Archive for September, 2011

Quest for the Perfect Pie Crust

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

For many decades I was comfortable with the illusion that my mother’s pie crust is indeed the very best in the land. My almost religious belief in this universal truth was shattered recently when my blackberry pie was pitted against Meg’s mother’s cherry pie. I am still firm in the belief that my pie-filling was better than hers (personal preference for blackberries). However, I was forced to expand my universe to include other people’s pie crust as equal, nay better, than my mother’s secret recipe. What was the critical difference between the two? They were both thin, flaky crusts made with Melt® instead of butter (my husband can’t even taste the difference between pie crust made with Melt® vs. butter); both crusts complemented the pie filling in a way that only homemade pie crust can do.  The critical differences lay in the finishing touches. While my mother has had a rather Spartan aesthetic with her pie crust allowing the superior texture to stand on its own, Meg’s pie crust was lightly brushed with egg white and sprinkled with sugar to make it sparkly. Damn her sense of aesthetics!

Cygnia’s Thin, Flaky Pie Crust (9-10” Double Crust)

2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c Melt®
1/4 -1/3 c ice cold water with 1 tbsp of cider vinegar (to make the crust roll out more consistently)

Sift flour and salt into mixing bowl.

Using pastry cutter to blend Melt into flour.

Add ice cold water with vinegar and mix with hands to create dough.

Add water if too dry, add flour if sticky.

Create dough ball, wrap snugly with cellophane and place in refrigerator for ~60 minutes.

Cut dough ball in half, roll out (with tons of flour on countertop and on rolling pin) to 3/16″ to 1/8” thickness (but no thinner).

Gently fold crust in half, draping the fold over the middle of pie dish; unfold crust and center it.

Add filling (e.g., apples, blackberries, raspberries).

Roll out other half, fold in half, drape over pie dish, unfold, center.

Cut away extra pie crust with knife, pinch crust together, cut slits into top pie crust layer and place in oven (usually 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, then 350 degrees F for ~35 minutes).

Tip: lightly brush top pie crust with egg white and sprinkle with raw sugar to make it fancy.

 

USDA Farm Subsidies: Eliminate or Reform for Small- to Medium-Size, Local Organic Farms?

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

For all of the bloviating over the Federal deficit and government spending, I would be interested in a healthy public debate on farm subsidies, especially when considering the vast majority of produce subsidized by the USDA ends up in junk food and factory farming.

What if organic produce, dairy, poultry, and beef grown by local small- and medium-size farms were as cheap by the pound as Big Macs, soft drinks, and Kraft Mac n Cheese? Mark Bittman of the NYT has repeatedly called for farm subsidy reform rather than its elimination in the hopes that the government will make it easier for Americans to afford healthy food: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/dont-end-agricultural-subsidies-fix-them/.

The report, “Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food” by CALPIRG and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, studies the interesting question of whether the nation’s problem with obesity is fueled by farm subsidies (for the executive summary, see: http://www.calpirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/health-care/health-care/apples-to-twinkies2). According to the study, the federal government spent $17 billion of the total $260 billion spent subsidizing agriculture on just four common food additives: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils. By comparison, the government spent only $261 million subsidizing apples, and far less supporting fruits and vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, and blueberries – which are reported to encourage better health. Corn and soy subsidies account for a whopping 40% (over $100 billion) of all agricultural produce subsidies. Consider these commodity crops are used to support livestock and poultry in factory farming (think “Food, Inc.”). (More reasons for Melt® to be organic, non-GMO, and soy-free!)

The Environmental Working Group has put together an interesting primer on farm subsidies, with fine-grained data on their allocation and the link is included here for your reference: (http://farm.ewg.org/region.php?fips=00000&progcode=total). It is interesting to note that 10 percent of all farmers collected 74 percent of all subsidies, amounting to $165.9 billion over 16 years.

To put things in perspective, the PIRG study states that if the government had given taxpayers the subsidies instead of the farmers, each taxpayer would have been given $7.36 to spend on junk food and just 11 cents to spend on apples per year. This does not include taxpayer dollars used to subsidize corn and soy used for factory farming and by extension the fast food, beef, and poultry industries, which is probably a far larger number. This is a key factor that makes junk food cheaper than healthy food, which contributes to greater obesity rates in the United States.

 

“Food, Inc”: Vote with Your Checkbook and Revolutionize the Food Industry

Monday, September 12th, 2011

I justified taking three years to finally watch “Food, Inc” – a well produced documentary on the meat, poultry, soy, and corn industries – because I changed how I sourced meat in my diet years ago, eating only organic, grass-fed meat. I wish I could call out the 4-5 companies this movie highlights, but I risk legal action because of some odd pro-industry laws that do not protect individuals. You would think I am protected by my right to free speech, but remember when Oprah was sued for sharing her views on hamburgers? If you have not seen this movie, I highly recommend it as it is quite an eye-opener.

Ultimately, “Food, Inc” is not about the disturbing dominance of GMO soy and corn, poorly raised and abused animals in unimaginable conditions, and unacceptable slaughtering and processing environments. “Food, Inc” at its core is about a lack of respect – possibly contempt – these companies have for the animals, the planet, the farmers, the workers who process the meat, and the consumers who eat this “food”. When you buy organic products like Melt®, made with EcoSocial and Fair Trade ingredients, organic meat and poultry, and or locally grown food, you are voting for respect, which translates into health and wellness. By the way, I am quite pleased to announce Melt® is now soy-free!

There was a time when I believed the highest road for combating the unethical and unhealthy beef and poultry industries was to become vegetarian. In fact, I was vegetarian for 7 years, long enough to find the smell of cooking meat to be revolting. Not only did vegetarianism not work for me nutritionally, as it turns out, I was also supporting the very companies I did not want to support through the purchase of food products containing non-organic soy and corn (and its derivatives).  I wasn’t just losing a source of protein, iron, minerals, and vitamin B-12, I was replacing meat with nutritionally inferior foods, specifically soy-based foods.  I was amazed at how much better I felt – almost immediately – when I began eating meat again (organic, grass-fed meat only) and practically eliminating the consumption of soy from my diet.

I respect that some feel vegetarianism and veganism are important political and economic statements against the industrialized beef and poultry sectors. However, I would argue that vegetarianism and veganism are choices that may only opt out of the discussion and are potentially very unhealthy. Purchasing sustainably and humanely raised and processed beef and chicken is far more efficient in changing a broken industry by creating demand; on the other hand, excluding meat and animal products from one’s diet is potentially passive and ineffective for initiating measurable change. I welcome you to share your views.

 

For the Love of Baking

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

The topic of baking sticks has not always put a bee in my bonnet. Did you know that every butter substitute baking stick in the grocery store has partially hydrogenated oils? Look and see for yourself – even brands like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, who have removed partially hydrogenated oils from their table spread/ tub version, still have them in their baking stick products. Why do I care? Consumption of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (a synthetic, “lab fat”) have been linked to numerous, preventable diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes type II, digestive disorders, ADHD in children, and so on. Ingestion of small amounts of partially hydrogenated oils matter: according to Hu et al. (N. Eng. J. Med. 1997, 337:1491-1499), for each 1% increase in fat intake, trans fats (i.e., hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils) increase the risk of coronary heart disease approximately 46% versus only 3% for equivalent amount of saturated fat. When the front of any food package says “No Trans Fats”, yet lists partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient deck, it is because the FDA allows a “No Trans Fat” statement when there is less than 0.5g per serving of trans fat (i.e., industry “loophole”). Baking sticks… who knew?!

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