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Archive for the ‘Vegetables & Fruit’ Category

I haven’t written about food in a long while – a shame.  It’s been nuts.  However this week I decided to take care of myself – I’m not working as much!  The Golan Heights Winery’s “Wine Country Bar” at the Port of Tel Aviv this week has been an absolute blast to work at all week (please come!), and I took most of the week off from the wine bar – hence, only between 6-9 hours of work per day.  With a day off, too!  Taking care of oneself feels awesome.  I made appointments.  I cleaned the house.  I bought shampoo and lotion I’d been missing for a while.  I’m catching up on sleep.  It’s brilliant.  Long live living well!

And in that spirit (in the 10 minutes I have before I go to work) – how about focusing on good, organic veg.  Or home grown veg.  I just came across this article (a challenge really) in the Huffington Post: growing just one food-producing plant this year.  Just one.  Indoor, outdoor, potted, or not, how about it? How hard can it be to grow one tomato plant?  One cucumber plant?  Even some herbs?  Some lettuce?

I have a rooftop garden, with plants on it.  Half the year I basically “kill” them.  Black thumb.  Neglect.  Cluelessness.  All factor in.  But I have the perfect space.  Last year I wanted to start a box-garden or invest in a vertical gardening apparatus of some sort.  If I can buy a cone or a pyramid trellis, I could maximize my surface area.  So how about it?  Any advice from city-dwellers and growing food?  Think I can do it?  (Think I can actually motivate myself on a regular basis to take care of such a thing…gulp…)

Other related link I like to share with you:

Care2.com – a media website devoted to “making a difference.”  I’ve often enjoyed articles and how-to’s on gardening, the environment, pets, health, etc.  Great people.  You can send free ecards from there – and they donate money to save trees (I think) with every card you email.

Happy days!  For now.  Unrelated: I got my passport back from the embassy today, and I just have to share this – it looks like a passport from the land of Disney.  Seriously, it’s the most patriotic bologna I’ve ever seen.  I opened it to find a painting of Francis Scott Key on a ship looking over at a flag in the distance with a handwritten few last lines of the Star Spangled Banner.  Throughout the pages, you have quotations on the top from famous Americans, as well as the preamble to the constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Bill of Rights…all spread over vistas of American landscapes.  And the Statue of Liberty.  And the last page (OMG) has an image of the earth, as seen from the moon, with Apollo in orbit – of course the USA (and Canada and Mexico) is the country we see below.  Hmmm.  I’ll post photos later.

For now, happy days!

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Follow the Africans.  Or the Asians. Or the Indians.  I’m not being prejudicial here, I promise.  I discovered something fascinating last Friday afternoon.  I’ve taken to doing my marketing just before Shabbat – and I mean just before.  Entering the fray at its very worst, I’ve left the house around 3 pm to go Shuk HaCarmel (the Carmel Market), partly out of lazy Friday bad timing, and partly (when I recognized the pattern) for the prices, which I never would have discovered had I not noticed my fellow shoppers.  Maybe I should add – partly to experience this unique sort of excited chaos.

(Just realized I need to explain a bit: Israel until recently was pretty homogeneous, or well, all Jewish.  There are lots of different groups of Jews, but Jews nonetheless.  Arabs and Jews.  And that was kind of that.  Over the last 20 years, and especially the last 5 or so, we’ve had a huge influx of foreign workers as well as refugees and asylum seekers.  This has caused a lot of tension.  These people are needed in certain capacities, but they’re seen also as a burden.  It’s a touchy subject, and in my opinion, it’s brought out the worst in Israelis.  When there are no minorities present, it’s not apparent that there are racist tendencies.  But now…  In any case, I will blog more about this situation later.  All you need to know is that these foreigners live separately, in old, squalid neighborhoods.  They take care of our elderly.  They bus our plates and wash our dishes.  They sweep our streets.  They do our dangerous construction work.  And in many ways they are invisible.)

When I arrive at the market, the mayhem is overwhelming: huge crowds of people trying to push frantically through the narrow market, vendors shouting their brains out to make some last sales before they have to close, many vendors already packing up – using scary long metal hooks to lower high hanging items and noisily slamming heavy metal doors down over their stalls, tourists keeping things moving even more slowly by taking photos and lingering over cheap jewelry and mezzuzahs and Dead Sea cosmetics and za’atar covered pita breads (so cheap, let’s get some to snack on).

Then there are the real shoppers – people trying to get their Shabbat meals in order (and at this point, these guys are really pushing it with Shabbat starting so early – 4 pm ish maybe) or just get food for the weekend, or in my case, food for the week.  I’ve located the guy with the cheapest cucumbers (1.99 shekels per kilo), the cheapest tomatoes (3.99 per kilo), the cheapest and freshest cilantro (1.50 per bunch), the cheapest and most beautiful mangold – beet leaves – (3 huge packs for 10 shekels), and the only two stalls that sell sorrel (3 shekels per bunch).  These are my staples.  The rest of the good stuff this week was icing on the cake.  I got the most fragrant guavas I have ever smelled (and their taste ain’t so shabby, neither) for 7 shekels per kilo, really lovely persimmons (can’t remember the price, but I got a whole bag full for 5 shekels which is crazy cheap), and unbelievable deals on zucchinis and lemons and onions.

(I will always be amazed at the enormous gap between supermarket and shuk prices.  Are the stores nuts?!  Are the people, for shopping there?!  And in more “civilized” countries where there isn’t a real down and dirty market – we’re not talking local farmers’ markets – nobody has a choice!  Thank goodness we grow so much of our own food here in Israel.)

After I acquired the loot, I remembered I’d made a list of stuff to get if I had time, and it was good I remembered (because I really needed these things).  I was out of most of the cereal grains and pulses I rely on – rices, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, lentils, etc.  Not good.  So I decided to take a small street parallel to the shuk back north so that I didn’t have to fight my way.  And lo and behold, here was another crowd of people: the foreign workers.  Sure, they were in the shuk as well, but on the side street, it was like their territory.  There were more Filipinos and Thais and Nigerians and Eritreans than Israelis.  It wasn’t crowded, but it certainly was like walking into another world.  It was calm and “weekendy” – unlike the fracas I had just left.  The shop owners weren’t shouting.  People went on their way as if it were any other day.  The variety of the shops was fantastic – grain shops, spice shops, butcher shops, butcher shops specializing in pork, and Asian food shops.  Awesome awesome.  I picked the first dry goods place with adequate barrels of rices and lentils out front, and it was a good thing I did.  There were a good number of other shoppers, and I was the only Israeli.  You know what they say about restaurants  (and I suppose any business) – don’t eat there if it’s empty.  And vice versa.

I began scooping barley and soy beans and wild rice into plastic baggies when I realized I might not have enough money to pay.  The barley and soy were fairly cheap (10-12 shekels per kilo), but the wild rice was splurging on my part (16 per kilo).  Each of my three bags was sizable – at more than half a kilo each, and I was certain that I would be forking up 30-40 shekels, which was quite possibly all the cash I had in my wallet.  I make sure never to go out with a lot, because believe me, I will spend it.  Even if it’s on produce, I’ll spend it.  Buying exotic Korean cabbages and the like is not a necessity, no matter how much I convince myself it is.   But if the money isn’t in the wallet, I don’t spend it.  To my great delight, my bill came out to 15 shekels.  I honestly don’t know how that happened.  15 shekels for two week’s worth of food is pretty awesome.  The guy winked at me.  I don’t know if he gave me a great deal because of my, well, feminine charms (right), because it was the end of the week, or because that’s just the kind of guy he is.  The Africans and Asians kept on coming and going, and they seemed really happy too.

My shopping done, I continued north on the side street, and I passed what I can only describe as a ghetto butcher.  Back in Rome, hundreds of years ago, there were two kinds of butchers: the meat butcher, and the offal butcher (or as I’d like to think – “the everything else” guy).  Serious.  They had their own pushcarts, and they sold door to door or on the streets.  Rome is known for its offal dishes.  It’s probably one of the few places in the Western world that places tripe in a place of honor on all restaurant menus.  And the word “ghetto” is Italian – the place where they corralled Jews in – the first.  Jews being very poor, I’m sure they ate lots of the other stuff.  Hence, my ghetto butcher.

He was such a jovial chap, winking and cracking jokes with the customers around him, all of which were Thai and West African (which I ascertained after speaking with some in French).  And they were buying – and I’m not cracking jokes here – skin.  Skin and liver and especially (this really did seem to be this guy’s specialty) cow intestines.  This large rubbery and hairy looking monstrosity was hanging by two hooks.  My first thought was yes, this must be tripe.  Then I second-guessed myself.  It was so damned huge.  And the hairy looking bits did not look like villi.  It looked like shaggy hair.  It honestly looked like thick skin and hide of a cow.  I stared for ten minutes or so before asking on of the people standing next to me.  The butcher happily hacked away at it, using a sharp knife to strip yet another slithery 6-inch chunk off, packing it up for his satisfied clients.   Incredible.

I ended up spending a grand total of $20 for my groceries.  I’m quite thrilled.  And despite the fact that I had some other foodish adventures this weekend, this is what stuck.  Ask me to tell you about knafe another time…

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I have to admit, I adore being back in grad school.  Most of the time I don’t see it, don’t feel it, but when I’m in class, I feel like I’m on fire.  Tearing apart literature, analyzing every obscure little bit, my mind goes reeling, making connections to books I read a decade ago, favorite television shows, contemporary political issues, and Greek epics, and on, and on.  It’s like being at a banquet.  Not kidding.  It’s just unfortunate that I have to work so hard outside class.  I want to give myself over to study.

This week in my “Inventing the Novel” course, we covered Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  Embarrassingly enough, I hadn’t read it before, and part of the reason the course itself is so fascinating to me is that its bridging a gap in my literary knowledge; I’m fairly well versed in French literature of the 17th and 18th century, Shakespeare and some Restoration, and of course, some of the great 19th century novels (though not all written in English – some French, and of course, tons Russian).  I think Defoe’s Roxana is the only 18th century English novel I’d read before this course.

Yes, Crusoe made himself a leather/fur umbrella from his kills

Without going into detail, Robinson Crusoe is about an Englishman who is shipwrecked on a desert Island somewhere in the West Indies, and all his trials and tribulations, from the practical elements of survival, to psychological and spiritual transcendence.  It was a fun read, if not more than a bit tedious in the middle with all the God stuff which for me right now is not worth going into.  Delightful are the adventures of salvaging anything and everything off a sinking ship, building a fortress,  and (for me, especially) finding food.

It seems that throughout the 28 years of Crusoe’s tenure on the island, over 90% of his food was meat.  He is described as going on hunting walks every morning.  He must have killed hundreds of water fowl, native sorts of (who knows) chickens and geese, turtles, native goats, and who knows what else.  Eventually he tames a few goats and has his own milk and fresh stash of ready-to-slaughter meat in the back yard.  In the beginning the guy eats a lot of “cakes,” some sort of dried biscuit rations salvaged from the ship – which miraculously last him several years.  He drinks rum (also from the ship) every once in a while.  I think he salvaged a cheese or two, too.  Miraculously (or perhaps not – why blame Providence for everything), he accidentally scatters a tiny bit of chicken feed while emptying a sack, and all of a sudden, he’s got some corn, barley, and even rice.  Over the course of several years, he succeeds in cultivating these crops – but it takes him a while and a lot of perplexed effort to figure out how to make any sort of bread.  What a weirdo.

Cassava

What is shocking to me is how little of the native resources Crusoe uses.  He claims he looked for cassava early on, but didn’t find any, which is utter baloney as it’s ridiculously common, THE staple of the entire region.  There are lots of native fruits and veg, too, some of which are quite obviously fruit and veg – guava, heart of palm, plantains, yucca, tamarind.  This of course is taking into account that Westerners hadn’t visited this island before and brought countless other fruit with them that took to the place quite well with its lush hot wet climate.  And WHERE are the fish?  It’s an island!  The sea is teeming!  Crusoe faces death from starvation while clutching his rifle, when he could be enjoying the seafood at his doorstep.  Apparently the Caribbean is well-known for its lobsters.  The man should literally have been able to walk out the door (or climb over the fort with his ladder), pick a couple guavas and plantains for breakfast and then walk down the beach and check some lobster traps (which he was perfectly able to concoct with the whole carpenter’s workshop he was able to remove from the ship) or he could have picked up some crabs off the beach for his dinner.  I’m sure crabs must scuttle about from time to time.  God!

You gotta wonder about Crusoe’s general health.  He must have had dangerously high cholesterol, constipation, osteoporosis, and perhaps even colon cancer.  And he lived forever!  Ah well.  I’ll give Defoe a break – how hard on him can I be?  How little anyone knew about “the new world” way back when.  At least it was a plausible adventure…not like the lovely film below:

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I respect fungi.  I truly do.  They are as fascinating as they are a brutally tough adversary.  They’ve been on my mind, so, yes, this will be a slightly more personal post, but mostly, I’d like to get my thoughts out there on the brilliance and genius of fungi.

Fun Fungi Facts

  • Fungi are in their own kingdom.  That’s right.  They are not plants.  They are not animals.  They are separate.
  • Fungi are not photosynthetic.  They are saprophytic, deriving their food from dead and/or decaying organic matter.
  • Fungi are inconspicuous.  We normally notice them only when they flower, e.g. the mushroom caps that we eat.  They really have extremely strong and complex networks underground and within and around other organisms.  They are everywhere!
  • Yeast spores

    Fungi you know: mushrooms and truffles (for eating), yeast (for bread, wine, beer, and countless other things that are fermented), antibiotics including penicillin (you know, for preventing us from dying from all the seemingly simple diseases and raised life expectancy by close to 30 years within a century), and much much more.

  • Fungi grow and thrive in our bodies.  One common method for their survival is symbiosis with animals and plants.
  • Fungi are the molds that grow on our cheeses and breads and all things nasty rotting in our fridge.  In fact, fungi are responsible for the breakdown of most dead things.
  • Fungi are really important – They are the top and bottom (whatever way you see it) of the food chain – breaking things down, so that plants can use them again.
  • Finally, fungal infections are perhaps some of the most difficult things to get rid of.  Take it from me.  Most of the time, you never think it’s that bad.  A chronically upset stomach.  Some embarrassing itching.  Some peeling skin on your feet and fingers.  Like the fungi out in the world, burrowing deep and forming vast networks, our symptoms are the tip of the iceberg.  And the creams and pills doctors prescribe usually only treat the symptoms.  Which means the fungus doesn’t really die “all the way.”  Remember, it burrowed.  It may become stronger, and then it will come back, again, and again, and again.  Because it never really left.  And it adores feeding off of us.

All in all.  All in all.  My issues with fungi in several of my bodily tracts have recently flared up again.  Not surprising as I’ve gotten a bit lax with my eating habits.  Not as terrible as a couple years ago when I was in fungus-crisis-mode.  I know the early symptoms now.  And I know that to get rid of a fungus, or at least keep a really firm grip on it, you have to starve it.  Now, some would say my approach is “alternative.”  But after having a 6-month painful off-and-on infection taking prescribed medicine after prescribed medicine and doctors telling me to give it a chance, that it’s in my head, bla bla bla, I finally, tearfully panicked, went to a Chinese healer who gave me very specialized plant tinctures to take several times a day for months.  Along with some diet modifications, it did the trick.  So…because I’ve been eating way too much sugar the last few months…I’ve got to get back into gear.  I’m not happy about it, but that’s the way it is.

How do you starve out a fungus?  Fungi thrive on sugar. Period.  Sugar means sugar of all sorts: granulated, honey, fruit, white processed starches.  Also, fungi are in lots of our foods already.  Anything that was fermented.  Breads.  Wine.  Beer.  What does this mean for me?  I’m on a diet of leafy greens, and although I love leafy greens, the first few days without standard carbs is killing me.  You’d be surprised how many sandwiches we eat.  How many croissants.  How much sugar in our coffee.  How many fruits (as healthy as they are – I once had a violent outbreak right after eating a juicy pear).  No ice cream.  No chocolate.   No spaghetti.  No potatoes (too starchy, easy sugar).

So I went to the shuk (market), and I bought huge bunches of kale, celery, sorrel, mint, green beans of two varieties, garlic (excellent for anti yeast), cilantro, ginger, and rocket.  I made a large pot of mostly-sorrel soup last night with some zucchini and lots of ginger (in actuality, almost all the greens went in in various capacities, but sorrel for a soup base is incredible – a great thickener, and the sour taste is really something).  I had a rocket-cilantro-tahini salad for breakfast.  I had a small bowl of soup for a snack.  I had a lettuce-radish-endive-egg salad for lunch.  And I am friggin starving.  Thank goodness tahini is allowed and recommended by some.  Almonds and most nuts, too.  But I want my chocolate.  I’d like some crackers and popcorn.  I want a glass of scotch (alcohol=sugar and it was fermented, so there could be yeast…bla, bla, bla).  I want an easy cooking job like boiling some noodles.  Greens have such a low caloric count that you really understand why cows have to constantly eat.

Candy mushrooms = eww!

Ideas to make it better – I am starting with the whole grains again.  A lot of those are allowed.  Oatmeal is awesome.  Buckwheat should be OK.  Quinoa, too.   At the suggestion of a friend, I also bought some peanut butter and cocoa powder to mix together — perhaps it will fulfill the urge for desserts.   Tahini does that for me sometimes.  I am not ashamed to admit I will sit around and eat whole cucumber after whole cucumber dipping them directly into raw tahini when there isn’t anything else I can eat.  I think of it as tahini fondue.  Yogurts are great too, but too much dairy is also not good, so you have to be moderate there.  Apple cider vinegar, although of course fermented, is heralded by many as a miracle cure.  I’ve taken to drinking some diluted in water.  I also take a pro-biotic supplement.

Another note: I avoid antibiotics as much as possible these days.  Why?  Despite the fact that it kills off infection, and it’s terribly important – it weakens us, and it destroys the balance of all the little creepy crawlies inside.  Because antibiotics kill off bacteria (not just the infected area), fungus has the space to thrive.  Glaring infection of a completely different sort.  And that weakens us further.  We take prescription anti-fungals, this often causes the bacteria to over-multiply now, and we’re back to square one.  I take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary (part of why I’ve cut out all meat products).

So there you have it.  Most of us eat too much sugar.  Most of us have had athlete’s foot.  Some of us have some rotting nails, chronic digestive issues.  Many – perhaps a majority of women (and even some men) have had yeast infections.  Some people have had oral thrush.  And goodness knows, many of us have experienced unexplained bouts of sluggishness, depression, and other disturbing things.  A lot of this, if not all, can be attributed to fungus, most notable, Candida.  Living everywhere – on our skin, mostly notably, in the gut.  We can all stand to cut a lot of sugar out of our lives, pump lots of greens back in, and eat whole grains as opposed to processed everything (which is usually the case if you don’t go out of your way to get special breads and pastas, and eat foods out of boxes and cans, etc).

I hope this was elucidating rather than boring or disgusting.  I really welcome comments on this.  It’s an important subject to me, and goodness knows, I’m really not an expert.  I may have unknowingly exaggerated or confused some facts, above, so let me know.  I want to learn, too.

Mycorrhizae – fungus root – mutually beneficial relationship between plants and some fungus

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Last night I returned from a weekend retreat.  This was a meditation retreat like no other.  Half silent Vipassana meditation, half activities and discussions about activism in the world and approaching it from a Dharma perspective.  In other words, Engaged Dharma. This post’s a bit long – if it’s too long, skip to the last 2-3 paragraphs or so. Would love your thoughts.

Dharma (Sanskrit: धर्म) or Dhamma (Pāli: धम्म) in general terms refers to the teachings of the Buddha.  If I can encapsulate the entire message and purpose of Buddhism, it is this: there is suffering, it can be understood, and there is a way to end suffering.   This was the first and most important teaching of the Buddha (the four noble truths).

Taking Buddhism up and away from the meditation cushion isn’t necessarily easy.  Serious introspection is a personal process.  That said, we live in the real world.  Even monks have to get up, clean house, and eat food.  For people who are socially engaged, trying to better the world, whether it be battling poverty, cleaning the environment, empowering abused women, etc, and who come from the Buddhist world, this can be both an inspiring experience and also a more difficult one.

Activists can be very angry.  Anger gets people to take up arms and take action.  Buddhists come from a peaceful place.  I feel that it comes quite naturally that people who are learning about or who follow the teachings of the Buddha, which all center around ending suffering, would be people who want to extend this to the world.

When I returned from the first Vipassana retreat about 4 months ago, I vowed to myself that I would become engaged in the world again.  Volunteer, give back, participate in activities that matter.  It took some time, but this was my first step.  But I have to admit, it was quite daunting.  I feel that I’ve gained some firmer footing with my dhamma practice.  I wanted to go to this retreat in order to retreat.  It’s been stressful, and this weekend was in many ways a birthday gift from myself (financed by grandma’s annual birthday cash, “buy something nice for yourself, so thank you grandma).   But I felt that everyone there was already very engaged, if not somewhat engaged in activities and organizations who are doing important things.  The shame I’ve felt for a long time, not actively helping, bubbled to the surface.  As I think I’ve said on the blog, I never expected I’d become one of the majority, a member of the complacent couch potato society of the world.  I was so incredibly active in my youth: AIDS outreach, peer counseling, working with at-risk youth, running after-school drama clubs for under-served communities.  But perhaps this is the perfect example of traditional activism and volunteerism: burnout.

Helping the world is noble.  But it is painful.  It hurts.  The more you help, the more you realize how much more help is needed.  You may get to a place where the whole shebang feels hopeless.  Your anger, drive, hard work leaves you empty.  What good is what you’re doing?  Nothing seems to be changing.  Trees keep being chopped down.  People keep getting sick.  Children are still starving.

Sangha at Zen Peacemakers Conference

A Dharma community may be the answer in dealing with this problem.  Coming from a “happier” place, a peaceful place, a real supportive community where pain and suffering has a method to be dealt with, is a great refuge.  In fact, it may be the most important element within the Buddhist path.  There are three refuges:

Buddha (the enlightened one, the teacher, our spiritual potential), the Dhamma (the teaching, the path), and the Sangha (the community).  Buddha himself said that of the three, the Sangha is the most important.  In fact, “By taking refuge in the Sangha, we become the refuge. This is the path of the Buddhas.”

My Path: part of my trouble is making decisions.  There are so many options, in every aspect of life, I often freeze up.  Towards the end of the retreat, as interesting and inspiring as it was, I still wasn’t sure what my actions would be.  Would I join a group that deals with a sort of micro-banking for women?  Would I help poor families get on the economic ladder?  What was my passion?  Because here’s the thing: if you spread yourself too this, nothing much will be accomplished.  The story of my life.  You have to choose one thing, and give it your all.  My “eureka” moment came during a guided “stream of consciousness” exercise, talking about what we cared about, what our skill set was, what projects I could take on.  And it spilled out.

FOOD

I am interested, in fact passionate about food.  My problem having gone to culinary school, working at a winery, writing this vaguely food-esque blog, is that it’s about the food in front of us.  But as you’ve seen, in my posts about the “Anatomy of a muffin,” “How important is it, really, to buy local?,” “Edible Urban Greenery,” and “The Idea Human Diet,” I really go into the origins of the food we eat, the social implications, the historic precedent, the current conditions of the food around us, etc, etc, etc.  There are many more posts, in fact, dealing with organic food, world hunger, and socially-conscious restaurants.  How did I not realize that this is something very important to me??  Even my next novel is all about food and ecology.  The drastic future of food.

So, stay tuned.  There will be a project, big or small as it may be, that I will be spearheading.  Maybe it’s been done before.  Maybe I’ll find that out and start participating (no need to reinvent the wheel).  I want to find out where all of our food comes from, I want to know all about the new science of food, I want to know about who works to make our food, I want to advocate for better food standards, and I want to become involved in organic agriculture.  AND most importantly, I want to share this knowledge with the world. I want to teach.  This will involve a website and a lot more.  I’ve already met people who live on kibbutzes who’ve invited me down to see their massive chicken coops and dairies.  I have vegan friends who are already far more involved in some of these movements.  But I know I don’t want to alienate.  I will not be advocating vegetarianism.  I simply think it’s important to know.  And once we know, we can decide to either make better choices about what we put into our bodies, or help effect change in the bigger picture, or both.  This is my passion:

Agriculture – Ecology – Hunger – Human Rights

If you’d like to join me, learn more, provide insight, advice, intro to organizations, farms in Israel, etc, please contact me.

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Can eating organic make you thin? Apparently, yes.

Heirloom Tomato Slice (from abbyladybug flickr)

We’re not just talking collard and broccoli and sprouts and squash.  There’s organic chocolate, beef, spaghetti, cereal, the works. Intuitively, I can understand why organic is healthier.  No pesticides, no hormones, no genetically modified goodness knows what.  There’s nothing in there that will hurt us.  Nutrition-wise, people seem to have been on the fence.  An organic tomato probably has the same amount of calories as a regular tomato, right?  I’ve not done the research, so don’t hold this all over my head.  But vitamin and mineral-wise – I mean, come on, folks, look at the organic tomato! Compared to the waxy colorless lifeless orbs piled high at the super, how can it not have a gazillion percent more good stuff in it?

Check out this wonderful and surprising video by Mary Schook (visit her blog FoodIncAvenue).  Tell your friends.  This is awesome.

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Eating in America – Casual Budget Vegetarian Dining

It has never been this difficult to be a vegetarian in the United States.  Perhaps I take it for granted, living in Israel – everything is so salad-based, so kosher-themed (if not kosher itself) with meat and milk being eaten separately, that more than half the choices at any given time seem to be vegetarian.  Not so in the US.  Have times changed since I was last a vegetarian (1992-2000)?  Granted, I was a child (13-21) when I last abstained from eating animals and was less aware and ate out less as a rule.

For my own sake I decided to document where I ate over the course of my trip.  Usually I made choices according to budget, convenience, and menu, in that order, unfortunately or fortunately.  I think I gained a kilo or two while away.  Oh well.

I’ll go city by city, as there’s a lot of text.  Chicago is the least interesting because I got to eat and cook at home, which is far cheaper and far far more interesting fare than at most eateries I can think of.

Chicago

  • Panera Bread – Walking into an establishment that appears so healthy, fresh, and modern like Panera Bread – and be presented with only 1 meat-free sandwich – is quite frankly appalling.  Two vegetarian soups and three simple (dull – green, Greek, etc) vegetarian salads (out of 8) were also on the menu.  I ended up taking half a Mediterranean sandwich (very dry and exceptionally uninteresting, seeing as I live on the Mediterranean coast myself) and a tomato-based vegetable soup.  First time I saw that American eateries are wild about chicken.  Ugh.
  • IHOP – The comfort factor is quite high at a place like this.  In Israel we (I) miss the fast polite service, familiar (butter soaked) foods, and endless cups of crap coffee and half & half.  There is nothing even remotely similar.  IHOP is breakfast, slightly upscale fast food (you get to sit in comfy booths and get served), cheap, and oh so traditional.  Yes, it’s crap.  But it’s good crap.  Crap you miss.  Instead of a stack of chocolate packed pancakes, my parents and I all inadvertently ordered from the “healthy choices” menu, where we could see how many calories we were actually consuming, and this with the egg-substitute, grease-free, veggie-ful type omelets.  So much for overlapping crispy meat byproduct mingling with eggs and sausage swimming in pools of maple syrup.  At least the coffee is still…coffee.  And endlessly we drank.
  • Eduardo’s – Chicago is known worldwide for its unique deep dish pizzas.  They are oh so good, lovely rustic shells of crusts, bursting with thick layers of cheese and rich tomato sauce, one slice being more than a meal in and of itself.  Anywhere but at Eduardo’s so it seems.  The service was so bad, it’s simply not worth mentioning our level of suffering.  And the pizza was crap.  I was embarrassed to be eating it with out of towners.  Enough said.  Go to Pizzeria Uno or Due or Lou Malnatti’s or Giordano’s or whatever.  Eduardo’s was never my favorite.  And I will never be going back after this.
  • The Corner Bakery – this “Lettuce Entertain You” restaurant sure has changed.  It’s fast, slightly interesting Italian, order at the counter style.  But there used to be more choices.  They used to cook most everything in front of you while you waited anxiously.  There were rosemary encrusted loaves and pine nut spinach tarts and the best ceasar salads you can imagine.  Now, eh.  You order everything, and you don’t get to see it.  It does come to your table, though. But the assembly line has taken over.  I had a three-salad combo.  Not much to choose from, I got macaroni caprese, a bean salad, and a Greek salad (I think).  They were pretty unremarkable.  Healthy-ish, though.  Filling.  Decent portion for “fast food.”  A good choice at the mall, I guess.
  • The Celtic Knot – Evanston – Awesome. Irish pub, Irish-British cuisine. Comfort food with an upscale twist. 90% meat menu, but the veg options were brilliant.  My mother had a portabella sandwich with freshly fried potato chips (not fries, for those non-American readers).  I got a warm spinach salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and candied walnuts.  That was heaven.  Best meal in Chicago, by far, and on my last night in town.  We ate the meal accompanied by Cider (mother) and a Snake Eyes for me (half cider, half lager – a drink that’s illegal in many parts of the British Isles because it’s said to raise a person’s temper and make them mean and prone to fighting.  Don’t ask me why.  Someone once ordered one when I was bartending in London, and not knowing what it was, went to the asst. manager.  He told me what it was, said I was never to make one, and then he proceeded to pour one for the gentleman because “he knew him.”)

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