Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The One That Goes On Forever

There are so many interesting things in this book, and I find it endlessly fascinating how much of it could have been written today, 35 years later.   
When you start thinking this way, your life can never be quite the same.  If we are concerned with wise use of resources, food, for example - this is a cookbook, after all - appears in a new light.  One of the best arguments for serving whole, fresh, unprocessed foods, like homemade, whole-grain bread, is that this practice conserves what is most precious in food - its nutritional value.  When you refine away nutrients you have to replace them somehow, and a whole industry spring sup to manufacture vitamin supplements, at high cost to you, high profit to them.  Processed foods are not just unhealthy; they are wasteful, even before you consider the cost in elaborate packaging and competitive advertising.  In 1974 we Americans spent 10 billion dollars on packaging, five times the amount that the World Food Council in Rome estimated it would take to stave off famine for nine months.
This was written at a time when about 15,000 people (most of them children) were dying of malnutrition each and every day.  Can you imagine what dollar amount might be attached to packaging and advertising today?  And, at the same time, the number of children dying of malnutrition has reached 41,000...per day.  But the fact is, this "call to arms" issued in Laurel's Kitchen (if you will) embodies so many of the very same health, social, and political issues I am thinking about today.  Pathetic, don't you think?  To think of the wasted opportunities; to have come so far, in so many ways, and yet continue to have so many of the same exact (but now even more exacerbated) problems.

Kelly gave a heads-up that some of the nutritional information has changed since 1975.  You only need count the number of times Laurel's Kitchen maligns The Incredible Edible Egg to know she speaks the truth!  :)  There's an entire section at the back of the book that gives a cross-referenced and color-coded matrix of how make complete proteins.

Oh, my aching head.

But then I read something about beans and corn, and that was enough for me.  Have I mentioned that we are not fancy?  If I waited until I was totally sure about what to do and how to do it, I can promise you that we'd be eating Hamburger Helper and Doritos until the end of time.

Cornbread is so easy to make.  And it just tastes good.  Sue me, but I care.  I make it quickly from scratch using this recipe, which is pretty much exactly like every cornbread recipe ever written:
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Mix together these dry ingredients, then add 1 egg, 1 cup of milk (I use non-fat), and 1/4 cup honey (oh, the honey!!) and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  I fold it all together with a wooden spoon, just until it's mixed, and then pop it in the oven in a greased dish at 350 degree F for 30 minutes.  I now use an 8"x8" glass casserole dish.  I finally found one (I've looked for over a year!) at a thrift store for $3. I think if you're willing to purchase it new, it should be no problem to pick one up anywhere, anytime, but I was willing to wait.
Here's a little tip:  I put all the dry ingredients into a bag (I make up about a half dozen at a time), and when I want to make cornbread I just grab a bag, dump it in a bowl, add the wet ingredients, and cook.  I write on the bag which ingredients need to be added (1 egg, 1 c milk, 1/4 c honey, 2 T oil) and the bake time and temp.  That way, I never have to refer to a recipe.  I can reuse the bags many times, also.  (PS, do you see the size of my honey in that picture above?  Seriously, I love me some honey.)

But see, here we have fresh, nutritional ingredients, and it's such a simple recipe, there's no need to buy a box of mix.  Speaking of which, I bought 25 pounds of dried pinto beans at Costco for around ten dollars.  Twenty five pounds!  I gave the woman who cleans my house about one-third of it, and I still have more beans than you can shake a stick at.  I love how deliberate you have to be when you work with dried beans.  You have to think of it hours ahead of time, even though it's no more work than opening a can.  It doesn't take any energy to soak them, but you can't come home and think, hey, I'll whip up some dried pinto beans in 15 minutes.
The last thing I did, for this particular meal, was I made some whole wheat tortillas.  Totally easy, google it, you won't be sorry.  The kids love to help make these...they roll them out, then pass them to me and I actually roll them out, then we pop them on an extremely hot griddle (do not underestimate the importance of a well-heated, dry surface) for a minute on each side.  Perfectly perfect.  (I can do this in 20 minutes, start to finish, with about half that time spent just waiting around....er, finishing the beans and grating cheese I mean.)

Tommy had ordered a quesadilla for school lunch, and he had thrown it away (thrown it away) because it had beans in it.  Holy cats.  So I made him these.
And he loved it.  I just mashed some of the beans with a bit of water, spread them onto the tortillas, and added cheese.  He's also eaten the beans (not mashed, just plain) with a sprinkle of cheese.  He did it to please me, but both boys have grown to like them quite a bit!
I just ate mine on a plate (no tortilla needed when you have cornbread, though I enjoy them immensely both ways!) and I added some plain Greek yogurt, too, because I like to live dangerously.  (And because I can never eat the sour cream before it goes bad, so this is a fine substitute.)
The four of us can destroy a pan of cornbread.

So, there you have it.  Everything made from ingredients that I bought in bulk, and made from scratch.  And it may look like work (which, compared to picking up a box of Jiffy cornbread, a package of whole wheat tortillas, and a can of beans, it certainly is) but it's such a good kind of work.  And it's only really work the first time I did it.  I'm all about setting up a system to minimize my aggravation in the kitchen, so I spend some energy that first time coming up with the exact right order to do everything.  We've had this meal, in it's entirety, twice...and I've had some combination of bean-leftover for lunch at least five times.  Yesterday, in fact!  So I feel good about the quality of the food, the taste of the food, and, just as importantly given how all this started, way up there at the top, I feel good that I used a minimum of packaging.


  1. Are you sure your name isn't Laurel? Bought in bulk, made from scratch, corn and beans together? I'm thinking, separated at birth? Oh wait, you're too young... I knew you would love that book!

  2. Just to change it up sometime, you might try the corn bread recipe in Laurel's Kitchen. It's made with buttermilk and is a favorite recipe of mine from the book. Ross used to cook dried pinto beans in the pressure cooker and we'd eat them for breakfast along with rice and hot sauce. Sometimes we'd take a picnic breakfast (hot beans and rice in a wide-mouth thermos) up to Garin Park on a Sunday morning. About the time people began arriving to save tables for lunch, we'd have finished the reading paper, eaten our breakfast, drunk our coffee and were ready to go. Good times.
    Also, did you know that there's a Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book?

  3. Mia, I could easily "down" a pan of cornbread by myself- I love cornbread! You know, when it comes to cornbread I eat like a... moose

  4. Oh Mia, one more thing to add regarding cornbread. The recipe needs to be doubled so the cornbread is nice and thick. MMMMMMM GOOD! Moose

  5. @Kelly ~ ha! She's my kind of hippie, for sure! Thanks for the recommendation, I love to learn new stuff.

    @Laurie ~ Dreamy. I love that story! I cook the beans with a bit of salt and hot sauce too, and they are just YUMMY, truly. I was just writing about picnicking at the ball park yesterday! I will definitely try her cornbread recipe; I had already seen that and marked it as a "try this one". I was actually reading in LK about the differences in corn meals, and this is one of the things that aggravates me so ~ I shouldn't have to think THIS HARD about such a basic, staple food. I got good info about the differences in how the corn is processed though, so armed with that I feel confident that I can find the most healthy option.

    @Moose ~ that's why I needed an 8"x8" pan! With a bigger pan, it comes out all thin...no! We love a slab o' cornbread!!!