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Posts Tagged ‘Vegetables’

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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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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Conjoined Quadruplet Strawberry - a surprise indeed! Found in a box I picked up for 5 shekels on the street corner. Made for an interesting dessert.

Balsamic Strawberry Dessert - this is what the mutant (and its siblings) went into - best strawberry dessert, ever! Just add balsamic vinegar and sugar! Stir! Let sit! And we ate it with fresh whipped cream. I've done it with vanilla ice cream (the best), and I've done it with moscato sabayon - very decadent.

Tomato Anise Jam at Cafe Arlozorov - what a joy! Very weird, most people, and indeed the friend I was with, don't really like stuff like this. I mean, gosh, tomato jam? And then, tomato jam with anise?! But it was wonderful. Really wonderful. Hence the image below...

My attempt at tomato anise (cinnamon) jam - tonight actually! Just came off the stove! Decent result. Cooked down a lot. I have maybe 3 breakfasts' worth of jam for my toast. Was it worth it? Yes! Great idea for jammy gifts. Although, maybe not. Who would appreciate such a thing? All the more for me...

Cucumber, Mint, and Spring Onion Salad

Cucumber, Mint, and Spring Onion Salad (organic veg box strikes again!). This was fantastic. Added some sunflower spouts later, raw tahini, tiny drizzle of sesame oil, and lemon juice. That's it.

Chopsticks, soy sauce, meat magazine, and Tel Aviv at my local takeout sushi. Just a nice view. It was raining cats and dogs. I took refuge and decided to get lunch.

Fab family dinner with tender beef stew and homemade mac & cheese. Goodbye dinner for our good friends Caitlin and Drew. It was a great evening. The food (pat on the back -- mostly for my sister) was awesome. Stew, mac & cheese, broccoli, garlicky zucchini, and store-bought white chocolate cheesecake. Great bottle of Galil Mountain wine, their 2006 Avivim - aged Chardonnay/Viognier blend. Will miss the two of them a great deal as they start their life again in Philly.



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This is what arrived in my basket today

A little perspective to show you just how monstrous they are

Well, they're kind of pretty, in their own way

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Pesto, pre frap

What happens when you can’t get through the “small” veg box? What if it happens week after week?

Wasteful nastiness, that’s what. And fruit flies. Lots and lots of bloody fruit flies.  So, you know the expression – when life hands you lemons…

Somehow, every Saturday morning I have woken up and unconsciously moved toward the fridge and fruit basket — and absentmindedly chose to cook — something.  Anything.  To prevent the rot and perhaps enjoy the organic expensive fruits of – someone’s – labor.

Week 1 – amazing really really ripe banana bread (an amalgam of 3 recipes found in 10 minutes online).

Week 2 – makeshift no-recipe apple and quince butter (really gorgeous – love quince and it was a good combo. Hadn’t made apple butter in years – not since I properly jarred it for thank you gifts. Cut up apples and quince, boiled in minimal water for quite a while – the quince needs it, blended the lot, added a cup or so sugar and a few dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom.  Cooked until thick.  In reality, it’s much harder to do this – sieves, and the like).

Week 3 – 2 weeks worth of pasta sauce (20+ tomatoes, what else could you do? Have a bloody mary party? Actually, that’s not a bad idea.  And I’m really not partial to gazpacho).

Week 4 – imitation aloo gobi – for 10 (3 heads of cauliflower, umpteen potatoes, red peppers, onions, jerusalem artichoke – in like a ton of turmeric, cumin, coriander, sumac, chili, paprika, and luck. God have mercy).

Week 5 – pesto – what can you do? Fresh herbs that are so pretty and fragrant you want to cry! And they wilt in a day or two.  No matter what or how hard I try.  And the next week, another bunch arrives! I demolished this bouquet fresh and pretty with great results.  Huge bunch of basil, 5 or so cloves of garlic, 1 small onion, handful of chestnuts (this was the hail mary play – I would never have used them except I really wanted/needed a nut component – I’ve used pine nuts and would have loved to use walnut – luckily this sort of worked).

Here’s what my kitchen is perpetually looking like:

Organic nightmare in my kitchen

The vat of spaghetti sauce (I  would call it marinara or arrabiata, but was a completely improvised mess of tomato, other veg, and lots of spice):

Yesterday I roasted two huge eggplants that wouldn’t hold out much longer – ate the one, and just can’t squeeze the second down yet.  Hope it’ll last another day.

This week, I may have to take up pickling – I have 20 cucumbers not going anywhere, fast.

Horn of plenty, indeed.  I wonder if my provider would consider helping me out of the organic nightmare I’m stuck in and allow an every-second-week drop.  We just can’t eat fast enough…

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Remember the days back in college when all you needed to guarantee attendance was a sign advertising “free food”?

Well, step right up ladies and gents, have I got good news for you!  You, yes, you can have FREE salad and stewing veg all winter long — if you can identify it, that is.

It’s sprouting from every street corner, alley, empty lot, park, and even every private garden in Tel Aviv.  And most of you probably thought they were just lowly weeds.

An Anarchists’ Amblings

My good friend Moshe invited me to come along on a walking tour being hosted by Salon Mazal, an interesting place that according to Wikipedia is:

an infoshop in Tel Aviv, Israel. Its purpose is to spread information and raise awareness of issues related to social change, including human rights, animal rights, the environment, globalization, social and economic oppression, consumerism, feminism and gender issues. It is run by an open, non-hierarchical collective of volunteers at 32 Yitzhak Sadeh Street, Tel Aviv.

I had actually been inside their premises a few years ago (and two locations ago), when I had no idea who they were…and left quickly when it sank in that I was in what appeared an anarchist bookshop.  Moshe says that they’ve actually branched out from then, hosting lovely events and lectures, and that generally friendly people frequent the place.  I’ll have to drop by sometime for a better look.

Back to the veg – As I was pouring wine all day last Friday (I got to open the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, a rare treat), so I couldn’t attend the walking tour.  Lucky for me, Moshe took me on a private post-shabbat nighttime tour of central Tel Aviv’s tiny patches of green, sharing with me what he learned from the experts.  What we found astounded me.

Mallow

Hubezah - Hebrew for Mallow

Hubezah - Arabic for Mallow - חובזה in Hebrew

The mallow plant has gotten a bad wrap in modern times.  It’s been thought of as a subsistence green, a poor man’s refuge, if you catch my drift.  It used to grow just about everywhere in Israel.  In fact, I think it still does, despite the urban sprawl.  The Arab community cooks with it quite a bit, and it can be found in all of their suks.  The Jewish markets…not so much.  Luckily for us, this very easily identified plant grows everywhere…and I mean everywhere.  This is a great little article in Hebrew about mallow, and if this works, here is the googled-translation of the same story.  My friend Moshe told me to eat it like a salad green, very neutral yet pleasant taste.  The Arabs sautee it with onions, include it in stews, and I’ve seen it used to wrap other foods in (like grape leaves).

Mustard

Mustard

Slightly less obvious, but also quite plentiful is the mustard plant.  For those of you who have never eaten mustard greens, they taste like the condiment.  They really do.  Somewhat brighter, sometimes more spicy, even.  And this bold flavor is marvelous for cooking.  Moshe, who I might add is a vegan, recommended that it also be eaten raw.  Fine for some.  In the States I bought mustard greens when I could find them (the first time was a mistake…I’m a sucker for strange veg I’ve never tried before).  Great for stewing, steaming, sauteing. “Southern greens,” you know the kind that are stewed and drenched in fats and seasonings of all sorts indeed include mustard.  Even the flowers are good, spicier than the rest of the plant.

Sorrel

Sorrel with the lovely sour yellow flowers

My new favorite green!  I’ve already written about this green extensively, and now I don’t even have to hunt it down in the markets…it’s right out front!  With delicate little leaves that look like flat folded clover, the stems are sturdy and snap crunchily when you bite into them as the lemony sour taste pours into your mouth.  Lovely!  Every part of this plant is edible – leaf, stem, flower.  All sour.  It packs great punch in a salad, and as I’ve demonstrated a few times this year, it’s extremely wonderful in soups and stews.

There are a few more edible greens in my public urban garden, according to Moshe, but they are more difficult to identify and are supposedly far more boring in flavor.  For now, I’m going to stick to these three and see if I can come up with a creative recipe with them.

If I have the guts to go foraging, I’m going to have free soup and free stew and free stir-fry all winter long.  You should try it too.  Just wash these greens very, very, very well.  You’ve got a good imagination, you can figure out why…

Moshe munching on sorrel

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Check out this cool blog I found on the New York Times called “The Urban Forager”

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In SE Asia, the best jobs pay $0.40 per hour

I saw parts of an interesting British documentary/reality series this past week on Channel 8.  The BBC series was called Blood, Sweat, and Takeaways, and followed 6 young Brit food consumers (one a picky eater, one a fast food junkie, one a rich gourmet foods enthusiast, etc, etc) as they were taken to Southeast Asia to:

“live and work alongside the millions of people in south east Asia’s food production industries. They must catch, harvest and process food products that we eat every day, seeing behind the scenes of the tuna, prawns, rice and chicken industries for the very first time.”

It was fascinating to see how our ultra-cheap chicken and seafood are caught and processed, and it was equally devastating to see how the people who caught and processed this food lived, how little they were paid, how hard they worked, and how much they sacrificed in order to even procure these “lucky” jobs.  Even the underworld of the sex trade, so rampant in Asia, has many direct connections to the food processing industry.

The series was also incredibly annoying due to these exceptionally obnoxious British 19-22 year-olds constant complaining, whining, and getting grossed out at every other job they were demanded to do.

What I found poignant is that despite their whinging, each were changed, as we saw in the concluding “follow up” portion of the film.  Some were simply more respectful in their eating habits, more open to trying new things, and were adamant about buying fair-trade products.  One girl even went back to try and help some of the women separated from their families, and was writing to newspapers and magazines with pitches on the subject.

The real eye-opener, and the question this documentary raised, is what this says about locally grown food products.  It seems common sense to buy from your local farmer, sign up for the local organic veg box, visit the farmers’ market, etc.  How can supporting and getting involved in your local agriculture be wrong?  In the US and Britain there have been what seem to be nationalist campaigns to buy British meat, or buy American beef (or cheese, or corn, or whatever).

One young man in the series was a young farmer, his family farm going generations back.  A very nice guy, he was one of the few that made the show tolerable.  He and he alone never complained, worked harder than the rest, and was often the only one working when others refused (e.g. gutting fish on top of one of the smelliest sewer-rivers imaginable and picking, packing, and lugging hundreds of kilos of rice).

Before the experience, he had been a staunch “Buy British” supporter.  Being a farmer, this makes perfect sense.  No complaints here.  But upon his return, he had changed his mind and was educating his friends on the matter.  Why?  The food industry in Asia supports millions of people.  Maybe more.  There would be no big Western food companies, whether they be MacDonald’s or Lean Cuisine, without ultra cheap foodstuffs.  Even fancy restaurants are affected.  Not every eatery can afford locally caught fresh fish and shellfish.  I know from experience at having to defrost and clean hundreds of prawns and scallops and mussels every day at a very high-end restaurant in Tel Aviv – one that specialized in seafood.

Now more than ever before we live in a global economy.  Our smallest of choices can and do affect economics in other countries.  Do the workers suffer?  Yes.  Do we want to pay less for our food?  Most of the world doesn’t.  But even for the idealist, does stopping to buy these “sweat shop” foods help anyone?

I don’t know the answers yet, but I will be seriously looking into this.  I think that the best I can personally do right now is to look for “Fair Trade” products.  This ensures good treatment and good pay for the workers.  I like my local organic veg box, for the time being.  And I have ALWAYS wanted to know who harvested the supermarket fruit and veg, where it all came from, what the names of the (potential) migrant workers were, pesticides used, genetic modifications made, how long it all even took to get here, etc, etc.  Maybe it’s time to finally find out.

We owe it to ourselves (if not the world) to know where the nourishment we put into our bodies comes from, and who was involved in bringing it to us.

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