Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wishy Washy about Washing Veggies? Don't Be!

I recently got a question regarding food safety. A friend of mine had heard about the cantaloupe listeria outbreak, and asked me about washing fruits and vegetables.

How important is it to wash raw fruits and veggies?

The Short Answer?

Very important.
Do it.

The Longer Answer?

Washing fruits and vegetables is just one step you can take to keep you and your family safe from food-borne illness. It is especially important for those who prepare food for little ones, older folks, pregnant gals, or friends/family with weakened immune systems.

I recommend that all your fruits and veggies be washed prior to eating. Even those with peels and skins like avocados, melons, and kiwis. While we don't eat the outsides, it is easy for icky stuff to travel to the parts we do eat. The icky stuff can simply hitch a free ride on your knife, your hands, or the cutting board. So be sure to wash prior to any food prep.

What does washing do? First, washing removes dirt, and no one likes gritty mashed potatoes. Second, the friction of washing reduces bacteria. Not all the bacteria on your produce is the scary kind we hear about in the news... sometimes it's just an average bug. Let's imagine for a minute, shall we? ...Clark Customer heads into his local grocery store, where a delightful array of produce greets him at the door. He picks up an apple, inspects it, then puts it back before picking a bigger,shinier one that attracts him more. Then he sneezes. Achooo! Thank goodness he has a tissue in his pocket! Now Clark heads over to select an eggplant. He thunks on three before making his final selection. Wait a minute... didn't you have eggplant last night for dinner? Gulp. Hope you washed it.

Washing also reduces the amount of pesticides, grime and guck that can end up on our food during picking, processing, shipping and stocking. This is why all produce should be washed-- conventional, organic, local, even your own stuff from your garden.

What's the best method? Delicate items like berries and lettuce just need a light wash and a quick dry right before eating. Invest in a salad spinner for leaves, herbs and lightweight produce. For heartier produce such as potatoes and carrots, give a good scrub with a clean wire or plastic brush. Additionally, a small sprinkle of baking soda can help clean produce better, but skip the high-priced fruit and vegetable wash. Baking soda's been proven more effective, and way cheaper.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top Chef?

Fall semester is in full swing! I am thrilled to be back on a campus with a full-fledged nutrition department, taking full-fledged nutrition classes again. Anatomy and Biochemistry have their positives, but it's nice to be working with food again ...and will I be working with food! Making food, serving food, experimenting with food, putting food into menus, and of course, eating food! Every campus I've been on runs their nutrition department a little bit differently. Some campuses focus on research. Other campuses have their own hospital, so the classes are more clinical. My current campus has its very own, very fancy, student-run fine dining restaurant, because both Dietetics and Hospitality Management are offered as majors. We share many classes. And when you put students who love food together with students who love high-end customer service, magic happens! This semester I will be learning about both the "front end" and the "back end" of a restaurant. The front end consists of serving in the dining room. The back end consists of cooking in the kitchen. This past week I was assigned to the kitchen, and randomly put on pastry duty. Those who know me well will find this amusing, as I am a much better chef than baker. To put it more bluntly, I am a TERRIBLE baker. The head chef did not seem to care as I mumbled my feeble excuses about how I'd be so much more helpful chopping onions or washing dishes. Nope. "You'll make pastry," was all he said before leaving me in the company of a convection oven, a 45 pound bin of flour, a mixer the size of a bathtub, and a recipe for cookies. For 100. By the time the pastry bag was fearfully gripped in my little hand, I had re-weighed the macadamia nuts twice, almost ruined the chocolate ganache, and dropped a sheet pan on my foot. Imagine any crazed cooking show on the Food Network, and that's pretty much the scene. I am sweating from the heat of the ovens. There is pastry dough in my hair. I am barking "Yes, chef!" each time he has told me--and rightly so-- that my cookies must be uniformly sized. (For the record, it was only 6 times.) Totally drained, I was thrilled to sit down and have lunch at the end of my shift. Oh, and in case you were wondering... the cookies were delicious! Chef sent me home with a box.

Friday, July 15, 2011

In A Pickle

This week it dawned on me that yet another few months have flown by since my last post! Foolish me assumed summer semester would be easier since I was taking less classes. Foolish me forgot that summer classes move at twice the pace. Let it suffice to say that biochemistry is one tough subject. I feel like I am learning enzymatic reactions at their catalyzation rates! (For those non-science folks-- that's fast! Some enzymes in our bodies like catalase "turnover", or work almost 10,000,000 per second.)

School has taken over most of my time, but this Wednesday I took the afternoon off to catch up on some non-school stuff. I picked up my summer reading at the library and researched where to find the best cupcakes for this weekend's big anniversary date. I also tried a new recipe I've had posted on the fridge since March-- Fennel Pickled Carrots. If I had known how simple and delicious it would be, I would have done this ages ago! The recipe is perfect for spring when carrots start to find their way to the farmers market. But since I missed that, my carrots came from the grocery store.

I like the idea of pickling at home for many reasons. First, you can't beat the price. I recently spotted a jar of pickled carrots at the store for $7.49. And no, it was not Costco where the jar was bathtub-sized. Second, pickling at home puts you in control of your salt and sugar content. But most of all, I love pickling at home because it brings back great childhood memories. Both my grandmother and mother used to pickle. Growing up, the big ceramic crock came out of the basement every spring, and we always had a jar of pickled kirby cucumbers or green tomatoes on hand.

My family also canned so that we could enjoy pickles well into the winter, but you don't need to know how to can to pickle. (I can't can. But I can can-can. One involves jarring and botulism, the other is just a fun french dance!) Store in the fridge for a few weeks, and your pickled veggies will be fine.

Enjoy the recipe below, and don't be afraid to experiment. Green bean, corn, and zucchini are all in season, and all pickle well.

Fennel Pickled Carrots

Fill a heat-proof glass jar with about one pound of thickly sliced carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal.

In a small sauce pan, bring 1 cup water, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp fennel seeds and a clove of diced garlic to a boil. Let cool slightly, then pour liquid over carrots. Be sure there is enough liquid to cover all the carrots. If not, top off with a bit more vinegar.

Seal the jar and store in the fridge. Carrots will be ready to eat in 24 hours.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

She Blinded Me with Science!

Hello blog followers!

Recently, it has been brought to my attention that I've fallen a bit behind on my postings. And I cannot deny it. This semester has proven to be a time-consuming one. Allow me to explain...

Every RD is required to take the same fundamental science courses any other health professional is expected to take. Just like doctors, nurses, physical therapists and pharmacists, RDs must take Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Human Physiology, and Anatomy.

Why so much science? Well, food is really just about digestion. Digestion is really just about metabolism. And metabolism is really just chemistry. So, it's important to grasp the science behind it all. Additionally, food preparation is mostly science too. That cake you nibbled on last night? It rose and baked in an oven due to a complex chain of chemical reactions. That tasty yogurt you had for breakfast? You can thank the microbes for creating it. Even the simple plants we eat, like lettuce and strawberries, only thrive if the right science is in place-- they need sunlight and water and nitrogen to become so tasty.

Now, reasonable people spread their science coursework out over a few years. But, as most of my loyal followers know, I've never been a reasonable person. And due to our roller coaster ride through life that recently deposited us in California, I don't have the luxury of time if I want to finish school before retirement age. So, I've been saturated with science for the next two semesters.

Viewing the world through my lab goggles has not been all bad, however. In fact, far from it! While it is time consuming (goodbye yoga, weekends and Glee), total immersion has helped me relate key concepts between classes, and perhaps become a better learner. It also reminded me just how much I liked science as a kid. It's reminded me just how cool science is, and how important it is in our everyday lives. Exploring the world in which we live can be a positive and enriching experience.

Perhaps science isn't your cup of tea. And that's okay. And perhaps you don't have the means or desire to enroll in an Anatomy and Physiology Lab. But if you are interested in learning a little more about how our world works, especially in a small dose, I recommend the following:

TV-- Nova ScienceNOW airs regularly on PBS. This show is hosted by the very suave and comical Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson. I am not ashamed to admit we have a Tivo season pass. (Yes, Dr. Tyson was the one who downgraded Pluto from a planet to a moon. Don't hold it against him.)

Radio-- I've long been a fan of NPR's Science Friday. And you don't just have to listen on Fridays. Download a podcast for free.

Books-- "Because the Cat Purrs: How We Relate to other Species and Why it Matters" by Janet Lembke is a few years old (published in 2008) but still a wonderful and anecdotal read. Learn about everything from honeybees to house cats, and how we're all connected. Our world isn't so different from the one James Cameron invented in "Avatar"...

Local experiences-- For readers in the Bay area, Chabot Space and Science Center has 2 working telescopes. The observatory is free and open to the public nearly every night. Not local? Check out what your hometown museums have to offer. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you'll learn.