By Jean English
I use four guidelines for most of my food choices. First, I avoid foods that are high in saturated fats (animal fats), high in polyunsaturated fats (corn and other vegetable oils) or high in hydrogenated oils (aka trans-fatty acids: margarine and solid shortenings, for example). Second, I avoid foods with pesticide residues, artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives. While I’ve always avoided these chemicals to some degree, I’ve become more cognizant of them since my son was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome (a neurological disorder that causes involuntary movements and vocalizations). Anecdotes from people with TS or from their parents suggest possible links between these chemicals and the disorder, as well as with such others as attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many pesticides have been linked to various types of cancer and to disruption of the endocrine system.
Third, I try to include as many nutrient-dense foods in our meals as possible. One of the best things the United States Department of Agriculture has ever done, I believe, is to instigate its “Five-a-Day” campaign, urging people to eat five servings of fruits and/or vegetables a day. This is not so difficult if you consider that a serving is just half a cup of a fruit or vegetable, and that juices count; it’s quite enticing when you consider that these five servings may help save you from cancer, heart disease or other dreaded diseases.
Fourth, the food has to appeal to at least three out of four of my family members. I used to try for four, but inevitably one child likes what the other doesn’t, so I’ve given up on perfection and strive now to please each child alternately. Even that can be difficult.
Given these criteria, I don’t have trouble coming up with recipes so much as with meals. Thinking back to those Women’s Day and Family Circle magazines that my grandmother used to read, I remembered that they included monthly calendars with suppers for each day, such as beef stroganoff and a side dish of green beans on Monday, pork chops and potatoes and corn on Tuesday, and so on – much like the calendars the kids bring home for hot lunch now. Why not develop my own monthly calendar? Or better yet, weekly? I sometimes wonder at how much diversity we seem to “require” nowadays when our ancestors ate so simply, and I like, very much, the philosophy of quick and simple and healthy food preparation espoused in Helen Nearing’s Simple Food for the Good Life; Helen, it seems, could make a meal out of a baked potato and a feast from a pot of soup.
Here, then, are the meals (and some recipes) that nourish us.
Break Fast in Haste
I don’t like our “rush out the door in the morning” society. No one in our house is hungry first thing in the morning, and we could do with an extra hour or so to awaken our appetites and sit down to a healthy, leisurely breakfast. Nutritionists often say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but who has time? I was very happy to read recently that the Minneapolis school system has recognized, at least, that middle and high school students’ biological clocks aren’t set for early morning, and their classes are starting at midmorning, as a result. In the meantime, we do with meals that are quick and fairly nutritious.
Rice. My husband cooks a pot of short grain, organic brown rice every few days and has that ready to warm and eat with maple syrup each morning. Quick and simple, but not filling enough for me.
Muffins. My daughter, now in middle school, can barely get four or five bites into her still sleepy stomach in the morning, so I try to have some good muffins on hand. Her favorites are orange muffins. They used to be cranberry muffins until both kids told me they liked everything about my cranberry muffins except the cranberries, so I left those ingredients out, put in some whole wheat flour, and voilá. Pumpkin muffins are regulars at our breakfast table, too. Find a recipe for pumpkin bread, substitute canola oil for butter and whole wheat flour for half of the white flour, and bake in muffin tins for about 20 minutes – one-third the time or less than that required to make bread.
Mix in a bowl:
3/4 c. orange juice
1/4 c. canola oil
Add and mix:
1 c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. sugar or 1/2 c. honey
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until done. If you want to make cranberry muffins, add two cups of whole, washed cranberries.
Muesli. When my son went to the Ashwood Waldorf kindergarten in Lincolnville, his (and the other children’s) favorite breakfast was muesli. He still likes it, especially when apples have just come into season, and we often eat it as a snack as well as at breakfast. To make it, mix about 4 cups of oats (organic oats, bought in bulk, are often less expensive than boxed, processed Quaker Oats, by the way) with a cup or so of raisins, a chopped apple or two, a big pinch of cinnamon, and honey to taste. Add milk and eat right away, as we do, or let the mixture sit for an hour or so to soften the oats, as we did at Ashwood.
Pancakes. I love pancakes. For years I ate an oatmeal-whole wheat-fruit pancake every morning, but finally got tired of them and have switched to a simpler recipe without the oatmeal. I’ll give you both:
Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes
Mix in a bowl:
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. buttermilk (or skim milk plus 2 tsp. lemon juice)
2 Tbs. canola oil
1-1/2 c. whole oats
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 Tbs. sugar (optional)
1 tsp. baking soda
Cinnamon to taste
This batter is best made the night before so that the oats have time to absorb the milk. It can be stored for two or three days in the refrigerator. Add fruit (blueberries, raspberries, chopped apples – ) after dropping the batter by the spoonful into a hot, cast iron skillet.
Whole Wheat Pancakes
2 c. skim milk
2 Tbs. canola oil
2 Tbs. honey, molasses or sugar
1 c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
This batter doesn’t have to be made the night before; in fact, I often mix it while I’m preheating the frying pan. Leftover batter can be stored in the refrigerator for two or three days. As above, add fruit – blueberries, chopped apples, raspberries, chopped strawberries, depending on the season – after dropping the batter into the pan.
Soup or sandwich, or both, are favorites for lunch. Pita bread or a tortilla with anything from the garden in it is quick and easy, and we like the eggless canola “mayonnaise” that’s available now for a spread. Three soups that at least three of us like are described below. Although my son isn’t fond of them, if he has some bread that he likes, he’ll dip it in the soup and get some nourishment that way. I especially like these soups because, if you have a garden or even if you need to buy organic ingredients, they show how inexpensively you can eat, even using organic foods.
Lentil Soup (adapted by my sister-in-law from Diet for a Small Planet, she thinks)
1/4 c. oil, olive or motor
2 large onions, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Add and sauté for 1 minute:
1/4 tsp. thyme and marjoram
4 c. stock or seasoned water
1 c. lentils
salt to taste
1/4 c. chopped parsley
Cook, covered, for 45 minutes.
1/4 c. sherry (place in glass or drink from bottle); add another to soup
1 large can crushed tomatoes
Ashwood Soup – (This is the soup that was often made for morning break at the Ashwood Waldorf School in Lincolnville. We would start it first thing in the morning, with the children helping by chopping the vegetables, then simmer it until 10:30, when it would be ready for them and they would be ready for it.)
1 chopped onion
a handful of barley
Water or stock as desired
Chopped cabbage, carrots and/or parsnips
Seasoned salt to taste
Simmer for about an hour. Add a large can of chopped tomatoes for added flavor, especially if company’s coming.
Potato Leek Soup – You can find recipes for this in many cookbooks, including The Joy of Cooking and Nearing’s Simple Food for the Good Life. It’s one of our favorite early winter lunches or suppers, when potatoes come up from the root cellar and leeks come in from the garden.
What’s for Supper?
We eat very little meat, and when we do it’s usually a chicken – free range. Several years ago, when we did much of our shopping at the grocery store, we got a few chickens in a row that had large, greenish, tumor-like globs in them. We returned them and since then eat only chicken that we get from the farmers’ market or from the local co-op. (We used to get them from the local coop, but found that it suited our lifestyle better to buy them.) I like to heat olive oil, several cloves of garlic and some lemon juice together and pour that over the chicken pieces (skin removed) while it’s baking; or put barbecue sauce on while it’s baking (farmers’ markets have some good, locally made barbecue sauces); or make chicken paprikash, a recipe passed down by my husband’s Hungarian father:
Chicken Paprikash – Sauté chopped onions in a little olive oil in a large pot. Add a whole chicken, skin removed, cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat for about an hour, or until the chicken falls from the bones. Remove the chicken and add fat-free sour cream, salt and paprika, to taste, to the juices in the bottom of the pan to make a gravy. Serve with mashed potatoes and broccoli, spinach, green beans, or other greens.
Most of our suppers are vegetarian and quick. They include:
Anything in a tortilla. Heat the ingredients (refried beans, leftover chicken, salsa, etc.) and heat the tortilla, then wrap the ingredients in a tortilla. Although we have cut our cheese consumption considerably over the last few years, we often sprinkle a little grated cheese into our tortillas before wrapping them. If you don’t mind the microwave, you can wrap the cold ingredients in a cold tortilla and heat the whole thing in the microwave.
Potato pancakes with applesauce; greens on the side. Make these from scratch or from the “Perfect Latke” mix that’s available in some stores now. The latter makes this a very quick and easy meal. I’d love to find a mix made with locally grown, organic potatoes, though.
Spaghetti and salad. Add spinach noodles to the white noodles to improve the nutrient status of the spaghetti, as Nancy Ross suggested in a recent MOF&G column.
Pizza has gotten a bad rap, but that’s because of the gobs of cheese that go on it. Twice, when I’ve gone to a pizzeria, I’ve asked for half the usual amount of cheese, while the person with me asked for double cheese. When the pizzas arrived, they were indistinguishable. Some chefs just don’t get it. Make pizza at home, put lots of chopped vegetables and some organic tomato sauce on it, minimize the cheese, add some whole wheat flour to the crust, and you’ve got a meal that the whole family likes.
Baked beans, baked potatoes and greens. Simple, filling and tasty.
Carrot (or other veggie) burgers. Mix grated carrots with bread crumbs, an egg or two, seasoned salt and chopped onions. Make the batter into patties and fry them in canola oil. Serve with potatoes and a green vegetable.
Reference: Nearing, Helen, Simple Food for the Good Life, 1980, Stillpoint, $10 (paper) or $15 (cloth) plus 6% sales tax in Maine plus $2 postage & handling, from The Good Life Center, Box 11, Harborside ME 04642; Make checks payable to The Trust for Public Land.