The infographic doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of hunger in the US. It’s so sad – we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet, according to a 2013 report by GlobalPost (an international news service), Chile, Mexico and Turkey are the only developed nations that have a higher level of income inequality.
It is not a lack of food creating the hunger problem in the US and poverty only tells part of the story. Lack of employment, lower wages, lack of any household assets and certain area demographics all work to contribute to a large food insecurity problem in the US.
Please see the infographic below and help us to do our tiny part to help. Through June 30, 2015, we are offering 20% off all product purchases from our website. For every single item sold, we will give $1 to the Vermont Foodbank. So, head over to http://gringojacks.com/market.html, put some stuff in your cart, enjoy our 20% discount, then sit back and enjoy Gringo Jack’s knowing you’ve chipped in! Thank you.
Today is the quintessential fall day in Vermont (of course, after the leaves have fallen). Gaining an hour this morning was a beautiful thing, but the second we stepped outside, we knew this fall day was heralding winter’s call. My weather app said 42 degrees and underneath, it showed “feels like 22”. Seriously?!
If it wasn’t for squash, some of us might be a bit depressed at the start of “stick season”. But, lucky for us, there is squash! And I don’t mean squash – that stuff you eat as the side vegetable on your dinner plate. I mean SQUASH – one of the most versatile of earth’s bounty! From sweet to savory and everything in between, plentiful fall squash offers a plethora of opportunity for a healthy, fun and “foodie” experience.
Squash is from the plant family called Cucurbitaceae, or sometimes called the gourd family. There are over a hundred varieties of cucurbitaceae, squash being a part of the cucurbita along with pumpkin and zucchini. Squash is the fruit of various parts of the cucurbita and falls into two categories: winter and summer squash.
Winter squash is so named for the times when survival completely depended on foods that could last from fall through december and later. However, squash is not just for survival anymore. You can make squash a part of any meal and any dish from salads to desserts. You can pan sear it or grill it, bake it or even smoke it!
So, squash risotto to squash soup
How about squash brulee for dessert!
So, below is a list of the various kinds of winter squash and then how to choose and cook your squash:
Acorn – no real sweetness, so best combined with other ingredients (like raisins); should not be cured as it reduces storage life; also keep at under 55 degrees
Butternut – oh, such sweet flesh! Definitely cure
Spaghetti – looks like pasta, so why not use like pasta; holds up to robust sauces; cure
Carnival – sweet & dense
Kabocha – sweet; Japanese pumpkin; delicious
Hubbard – use the smaller ones for less moisture content; cure
Pumpkin – go for the smaller “sugar” pumpkins
Buttercup – like butternut sweetness, but denser; cure
What does it mean to “cure” the squash? Curing removes the excess moisture in the squash. Hence, the sweetness is more concentrated. It also allows for less rot and longer storage. To cure, simply store in a warmer location allowing a lot of air to circulate – usually for about 10-14 days.
Remember the days all houses would have a “root cellar”? Food could be stored there to last longer. Gone are the days of the root cellar, but no worries – some squash will stay good for months in a cool room – others up to a few weeks or longer. You know – that room that never seems to get any heat? Store them there and you can have meals all winter into spring!
Choose squash that doesn’t have any soft spots. If a part of the vine is still attached, it will stay fresh longer.
Here are some awesome tips for preparing and cooking squash.
Keep squash dry
Using a longer kitchen knife, slice a side of the peel of the squash down the side (or on the bottom depending on the squash) so that you can lie it flat on a cutting board. It is easier to work with now.
Peel the squash with a chef’s knife or a great peeler. It will be a lot easier if you find a carbon steel blade vegetable peeler (anywhere on Amazon or eBay). I bet Kerry at Vermont Kitchen Supply has these! Peel a thin layer.
When cutting the squash in half, which can be harder than it sounds, try using a mallet with the knife – softly!
When scooping the seeds out, why not keep them, spray with olive oil, sprinkle a little sea salt and roast them!
Try not to cook squash in water – it will dilute the flavor. Instead, cook squash on high heat in order to “caramelize” the squash and bring out the sweetness and flavors.
To get you started, below is a recipe from Whole Foods for simple, caramelized on the outside and soft on the inside, butternut squash bites.
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve the squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds.
Peel with a vegetable peeler
Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Per Serving:150 calories (30 from fat), 3.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 300mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate (3g dietary fiber, 5g sugar), 3g protein
The food world is getting harder to navigate. Remember the 1960s and 70s when eggs were good for you? Then they were bad, then good, then bad and now good. My goodness, why can’t the healthy food community make up its mind?!
Well, science dictates the changes in healthy eating advice. The more we know, the more we can get a handle on whats good and what isn’t. We are learning so much more, so much faster as our scientific knowledge increases exponentially. The more we learn about decoding dna and the more we learn about genes, the more we can narrow down what is good and what isn’t.
However, that knowledge also lends itself to changing the foodscape. GMOs are an example of a “little bit of knowledge”. So, not only do we have to keep up on what foods are healthy and unhealthy, but now we have a much wider variety of foods and food processes to study.
This is where oil comes in. What oil is healthy? Can I cook with a certain oil? The internet is ripe with information for an against certain oils. For example, there has been a huge campaign against canola oil. Canola oil originally came from the rapeseed and was very high in erucic acid – a known toxin responsible for anything from heart to lung problems. In the 1970s, a group of Canadians cross bred a new, benign plant for canola oil. This new breed was called canola (Canadian oil low acid).
Of course, after this, the scientist at the forefront of this went to Monsanto where a genetically modified canola (still rapeseed, but no longer the toxic rapeseed) was created to withstand Round-Up. Now, most of the canola oil made and consumed is genetically modified Remember, the original rapeseed developed by the Canadians was not a GMO – it was naturally crossbred.
To make things worse, as you know, oil has to be extracted from nuts, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables. There are several methods for doing this, but most of the canola oil you buy at the grocery store is extracted using the chemical solvent method. Using a chemical solvent, usually hexane, over 90% of the oil is able to be extracted. However, this chemical is poisonous. In fact, just breathing hexane can cause nausea and headaches and attacks the central nervous system. So, the hexane has to come out later. The hexane is removed with high heat. However, while this process removes the hexane, it is unclear as to whether there are trace amounts left and whether these trace amounts are unsafe. High heat could turn whatever amounts are left into an inhalant. Also, the high heat degrades the oil and changes the flavor (sometimes completely ruining the flavor altogether) as well as the nutritional makeup. Actually, it is truly gross – you can find videos on the internet that will show you how the extraction is done and you may not want to eat after that! Actually, here is a link to one of those videos:
So along comes non-gmo, expeller pressed oil. Utilizing the Canadian cross bred canola, the oil is extracted via the centuries old natural method called expeller pressed. A purely mechanical method is utilized and presses the seeds or fruits until oil comes out. This method is definitely not as effective as the chemical solvent and gets only about 60-70% of the oil (as opposed to over 90% from the chemical method). Hence, expeller pressed is more expensive.
The difference, however is night and day. Forget the flavor which is hugely different from its chemical induced counterpart. The method makes the difference between consuming poison to consuming one of the healthiest coils out there. Add non-GMO to the mix and what you have is now an oil lowest in saturated fat of all oils and has an omega-6 / omega-3 ratio of 2:1! Also, it has the highest smoke point (ie: canola oil 375 vs safflower or sunflower t 212 degrees),so that it makes it one of the best oils to cook with. Once oils get heated past their smoke point, you wind up with carcinogens and free radicals – just what you DON’T want in your healthy stir-fry!
Next week, I’ll offer up a chart with all the oils, the advantages and disadvantages of each. But, before ending here, you should know that Gringo Jack’s uses ONLY non-GMO, expeller pressed canola oil in both our chips AND our restaurant frying! How many restaurants can tell you that your fries, chicken etc is fried in non-toxic, non-GMO expeller pressed oil?
So, just what are the advantages and disadvantages of GMO labeling?
To recap, we know that GMOs themselves have advantages and disadvantages:
potential less use of pesticides
increased food production in poor countries
perhaps lower food prices
potential for increased vitamins & minerals
increased disease resistance
increased shelf life
removal of certain allergens
less need for water
no long term studies, so potential for food safety issues & unknown health risks
the ability for large corporations to patent food source
potential for new allergens
risk of antibiotic resistance
potential increase in use of pesticides (because of the resistance)
potential for unknown toxins
unknown potential harm to the environment and animal/insect species
potential for toxicity with an over ingestion of certain vitamins and minerals
Given these issues, labeling seems the natural thing to do. And polls show that a large majority of the public wants to see labeling. And yet, states are having a hard time passing labeling laws.
Most countries that have labeling laws are national with a national standard. The US is trying to pass laws regionally because the FDA states that GMO foods are, in essence, the same as non-GMO foods and therefore, need not be regulated separately. This dictate leaves states no choice but to act on their own.
Enter the problems. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of GMO labeling:
Labeling gives the public information about what they are buying and consuming. The “right to know” extends to this “food processing attribute”.
Consumers could make more informed buying decisions
It might encourage more companies to use non-GMO ingredients so they would not have to label. This has been shown to be the case in at least six-ten other countries where labeling is mandatory.
Groceries will probably cost more as the manufacturers will have to pour a lot of money into testing and segregation. Labels would have to be remade and, more than likely would have to be generic across state lines.
Smaller food producers and specialty food producers would feel the cost burden much more and, if they are able to continue doing business, the products would bear a greater cost – and the consumer might not be able to afford products from smaller food producers.
States, farmers and food producers could be tied up in expensive litigation.
Having state laws and not using a national standard could create more confusion in the public’s mind. In some cases, the consumer could be deceived into thinking a food doesn’t contain GMOs, when in fact it does. For example: a small food producer in Vermont is required to label. Since they can not afford to have labels for one state and a different label for another state, all the products are labeled. That product is then sold on a shelf in a state without labeling laws. The product next to it comes from a large company that can afford to have separate labels for labeled stated and unlabeled law states. The consumer looking at the two products would be deceived into thinking the product without the label does not contain GMOs.
Regardless, Vermont has now passed a labeling law. Smartly, the law establishes a defense fund to defect against potential lawsuits. And there is a whopper out there – a lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Foods Association. Even Ben & Jerry’s is getting in the fray helping to raise funds for the defense of the law – a renamed ice cream, “Food Fight – Fudge Brownie” shows a box on the front of the ice cream that reads “Food Fight Fund”. $1 of each pint sold will go to the fund.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell has filed a brief defending the new law and asking the lawsuit be thrown out.
The lawsuit claims that the labeling law exceeds state authority and violates food manufacturer’s right to free speech to not label something they don’t feel necessary. Defense of the law need only look to NY and the recent upheld law requiring calorie content be listed on chain restaurant food.
Either way, we should all get ready. Whether it happens today or several years from now, labeling is probably coming to a state near you!
First, allow me to apologize – a family issue prevented me from being able to devote time to writing. But, we’re back now! Thank you to all that have been following this blog.
If you take an initial look at the issue of labeling, you might wonder what could be controversial. I mean, letting the public know seems the right thing to do, right?
So why are the big-ag companies doing back flips to keep labeling laws from going into effect? Unfortunately, part of the reason is because they know that people are still widely uneducated when it comes to GMOs. If a label says anything like “contains or may contain GMOs”, an automatic assumption may be made that GMOs are bad. Also, the more the anti-GMO groups put out information on GMOs and stages protests, etc, the more influence this will have on the fears of consumers. (Please keep in mind that this post DOES NOT mean to imply that GMOs are safe or unsafe – merely just perusing the thoughts and feelings of the public and what might go on in their minds.)
You see, friends – fear tactics are not a tool solely for Republicans – Liberals sometimes practice the same fear tactics. Playing to people’s innate tendency towards fear works, despite being a sleazy way to get people on your side.
But, this issue isn’t about fear. It is about informing people about what they are buying. Cigarette pack warnings are an attempt to instill fear and make people reconsider buying cigarettes with negative messaging. GMO labels are not implying any negative – they are simply telling you what is in your food. A better comparison would be allergen statements or even ingredients – both are simply telling the consumer what is in the product.
Labeling GMOs is really a debate over labeling process attributes. Should food processing, of which GMOs are one process, be labeled? There are several ways to go here:
1. Legislation that does not allow any GMO process statements – either containing or not containing GMOs.
2. Legislation requiring all foods containing GMOs to be labeled. A statement would accompany such label that disclaims government judgment on the safety of GMOs.
3. Voluntary labeling with the use of GMOs or the absence of GMOs. This seems somewhat arbitrary, leaving consumers confused.
4. Voluntary labeling of the use of GMOs, but again, requiring a statement accompanying the non-GMO label that disclaims government judgment on the safety of GMOs.
The first option no longer seems viable as anti-GMO groups are not going away and neither is the issue. By not allowing any labeling of process attributes, consumers could make a judgment call with little to no information. (Yes, you might say that many people already do that when they go out to vote, but I digress! ;-)). Lack of information leaves a ripe ground for conspiracy theories!
The second option might work as some of the onus is no longer on the small manufacturer to get verified, even though they will still have to go through the work of getting in house paperwork on ingredients to make sure they are not using GMOs. But either way the issue goes, no longer are we going to be able to ignore the issue, so this could be the best option.
Under the anti-labeling guise, the third option above would be a continuation of what we have now. However, that option – in my mind – is the least viable. The confusion it creates in the minds of consumers is unfair, not only to the consumer, but to smaller manufacturers. If one product is labeled non-GMO and another product is NOT labeled non-GMO, the natural inclination of a consumer is to believe that the product not labeled does contain GMOs. But the cost of getting verified non-GMO is prohibitive to many manufacturers that might actually be non-GMO, but can’t afford to get verified.
Gringo Jack’s is going through the process of getting non-GMO verified and I can attest to several things: it is very expensive and it is extremely time consuming and frustrating. The requirements for paperwork are over the top (more on that in another post!) and it is a continuing cost every year once accomplished.
So, we’ve presented the beginning of the labeling issue, but there is so much more – evidenced by the many dollars being spent on the part of the anti-labeling campaigns as well as local governments fighting the groups fighting the labels. Money is being poured into lawsuits, campaigns, advertising, marketing etc and so this issue deserves more time.
Next week will delve into what both sides have to say about the labeling.
The Blue Agave plant must grow 8 – 10 years before it can be used to make tequila! Imagine all that can go wrong in that amount of time – climate & pests have to be controlled so that the plant can be protected before it can be used.
The agave honey is extracted from the pina with grinding blades after cooking the agave to turn the starches into sugars. Once the juices or “honey water” has been extracted, it is then fermented. Fermentation is when the tequila begins to form its personality.
This is also when tequila either becomes 100% agave or only 51% agave (by definition and regulation, in order to be tequila it must be at least 51% agave). If it is to be less than 100%, sugarcane or molasses are added to the aqua miel (honey water).
As the alcohol is formed, yeast is then introduced to the show and the tanks are lightly heated. Carbon dioxide forms (as in wine) and tequila alcohol is fully formed to 5%.
Finally, the tequila is distilled. Regulations require that tequila be distilled twice or else the alcohol would be devastating! The distillation heats the juice to the point of vaporization and then it is cooled and condensed. The first distillation removes what is called the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ which contain all the bad alcohol and impurities.
The second distillation (and sometimes third and fourth for some of the high end tequilas) determines the percent of alcohol. The higher end tequilas are about 40% alcohol (80 proof) and counter intuitively, the lower end tequilas are usually about 55% alcohol.
OK, so we’re almost there! We now have Blanco (silver, plata) tequila. Many prefer what they think of as tequila in its purest form. However, like wine, tequila can also be aged. Aging 2-6 months produces a reposado tequila and aging over 1 year to 3 years produces anejo tequila. Of course, as with most wines, the more aging, the more color, character and tannins are produced.
Reposado tequila is usually aged in oak barrels, but anejo tequila is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels – imagine the amazing characters of a good, well-aged anejo tequila!
Well, that’s all folks! You’ve got the basics, so now, on to the tasting – oh, right – you’re on your own! Of course, you can always come to Gringo Jack’s and try a tequila flight (hint hint!).
Tequila, that daring elixir from Mexico, has been around for over a thousand years prior to the 1950s when it became the hip thing in California. The myths, history and romance that surround this ancient drink are many and today, create a cult following. But just where did tequila come from?
By the time the Conquistadors arrived from Spain, pulque was already an ancient liquor made from the maguey agave plant. The Spaniards brought the knowledge of distilling to the Old World and soon they were roasting the cores of agave plants to produce a sweeter concoction.
Tequila was born when Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo made his ‘honey water’ in the town of Tequila in 1795. Cuervo was granted the very first license to create tequila and sell commercially.
Don Cenobio Sauza was the first to export tequila to the states. However, it was Don Sauza’s grandson that is responsible for the name ‘tequila’ only allowed for that which is produced in the Jalisco region where the Weber blue agave is mostly grown.
So now you know the two biggest names in tequila were the two families that started the sensation.
Of course, today there are over 100 distilleries and tequila has become like wine or a fine scotch – described as such and tasted with reverence and appreciation.
Welcome to Gringo Jack’s blog! With a restaurant in the southern green mountains of Vermont for 20 years and growing specialty food company, Gringo Jack’s has a lot to say and a lot to offer! We’re excited to be able to address a variety of topics from our first blog on tequila to new GMO legislation. Whatever we talk about, we hope you will enjoy our posts and engage in the discussion!