My First Steps Towards Real Food

mason jars with dry goods

So far in my reversing the process series, I have talked about my mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I have defined real food, which does not include all of the edible food-like substances we regularly call food. I explained how this process was the most positive kind of slippery slope, so now I will explain how I got started on this journey, more than a decade ago.

It was 2003 and I was living with my husband and a close friend in the Catskills. We lived for almost a year in this small town called Andes, an hour outside of Woodstock where we had moved in 2001. We had a beautiful house on a hill in the country and I was spending more and more time in the kitchen. My grocery lists at the time included things like: E.L. Fudge cookies, white bread, Velveeta macaroni and cheese, bullion cubes (the green chicken ones and the red beef ones), ramen noodles, Tropicana orange juice, and Entenmann’s pastries. My grocery lists also included their fair share of kale, root vegetables, lentils, quinoa, free range chicken stock, and organic dairy products, because I had already been living in Woodstock for more than a year and that town was on the cutting edge of the organic, whole food movement.

Even before my first ah-hah moment, my grocery shopping habits were already telling a tale. By 2003, I was splitting my shopping between a big box wholesale club, the local grocery store chain, the local butcher shop, and the local “health food store” which was what we called coops back before Whole Foods was a ubiquitous brand. And while I was buying more and more each week at the health food store, I was still making a separate list for those family favorites which were not available at the health food store. But the difference between the products from the different stores really started to bug me.

At that time, what was really bugging me were the artificial colors and artificial flavors, so I sat down one day to discuss this with my husband and roommate. Had I been living alone, I would have just stopped buying those things, but when you are in charge of feeding more than one adult, you can’t just change the whole routine without getting some buy-in. The guys had to admit they didn’t realize what they were eating, and on principle, everyone agreed artificial colors and artificial flavors are not good. We agreed to gradually stop buying a lot of things but we also agreed to not go crazy all of a sudden.

That was really how it started, with the personal rejection of artificial colors and flavors and from there each subsequent change to our food life was a natural extension of the last. Over the years, we’ve stopped buying a lot of things and we’ve started cooking a lot of things entirely from scratch. We’ve stopped shopping for edible food like substances and we’ve started shopping for ingredients to make real food, which is delicious.

I wish I could give you the exact progression of what we gave up and when, but these were the key milestones along the way, by category:

  • Hydrogenated oils like peanut butter and Crisco
  • Modern, industrial cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil
  • Pasteurized milk and cream
  • Dairy products made from pasteurized milk
  • Industrially canned vegetables like beans and tomatoes
  • Prepared chicken and beef stock (and before that bullion cubes and powdered stocks)
  • Industrial raised meat, fish, poultry and eggs
  • Factory-made desserts of all kinds from cookies and pies to cakes and ice cream
  • Pasteurized juices and pre-made drinks
  • Artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn-syrup and bleached white sugar
  • Prepared breads of all kinds
  • Boxed cereals of all kinds

At this point our kitchen is more or less devoid of all of the above, with a few exceptions. For example, I do break down and buy organic cream cheese every now and then and my husband never gave up pasteurized pomegranate juice. This also all goes out the window almost anytime we eat at a restaurant, but when it comes to our grocery list and the food we prepare at home, we mostly have gotten the factory out of our pantry.

It’s taken more than a decade but only recently did it feel like a mission. For many years, each individual choice was a natural progression and they were simply individual choices which are sadly impossible to order in my memory. We didn’t make changes according to the neat categories above. For example, we stopped buying spray canola oil long before we gave up canola oil entirely and there was a time when I bought half my butter and made the other half fresh. We switched to organic milk before we switched to raw milk. We switched to dried beans years before we started canning our own tomatoes. There were years when homemade ice cream was just a treat, instead of the norm. I do still buy a few cheeses made with pasteurized milk, but less and less frequently, and I do still buy one bottle of light Karo corn syrup per year to recreate the my childhood birthday cake for my own birthday.

Over the years, each change was an individual choice and some changes were harder to make than others but as the small changes accumulated into more obviously categorical change, the remaining more industrial foods in our kitchen started to stand out. For example, the canned tomatoes started to stand out when they were the only thing left in a can I was buying on a regular basis. The canola oil was also hard to defend next to the farm fresh olive oil, the homemade butter, and the beautiful organic pork lard from the butcher shop.

And a lot of the changes were easy to make. Giving up store-bought ice cream really wasn’t that hard once I found the raw vanilla ice cream recipe on page 550 of Nourishing Traditions and the chocolate ice cream recipe on page 26 of The Perfect Scoop. Now, I make all my own ice cream and the vanilla ice cream recipe above is so simple I can make it in less than 30 minutes, including the time in the ice cream maker. And I had a similar experience with bread. I thought it would take years to start making all my own bread but one cook book changed a big slice of my food life in less than a month. With Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, I didn’t need to buy bread, and no one in my family missed the store bought version of anything once I started playing around with the recipes in that book.

Now, the remaining industrial products in my kitchen really do stand out and there are still a few I would like to eradicate. For example, although now organic, I still buy prepared mustard, ketchup and mayo. They look weird to me there in the door of the fridge with their labels and their expiration dates, but this particular category is hard for me to make from scratch because I don’t eat any of them and I gag at the smell of mayo. I did try to make friends with mayo by making it from scratch a while back, but it was an utter disaster and I have not gotten back on that horse since. I will some day but until then, I’ll buy those three things at the coop and I won’t feel guilty about doing so.

I take my food changes one day at a time and one change at a time, and there’s always a list in the back of my mind of the next food challenges I will take on. Next on my list: puff pastry, croissants, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella cheese. Oh, and this Greek soup called avgolemono, which is a good example because sometimes I take on a particular recipe I’m craving while sometimes I take on a whole category of food change. Sometimes I’m driven more by desire and sometimes I’m driven more by disgust, but each small change makes space for the next small change and quite quickly, they add up to a more nourishing lifestyle which promotes thoughtful living and provides an endless history of traditions to explore.

If you look at my food life now, it’s not a modern life. On the face of it, and if you don’t count the meals I eat out, I have given up all kinds of modern conveniences, but I have also found a new kind of efficiency and rhythm with food which is much less time consuming than you would think. But, you can’t just change your life in a weekend. And I can’t tell you exactly where to start because the changes you choose to make should be specific to your life and your taste.

The good news is, whatever changes you choose to make now will be easier than they were when I started on this path. And I will continue to share my story here with my reversing the process series which will hopefully save you some time along the way. Feel free to contact me anytime with questions.

Finally, I would also like to make a note about my mixed use of singular and plural pronouns in this post. That was an editorial red flag for me as I was finishing this post but I decided they were appropriate in this case, and more than that, my use of them reminded me of something I failed to include about this kind of change.

For me, reversing the process has been a personal, individual choice for change, but it has also been a process that my husband and I have gone through together. Sometimes, we take on a particular change together. Sometimes it’s more of a change I tackle myself which we then integrate into our lifestyle. And while I do the majority of the cooking per se, my husband is actively involved in our week-to-week food life from shopping and food prep to actual cooking. For example, I was having trouble getting in the rhythm of making our own whole grain cereal. We would end up running out and I wouldn’t have time to make a new batch for weeks. So, my husband wrote down the recipe I had concocted and now, he is in charge of keeping the pantry stocked with cereal. In some ways, change is easier when you live alone but change is not impossible when you are in a relationship. It does however require some conversation and it will be easier if there is some sort of foundational, philosophical agreement about what is driving you to change.

More about Wanda Shapiro   •  Novels by Wanda Shapiro


From Web 2.0 to Web WTF

<really long rant>

This post is for all my friends and colleagues who work in digital. We used to call it the IT industry, but now we just call it digital, and if this industry wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask it to slow the fuck down. I never thought I would miss the Web 2.0 days, but in all honesty, I would do anything to turn back technological time. I wish cell phones were just cell phones again and I wish no one ever invented the cloud.

Now, we build websites and apps. We design software user interfaces and digital marketing campaigns. We create content for more social media networks than I can keep up with, and we have to make sure everything we do works on a bazillion different permutations of operating systems, browsers, devices and screen sizes, not to mention all the audiences, personas and strategies. There are no less than ten competing varieties of every kind of platform and technology, and vendors are popping up every day selling all kinds of different services which are all supposed to provide some kind of marketing miracle for all the poor shmucks who make a living sell things or helping people sell things.

And I am one of those poor shmucks.

Now, we have to figure out how to design and build all sorts of digital things so they work on all sorts of devices and, in the agency world, we have to do that with clients of all kinds breathing down our necks.

I remember when the VP of Creative Services came back from the Internet Retailer Conference one year and said, “If I hear the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ one more time, I’m going to kill someone.” But as a project manager, the Web 2.0 days made me giddy. Finally, finally, we could create in code, almost anything a designer could imagine. We could create rounded corners using CSS and if the designer got too crazy we could always call the flash guys. Finally, I didn’t have to explain to designers (and clients) why we couldn’t do things because coding technology had finally caught up with Photoshop. And this progress was happening in parallel with the platform-ization of the digital landscape. And platforms were great, platforms got installed and customized instead of built from scratch. And if you didn’t get too crazy with the design, you could leverage the platform and limit most of the heavy lifting to CSS. And CSS, we never really thanked that technology thoroughly because we were getting caught up in all the other progress.

But at this point, I really do just want to turn back time. Because how the hell are we all supposed to keep up? I used to joke that this wasn’t rocket science, but I’m tired of keeping up and responsive website design didn’t turn out to be the godsend it seemed like it was going to be. I remember being in the let’s-let-flash-die camp, but now, I can hardly remember why. Oh, right, it was the smart phone. That’s why we needed flash to die. Because those two technologies couldn’t play nice together, or at least that’s what I remember after so much technological water under the bridge.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what point in time I would like to turn us back to, but it was somewhere around the advent of the smart phone. But those early days of the smart phone weren’t too bad. All of a sudden we had all these new projects. Suddenly, companies didn’t need one website, they needed two websites. And no one expected the mobile website to be nearly as cool as the regular website, so it wasn’t so hard. No one minded, the use of really janky “wrapper” technology and those were the glory days of web services and custom API development. Yes, we had problems with data synching and the mobile websites we were cranking out were kind of clunky. But everyone felt so cool with their new smart phones it took them a minute to get hyper-entitled about usability and page load times. Things were starting to get complicated, but at least back then we could easily justify separate, additional budgets for the development and maintenance of mobile properties. And really, the expectations were relatively low, both on the client side and on the user side.

But now, everyone wants everything. They want the website and the iOS app and the android app and they want the strategy for the website and the app. And they want the social media campaign and the search engine optimization, and they want the social media campaign to work miracles while the paid media campaign has a zero dollar budget. They want viral video and cartwheeling menu buttons which all work seamlessly across any device you can think of. They want data of all kinds and they want everything to be integrated with backend systems even if those backend systems are dangerously out of date because the parts of the website no one can see never get any of the budgetary love. Everyone wants to lower their overall cost of ownership, but no one wants to face the pink elephant in the room which is a digital ecosystem which was been taped together over the years by a revolving string of marketing and technology resources who were all just doing the best they could with what they had that month all while racing to keep up.

If you’re lucky, you work at a company which survives by nibbling on one or two relatively isolated slices of the digital marketing budget pie. If you’re kind of lucky, you work client-side where you have to worry about the totality of the digital landscape, but only for one brand. But if you’re not lucky, you work at an agency, that does everything.

Regardless of how lucky you may or may not be, my job and the jobs of my friends and colleagues are appreciably harder than they were eight years ago and the budgets are tighter than ever due to the continued slicing of the marketing budget pies. But there comes a point when marketing professionals must admit that a pie sliced into too many pieces is no longer edible.

And really, people want everything. People want websites that are the most awesome things ever no matter what they are trying to sell. The website needs to work miracles and drive engagement like no one has ever seen. The website needs to look perfect even on the marketing director’s nephew’s android phone when he turns it sideways at dinner to show her something. The website needs to be easy to update and the website needs to look as awesome on your iphone as it does at on your work computer. Never mind that your work computer is running IE8 on Windows XP because the giant corporation you work for hasn’t updated, or can’t update, their software due to some other old technology dependency. Oh, and that website which is all responsive and shit which really does look so awesome on your iphone, the same one that needs to work on your work computer with IE8, it also has to be ADA compliant so a blind person can use it on their ipad, in portrait mode. Oh, and that website, it also has to fit the design sensibility of someone’s boss, whose design sensibilities are stuck in the Web 2.0 days. And worse, the design of that website is going to be performed by committee, and we all know that is never good.

And of course, everyone wants everything yesterday and it’s not just users who want everything. Industry professionals who are well aware of the exponentially complicated nature of what we do, are genuinely surprised when a website built two years ago for less than market value doesn’t work on a first generation kindle fire in portrait mode.

Sigh.

Later today, I will reapply my happy face and I will not let progress get the best of me. But sometimes, I really do wish I could turn back the digital clock to the good old Web 2.0 days.

</really long rant>

More about Wanda  •  Shapiro Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Persian Mulberry Pie Recipe

Persian Mulberries

I promised this recipe to a lovely woman named Ruth I met at the Santa Monica farmers market. She understood why I was rushing to the Weiser Family Farm stand for the Persian mulberries and her ears perked up when she heard about the pie I was planning to bake.

Many thanks to Alex Weiser, fam and crew for another fabulous crop of Persian mulberries. If you haven’t tried them, I suggest you put them on your bucket list. They look like wet black berries and they have an indescribably strong flavor I wait all year for. They are pricey but they are worth every penny and the rhubarb in this pie keeps the cost of the berries down.

Ingredients – Pie filling:

3 cups Persian mulberries (drained)
2 ½ cups rhubarb (diced)
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. cornstarch

Ingredients – Pie Crust:

For the top crust:

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. pork lard
4-6 Tbsp. ice water

For the bottom crust:

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. pork lard
6-8 Tbsp. ice water

NOTE: For best results, I recommend using organic ingredients, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products.

Instructions for the pie crust:

Add salt to flour. Cut butter and lard into flour with a pastry cutter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1-2 table spoons of ice water at a time. Mix thoroughly with a spoon with each addition of water until a ball of dough forms in the bowl. Gently and quickly form the dough into an even ball and transfer to a well-floured surface. Gently and quickly press the dough into a disk approximately 2 inches thick. Wrap the disk in wax paper and repeat this process for the second crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Refrigerate for up to 12 hours and don’t worry if the crust is stiffer when you try to roll it out.

NOTE: I know most pie recipes provide one list of ingredients that is supposed to be used for the top and bottom crusts. However, that way you end up with too much dough for the top and not enough for the bottom crust. After being frustrated by this for years, I re-wrote the recipe to make two more logically proportioned crusts.

Instructions for the pie filling:

Drain mulberries for at least one hour or overnight in the fridge. Slice rhubarb lengthwise and dice into ¼ inch pieces. Place both in a large bowl. Mix sugar, flour and cornstarch until thoroughly mixed. Add dry mixture to mulberries and rhubarb in three or four batches, mixing well with a spatula between each.

Instructions for the pie:

Preheat the oven to 425. Roll out the crusts and place in a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Add pie filling being sure to evenly distribute any sugar mixture which is left in the bottom of the bowl. Crimp the edges of the crust and slice a vent in the crust with a sharp knife. Bake immediately for approximately 1 hour on a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Rotate pie front to back after 30 minutes. If the pie is not browned to your taste after 1 hour, leave it in for another 10-15 minutes. Let pie cool completely before slicing and serving.

NOTE: I know this seems like a high temperature for a pie but a butter-lard crust requires a higher temperature than a butter-only crust or a crust made with vegetable shortening. One of the nice things about butter-lard crust is that the edges of the crust won’t burn before the pie is done. You won’t need those crust covering rings, even at 425. If you use a different pie crust recipe to make this pie, bake according to the temperature and time of the other recipe.

For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Living Without Paper Towels

cloth napkin

As I started reversing the process and started getting the factory out of my pantry, I started to think about all the things in my kitchen which people didn’t have before my grandparents were alive. Coincidentally, as I was having these thoughts, I happened to see a documentary film called Greedy Lying Bastards which connected the Koch brothers with commonly purchased products like paper towels. These two diverging trains of thought finally pushed me over the edge and made me give up paper towels.

That was more than a year ago but I’ve done it. I’ve completely given up paper towels and here is what you need if you want to do the same.

Stop buying paper towels.

You can’t stop until you stop. I tried minimizing the use of paper towels, but the household dependency on them didn’t end until I stopped buying them.

Buy more kitchen towels.

If you want to live without paper towels, you are going to need more kitchen towels. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be 100% cotton and if you want to maximize absorbency, you should stop using fabric softener. You may want to keep two kinds of towels, one for cleaning and one for everyday use, but I didn’t do that until after the first year or so. Now, I keep one stack of older, more stained, cleaning towels, and one stack of newer, less stained, kitchen towels for every day use.

Create a place to hang towels in use.

This should be near the sink or near wherever people will reach for when they would reach for a paper towel. I have hooks for three towels which are in use and one is generally sitting on the counter below, ready for easy access and use during miscellaneous kitchen tasks.

Create a place to hang dirty towels where they can dry before laundering.

If you don’t want smelly laundry, you need somewhere to hang towels which are too dirty to use, but too wet to put in the laundry. You will need to train the people in your kitchen to put the dirty towels in the right place where they don’t get used again until clean. Towels which have touched the floor, have cleaned up raw meat messes, or which have been used a lot should be hung to dry but should not be used again. I have three hooks in a prominent location for towels in use and four hooks for dirty towels in a more out of the way location.

Buy cloth napkins.

You may want to buy one kind for every day use and one kind for more formal dinners, but either way, you will need enough to replace paper towels or paper napkins at every meal. How many you will need will depend on the size of your family and I recommend 100% cotton napkins for their more natural feel and for their better absorbency.

Use cookie sheets and cooling racks for draining bacon and fried foods.

I didn’t think of this until I stopped buying paper towels, but a cooling rack on a cookie sheet is actually better for draining fried food than a paper towel on a platter. It prevents condensation and keeps the food much crisper than the paper towel alternative you are used to. I tried newspaper once, but the chemicals on the print grossed me out.

Buy cotton and silk bags for storing produce in the fridge.

I used to store lettuces, herbs and produce wrapped in paper towels, in plastic bags. Over the years, I learned that plastic was death to vegetables in the fridge, but paper towels were my saving grace. Eventually, I found the kootsac etsy store where you can buy the best cotton and silk bags for produce storage. Esty store owner Morgen sells the silk bags for bulk dry goods, but I recommend them for lettuces, greens and herbs which are best stored in the crisper. For sturdier produce, like broccoli and scallions, I use the cotton bags, also purchased from the kootsac etsy store.

Use terry cloth towels for washing windows and mirrors.

Wash off the dirt and mess with a wet cloth and buff dry with a dry terry cloth towel. You can’t get a streak-free clean with a damp towel, but you can buff a mirror or window streak-free with a dry terry cloth towel. You don’t need paper towels or newspaper, and you don’t even need window cleaner.

Use kitchen towels for patting dry meat.

Anyone who cooks meat well knows a dry muscle is necessary for a good sear. So, pat your meat dry with a kitchen towel, just like you would with a paper towel. Hand wash the towel in the sink with some dish soap and hang it to dry with the dirty towels. Red meat will stain your towels but you can keep two kinds of towels to contain the staining.

When you make a horrible mess, sacrifice a towel or two.

Sometimes, you make a horrible mess, and sometimes that means you have to throw out a towel or two. My first real mess after giving up paper towels was a quart jar of sugar-mint syrup dropped from waist-high, right in front of an open fridge. It was horrible, and there was glass everywhere, and there was a house full of people waiting for dinner when it slipped out of my hand. The first words out of my best friend’s mouth were, “I bet you wish you hadn’t given up paper towels now!” I swept up the mess, broken glass and all, with a couple towels and threw them away without a second thought. I did the same when I dropped a jar of honey and I am sure there will be other horrible messes in my future.

Good luck!

Giving up paper towels is a relatively big adjustment for any household, but it is possible. It takes a certain amount of retraining, but humans lived for thousands of years without paper towels, just like they lived without pasteurization and microwaves and saran wrap. You don’t realize how many times a day you reach for a paper towel until you actually stop buying them, but there is something so gratifying about not putting them in your shopping cart ever again. Since I gave up paper towels, I have also given up plastic storage bags and saran wrap and I’ve never owned a microwave. You’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try.

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Defining Real Food

real_food

In my first post about reversing the process, I explained that I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I promised to explain what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible. Like I said before, this is a little hard to talk about because I really don’t want to offend anyone but the commonly accepted definition of food now includes what I would call real food and what Michael Pollan calls, “edible food-like substances.”

Humans have been producing food for thousands of years without synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Humans were gathering for elaborate feasts long before scientists were engineering food in laboratories, and still today when you have healthy soil, you can build a sustainable farm. You can raise healthy animals for food, milk and eggs, and you can grow all sorts of food bearing plants, depending on your geographic location. You can grow food for yourself and if you choose, you can grow food for other people. It’s the circle of life and it includes people and animals and seeds and plants and soil and water.

We give scientists credit for all sorts of advances in food and agriculture technology, but we are presuming a lot when we call each new industrial process an advance. Science has given us synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, and farms which can grow an enormous amounts of one thing with relatively little manpower. Science has given us pasteurization, hydrogenation, homogenization, irradiation, and shelf-stabilization. Science has given us food that can be mass produced and stored for long periods. Science has given us factories which produce packaged foods in numerous varieties using very few real ingredients which are highly processed and mixed with a lot of different kinds of chemicals. Science has given us food that is convenient, predictable and loaded with flavor, never mind if it’s frequently artificial. Science has given us food which requires no work if you don’t count the dollars you pay for it or the non-communicable diseases you might develop from eating it. I don’t mean to hate on science, but science has given us food our forefathers wouldn’t recognize as food. Science has given us food that is not real food.

Real food is food someone from one hundred years ago would recognize. Real food does not require chemicals or laboratories or factories. Real food is nurtured by real people living real lives on healthy soil. Real food comes from farms that grow more than one thing. Real food does not come in colorful packages with ingredients listed in fine print. Real food doesn’t require any fine print.

Since real food and not real food have been so co-mingled in our lifetime, I have provided two lists below. The first list includes real food, which I try to eat more of. The second list includes edible food-like substances which are not real food and which I try to eat less of. I’ve eaten all the things on the second list and I used to eat them all with regularity. Now, while I make plenty of allowances out the world, I make far fewer allowances at home, but reversing the process has taken me more than a decade and it wasn’t one single choice I made one day.

Gradually, over the years, I’ve started eating and cooking more real food. It’s not as convenient, but real food is not about convenience, it’s about nourishment. Real food is nourishing not just in the ingestion, but in the preparation and each time we make a choice in that direction we are supporting ancient traditions.

In my next post, I’ll write about my first steps towards real food and my journey down this path, but for now here are two lists which will help clarify what I mean when I say I try to eat more real food. Neither of these lists are complete, but they are a good start and should give you the idea.

Real food includes:

  • Organically grown fruits, vegetables, grains, rices and nuts
  • Meat and eggs from organic pasture raised animals
  • Raw whole milk and cream from pasture raised cows
  • Butter made from raw cream
  • Oils from olives and nuts
  • Naturally rendered animal fats
  • Fresh and dried beans
  • Home canned vegetables and preserves
  • Fish which swam in wild waters
  • Bone broths
  • Naturally fermented foods
  • Cheese and dairy products made from raw milk

Not real food includes:

  • Hydrogenated oils of all kinds
  • Synthetic trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Hydrolyzed proteins
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Natural flavors (which are not natural)
  • Pasteurized dairy products
  • Other pasteurized foods
  • Chemically grown fruits, vegetables and grains
  • Industrially canned food
  • Irradiated food
  • Meat and eggs from industrially raised animals
  • Farmed fish
  • Anything bleached, homogenized or irradiated
  • Cheese and meat products that require the word product because the aren’t actually cheese or meat
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Preservatives like sodium benzoate potassium benzoate
  • Food grown from genetically modified seeds

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Cherry Pie Recipe

cherry_pie

As promised in my last post, and in celebration of spring, here’s my cherry pie recipe. It’s a short season so I’m on a mission to see how many pies I can squeeze into 2015.

Ingredients – Pie filling:

2 1/2 lbs cherries
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Ingredients – Pie Crust:

For the top crust:

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. pork lard
4-6 Tbsp. ice water

For the bottom crust:

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. pork lard
6-8 Tbsp. ice water

NOTE:  For best results, I recommend using organic ingredients, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products.

Instructions for the pie crust:

Add salt to flour. Cut butter and lard into flour with a pastry cutter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1-2 table spoons of ice water at a time. Mix thoroughly with a spoon with each addition of water until a ball of dough forms in the bowl. Gently and quickly form the dough into an even ball and transfer to a well-floured surface. Gently and quickly press the dough into a disk approximately 2 inches thick. Wrap the disk in wax paper and repeat this process for the second crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Refrigerate for up to 12 hours and don’t worry if the crust is stiffer when you try to roll it out.

NOTE:  I know most pie recipes provide one list of ingredients that is supposed to be used for the top and bottom crusts. However, that way you end up with too much dough for the top and not enough for the bottom crust. After being frustrated by this for years, I re-wrote the recipe to make two more logically proportioned crusts.

Instructions for the pie filling:

Pit cherries using a cherry pitter and place in a large bowl. Mix sugar, flour and cornstarch until thoroughly mixed. Add dry mixture to cherries in three or four batches, mixing well with a spatula between each.

Instructions for the pie:

Preheat the oven to 425. Roll out the crusts and place in a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Add pie filling being sure to evenly distribute any sugar mixture which is left in the bottom of the bowl. Crimp the edges of the crust and slice a vent in the crust with a sharp knife. Bake immediately for approximately 1 hour on a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Rotate pie front to back after 30 minutes. If the pie is not browned to your taste after 1 hour, leave it in for another 10-15 minutes. Let pie cool completely before slicing and serving.

NOTE:  I know this seems like a high temperature for a pie but a butter-lard crust requires a higher temperature than a butter-only crust or a crust made with vegetable shortening. One of the nice things about butter-lard crust is that the edges of the crust won’t burn before the pie is done. You won’t need those crust covering rings, even at 425. If you use a different pie crust recipe to make this pie, bake according to the temperature and time of the other recipe.

For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.

#happyspring

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LA Does To Have Seasons

jacaranda blooming

Los Angeles is accused of being a lot of things which I cannot refute. Los Angeles can be deeply superficial and way too many people get way to much plastic surgery. The traffic here is ridiculous and despite how many people moved here from places which actually have weather, no one here remembers how to drive in the rain. This city does make people soft and there’s nothing I can say to argue with any of that.

However, many people complain about the lack of seasons which supposedly is what drives them back to all the different places from where they came. But LA does to have seasons and this one is my favorite. Spring here is about cherry pie and stone fruit. Spring here is about jacaranda blooming and pelicans flying north in awe inspiring bunches. Spring provides warmer temperatures in the coastal micro-climates and for those of us on the far west side each year is marked by another stretch of May grey which sometimes extends into June gloom.

We don’t have snow to deal with or large variances in temperatures to mark the passing of the year but we do have spring, summer, fall and winter here, and some of us do revel in each. We have trees that turn colors and leaves that fall. We have all sorts of produce which cycle through abundance as one season turns into the next. For me, the seasons here are more about food than anything else, but there are signs of passing time all around Los Angeles.

Even if they are too busy or self-centered to notice, people should stop complaining that LA doesn’t have seasons. They should admit that wasn’t why they left LA to go back to where they were from, and they should pick one of the other reasons to hate LA as an excuse for why they didn’t stay.

Tomorrow, I promise to post my cherry pie recipe so you can take time to revel in the small things life has to offer. And in the meanwhile, I’m going to go enjoy this beautiful spring day in Venice Beach.

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A Few of My Favorite Sentences

book page

I read a lot but occasionally I read a sentence that stays with me – and I’m pretty sure I just stumbled across another one. I recently read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles who is new to me. I made a sort of random reach for the bookshelf but I got lucky and I am sure I will never forget this sentence. In describing a scene of forbidden attraction between two characters in Victorian England, Fowles wrote the following five simple words which I found running through my mind long after I put down the novel.

“The moment overcame the age.”

My other favorite sentences include the first sentence of The Stranger by Albert Camus.

“Mother died today.”

This sentence which appears multiple times in The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

“Shit or get off the pot.”

This sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

“The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur.”

And then, there is one really long sentence in A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was going to include it in this post but I went back to look at it and it’s nine hundred words long. I even typed it all, but it’s not nearly as awesome out of context as it is when you stumble upon it. I’ll never forget where I was when I read that sentence, and found myself flipping back to find where it started. In the edition I have, it starts on page 323 and ends on page 325 and it is really great when you get to it.

Do you have any favorite sentences, sentences you’ll never forget?

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No Kids Does Not Equal No Life

peaches

<rant>

I read a recent article in Fortune by Katharine Zaleski, a former executive turned working mom who felt the need to apologize to all the mothers she ever worked with. With her honesty, Zaleski brought light to an issue to which all working moms can relate but her article got me thinking about the flip side. Unlike Zaleski, I’ve never been judgmental of working mothers, but as a woman who has chosen not to have kids, I feel like I pay a different kind of price in the workplace.

I’ve been really lucky when it comes to the companies I’ve worked for and most of them have gone out of their way for parents – men and women – who need to adjust schedules or take time off. Rightly, companies treat family time as sacred and no one complains if someone, mother or father, needs to leave at a certain time, or arrive at a certain time, or come in late on Thursday’s because that’s the morning he or she volunteers in the classroom. Personally, I go out of my way for people with kids so they can do whatever they need to do as parents.

But, why is a person’s personal time more sacred if they have kids? What if I would like to eat dinner at the same time every night? Or what if I’m working on a book on the side and would like to keep to an evening writing schedule? Or what if I really love to do something and I like to go home and do it after I’ve put in my eight hours? Why aren’t any of those things sacred?

No, I don’t have kids. But I do have a life and parts of it are really important to me. I shouldn’t have to make excuses for wanting to go home at the end of the day or not wanting to work on the weekend. No one should, whether you have kids or not. Though I agree companies should go out of their way for working parents, no one’s work-life balance should be more sacred than anyone else’s.

Ironically, the publication of this posts was delayed by one of those perfect storm weeks at work which made me drop everything and buckle down in a way that would be very difficult to do if I did have kids. But, I must say, this post was not inspired by this last week with three deadlines and too much work to do. This is an issue that I notice every now and then in subtle ways which does annoy me but which does not leave me begrudging working parents like Katharine Zaleski.

Unlike some people, I have not forgone child rearing so I can work more hours and make more money. I have forgone child rearing because there are things I love to do and those things are not necessarily the things that pay the bills.

</rant>

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Reversing The Process

real food on a counter

I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I am passionate about where my food comes from. I’m a regular at my local farmers market and all of the dairy products in my fridge are raw, straight from the cow. I make the vast majority of the food I eat from scratch. I even make all my own bread and all my own butter, and gradually, over time, that has become normal to me. I don’t prescribe to any particular school of culinary or dietary thought, but I have become very discerning regarding exactly what qualifies as real food.

I make generous exceptions so that I can continue to live and eat like a relatively normal person in public, but I make far fewer exceptions in my own home and I eat out far less frequently than most urban-dwelling women in their thirties. I bring my lunch to work more days than I don’t and I’m an anomaly around the office with my homemade lunches packed in thermoses, mason jars and waxed paper. To some people, the food I eat is dangerously decadent but I don’t believe in the kind of low-fat American diet which so many people swear by, doctors included.

For me, it’s about real food. It’s about food that was grown and prepared the way food was grown and prepared before the industrial revolution. It’s about food that has not been fucked with by corporations and people in laboratories. It’s about the kind of food my grandparents grew and raised and fed me. It’s about a way of life that existed for centuries before convenience was the driving force in the choices we make during those three times of day when we are supposed to feed ourselves.

For me, it’s about fruits and vegetables which grew because someone took the time to cultivate and care for them, not because the correct balance of chemicals was used to propagate them and mass produce them. It’s about meat that came from animals which ate the kind of food animals were meant to eat and lived the way animals were meant to live, not meat that came from some cow which some corporation kept alive with chemicals long enough to kill. It’s about knowing where my food comes from and what went into it before it gets to my table. It’s about meals which take time but which provide nourishment of many kinds. It’s about keeping alive ancient nourishing traditions which are dangerously close to extinction.

For me, food is not about convenience but that’s not always easy to explain to my peers, many of whom are so conditioned to make choices based upon convenience they have little awareness of such. When asked, depending on the context, I do my best to explain my choices in an appropriately concise fashion, but it’s hard for me because there is no single word that describes the way I eat. People know what you’re talking about, when you tell them you’re vegan or vegetarian or gluten-free, but people don’t know what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible.

And the hardest part comes when I have to explain what I mean by real food. I don’t want to offend or criticize and I don’t usually have time to explain the whole story of how I gradually slid down a slippery slope away from processed food and towards real food. And the way I eat challenges many beliefs which have become ingrained in the last few generations. It’s hard, for example, to explain what I mean by real food to someone who has been raised to believe that portion-controlled frozen lunches heated up in the microwave qualify as, “being good.”

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s hard for me not to stick out and lately, more and more people have been asking me about why I eat the way I eat and how I cook the way I cook. I think of it as reversing the process and here on my blog, piece by piece, I’m going to try to explain what that means. In my next cooking post, I’ll define what I mean by real food and after that I’ll explain how I got started on this path.

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