Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nix the microwave popcorn

“The case of the deadly microwave popcorn” and the “Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act” sound to me like fodder for a Wallace and Gromit movie but they’re not. The U.S. House of Representatives actually passed the Act and there is ample information linking microwave popcorn to a variety of health issues.

It seems that there are a couple of things to worry about when it comes to microwave popcorn. The major concern is a chemical coating on the inside of the bag added to repel grease and keep the popcorn from sticking. The chemical is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and is also used in non-stick pans and Gore-Tex clothing.

This chemical builds up in the body over time and, in animal tests anyway, has been linked to reproductive and developmental issues and problems with the immune system and the liver. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers it a probable carcinogen and asked companies to voluntarily phase it out by 2015.

If that doesn't send you running in the opposite direction, consider this: the artificial butter flavouring often contains a chemical called diacetyl that when inhaled has been known to cause “popcorn lung”, a rare lung disease found in workers at microwave popcorn packaging plants. Some manufacturers have removed it from their products but now there is concern that the replacement chemical might cause respiratory issues too. Popcorn producers are not required to label Diacetyl and may list it simply as flavoring.

A couple of years ago I rediscovered the simple pleasure of stovetop popcorn. What had seemed daunting as a child is really as simple as sautéing onions. Sure you need to give the pot a few shakes as it cooks, but it isn’t as labour-intensive as it once seemed. Hot air poppers work great too.

Making popcorn from scratch means you can also avoid the excessive packaging used for the microwave version. Choose organic popping corn since corn is commonly genetically modified and heavily sprayed (Speerville Flour Mill offers organic popping corn).

Here is our favourite popcorn recipe:

3 tbsp canola or olive oil

½ cup popcorn kernels

2 tbsp butter

1or 2 tbsp maple syrup

Add the oil and then the popcorn to a large stainless pot with a lid. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, shaking a few times while you wait for the first pop. When the corn starts popping in earnest, shake the pot occasionally to keep things moving. When the popping has almost stopped remove from heat and when all is quiet tip the popped corn into a big bowl. Add the butter to the hot pot and swirl until it melts. Add the maple syrup to the melted butter and let it sit until it bubbles slightly. Swirl to combine the two and pour it over the hot popcorn.


Vitamin B boost:
Melt the butter as above and pour it over the popcorn, then sprinkle over 1-2 tbsp nutritional yeast. It adds a great nutty flavour. (Look for nutritional yeast in the natural food section of the grocery store or in health food stores.)

A bit of spice:
Or, add a small clove of garlic (sliced in half) to the butter as it melts. When melted add 1 tsp curry powder or chili powder, stir to combine and cook until fragrant (about a minute). Remove the garlic and pour over the popcorn. Squeeze a little lime juice overtop and season with salt and pepper before eating.

Melt butter as above and pour it over the popcorn, then sprinkle with 1/2 to 1 tsp of dried dill. Season with salt and pepper.

Get to know the "dirty dozen" of the cosmetic world

Ever wonder what's in your shampoo, toothpaste or face cream? David Suzuki lists the 12 worst toxic ingredients in cosmetics. Read more here:
CBC News - Consumer Life - David Suzuki targets 'dirty dozen' toxic ingredients

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It’s easy to grow your own garlic

One of the things that irk me to no end is that virtually all fresh garlic available at the grocery store is imported from China. I’m not opposed to importing foods like oranges and bananas, foods that can’t be grown in our climate. But garlic? Anyone with a patch of garden the size of a phone book can plant garlic. It thrives in our climate and is one of my pet examples of how we have become dependant on imported versions of produce that can so easily be grown locally.

Don’t feel that you have to buy imported garlic this time of year. Visit Acorn or Buy Local NB to search for local growers. Another option is Hope Seeds (based in NB but soon moving to NS). They usually offer seed stock for growing but this year are selling what they call “table” stock (for cooking). If you’re into garlic you’ll love this because they offer several varieties of garlic in a sampler.

If you’d like to try growing your own garlic, mid-October is the time to plant. Halifax Seed offers garlic seed stock from Ontario and Nova Scotia and provides a handy sheet with tips for growing and harvesting. The seed stock bulbs look like regular old garlic to me. You can also try planting grocery store garlic or garlic from a local producer (already naturalized to our climate). Choose the largest cloves for planting.

Growing garlic is as easy as planting tulips. To get started at home here are a few tips:

Choose a sunny, well-drained area. (I have friends who plant garlic in among their perennial flowers.) Plant the individual cloves two inches deep and about six inches apart, pointed end up. Cover with a layer of mulch or leaves once the ground freezes.

In early summer watch for coiled flower stalks (resemble silly straws) called scapes that must be snapped off. This directs energy into developing the bulb rather than a flower. The scapes make great pesto and can be added to any dish that calls for garlic. Weed your garlic patch well since garlic doesn’t like competition.

Sometime in early August you’ll notice the leaves turning brown from the bottom up. When the bottom three or four leaves are dead and the top five or six are still green you can lift the bulbs. If you're not sure, dig a bulb and check. According to one grower, a mature bulb is fully swelled, well sized and has some partially decomposed wrappers. Pull the bulbs out gently and tie in bunches to hang for a couple of weeks in a well ventilated area out of direct sun. After they’re well dried, trim the stalks and roots and brush off any loose soil (or you can braid them).

One of the keys to growing garlic that stores well through the winter is to stop watering it 2-3 weeks before harvest and to choose a dry day to pull the bulbs. Store it at room temperature.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Look for Speerville Flour Mill products (if you live in Atlantic Canada)

For those of you not familiar with Speerville FLour Mill, they're located right here in New Brunswick. They mill Maritime-grown wheat but also deserve much credit for their efforts in developing a home-grown (literally) market for local organic products. They source the best quality organic products from as close to home as possible. Take a look at their catalogue for more info.

If you're interested in their products let me know. I run a whole food buying group through Speerville Flour Mill, making it easy to shop from their catalog, get bulk rates and free shipping. We have access to a greater variety of Speerville products than is available in local stores and in larger sizes (saves on packaging and lugging from the grocery store and is  less expensive).