The third enzyme, glucose-isomerase, is very expensive. It converts glucose to a mixture of about 42 percent fructose and 50-52 percent glucose with some other sugars mixed in. While alpha-amylase and glucoamylase are added directly to the slurry, pricey glucose-isomerase is packed into columns and the sugar mixture is then passed over it. Inexpensive alpha-amylase and glucoamylase are used only once, glucose-isomerase is reused until it loses most of its activity.

There are two more steps involved. First is a liquid chromatography step that takes the mixture to 90 percent fructose. Finally, this is back-blended with the original mixture to yield a final concentration of about 55 percent fructose–what the industry calls high fructose corn syrup.

There’s a couple of other murky things that consumers should know about HFCS. According to a food technology expert, two of the enzymes used, alpha-amylase and glucose-isomerase, are genetically modified to make them more stable. Enzymes are actually very large proteins and through genetic modification specific amino acids in the enzymes are changed or replaced so the enzyme’s “backbone” won’t break down or unfold. This allows the industry to get the enzymes to higher temperatures before they become unstable.

Consumers trying to avoid genetically modified foods should avoid HFCS. It is almost certainly made from genetically modified corn and then it is processed with genetically modified enzymes.

A lot of people are cranky about gas approaching $5 a gallon, but I’m not one of them.  Maybe I’d feel differently if I had to commute to work, especially if that could only be done by car.  Maybe then the thought of gas eating into all my free spending would rub me wrong.  But as it is, I see high gas prices as a pretty good thing.

In truth,  I wanted gas to be $5 a gallon 15 years ago (and said so then).  If gas prices had been higher all along we would be much further along in alternative energy research and use, AND people would have long ago demanded better, more accessible, and more frequent public transportation.  Plus, if gas had cost more I don’t think we would have seen the sprawl into suburbia that has marked the last few decades.  Instead we would have been forced to consider ways to increase urban density, while also making urban living more affordable for families.  Mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods anyone?  Maybe if gas had been $5 a gallon all along Americans wouldn’t have convinced themselves in droves that they needed 4000+ square foot houses, or behemoth vehicles that are impossible to see around when I’m trying to turn left on my corner and one is parked in my line of sight (one of many reasons they are annoying).

With gas prices sky-rocketing, it seems that everywhere I turn people are talking about scaling back, going smaller, energy consumption, public transportation, and a host of other important things.

It’s obvious that higher gas prices are affecting food costs too.   Across the board, everyone is feeling the pinch, and the costs to consumers are rising.  Except less so with local foods.  I was at my grocery store the other day and noticed a HUGE price difference between local and non-local products.  I was buying flour and saw that Bob’s Red Mill (a favorite of mine for grains/flour) had their 5 lb organic brand of flour priced at $5.99 while the equivalent King Arthur’s product was $9.99.  I was shocked!  A $4 difference?  I was so taken aback by the difference I decided to talk to the poor guy stocking the shelves about it.  He said that Bob’s has a history of keeping prices lower, but that they were seeing huge price differences on local products throughout the store.  Finally, the little local companies have a way to stay a leg up on the big guy in their own market.  Seems like a good thing to me.  You?

May I Suggest…

Thompson Farms for local berries, peaches, and veggies.  The owner, Larry, has been growing all 40 of his various crops with no insecticides or fungicides for 15 years.  I asked why they’re not certified organic, and it’s all about the cost.  It would cost him thousands (into the tens of thousands) of dollars to get all his crops certified.  But, according to him, his product is “better than organic” because it’s completely spray-free.  

In my quest for canning peaches I’m learning that nearly all peaches, even at the farmers market, are conventionally grown (=sprayed).  Even the organic ones are usually treated, just with those things legal to use on organic products, so more natural sprays and fungicides.  Berries, most at the farmers market, are sprayed too.  Because they’re like sponges for sprays many growers have taken to only spraying the plant before the flowers become fruit.  Then they spray the crop again only if they think they’ll lose it otherwise. This is better than conventionally-grown, but still not ‘organic’ or ‘spray-free’.

That’s why Thompson’s is such a treat.  He manages to be spray-free by using crop rotation, cover crops that provide natural insectary habitats, managing irrigation, and keeping soils fertile.  

They have a table at the following farmers markets: Gresham, Portland, Hollywood, Milwaukie, Sandy. Also, you can call the crop line (503-658-4640) to see what they have at the farm stand in Boring, worth a trip if you’re getting a lot because the prices are lower.  But go early because things sell out.  You can also place larger orders on the crop line and have them brought to your market (if it’s one of the 5 listed above).

FYI: This week he’s having a special on marionberries (sweet, juicy and delicious!!).  You can get a lug (12 pints) for $15 if you buy 2 or more lugs (each is normally $30).  That’s $1.25 a pint – and that’s cheap!. Perfect for freezing. Or, if you’re like us, eating til you’re sick and then freezing the rest.

Kitchen Sink Frittata

So, I’ve been trying to find creative ways to use all our beet and turnip greens. We get a fresh batch of each every week from our CSA, and I feel compelled to find ways to eat them – even though, combined with the spinach, chard, and kale we also get – it’s a lot of green leafy stuff. Both beet and turnip greens are tasty sauteed in olive oil, and are good substitutes for pretty much anything you would put chard or spinach in. Slightly different taste, but still good.

But, in an effort to use them in more creative ways, I stuck them in a “greek frittata”. It’s a good brunch item, easy and quick to make. It can even be made the night before and served chilled. Here’s the basic recipe.

6-ish eggs (depending on size of pan)
1/2 cup milk (more or less…depending on number of eggs)
minced garlic, 2-3 cloves
black pepper (1/4 teaspoon)
nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon)
beet or turnip greens (chopped), could also use spinach or chard too
green onions, sliced (3-4)
feta cheese, crumbled
tomatoes, sliced
Parmesan cheese, grated (to sprinkle on top)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Beat eggs and add milk, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well.
3. In an oven-proof pan (I used my cast-iron skillet), saute washed greens (with the water that clings to them) and the green onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Saute until leaves are softer but not withered. (If using chard, the stems need a bit more sauteing than the leaves, so add them first and cook for a bit before adding leaves and green onions).
4. Pour egg mixture over the top of sautéed greens/onions.
5. Crumble feta into pan.
6. Place sliced tomatoes on top.
7. Sprinkle grated paremsan to finish.
8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until firm throughout.

CSA – Week 5

I finally remembered to take a picture of our haul from the CSA this week. Really, aren’t these veggies beautiful?

This week’s box contained: green onions, swiss chard, broccoli, lettuce, salad mix, carrots, beets, and radishes.

Each week we get incredible box notes with recipe ideas and tips for storing our veggies so they keep for the whole week, or longer. I’ll include some of those tips in future posts, but for recipes, feel free to check out their notes.

Eggs in a Nest

I was inspired while reading Animal, Vegetable Miracle (Kingsolver) last summer to try a few of the book’s recipes. One I really liked was for Eggs in a Nest with…well…eggs, and chard, carrots, dried tomatoes, onions and garlic. It sounds like a simple list of ingredients, but the combination of flavors is really delicious. I honestly just feel good when I’m eating this. I’d highly recommend giving it a try.

Except for the dried tomatoes, these are all ingredients you can currently find at your farmers market, and even the dried tomatoes can be substituted for fresh ones if your market has those (although I have to admit a slight preference for the dried ones in this recipe). We got some carrots and chard in our CSA box this week, so Eggs in a Nest were on the menu last night. Delicious.