Archive for March, 2010

Many years ago, my friend Karyn was in my kitchen.  This was shortly after Passover.  She looked up at my cabinet, where lurked what I thought was an innocuous-looking little brownish-grey, narrow-winged moth, and said, “That’s a kitchen moth.  They’re going to infest all your grains.

This sounded implausible, and I made a joke about how it sounded like a plague of punishment for not following the rules of Passover fully, since I’m not really religious.  Strict observation of Passover involves getting rid of or sequestering/selling all your grains, as well as not eating grains. Kitchen moths also sounded a bit like the locusts and lice and frogs and cattle disease we refer to when we recite the Ten Plagues at Passover.

Then, a few weeks later, I picked up a bag of quinoa in the cabinet to discover it had tiny little holes in it, a dusty, tan substance at the bottom, some webbing, little moth eggs that looked disturbingly like quinoa, as well as some (ew) little larvae and dead moths.  Turns out the kitchen moths were in everything, and Karyn was right.

You may never have had kitchen moths, or you may have faced them over and over again.  They’re hard to get rid of and very common in the Pacific Northwest.  They can squeeze down the spiraled rings of tightly-closed glass jars that aren’t heat sealed, can bore into hard plastic containers (to say nothing of plastic packaging or bags), and could probably unlock and drive away your car if they were big enough.  They live not just in grains and flours, but in dried fruit, some spices, chocolate, pastas, and whatever else suits their fancy.

I don’t eat a lot of grains, but I do keep rices and beans pretty well stocked, as well as gluten free flours.  I try to be vigilant about kitchen moths, but I still see a few sometimes, and go through steps to get rid of them.

In honor of Passover, both for its traditions of cleaning house and getting rid of grains, and for its reference to plagues, I present you with:

How to Get Rid of Kitchen Moths

1. Search every food container in which they could possibly live, even if it’s made of glass.  Search flours, grains, dried fruit, spices, pastas, chocolate, nuts (the moths just attacked my almonds!) and all your pantry storage other than metal cans or heat-sealed jars, really.  If you see any trace of the moths (look for the dust that looks like sawdust near the bottom, larvae, webbing, and dead moths), throw the item out and take the garbage out immediately.  If you don’t see moth residue, set the item aside.

2. Freeze everything you’re not throwing out for 24-48 hours.  You can do this in batches if necessary while cleaning, but consider storing in the refrigerator the stuff that’s waiting for its turn in the freezer.

3. Clean everything.  Take shelves out of cabinets and wipe the edges; moths like to hide their eggs in hard-to-get-to places.  Clean your kitchen ceiling if you see any webbing or moth larvae.  Focus especially on any cabinet or drawer that has held food.

4. Kill or remove every single kitchen moth you see.

5. Repeat as necessary, especially when you start seeing moths again

NOTE: As a preventative measure, you can freeze any grains or flours when you bring them home from the store.  I don’t use a lot of grains, but I keep a pretty good supply of things like rice and lentils around, and I have my bag of gluten-free flours.  I store those all in the freezer in one big bag, because they’re expensive and it would be disheartening to have to throw them all away.

I will add that grains aren’t the best foods for us, particularly when not treated with soaking/sprouting/fermenting.  Maybe the moths are trying to tell us something.

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Do you know about JHarvest? It’s a local Jewish community CSA (community supported agriculture) project, one of many around the country sparked by Hazon.

Tomorrow at UW Hillel, 4745 17th Ave NE Seattle, WA, we’re having a potluck lunch to launch the start of the season. I’ll be judging dishes in the best use of local ingredients category, so make something delicious and head on over. Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 12:00pm until 1:30pm. Everyone’s welcome.

Information on the event is available here.

I’ve written before about the link between Judaism and sustainable food — that, in essence, the idea of keeping kosher is largely about eating in a meaningful and thoughtful way, and that there’s a lot of basis in Jewish culture for connecting with land and working to keep human impact on Earth more sustainable.  You don’t have to be religious, by typical definitions of that word, to appreciate a cultural basis for these things.

Here’s a little more information on Jharvest, from their website:

How it works:

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, where members commit to buying a share to Oxbow farm for the growing season and pick up a weekly box of fresh, organic produce at Hillel at The University of Washington.


Jharvest’s CSA Program puts Jewish purchasing power behind local, sustainable agriculture. Jharvest is also a platform for innovative educational and community-building programs that explore the intersection of food and Jewish tradition. Run by Jconnect Seattle and Hillel at the University of Washington, the educational programming sets Jharvest apart from other CSAs by creating a deeper relationship as Jews to the food we eat. For more information check out our website: http://www.jconnectseattle.org/jewsandfood

CSA season: June 3rd-October 14th (20 weeks)

Pick Up Location:

Hillel at the University of Washington
4745 17th Ave Ne Seattle, WA

Share price:

Breaks down to $20-$30 weekly depending on your share size

Family: $618
Standard: $418


Registration forms will be available in late March.

For more information contact: Jharvest@jconnectseattle.org

Get organic, locally-grown vegetables delivered in time for Shabbat – all Summer long!

Credit to Jharvest for the image.

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Clarification: I posted this yesterday, so by tomorrow I mean today, Tuesday March 16, 2010

Thanks to Beth for passing this on. I had no idea tomorrow was an election day, but it is indeed, for the board of supervisors of the King Conservation District. Because the election is handled privately, you won’t receive a ballot in the mail. In fact, there’s only one place you can vote in Seattle: the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library (voting locations here).

Beth sent the link on because one of the candidates is Mary Embleton, who has directed the great organization Cascade Harvest Coalition for over ten years, and is a committed advocate for local, sustainable food systems. You can read about her background here.

Turnout for this election is usually tiny. Seems like a good reason for a trip to the downtown library tomorrow. Vote for a local foods advocate, check out a book or two, get some (non-local, non-healthy, so delicious) gelato a few blocks away, maybe walk down to Pike Place market for a snack… Not a bad way to take a break.

There’s a Seattle Times article on the election here.

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I was just reading in this piece that Whole Foods has indefinitely ceased the sale of raw milk. I called their national headquarters to see if it was true, and it is; they’ve decided to cease all raw milk sales until there are “national standards” instead of state-by-state ones. I gave them my opinion on the matter, which is that I’m grateful to be living in a state where raw milk sales are legal and I have no interest in seeing that held back by a large company like Whole Foods, nor by waiting for change in the many other states where raw milk is not legal.

Whole Foods was the only carrier in Seattle proper of milk from Dungeness Valley Creamery, which I happen to really like. I’m a big fan of all the local raw milks (I count four available in Seattle), and because I like buying direct from the farmer or from smaller stores and co-ops anyway, it’s not the end of the world if I can’t get it from Whole Foods. Still, it was a nice treat sometimes and I disagree with their choice on principle because it limits some people’s access to raw milk and because waiting around for national standards is not going to benefit raw milk consumers. If you disagree too, you can call their headquarters at (512) 542-0878.

I also called and spoke with Debbie from Dungeness Valley Creamery. She confirmed that this had happened and that it has affected sales (the milk is still available outside Seattle and at a few drop points). She also confirmed what the initial article suggested, that the Department of Agriculture has been difficult for local raw milk producers. Earlier in the winter, a press release went out suggesting a link between DVC’s milk and E. coli bacteria, whereas E. coli was only found in an old cow patty in a pasture where some non-milking cows had been a few weeks before, and never in the milk. There’s a pretty good article on it here.

Considering what a loaded term E. coli is, and considering it was never found in their milk, and that it’s been found in vegetables that don’t become illegal to sell (spinach, tomatoes), the issuing of a press release feels like a targeted and intentional way to maintain a public fear of raw milk.

We’re lucky to live in a state where raw milk is readily available, even if, as a number of farmers have told me, it’s not easy to be a producer here. The Whole Foods situation is a reminder that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted, as is the current struggle in Wisconsin to legalize raw milk, where nearly 500 people showed up for a hearing recently on the subject.

To avoid getting complacent locally, continue supporting the local farms that sell raw milk. If you’d like to let the WA Department of Agriculture Food Safety program know how grateful you are to live in a state where raw milk is legal, or any other opinions on the subject, their number is 360.902.1876. It also never hurts to spend two minutes calling the helpful WA legislative hotline at 800.562.6000, where your opinion on anything relevant to the legislature can get recorded for your state representatives, senator and, if you’d like, the Governor. All you need to know is your address.

Thanks to upyourego for the flickr CC photo.

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Simple Celeriac Soup

Celeriac, or celery root, is in the category of winter root vegetables that some people look at with glee and others look at with bewilderment. The latter reaction is pretty understandable; they look kind of like the shrunken heads of ancient, forest-dwelling beings in need of a shave. Or something like that.

But there’s no need to fear this charmingly hideous hypocotyl.

Peel away the outside and you have a solid root of mild, celery flavor great for stews, soups, mashes and other comforting winter dishes.

This soup is extremely simple and comforting. It works well as a meal on its own or can be paired with roast chicken, lamb or salad.

Simple Celeriac Soup

  • 1 large celery root/celeriac
  • 2 fingerling potatoes or 1 medium Yukon Gold type
  • pinch of saffron
  • water
  • broth, about 2 cups
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cream or crème fraîche
  • immersion blender or regular blender

I’m intentionally being ambiguous with some of the proportions above because it depends on how thick/creamy/salty etc you like your soup.

1. Peel celery root/celeriac.  Chop it and the potatoes.   Place in medium, thick pot and add water until it’s covered by about half an inch or an inch.  Boil until fairly soft.

2. Add broth, soft and saffron and cook a few minutes more until the vegetables are quite soft.

3. Use an immersion blender to blend until creamy.

4. Add cream or crème fraîche in the quantity you desire (I used about half a cup).  Salt and pepper to taste, and serve.  Flavor is also great the next day.

Thanks to cosygreeneyes for the flickr CC photo of celeriac.

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Just got word of a mini conference on sustainable food and do-it-yourself food production on Vashon Island this weekend.  Make your own sauerkraut, grow your own mushrooms, cheese-making, canning and all sorts of fun sounding stuff.  I can’t make it; I’m pretty swamped with grad school, but if you go please let me know how it is!

Info is here: http://www.vashonfoodsummit.org/index.htm

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There’s an article in today’s New York Times about ways human cultures have influenced our own evolutionary biology. It’s an interesting piece. Much of the article focuses on diet.

There are some finer points on which the article does not touch, and some ideas in it with which I disagree.

This is something I’m only beginning to learn about; genetics and evolutionary biology are not my field. Even for those in these fields, it seems our understanding is fairly young when it comes to gene expression, gene-environment interaction, and the connections between diet, evolutionary biology, adaptation and environmental health.

There is a nuanced difference between ways we evolve because it’s advantageous, and ways we adapt our behaviors because we need to thrive in an environment or context faster than evolution can keep up. For example, the article talks about “the declining weight of the human skeleton that seems to have accompanied the switch to settled life, which started some 15,000 years ago.” It’s true; the archeological record shows that that agrarian life –– including the fairly rapid switch to a large-scale consumption of grains –– had two dramatic effects on the human skeleton: our stature shrunk, and our teeth got worse. Smaller bones were likely not a rapid evolutionary adaptation to farming, they were a consequence.

It seems we have adapted genetically more quickly to some components of dietary change than to others. Grains seem to be in the “others” group. Virtually every culture that traditionally consumes grains has historically treated them in ways that make them easier to digest, more likely to release their nutrients, and lower in compounds like lectins that interfere with our metabolic health. This happens through sourdough fermentation, soaking, sprouting, nixtamalization, rinsing, and probably other traditional techniques of whose effects we’re not yet aware. It’s faster to learn techniques like this than to evolve.

It also seems other aspects of diet — both inclusion of protective foods and avoidance of detrimental ones — moderate the effects of genetic susceptibility. Genetics is one of many factors at play when, say, a culture takes up and reacts poorly to modern ingrdients like white flour, vegetable oil, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, processed foods or factory-farmed meat (instead of grass-fed, although it’s still healthier than a meatless diet). Adding poor quality ingredients into a diet is, of course, often concurrent with losing healthier ones. Genetics is often highlighted when one ethnic group seems more susceptible to obesity or diabetes, but poor diet may simply be differently visible depending on genetic makeup. These foods aren’t good for anybody, both for the essential nutrients they lack and the detrimental components they contain, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to evolve to handle them anytime soon.

While the article doesn’t go into detail about the Masai (or Maasai) tribe of Africa, it does include a picture of Masai herding cows with the caption: “Maasai tribesman are among a culture with adult lactose tolerance.” The Masai traditionally subsist on three primary foods: meat, blood and milk. They’re extremely healthy. But one study (pdf full text) from 1979 found, surprisingly, unusually high rates of lactose intolerance among the Masai, although none of the symptoms I associate with lactose intolerance. Admittedly, this was a tiny study with many flaws: tiny sample size, no discussion of selection methods or confounders, to start. But it’s the only hit on PubMed under Masai or Maasai and lactose.

What if the Masai were lactose intolerant, by our biological definitions, but without any of the symptoms with which we associate lactose intolerance, like flatulence or digestive discomfort? What if the genetic variable that manifests as lactose intolerance when someone is living an unhealthy lifestyle, and eating unfermented and/or pasteurized dairy, manifests differently when they are eating a healthy diet?

Anecdotally, this makes sense to me. I had symptoms of lactose intolerance for years, and would probably still get pretty digestively upset if I drank a 16-ounce milkshake (although I’d get pretty unhappy if I drank 16 ounces of anything). But two things made my lactose intolerance all but disappear: I gave up gluten, and I eat primarily fermented and unpasteurized dairy, both of which are lower in lactose.

The gluten issue is key; some studies, like this one, suggest people with celiac disease who exhibit lactose intolerance symptoms lose those symptoms entirely on a gluten-free diet. I usually suggest to friends with lactose intolerance and unexplained digestive issues to try cutting out gluten for 2-4 weeks, and try raw and fermented milk products. It’s possible that some cultures which can’t seem to handle lactose could do so in other dietary contexts. A case of genetic and dietary confounding.

We’re certainly evolving as a species, and the way culture and diet and socio-environmental factors affect that will be a subject of exploration and interest for a long time. But we have to remember it works two ways: we evolve to respond to culture, we create culture that reflects both our evolutionary adaptations and limitations.

Sources of local raw dairy

The following Washington State farms sell grass-fed raw milk at various farmers’ markets, co-ops or “natural foods” stores:
Dungeness Valley Creamery
Sea Breeze Farms
St John’s Creamery (goat milk)
Jackie’s Jerseys

Thanks to striatic for the flickr CC photo.

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