‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mexican Food at its Roots: Oaxaca

Foodie Mecca in Mexico is, without a doubt: Oaxaca (pronounced: Wa-ha-ca). Full of various moles (moh-lay, stew/sauce), banana leaf encased tamales (tam-a-lay, masa/ground corn steamed in leaves often stuffed), tasajo (ta-sa-ho, a dried then cooked meat), nopales (no-pah-lez, cactus), chapulines (fried, limed and spiced grasshoppers)... That is where it's at. One week there and I'm truly humbled by the people, in love with (most of) the culture, and very well fed.

There's much I could and would love to write about this trip, but for your sake, I'll keep the article to a readable length... On second thought, I'll just write two. The first will cover the broader aspects of Oaxaca and it's cuisine, the second will contain everything else!

Oaxaca, one of the poorest of the 32 Mexican states, remains very traditional in terms of food. How? The Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous people make up over 50% of Oaxaca's population, predominantly attributed to communities isolated by the rugged terrain.
Our native guide on a hike through the Sierra Norte region. Primary language: Zapotec

Very few of the pervasive American fast food 'restaurants' exist in Oaxaca city, in fact, we only saw one Burger King. Instead what you find are market food courts, family owned Oaxaqueño restaurants, little stands that show up at certain times of day that sell anything from tortas and tacos, to boiled and charred corn, to sweets, jellies and custard-type things.
Street vendors selling corn show up around 5pm
The markets are full of the usual fruits, vegetables, breads, baked goods and other goods like Oaxaqueño black pottery, weaves and wood carvings. There's also an impressive meat section (with no refrigeration) full of yellow-skinned chickens, chicken feet, various cow and pig bits, meat hanging out to dry (seriously) and more. Lastly is the enormous quantity and variety of dried chillies.
One of our many trips to the market
The culture in Oaxaca includes a traditional breakfast, lunch is typically a large meal later in the day (around 2 or 3pm) and dinner is a small, light affair.

Breakfasts often consist of black beans, corn tortillas, Oaxaca cheese (a stiff, white string cheese similar to mozzarella) covered in a salsa (sauce) often green or red. Lunch tends to be a heavy main dish like a mole, tamale, tlayuda (t-lie-oo-da, more on these in pt dos) with the usual accompaniments of beans, rice, tortillas and salsas.
Top: salsa verde covering Oaxaca cheese, w squash blossoms. Bottom: mole negro (black) w chicken, rice, corn tortillas
As discussed in previous articles, there's no 'right way' to break up your meals. During this trip, I found a big breakfast and big late lunch excellent at providing energy for all the walking/hiking we were doing. After lunch was only light physical activity, often meaning a small meal or snack was sufficient at night. A traditional evening snack of boiled then charbroiled corn cob on a stick went down a treat. The usual fixings included lime, chilli, a light mayo coat and sometimes the addition of shredded cheese.

Many don't realise just how many foods we owe to Mexico: avocados, beans, chocolate, corn, chilli, jicama (a crunchy, sweet, root vegetable), nopales (prickly pear cactus) pineapple, papaya, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and vanilla.

Mexican Indians including the Mayans, Aztecs and Zapotecs ate diets mainly of corn, beans, peppers, tomato, sweet potato, squash and herbs. Sometimes supplemented with wild turkey, rabbit, deer, and quail. Even today, carbohydrates like corn tortillas, rice and actual corn dominate the diet.

Chocolate, traditionally consumed as a cold beverage by the Aztects as cacahuatl (cacao water). The Maya had a version that was heated which they called chokol (meaning hot) and atl (meaning water). The Aztec word 'caca' was not a socially acceptable to the Spanish as caca means... well, poop, in Spanish. The drinks are aerated with a frothing stick called a molinillo (mo-lin-ee-o, pictured below). And although certain moles (stews) now contain chocolate, in the pre-Hispanic period chocolate was consumed only as a beverage, not used to flavour dishes.
Needless to see, we participated in sampling the chocolate of the region. Above you can see the man using a molinillo the whip air into the chocolate drink. The molinillo has moving wood rings and small gaps in the wood that allow for optimal frothing. The drink was sweet and chocolately with notes of vanilla and cinnamon.

In Oaxaca pt dos (II), strap in for food prep techniques, the food of the future (grasshoppers), mezcal and a few other foods like tlayudas and tasajo.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dinner: Modern Family Style

The modern family is hard to define; single mother, single father, divorced, separated, 2 kids, 5 kids, swingers... Maybe not. An interesting article crossed my path recently about the modern child often eating 'split' dinners or two dinners. Since family meals play an important role in health, let's discuss this trend.

The main reasons identified for children eating two dinners or 'split' dinners were due to sport games/practices, or having dinner at the mother's house and then again at the father's house (this is assuming divorce or separation.)
First things first: Sport games/practices. Most active people involved in organised sports, adults and children alike, are at the mercy of their team. Sometimes practice or games are at 6pm, 7pm, 8pm... Meaning we have to 'pre-meal' and 'post-meal'. For many parents, these meals may be given on the run, which is not ideal for several reasons:
  • Priority is on convenience rather than nutrition
  • Meals are likely eaten in a hurry rather than enjoyed in a peaceful, calm setting
  • Meals eaten on the fly usually mean that the child is eating on their own, missing critical parental 'modelling' behaviour
Things to help combat these issues:
  • Have healthy and nutritious snacks/small meals pre-prepared (depending on the child's age, have them help you prepare)
  • Carve out 15 minutes for your child to eat their meal/snack at the table before leaving, or get there early and have a 'picnic' of sorts
  • To avoid missing parental 'modelling' eat a small healthy meal/snack with your child
Some easy, healthy, nutritious ideas for before sports games:
  • Peanut butter with fruit (apple, banana or other)
  • Peanut butter sandwich with sliced fruit
  • Plain low fat yoghurt with sliced fruit added
  • Flavoured low fat yoghurt
  • Dried fruit and nuts (trail mix - easily made at home)
  • A small bowl of cereal with milk
  • Cheese and crackers (try melting the cheese for a 'nacho' effect)
  • Cottage cheese with dipping veggies (celery, carrot, bell pepper)
  • Hummus with dipping veggies
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Egg on toast
  • More on snacks here and here
These may be useful in combination if you have an older child who requires a larger 'pre-meal'.

Scenario number two: Half a dinner with mum and half with dad. In many ways this is easier because it is less likely rushed and both parents will likely eat with the child (parental modelling, good stuff.)

Some tips for success:
  • Communication is key
    • What is the other parent serving?
    • What has the child has already eaten?
    • Is it better for the child to have a full dinner with one parent this night and switch out the next time?
  • Plan ahead and keeps the kids clued in
  • Healthy meals are important
    •  Both parents should serve healthy choices (goes without saying)
    Here's to the modern family, whatever it is!

    Wednesday, December 24, 2014

    2015: Food Gets Ugly, Rotten and Delicious

    Everyone's all over predicting the new food bandwagons for 2015. Let's look at a few predicted trends...

    Apparently ugly root vegetables are in. Root vegetables, ugly or pretty, include taproots like carrot, radish and parsnip, tuberous including yam and sweet potato. Other popular roots include yucca, rutabaga, beet root, potato, ginger, garlic and onion. They're good sautéed, grilled, but in my opinion, they're best roasted. Oh and they're in season year round with their peek in fall/spring.

    Literal backflips ensue when I see any vegetable labelled 'trendy' - and more so because this is a collection of vegetables rather than just one 'superfood' like kale - which is apparently trending down next year! I'd be lying if I said I'd miss the "don't you eat kale?" question.

    Along with kale in the "don't let the door hit you on the way out" are beer and bacon. Bacon, being a cured meat is associated with many health risks (more on that here.) Beer does hold some interesting health benefits, more on that here. However, just like ugly sweaters, Ugg Boots and Justin Bieber, they're not going away any time soon.

    Supposedly hummus is set to knock the laurel wreath off Greek yoghurt. Hard to determine how I feel about this one from a nutritional stand point:
    • Unsweetened yoghurts = protein and calcium 
      • They are a great base for adding fresh fruit
    • Hummus = healthy fats, complex carbs (thus fiber) and has the same amount of calcium gram for gram as Greek yoghurt
      • Is usually paired with vegetables (yipee again!)
    This begs the questions, which is better?
    The best conclusion is: Both low fat Greek yoghurt and hummus are good choices. Homemade hummus is best, or a commercial version with very few ingredients. Portion size and moderation are what's important. Think of it like playing FarmVille, an hour won't see your real life spiral into chaos, but binge playing might. 

    Fermented foods are also hype-worthy because they contain probiotics, translation: Friendly bacteria have already partially digested the food, making it easier for the human to digest and process. Things to know:
    • Fermentation is an ancient art of food preservation using bacteria to convert food sugars into lactic acid or alcohol - thus preserving the food
    • Common fermented foods include yoghurt, kimchi, soy sauce, miso, kefir milk, kombucha tea, beer and wine
    • Fermented foods may improve immune function, irritable bowel, diarrhea and help with weight maintenance - more research is needed to confirm
    • Commercially produced fermented foods are often pasteurized and therefore no longer contain the beneficial bacteria (some add the bacteria back after - use your eyes and read the label)
    • Fermented foods are often high in added sugars and salt - buyer beware
    The last backflip-worthy trend is insect protein. Many people are grossed out by this... To them I say "grow some moth balls and get over it". Here's why:
    • Insects are an excellent source of high quality protein 
    • Insects boast brilliant ability to abate greenhouse gas emissions associated with traditional protein rearing (eg: our friends Bessie the Cow, Turkey Lurkey, Henny Penny and Goosey Loosey)
    • So much more on this tremendous trend here
    Everyone raise your partially digested cup of kombucha to a year of hummus covered crickets, caterpillars and carrots... you can leave your beer, bacon and kale at the door.