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.
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.