Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Recommended Book: Food Matters

When I was in Portland during the holidays I spent hours at Powell's Books.  I challenge anyone to find a cooler bookstore.  Apart from the hundreds of thousands of new and used selections, it has a funky vibe with shoppers from every spectrum of the social and economic ladder.  I was just about to say if you can't find it at Powell's you won't find it anywhere, and while usually true, I was disappointed for the first time because they were out of a cookbook called The Family Chef.  But I forgive easily.

Aside from a book on quilting, new French dictionary, and some novels, I picked up the most interesting find:  Food Matters by Mark Bittman.

In addition to over 70 healthy recipes, Bittman tells how to get healthier by eating less meat and dairy and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and really just more whole foods in general.  What's more, he describes why we must do this in order to protect our health, the environment, and the global climate.  I'm not finished reading yet, but a few worthwhile tidbits:

"Cheap Soy and Corn Yield Cheap Meat...America no longer grows enough edible fruits and vegetables for everyone to eat our own government's recommended five servings a day.  Were we all to do so, we'd be dependent on imported vegetables!"

"1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry.  1 billion are overweight."

"Livestock produce more greenhouse gas than the emissions caused by transportation or anything else except energy production."

"Per calorie cooked spinach has more than twice as much protein as a cheeseburger; lentils have a third more protein than meat loaf with gravy."

Excerpts from Food Matters : A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman

While Bittman is not a vegetarian nor an advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle, he is a strong proponent of eating less meat and dairy and more plants.  While he admits to allowing himself a cheeseburger, fries, and coke every couple of months, he eschews junk food and highly refined carbohydrates.  He tends to eat a wide variety of plant foods (fruits and veggies), whole grains, legumes, and nuts all day long and then at night, he allows himself to eat a normal dinner that may or may not include a small portion of meat or fish.  Typically it's something relatively healthy but might include pasta or crusty white bread and wine.  This system works for him and not only has he lost weight, he feels terrific and says while it's a big change to eat this way, it doesn't deprive him in any way. 

I highly recommend this book.  You will find plenty of life-altering information, and the recipes alone are worth it.

Thus far I've sampled three recipes and have been thrilled with each.  One is for cookies--that I took the liberty of tweaking a bit--and the others are a Thai Beef Salad and Curry Lentil Soup.  I love the cookie recipe because it can be varied in different ways depending on the ingredients you have on hand.  For example, if you don't have any eggs in the house, you can simply substitute applesauce.  When I made a batch yesterday I only had one egg in the fridge and a few apples.  I used the egg and then made a quick batch of homemade applesauce, and voila, the two together worked beautifully.  Also, there are lots of different fun add ins you can play with such as various dried fruits, shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), nuts, chocolate covered nuts, chocolate chips, and so on.  I've made the cookies twice and liked the second batch more than the first in part because I chose to use half butter and half oil for a more delicate texture.  I stuck to oil in the first batch and found the cookies slightly too heavy for my liking.

Fruit and Nut Cookies
Adapted from Nutty Oatmeal Cookies in Food Matters by Mark Bittman

1/4c   oil
1/4c   butter
1/2c   maple syrup
1/4c   packed brown sugar
1/4c   applesauce
1        egg
1.5c   flour (unbleached white, whole wheat, or a combo)
1.5c   oats (not instant)
1/2c   unsweetened, shredded coconut
1c.     chopped dried fruit (I like unsulphured apricots but raisins work well, too--or again, a combo)
1/2c   chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1/2c   dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate pieces (optional)
2t       baking powder
1/4t    salt
1/4c   milk (cow, soy, rice, or nut milk)
1/2t    vanilla
1/2t    maple syrup extract

1.  Heat the oven to 375F.  Cream the fats with the sugars until well combined (with a mixer or by hand).  Add the egg and applesauce and egg and mix until blended.

2.  Combine the flour, oats, fruit, nuts, chocolate (if using), baking powder and salt.  I noticed with the dried apricots it helped if I ran my hands through the flour to evenly distribute and coat the fruit.

3.  Alternating with the milk, add the dry ingredients to the wet, a little at a time, and stir to blend.  Stir in the extracts.

4.  Put scant tablespoon-size mounds of dough about an inch or so apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes.

Yield:  approx. 3 dozen


  1. The book sounds like just my kind of book:-)Did you ever read Dr. Mercola´s "Take control of your health"? Also a very good read, but not full of recipes though.

    The cookies look really nice too - and healthy. Yummy!!! Where do you get maple syrup extract though?

  2. Hi Kira, I haven't read the Dr. Mercola book but need to check it out. I brought the extract with me from the U.S. but only a small bottle and it's almost out. After that, I'll simply use vanilla extract.

  3. This book was in the local paper a few months back. It's so great to see the push for a more local, healthy, plant-based, diet continues to be strong.

    We just watched "Food, Inc" over the weekend. Everyone should see it - though you may never want to eat again! It motiviated us to intentionally eat two vegetarian dinners per week (though we pretty much already do that), and also shift to buying only grass-fed beef. Changing our pork and chicken sources may come later, but a baby step is still a step, right?

  4. Hey, we made your rice & beans recipe last night and both Scott and I loved it. I was amazed at how much flavor with so few ingredients! Ironically, the food section of the paper this week had a recipe to duplicate Cafe Yumm!'s signature sauce for their rice/bean dishes. Yours was just as good without 20 strange ingredients and an hour of prep.

  5. Hey Alissa, I got my hands on a copy of Food, Inc but haven't watched it yet. So glad you liked the rice and beans recipe and found it easy, too. If a recipe calls for strange ingredients I give up because most of the time, finding it here is out of the question.