super breakfast week, day five: put an egg on it!

Please excuse the tardiness of this post- I know I promised you a new breakfast every day last week, but the week got away from me, and then so did the weekend! So today, I’ll give you the fifth Super Breakfast, which is really more of a concept than a recipe: Put an egg on it!

I like having eggs for breakfast, but they rarely satisfy me on their own.  Even with a piece of sprouted wheat toast, I’m left wanting more.  It’s the combos like broccoli eggs (a.k.a., loaded with vegetables) that really make me feel like I’ve eaten a complete, balanced meal. Recently I realized that SO many of the veggie-filled dishes I make for dinner could be transformed into breakfast in one simple step: Put an egg on it! The one prerequisite for this breakfast is, or course, that you’ve cooked the night before and have some leftovers.  Then all you have to do is roll out of bed, throw an egg in a pan, and lay that sucker on top of last night’s dinner.  Once you start trying this, your eyes will be opened to thousands of possibilities.  Honestly.  So many things are delicious with a fried egg on top!

Oh, you made a giant pot of vegetarian chili and have buckets left over? Put an egg on it!

Veggie burgers from last night’s barbeque staring you in the face? Put an egg on it!

Afraid you’ll be eating that quinoa salad for the rest of your life? Put an egg on it!

Really, guys- ANY kind of vegetable casserole/hash/stir-fry will magically turn into breakfast with the addition of an egg.  I’ll include some more recipe links at the end of this post.

While I’m encouraging you to throw eggs on everything, I should also say a little something about the kind of eggs that I buy.  I’m sure you’ve heard the terms “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “organic” tossed around when it comes to chicken and eggs.  While it’s great that an effort is being made in favor of producing eggs ethically and cleanly, it’s important to know what these labels actually mean; if they mean much of anything at all, in fact.  The definition of an “organic” egg is that the chicken was fed an organic diet, given access to the outdoors, and was not given antibiotics.  That organic feed could be a big sack of corn, though, when chickens are meant to eat grass and bugs in order to be healthy and produce nutritious eggs.  Their “access to the outdoors” could be as little as a porch attached to their giant, overcrowded barn; whether or not they actually go outside and get much needed sunshine (how do you think Vitamin D gets into the eggs, anyway?) is undetermined and not likely.  So what if the carton says “free-range” but NOT organic? Those hens had the same “access” as the organic chickens, but their feed wasn’t necessarily organic and they could have been given antibiotics.  And “cage-free” means exactly that- they didn’t have a cage.  That doesn’t mean they weren’t crammed into a dark, overpopulated commercial barn with no room to move.

All that is to say that personally, I don’t trust the labels that are put on eggs in the grocery store, with the exception of one.  To the best of my knowledge, the cleanest, most nutritious and most ethically produced eggs come from pasture-raised chickens.  This means that chickens spend most of their time outdoors, eating grass and bugs.  Simple.  The way nature intended.  These chickens are happy and healthy and, because of their natural diet and lifestyle, produce eggs with the best possible nutrient content.  Of course, these eggs are a lot more expensive!  But it’s worth it to me to know what I’m putting in my body and how it got to me.  An even better solution would be finding someone who raises chickens, or getting some of my own! A girl can dream.

To read more about the fallacy of an “organic” label on eggs, click here:

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/06/08/why-you-dont-want-to-buy-organic-eggs-at-the-grocery-store-.aspx

To read more about the benefits of pastured eggs, click here:

http://www.cheeseslave.com/how-to-buy-organic-eggs-pastured-vs-free-range-eggs/

To read more about the brand of eggs that I buy at Whole Foods, click here:

http://vitalfarms.com/

And more things to put an egg on!

Curry Veggie Quinoa

101 Cookbooks Veggie Burgers

Veggie Enchilada Casserole

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shaking the hand that feeds you

If someone told me a year ago that I should only buy local, organic produce, I probably would have laughed at that person, rolled my eyes, and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, right. Maybe when I’m rich and live in San Francisco and wear sporty trek sandals and have a completely different set of priorities altogether.” Well, folks, I’m still a teacher in LA, so that should answer the first two, and while I probably would have purchased a nice pair of Keens at this point if I had a spare $90, I don’t, so that has yet to come true, either. However, the priorities have done some major shifting, or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So please bear with me if you haven’t already been seduced by the wiles of sustainable agriculture. It’s beyond important, so I’m going to try to convince you, here and now.

Rather, I’ll first call upon Michael Pollan to convince you. (I’m sure you’re wondering, “How long before she turns into a religious extremist touting Pollanism?”)

“Indeed, the surest way to escape the Western diet is simply to depart the realms it rules: the supermarket, the convenience store, and the fast-food outlet. It is hard to eat badly from the farmers’ market, from a CSA box (more on this later), or from your garden… When you eat from the farmers’ market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious…. As for supermarket produce, it is likely to have come from far away- from the industrial organic farms of California, or, increasingly, China… So many of the problems of the industrial food chain stem from its length and complexity. A wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers, and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides.”
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

He’s good, right? It took reading that for me to get interested in eating locally and organically, even though my friend Liz could slap a huge “I told you so” on my realization; she and her husband Mike, two of my bestest, frequent their farmers’ market and have preached “organic” and “local” for years, but I’ve tuned them out. Now that I’m listening, who else would I invite to accompany me to a screening of Ingredients, a documentary film about the local food movement? I did, they accepted, we watched, and here are some take-aways:

  • Approximately 1/5 of the fossil fuel that our country uses is expended in the packing and transporting of food. Buy local, and you won’t be supporting big oil and its purported evils. The oil shortage is one big, yet less obvious reason to prioritize local eating.
  • In the world, the U.S. spends the least on food per capita, but the MOST on medicine! One could argue (and I’m sure Pollan would/has) that our preoccupation with frugality and fleetness of our food has forced us to sacrifice the quality of it, and accordingly, our health.
  • Today, less than 1% of people in the U.S. are farmers- it isn’t even a choice of occupation on the census anymore. Small family farms aren’t lucrative enough to attract proprietors because we, as consumers, don’t support them.

The film profiled several inspiring farmers that use organic, ethical methods and sell to their communities and local restaurants, shortening the food chain between grower and consumer where, as Pollan says,

“…eaters can make their needs and desires known to the farmer, and the farmer can impress on eaters the distinctions between ordinary and exceptional food, and many reasons why exceptional food is worth what it costs. Food reclaims its story, and some of its nobility, when the person who grew it hands it to you. So here’s a subclause to the get-out-of-the-supermarket rule: Shake the hand that feeds you.”

So imagine my excitement when, just two days after watching Ingredients, Liz proposed that we visit a local, organic farm and do just that! Once we’d shaken the hand, Liz said, we could sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) box, where fresh-picked produce is delivered to you in a bi-monthly box- a sheer genius way to make local food easily accessible. Quite obviously, I agreed, and by Sunday we were on our way to Tanaka Farms in Irvine.  While not certified organic, Tanaka Farms uses all organic practices.  So while yes, you could go to Safeway and buy organic produce, like Pollan says, it is probably shipped there from a large, commercial organic farm that had the resources (it costs big bucks) to be certified.  Small family farms will give you the benefits of organic practices (no dangerous toxins, higher nutrient density, less environmental impact, I could go on!) AND the benefits of eating locally.

This is Liz!

Gorgeous apples that we got to sample for free.

Our ride for the epic farm tour.

Crops demonstrating the "chop suey" method of organic farming- alternating plants by row so that the bugs get confused. Sounds crazy but it works!

Our guide Raymond demonstrates how you can eat the roots of an onion plant. **We did get to see Farmer Tanaka in the flesh, but he was too busy cultivating delicious organic produce to actually shake our hands. Raymond was a great liason.

Mmmm, onion roots.

Bananas. Did you know they take up to a year and a half to ripen?

Carrots, bok choy, green onion, cilantro, and lettuce- free samples!

The highlight of the tour for sure- picking our own carton of perfect, ripe strawberries.

Nature!

Strawberries are planted next to onions- an organic technique called companion planting to keep the bugs away.

Couldn't resist. Probably my favorite dessert, ever.

Snap peas, kale, spinach, apples, green onion, and an avocado- my purchases from the Tanaka market. This cost me around $12- totally worth it and not that much more than what you'd pay at the supermarket.

Liz and I left inspired and giddy, ready to spread the good word about local farming.  We’ll start with our school (Liz and Mike both teach with me), which we will try to make a drop-point for CSA boxes from Tanaka.  That way, we’ll be making local produce more available to our urban community.  Of course, the ultimate goal would be making it accessible to not just our co-workers and students, but everyone, low-income families especially.  Baby steps.

I’ll leave you with some more Pollan, because I just can’t say it any better than he does:

“Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience or they can nourish a food chain organized around values- values like quality and health.  Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon as you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote- a vote for health in the largest sense- food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.”

*Swoon*

Find a CSA program or farmers’ market near you!