Recipe Week Five

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Everyone likes to point to cost as being the reason why people eat junk food instead of healthy food. Just this morning I was reading Newsweek magazine and in an article called “Crimes of the Heart: It’s Time Society Stopped Reinforcing the Bad Behavior that Leads to Heart Disease — and Pursued Policies to Prevent It,” Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health said, “$1 will buy 100 calories of carrots — or 1,250 calories of cookies and chips.”

(Now that I’ve written that down, I’m not entirely sure that his math is correct. If you’re actually spending a dollar, you can only get maybe 400 calories of chips, a “Big Grab” bag of maybe 2.5 ounces. The only thing you can get even close to 1,250 calories of if you’re only spending a dollar is some kind of grain like oats or rice. The voice of experience here.)

I have managed to come up with a relatively comprehensive analysis of the “unhealthy food is cheaper” argument and why I see things differently from most people, which I will present in a full post at some point eventually if I ever manage to get my life under control. Which it currently is not.

For now, I’ll just say that the reason that this idea bothers me is not primarily because I think it’s wrong but because I think it frames the problem in such a way that the obvious solution is not likely to actually solve the problem. If cost is the problem, then making healthy food cheaper is the solution. Voila. Problem solved.

However it seems to me that there are several factors that are far more important than cost pushing people toward eating unhealthy food, including taste preferences, accessibility, shelf-life, and convenience. All of which will be discussed in the full post.

And which brings me to this week’s recipe.

Fabulous Fruit Smoothie

Fabulous Fruit Smoothie

One of the ways to make eating cheaply easier is to have things that you like that are cheap and easy and that can be kept around more or less indefinitely, so you don’t have to run out and get something or spend a lot of energy thinking about what you’re going to make or finding the time to fix it. The key to doing almost anything successfully is to not have to think very much about it.

One of the things I nearly always have ingredients for and that I’m happy to have almost any time is a frozen fruit smoothie.

I actually got a recipe book a while back called Smoothies: 50 Recipes for High-Energy Refreshment and it’s a lovely little book with very appealing pictures, and it was worth getting for the basic technique, but I hardly ever make any of the specific recipes out of it.

The main thing I learned from the book is that frozen bananas are your key ingredient for a great smoothie. A lot of smoothie recipes call for ice, but I think ice makes for a watery drink, and I don’t really like smoothies made with ice. If you use a frozen banana, your smoothie doesn’t ever get watered down and it has a great, creamy texture.

And a very important thing to know about frozen bananas that you’re going to use in a smoothie is that you need to remove the peel before you freeze them. Otherwise your fingers will just about fall off if you try to unpeel a frozen banana, you cannot believe how cold those things get.

The 50 recipes in the book notwithstanding, I’m going to give you one universal recipe and leave the variations up to you.

Universal Smoothie Recipe
1 frozen banana
4 oz. juice OR 1 oz. liquid juice concentrate plus 3 oz. water OR 1 to 2 Tbsp frozen juice concentrate plus 3 to 6 oz. water
1/2 to 1 cup frozen fruit
1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt (optional)

If skipping the yogurt, you can increase the amount of juice to 6 to 8 ounces.

Put the juice and yogurt (if using) in the blender, followed by the banana (sliced, then cut the slices in half or quarters) and other fruit. Process until smooth.

To clean the blender, put a small amount of water along with a quick squirt of dishwashing liquid into the blender, then run for a few seconds. If you do this right away, it gets all the fruit stuff off the sides and makes cleaning much easier. You basically just have to rinse it out.

You can play around with various combinations — different fruits (strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, peaches, cantaloupe) with different juices (apple, orange, grape, cranberry). In the one in the picture, I threw in a handful of cranberries along with peaches and apple juice, which had started life as sparkling apple juice, and was left over from the Scrap holiday party. This was a good way to use it up as it didn’t taste all that great by the time I remembered I’d brought it home.

You can add lemon or lime juice or ginger if you want to play up the flavors, to make it more tart or spicy.

An inadvertent discovery on the last project was that I feel a lot better with less dairy so I’ve really cut down on the amount of dairy I’ve been eating and have been making smoothies without the yogurt. I think they’re just as good. You could also use milk or soy milk instead of the yogurt, or add silken tofu to add body.

One of my favorite protein versions is banana with soy milk and peanut butter. With or without chocolate. This is especially good for breakfast if you’re going to be working hard and not sure when you’re going to be able to eat again.

I like bananas on the underripe side, so if I miss the window of opportunity on that, I just let it go for an other week or so until it’s soft and sweet and brown. Then I peel and put in a bag in the freezer, which goes into another bag (in an effort to keep it from tasting like the freezer too quickly). I nearly always have 2 to 4 bananas in the freezer. If I get too many, I make banana bread. If I get down to one, I make a point to buy bananas and let them get ripe and then freeze.

In terms of juice, Whole Foods tends to have very good juice that is not particularly cheap. Target often has very cheap juice. Some of it better than others. I always try to get 100% juice otherwise it’s just sugar water.

Usually I try to stop at Kroger every now and then and pick up a few cans of Juicy Juice concentrate (looks like a can of soda pop) and keep that in the pantry. Juicy Juice is 100% juice. For some reason Kroger is the only store I can get that at, Food Lion doesn’t carry it. And not all Krogers have it either. But it’s great because it keeps indefinitely in the pantry, and then after you open it, you can keep the can in the fridge and it keeps for a long time. I like to mix it with seltzer water and drink instead of pop, but mostly I save it to use in smoothies. I have a shot glass with measurements, so I’ll put in an ounce of juice concentrate followed by 3 ounces of water. You can also do the same thing with frozen concentrate, but it’s slightly less convenient.

Frozen fruit isn’t super cheap, but you can freeze some things like peaches and cantaloupe in the summer when they’re abundant, and also you don’t use that much of it at a time, so the overall cost per serving isn’t that high, even if the price per bag seems like kind of a lot.

This is not the best time of year for a smoothie, it’s too cold to want to drink something frozen, but I have them often in the summer, for breakfast, or an afternoon snack, or for dessert. And figured I’d just do the recipe now so you would have it.

5 Responses to “Recipe Week Five”

  1. Amy B Maine Says:

    Rebecca, I just finished a book I think you’d find very interesting called:

    Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History (Victorian Life and Times)
    by Andrea Broomfield. I think it was published in 2008.

    I reallly thought of your blog when I read it. The author addresses how the industrial revolution, which caused the rural population to move into the cities, resulted in widespread malnourishment as families lost their access to gardens and livestock. It’s fascinating to read about the Victorians struggle to feed themselves even as technology advanced with the invention of new farming and food processing equipment. So many of the issues the author raised are pertinent today: the question of where our foods comes from, and who sets the cultural norms of how to prepare and consume it.

    You have got to read her chapter on the relationship between a Victorian housewife’s status and properly made toast!

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Thanks! That sounds great. I’ll put it on the list with another one I can’t wait to read — Building a Housewife’s Paradise, about the evolution of grocery stores in the postwar period. I’ve been doing some work for UNC Press and saw that one in their database and have been eagerly awaiting its publication for several months. (And another one that looks totally fascinating to me is The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book but I keep forgetting to look at it when I’m over there.)

    Right now I’m trying to get through Food Politics by Marion Nestle which is really good, but dense. I’m on the last chapter (about the fake fat Olestra) and then just the conclusion and some appendixes that actually look really interesting to me. Go figure.

  3. Lorrie Says:

    I do the same thing with over ripe bananas. They become muffins or bread or get put in the freezer for smoothies. I slice up the bananas and put the slices in layers in a freezer container with wax paper in between. Then it’s really easy to take as much as you need. I usually make a whole blender full of smoothies, also with frozen fruit (purchased by the 4 or 5 pound bag full at Sam’s Club, and juice, usually orange. If you have any extra you can freeze the smoothies in a cup to microwave when you need one. It also makes great popsicles for little kids and bigger kids, and much cheaper than the store bought all fruit popsicles.

    Have you tried ground flax seeds in your smoothies? They are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber. Green smoothies are good, too. If you have any Romaine that you need to use up, just throw it in the blender with the fruit. Not as pretty, but very nutritious and surprisingly delicious. Other greens can be used as well.

  4. Valerie Says:

    Love green smoothies! I’ve been tolerating icy cold foods less well than usual, so I’m using canned fruit now and then and chilled bananas. The result is not as thick as with the frozen fruit smoothie, but it’s still delicious and a great way to quickly make a meal. One of my favorites–homemade almond milk with soaked dried cherries, banana and nutmeg.

    RE: food costs–years ago, when I was a single parent, a researcher from Cornell (working on this very issue) asked to interview me about how and if I was able to make ends meet food-wise for myself and my two children. Condensed, my answer was basically I know what to do with a bag of beans and rice. If you have even basic cooking skills, it’s easy to keep costs down by using oatmeal, eggs, dry milk, beans, rice, etc. as your staples, rounding things out with less expensive fruits and veggies. The problem I’ve seen is that a lot of folks just don’t have those basic skills, or the time (if they are working two or more jobs), or even the appropriate implements and appliances that make preparing food a little bit easier.

    And I’m sure part of it is acquired tastes–what you have grown up with–as well as the power of advertising leading to a sense of deprivation. Hot cooked cereals can look pretty drab compared to the brightly colored boxes full of Sugar Bombs (thanks, Calvin and Hobbes!). Fast food and prepared foods offer speed, calories, little work, and are often very inexpensive, comparatively speaking. Nutritionally a nightmare, but it fills a person up.

  5. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, knowing how to cook is the biggest thing — and I will eventually get up the post on this, after the ones concerning what I spent and ate the past two weeks, and two other work things, and a trip to the grocery store so the project doesn’t turn into “how to eat for 3 months without buying any groceries,” which it feels like it’s on the verge of.

    Basically it comes down to the fact that if you’re cooking at home, the healthiest foods are the cheapest but if you’re buying prepared foods, the healthiest foods are the most expensive. So … coming soon, an extended discussion of that, with some introductory material on paradigms and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.


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