The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

August 20, 2014 | Oldways Table

Regulatory concerns over the safety of raw milk cheese are like the mythological hydra of contemporary food safety research—as soon as one dispute is settled, it seems two more spring up.  However, thanks to an exciting Kickstarter campaign, progress is being made. The goal of the campaign is to translate a set of groundbreaking scientific research studies related to the microbiology of raw-milk cheese from French into English. [We are thrilled to say that our Cheese of Choice Coalition contribution to the campaign tipped the scales and means this important project will be funded!]

Raw milk cheese is largely misunderstood by regulatory bodies and policy makers who assume that the presence of bacteria in food is by definition a bad thing. But that just isn’t so. In fact, recent scientific research has confirmed what traditional cheesemakers already know, that it is the presence of “good” bacteria in cheese that actually render it a safe (not to mention delicious and healthy) thing to eat.

The coordinator of the project, Bronwen Percival at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, gives us a glimpse into what’s inside.

“Within its pages, the authors show how protecting the natural diversity of carefully produced raw milk is not only crucial for maintaining the identity and flavour of cheese, but also promotes a barrier effect that can help to protect against the growth of pathogens. Rather than subverting modern food safety targets, this approach may actually help cheese producers to achieve them.”

The Cheese of Choice Coalition agrees with Bronwen and the scientists who conducted the study that this information “has the potential to transform the production and quality of artisan cheese in the English-speaking world.”

One of the CCC’s primary objectives is to encourage scientific and regulatory dialogue between the United States and the international cheese community. Alas, what we’ve been doing for ten’s of years, many European countries have been doing for hundreds. Our goals to see cheese produced in a safe, delicious, and traditional manner are shared and collaboration in terms of science-based prevention makes us only that much stronger together.  This project is an important step in the right direction.

There is no other book of its kind in English and we are counting the days until we receive our copy. If you would like to contribute to the project or simply learn more, take a look at the Kickstarter page here. Pledges will be accepted until the end of August and contributors will receive a complimentary copy of the book (the first and only printing).

If you’re interested in learning more about the raw milk cheese debate, including the history of its production and regulation as well as links to peer- reviewed scientific studies such as the translation above, the Cheese of Choice Coalition will be publishing a Hot Topic article on the topic next month. Sign-up for our eNewsletter to be notified automatically or simply keep a regular eye on the CCC website for updates.  

-Brad
 

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August 18, 2014 | Oldways Table

On August 2nd, with cameras rolling, over a dozen Texans crowded around an enormous kitchen counter. The smell of fresh dill, crushed coriander, and sizzling plantains filled the air. Servings of sautéed tangy greens, black-eyed peas splashed with cider vinegar, and roasted sweet potatoes were handed out as tasting samples, lending vivid flavor to all that the group had just learned.

The participants ate happily, chatting and asking questions, after taking part in a one-day A Taste of African Heritage class that was taped for an upcoming informational video due out at the end of this summer. Between the eating, smelling, learning, and bonding—there was so much more happening than just an Oldways cooking class or video shoot.

Fruits and vegetables were the stars of the show, along with our roomful of students – both former and new – and two VIP A Taste of African Heritage teachers, Tambra Raye Stevenson and Danessa Bolling, who flew to Austin, TX for this special occasion to help us capture the magic of the program on film.
Tambra, one of sixteen African Heritage Diet Advisory Members and founder of NativSol Kitchen, flew in from Washington, D.C. to lead the filmed class, as well as a grocery store tour and outdoor picnic. Danessa, a four-time instructor from Houston, joined us for the day to share her insights as a repeat teacher in her city. 

The weekend was simply packed with food: talking about food, shopping for food, cooking food, teaching about the nutrition and wellbeing in food, tasting food and meeting foods previously unknown. Tambra landed in Austin first, and we headed straight out to visit local African, tropical and Halal markets, talking with the owners and exploring the shelves of global spices, grains, and goods.

The first market we visited was owned by a man from Nigeria who is running for city council in his Austin area. He kindly showed us around his small store and played the most amazing West African dance music for us (loudly, so you couldn’t help but dance in the aisles!). The most intriguing product I found was canned eggplants peeled and soaked in brine water—perfect for blending with sautéed onions, garlic and palm oil, I was told. After we purchased a small bundle of visual groceries for the class – a shaggy, club-shaped African yam, boxed fufu flour, soaked eggplants, various kinds of millet, palm oil and peanuts – he told us to help ourselves to a couple of complimentary drinks and kola nuts. We gladly chose ginger beer, made from ginger root, to take with us on our journey. Yum!

Next, the local Halal market felt like a trip around the world. We were met with boxes of dates from Northern Africa, huge packages of dried herbs and spices (most costing under $2.50!), and wonderful produce, including fresh okra.

Filming began on Saturday morning at 9am sharp, with teacher interiews at the videographer’s studio. There, Tambra, Danessa (in photo at right) and I were invited to speak about the importance of the “old ways” as a powerful guide for healthy, delicious, optimal eating and an inspiration for shifting our modern-day relationship to food. We each described A Taste of African Heritage in our own words, sharing the exciting details of the program, the “Aha!” moments we’ve each seen in students firsthand, and we walked future viewers through the African Heritage Diet and its positive, powerful implications for culture and public health.

Danessa spoke about the different structures of her four Houston-based classes: one delivered at the mental health clinic that she currently works for; another with families at a community garden; a third conducted in a “Sunday-dinner” style; and, her current class at Houston’s Health & Human Services Department’s Diabetes Awareness & Nutrition Center. She explained how this program has helped herself, her family and her community. Her teenage daughter has given up fast food, and since the class began, she is now Danessa’s honorary smoothie station leader. Danessa also talked about how quickly and adeptly little ones have taken to the information, with kids as young as 4 years old able to identify foods like “dino kale” for adults in their community garden class. The stories and overarching impressions were all extremely moving.

With our bags packed, we headed to The Sustainable Food Center’s teaching kitchen to meet our students for the day. The room filled up almost immediately with former students from our 2012 Austin pilot, as well as friends and members of local partners Food For Black Thought and Rootwork came out to join us too. Major thanks to these organizations for their support and help in inviting local students!

Tambra led the class through a condensed version of the whole six-week program, sharing about the cultural history, the traditional eating pattern, the inherent nutrition, and a wide variety of African Heritage herbs & spices, leafy greens, beans and peas, vegetables, tropical fruits, whole grains, tubers and other starches. She prepared the program’s black-eyed pea salad and tangy greens sauté, plus baked sweet potatoes and sautéed plantains. After the instruction, students were invited around the stove to enjoy the tastes, smells, and visuals of all the foods. Several of the students joined us for interviews, offering their impression of the African Heritage Diet and former students shared their experience and how the class re-shaped their diet.

After clean up, we jumped back in our cars and headed to Springdale Farms for a gorgeous sunset picnic with some of our students. We brought a potluck of dishes, including unsweetened iced tea, barley salad, watermelon, and Oldways’ Seared Okra and Brussels sprouts dishes. We ate and talked about the foods, discussing when and how the “old ways” got lost and learning about one students’ genealogy project and what she’d learned about her ancestry so far. We were all left deeply inspired and full!

The finale shoot on Sunday morning took place at Wheatsville Co-Op. Two local teens met us for an African heritage grocery store tour, to learn about the foods of the pyramid, and shopping, eating and cooking tips. Tambra (shown at right) walked them through the produce section – sharing tutorials on fresh peppers, jicama, leafy greens, cabbages, and more – and the store’s bulk section, studying the many varieties of whole grains and beans.

And … that was a wrap!

We ended the weekend with smoothies from the co-op—the ginger mango smoothie was the group favorite and resonated perfectly with the African Heritage Diet.

The next steps happen in the editing room, taking all these amazing moments and putting them together for a six-minute glimpse at the A Taste of African Heritage program. We can’t wait for the opportunity to unveil the video in the coming weeks!

A HUGE THANK YOU to Tambra, Danessa, all of our participants, Food For Black Thought, Rootwork, Sustainable Food Center, and the filming team at Dennis Burkett Photography and to Potential Being for facilitating such an amazing weekend shoot!

-Sarah

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August 13, 2014 | Oldways Table

When it comes to eating fruits and vegetables, we’re reminded to eat at least “5 a day.” But for many of us, eating five or more servings each day can seem a bit daunting.

Considering that we, on average, eat 3 meals a day, with 2-3 snacking occasions thrown into the mix, it turns out that there are plenty of opportunities to get our share of fruits and veggies. The following are suggestions that may help you enjoy your 5-a-day!

1. Buy in-season produce whenever possible – at your local grocer or farmer’s market. In the summer months, it’s so delicious and refreshing to eat a variety of berries, stone fruits and melons, and hydrating veggies such as cucumbers, tomatoes and celery.

In cooler months, explore a variety of root vegetables, such as parsnips, sweet potatoes and onions. (To prolong their life, store them in a cool, dry place). And of course, fall brings a multitude of apple varieties to enjoy raw, baked or cooked.

2. Experiment with cooking methods. Fruits and vegetables take well to stir-frying, grilling, sautéing and roasting, and each technique brings out the flavors and textures in foods in delectably-different ways.

3. Round out your servings with frozen or canned varieties of your favorite fruits and vegetables. These options are economical and convenient, but be sure that you select packages that are low in sodium and sugar. Keep fruit on hand for baking, and vegetables for soups and stews, or add them to egg dishes (for breakfast, lunch or dinner). Frozen or canned vegetables can be cooked in minutes in the microwave, making a quick and easy side dish.

4. Don’t forget the herbs. Dried thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes, for example, can add depth of flavor and texture to any savory dish. Fresh herbs like cilantro, basil or mint are perfect complements to both fruit and vegetable dishes.

Fruits in summer and fall:
5. Take it up a notch and try mixing fruit and veggies together. Salads - a summer and early fall favorite - are perfect to experiment with; for example, add sliced stone fruit, or apples to a bed of mixed greens or baby spinach. Dress lightly with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar; season with black pepper, and top with cubes of your favorite goat cheese or feta.

6. Grill peaches, plums or other stone fruit. Select firm fruit, cut in half, remove pit, and baste each half with vegetable oil. Place on grill, and remove when grill marks appear and fruit becomes soft but not falling apart, approximately 4-5 minutes. Slice fruit into bite-size pieces and add to your favorite salad, or serve as a refreshing side to your favorite grilled meat or fish dish.

7. Enjoy fruit as dessert. Serve a mixture of berries, or grilled stone fruits (mentioned above), with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt. For a boost of flavor, stir vanilla or honey into the yogurt and serve with berries. Top with a few mint leaves for fragrance and embellishment.

Veggies in fall and winter:
8. Enjoy a medley of roasted vegetables. Carrots, parsnips, onions, and Brussels sprouts, are perfect for this type of cooking. Chop the veggies into similar-sized chunks (so they’ll cook evenly) and toss with enough olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and dried herbs, such as thyme or oregano so each piece is coated with the mixture. Spread out on a rimmed cookie sheet or roasting pan, trying not to overcrowd or overlap the vegetables. In a preheated, 425° oven, roast the vegetables for 15-30 minutes, being sure to check frequently to ensure your veggies are cooking evenly.  Vegetables are done when they’re tender, golden and carmelized.

9. Chop up a variety of veggies, such as peppers, onions, carrots, and mushrooms.
Heat up a sauté pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté veggies one at a time, starting with the onion and then adding longer-cooking  veggies like carrots, followed by the others. Season with dried herbs and cracked pepper at each addition. When veggies are soft, carmelized and oozing with flavor, add them to whole grain rice or pasta. If needed, add a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a fresh chopped herb such as parsley, and if desired, a grated hard cheese like Parmesan or Percorino Romano.

These sautéed vegetables can also be enjoyed as a side dish with your favorite fish or lean meat. Or add them to broth (let simmer in the broth for 20-30 minutes) for a quick and hearty vegetable soup. (Fresh, frozen or canned vegetables can be added to the broth, too).

11. Think mashed or pureed. Many root veggies take well to being mashed and pureed, especially parsnips, cauliflower, or sweet potatoes, as well as the perennial favorite, potatoes. Pureed veggies are delicious on their own, or they can be used to thicken soups, stews, and casseroles.

Snacks:
12. Keep ready-to-eat snacks on hand. Make a fruit salad and keep in a container in the fridge. Be sure to keep Greek yogurt on hand, too, for a creamy partner to the fruit salad.

13. Cut up vegetables such as carrots, celery, and peppers and place in small containers or bags; enjoy them at lunch or as a snack at your desk (or while you’re snacking in front of the TV).

14. Keep a bowl filled with apples, oranges, bananas, grapes in the fall/winter, and stone fruits in the warmer months, for a quick grab-&-go snack at home or on the run.

15. Roast kale, spinach or beet greens for a better-tasting-than-you-can-imagine snack. Check out this resource from our July Snacking kit and see how easy it is to make your own veggie chips.

There are a myriad of ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables any time of the day, any time of the year! For more ideas and information be sure to check out our Oldways Nutrition Exchange August 15 toolkit which is filled with tips on selecting and storing produce, recipes for enjoying the bounty in your basket once you get it home from the market, as all well as research related to eating more plant-based foods.

-Deborah

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August 11, 2014 | Oldways Table

Deciding what to do with the bounty of the season can sometimes feel overwhelming.  There are so many fresh vegetables popping up in the garden and the farmer’s markets that are best this time of year and with the fleeting season it is often difficult to decide what to make.

I love to ease my “growing” nerves by browsing my favorite websites and blogs to see what others come up with, gathering inspiration and new recipes to add to my own weekly repertoire.  Recently I came across a recipe for a squash slaw from Bon Appétit that I love and had to share!  The recipe is light, luscious and super easy, making it a great choice for a busy weeknight evening.  (And after a visit to the kitchen store where I purchased my new favorite kitchen tool to julienne all sorts of vegetables I was ready rock and roll!)

You can whip this dish up in no time and your family will surely thank you!  

Ingredients:

½ cup slivered or sliced almonds

3 tablespoons olive oil

1½ pounds yellow summer squash, julienned with a peeler or mandoline or with a knife

4-6 scallions, thinly sliced

¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh mint

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ cup crumbled feta

Directions:
Toss the almonds in a large skillet skillet with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and toast over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate; let cool.
    
Combine the squash, scallions, mint, oregano, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the feta and toasted almonds, toss gently to combine, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

-Rachel

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