Friday, April 20, 2007

Chill wit da food, dude

Take it Easy and
Enjoy a Clean Food Lifestyle
Presented to Ulster County Mental Heath Associates
Ric Orlando 4/2007

I have cooked a million meals and after the first 500,000 I noticed that there was more to making food than just skill and technique. There is sensibility and conscience. I want to share that with you. My mission is to get you to love to cook---to get you to use your hands and to connect---to get you to think about that connection between your mind and your soul and your body and your food and the world around you.
You know we have developed a pretty hectic life-style these days and the comment I get the most often when I speak publicly is "I'm in too much of a hurry to cook" and "What do you have that's quick and even I can make?" and "Can you show me some of your professional shortcuts?"---frankly, what I'm going to tell you is more therapy than cooking secrets.
Cooking is not where you should be cutting corners. I figured this out all by myself because running a restaurant and cheffing with three school aged kids and a loving wife in law school is pretty complex, too.
When I ask people what the rush is---why do you need to have a meal started, cooked, eaten, over and done within a half hour I'm told the same story----"I get home from work, and I'm too tired to cook so we have something quick and then I veg out and watch some TV until I crash."
Let me tell you a story that most of you must already know though sometimes it is good to hear it from somebody else! I too have a TV and I turn it on occasionally, usually late. I have something like 400 channels---and on these 400 channels, 390 of them are showing incredibly stressful material.
When I lay in bed and flip through the electronic guide I find murder, mayhem, revenge, more murder, rape, controversy, horrible news, bad mannered pundits interrupting each other, disinformation, lies, deceit , conceit, propaganda, and more depressing violence. The amount of stress inducing programming on television is so out of whack with reality that the idea of rushing through an unhealthy chemical laden supper just to "veg out" to the content of 21st century television is so far from relaxing--it is inconceivable!
As a health oriented chef I am often asked questions like "What can I do about my blood pressure?"---"What am I doing wrong, what should I be eating?" Well, there is a simple answer. If you are choking down processed food just so that you can get stressed out by a triple homicide adventure show---I needn't go any further---you know the answer already, don't you? Do you need a picture? Prioritize, baby!
Let's start again. Let's say you got home at 6 and you were done with dinner by 6:45 because you microwaved some processed--but low-fat---counterfeit food and then you plunked in front of the television until you became comatose ---you are never winding down. There is no chance to let the day go. You are never connecting to your physical and sensual world. You need to play with your food sometime during the day! If you are not giving yourself the opportunity to use your senses of touch, taste and smell, you are missing a great ingredient of your life. Reestablishing that part of your life to create simple but wholesome food will help you to relax. It will bring you down to earth. Doing it as a hobby ---a little gardening a few weekends a year, a dozen dinner parties a year is nice, but a daily escape is better. My prescription for peace of mind is to spend some time in the kitchen every day
Try to actually make dinner at least 4 days a week--- where you hunt and gather---actually shop for ingredients to prepare a meal and then sit and relax and enjoy it with someone who you can speak with. When you prepare the meal by touching--- cutting the vegetables, washing the fish, trimming the meat, feeling your hands in the grains ---you are getting in touch. The more you use your hands, the more whole you become and the more whole the feeling you have for eating and cooking becomes. Then instead of saying that you are in too much of a rush to cook because you want to watch TV and chill, that evening melts away into a relaxing pleasure. When you get home, put on some music. No commercials, no news. You are going to miss anything real. Once a day is enough news for anyone--and now with these news update tickers on the bottom of the screen, we are hypnotized! Give it a rest. And skip the ads, please. They're just there to make you feel inadequate anyway, so give 'em a break, too.
So where were we?---oh yes, you've put on some music and you have laid out some ingredients---now spend a half an hour making a fresh meal. Maybe your kids or partner can help. Take your time---be a European--- and don't plan on eating until 7:30 or 8 pm. Now, when you eat, linger for an hour and digest. Talk about things, not just the bad things but the amusing things too. Then by 9 or 9:30 if you are ready to turn on the tube, you've already unwound. Wait 'til you see how absurd that channel guide looks like once you have let some of the sap out of your spine. This really is the ultimate therapy. Using your hands and your soul and your mind to create sustenance takes such an edge off of life. The nutritional advantage of making your own food is crucial also. When you combine fresher and cleaner meals, made from scratch with patience and meditation during the preparation and the eating of the meal, all of your life improves. Now try it--a little wine, a little dinner---it is not unreasonable--that is the healthy choice---it is a worthy life-style choice.
Cooking is like therapy---it's like taking a bath!

Some basic tips to help you lead a CLEAN FOD lifestyle.

2. Avoid the following like the plague---high fructose corn syrup AND hydrogenated oils.
3. Avoid buying anything with more than 6 ingredients.
4. Understand that you get what you pay for. A 11.95 prime rib diner is not going to be “Clean Food”
5. Don’t eat food from places that sell gasoline. Need I say more…
6. Don’t buy food from machines. The exceptions are PURE chocolate bars—plain or with almonds, PURE nuts, salted or not or simple, unflavored potato chips.
7. Get off of “meal” bars. Eat an apple instead. Get it?
8. Keep a water or unsweetened ice tea and bag of sunflower seeds, almonds or good quality trail mix in the car to avoid being tempted by the drive thru.
9. Don’t drink soda—ever.
10. Make your own iced and hot teas. Explore the huge array of teas available at the health food store. Teas like Rooibus, Ginko, Mate and Green are cheap and great for you! Bring your own tea bags around in your purse. Make a pitcher and fill a water bottle with it to keep it your desk.
11. Try healthy sweeteners if you need to sweeten your food. Agave syrup, honey and stevia are all great alternatives to the chemical sweeteners on the market. Also, unstripped Turbinado sugar is also readily available now.
12. Make food at home and bring it to work. Italian tuna packed in oil, homemade chicken salad, Brown rice salad and leftover steak wraps will make your co- workers jealous! Reuse the plastic conatiners your Chinese food take out came in!
13. Cook and Eat clear soups and broths. They slim you and when home made, are super healthy.
14. Try to eat a salad a day. Skip the gloppy dressing and use oil and vinegar or lemon. 95% of prepared dressings have high fructose corn syrup in them.
15. Avoid all cheap fried foods. They are almost always full of hydrogenated fats. Many breadings actaully have the hydrog built right in!
16. Avoid Cheap Egg Sandwiches, Home Fries and Diner eggs. They are almost always cooked in hydrogenated oils. Ask a cook what the cook their eegs in---Kaola Gold, Mefry?---hmm--This stuff is like semi melted crisco---it's gross!!!Remember the “you get what you pay for” rule!
17. Don’t over do the grains. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Get at least 66% of your carbs from fresh fruit and vegetables and you’ll feel a lot better. Fruits and vegetables are water soluble and help to cleanse your body!
18. It sounds cliché, but try eating raw vegetable sticks-without dips --while at your desk.
19. We all have stress response and need to feed it. Don't restrain yourself---Retrain yourself! When stressed, drink herb tea, eat raw veggies or chew on a cinnamon stick. This will keep you from devouring junk food, soda and cigarettes.
20. Don’t stress over what NOT TO eat. Think wisely and clearly about what TO eat!
21. Don’t buy all of your groceries at once!
Keep and exciting pantry of dry goods; oils, vinegars, organic stocks and broths, grains and condiments on hand. Purchase your meat/fish and veggies daily. Keep them fresh and buy only what you need. Make it part of the hunter ritual! When you frequent the same loca laces, they actually learn your name and take care of you.
22. Eat what is in season. So you love roasted corn and tomato salsa. But it is January and the tomatoes are like tennis balls and the corn is non existent. Go online and find a recipe for polenta with sundried tomatoes. Use common sense, In Europe, eating seasonally is the norm. Get excited about the first local asparagus! Shop locally to get a feel for what is really in season.
23. Avoid food in fancy packages.Aside from oils, vinegars, canned tomatoes and condiments, I can’t think of anything else that is good food that comes in a package. Packaging food usually means preserving it!
Meats, Fish, Vegetables, Fruits and Grains are all “bulk” items!
24. Enjoy the process! Most of all remember---you want CLEAN FOOD!
Ric Orlando

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Since so many of you have asked, here is my take on the Trans Fat ban in NYC Restaurants.

The current movement to ban Trans fat in New York City is a huge victory for the general public. Though I fully support a trans fat ban and hope they are banned world wide, I disagree with the legislation designed to punish the small fry--- restaurants and cafes, for the misdeeds of the big fish. This is just the tip of the iceberg. If trans fats are to be eliminated from all foods as I believe they should, a composite approach is needed.

According to one estimate, up to 40% of the items in an American supermarket contain trans fats. In restaurants, the number of items that contain trans fats is also very high. I am sure most of us have eaten trans fat numerous times in the last week. Some of the culprits are prebreaded foods, fried foods, doughnuts, processed cheeses, butter substitutes, fryer oil, griddle oil, frosting, muffins (even “healthy” ones), scones, breads, desserts, ice creams, pies, tarts, wraps, salad dressings, tortillas, rolls, imitation cheese (that runny orange stuff served on “nachos”), puff pastry, cannoli shells---the list goes on! How did you fare? If you eat out, I’ll bet you have a little trans fat almost everyday as does most of America. This is because the hydrogenated vegetable fats which provide most dietary trans fat are a mainstay of the food industry - a cheap bulking agent perfect for churning out inexpensive processed products, with a long shelf life and a luxurious 'mouth feel'. Trans fat (and high fructose corn syrup, check these pages in 3 or 4 years for they are the next to go) is the processed food behind processed foods.

Most restaurants and cafés that offer food at inexpensive prices have to rely on prepared foods. Prepared foods allow restaurants to keep prices down by extending shelf life and eliminating costly labor. If a restaurant owner, small mom and pop deli, pizza shop or diner can order from their distributors pre-made foods that don’t spoil rapidly and the price is cheaper, that is what they will do to survive and compete. It’s only natural. But legislating the end user, the restaurants, is absurd. It is like filling the candy bowl with sweets and warning your toddler not to eat any. If the legislators really wanted the products off the market they would ban them from the source.
Since trans fat is proven to be a nemesis that ultimately costs our nation billions in heath care dollars, the developers of the stuff, the corn and soybean industry, should be held accountable. So why is it that the ban has been directed at the end retailer? It is an absurd premise. Why wasn’t the logical step taken, to go after the manufactures of the fats. The answer is a simple; because trans fat is a byproduct of the byproducts of America’s most powerful corporations, Cargill, Monsanto and ADM.

Supermarket consumers can know if a food contains trans fat by looking at the ingredient list on the food label. If the ingredient list includes the words "shortening," "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil", “margarine” or "hydrogenated vegetable oil," the food contains trans fat. In the food service industry, it should be getting easier, but it isn’t. The ingredient lists on wholesale packing is sketchy. Some labels are on the bulk case, and some are on each package within the case. Packaging laws to provide better labeling for restaurant products have been updated, but it is still very iffy.
To an immigrant business owner whose second, or third language is English—what does this mean: “may contain one or more of the following; hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated cottonseed, soybean, corn or sunflower oil”. Try to get the information from a salesperson or distributor. It is almost impossible. I have visited the websites of the #1 and #2 food distributors to restaurants in the Hudson Valley ( Sysco and US Foods) to obtain ingredient information on their products. Neither of their web ordering catalogs lists ingredients, though both have a dedicated line for this. The message was simple, “Ingredient information not available at this time”. How in the world is a small businessperson supposed to adhere to the rules, when the multimillion-dollar companies supplying them don’t come clean. Combine this with the marketing---every week there are scores of “money saving” or “profit increasing” items on sale that are by and large foods with trans fats—and the small business person must be certainly flummoxed. Any reasonable person would have to conclude that if there were really a trans fat ban in restaurants, the developersof these products would be the first to be regulated. But it is not happening because of the obvious. The player with the biggest lobbying budget wins and the restaurants are literally on the bottom of the food chain in this regard.

Ric Orlando
New World Home Cooking Co.
Saugerties, NY
Author of We Want Clean Food, CF Press 2004

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hot Stuff and Halliburton.
By Ric Orlando
I am making fiery Thai chile relish today. I don’t really have plans for it, but it will last until I can squeeze a nice Thai special onto the menu. Gotta sell out of catfish first.
I encountered a nice bag of those sharp, red bird chiles in the “Herb Box” in New World’s walk-in cooler. They have a beautiful, numbing heat. I remember picking them up at Lee’s Asian Market in Albany last week. I threw them in the box and forgot about them. Now here they are. My frugal chef’s brain immediately cues my internal worker bee to use ‘em up before they go bad. So as I am peeling the shallots my eyes tear and the paper cut on the soft pad of my forefinger burns like a bee sting. The radio in the kitchen is always on in the background. I am listening NPR in a room full of Latin cooks who don’t understand of word of it. I am the boss. I listen to the news. They think I am smart.
Strong aroma of shallots. Intimidating bowl of chiles. Amigos blocking the sound out. Dick Cheney lambasting liberals. He says we are giving in to Al Qaeda by not backing Idiot Bush’s escalation of their war in Iraq. The sound bite is short and nasty. I start to slice the tiny peppers into concise rings, discarding the stem. If you leave the chiles in rings, they go right through you when you eat them. It is a weird but satisfying kind of cleanse. Am I the only person on the planet who wants to throw punches when Cheney speaks?
So he was the head of Halliburton. Now he’s running our government and giving all of my tax dollars to Halliburton. Remember the $400 toilet seat scandal back in the ‘80s? That was Halliburton. Remember when the Senate and Congress worked so hard to convince us that the Government couldn’t do anything right? Back in those foreboding '80s they duped us all. Our congress privatized our military. So now instead of Government engineers and army cooks we have Halliburton. Dick Cheney’s former company is doing all of the work for 20, 30, 100 times as much money as it costs to have the Government do it. No bids. No audits. I put the chiles in a bowl with the shallots and cover them in smelly fish sauce and a squeeze of lime. I offer a bite of the red chiles to Armando, an El Salvadorian prep cook. He looks scared and backs away as if from a snarling Doberman. Is he scared enough to hand over his taxes to Halliburton’s shareholders? Is he afraid that if we don’t keep enriching the Chinese bank accounts of Cheney’s friends, the evil sandpeople will come and blow up our National Monuments. Armando is blissful, clueless, doesn’t even know where Iraq is, probably hasn’t ever seen a map of the Middle East. But he knows that the hot peppers will burn him on impact today and he knows that he will regret it tomorrow.
So when Cheney lies to terrorize us, don’t we think about the burn that’s coming? How he and his neo-cons want to break our government. How they want us all in fear. I think about crispy black bass drizzled with the chiles and shallots and the smelly fish sauce. That will be my Friday Night special. Crispy Black Bass with an Intimidating Red Chile Relish. 23.95. Bass is expensive. Maybe I’ll add a little Thai basil to sweeten it up. That oughta sell.

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