I spent the past week and will spend the next one teaching classes on the book I wrote for Colavita, Top Your Pizza.
Yes, I teach people how to make pizza. We cover homemade dough, four different kinds of toppings and a salad for balance. I talk about how to caramelize onions and wax poetical about mozzarella cheese. People actually listen. They pay attention and ask questions. They even laugh at my jokes (sometimes). I'm finding the process rewarding, energizing, fun and definitely exhausting and challenging.
I am aware that my students are a self-selected population — they've signed up and have an interest in the subject matter — and that I'm not imparting life-saving information. This is pizza making...or is it??
Buy a man a pizza and he has a meal for that day. Teach a man to make a pizza and...
...he has apps for every Super Bowl Sunday??
Along those lines, I touch on the topic of nutrition in class, as I believe pizza can be a healthy, balanced meal depending on your topping choice and application. Now, I'm not suggesting we can improve the health of the nation with pizza (or am I??), but during my trip, I had a come-to-Jamie moment when I stopped at a roadside IHOP restaurant.
To clarify, I meant Jamie Oliver.
I've been a fan of his since I first watched his TED talk and saw how passionate he seemed about food education, nutrition and helping people change their diets in order to change their lives.
That IS life-altering information, folks. As I watched Jamie show a few clips from his show Food Revolution, I thought, "Damn, that's gotta be HARD."
And I mean a serious challenge, as it's hard to change people's minds about anything, and that is no less true with their diets. Consider my efforts with The Box. Part of the problem, as Jaimie addresses, is that people just don't know. They're not education on the topic of nutrition, so you can't really blame them for making poor choices. That's fair.
So it becomes a two-fold problem:
2. Changing people's taste
I'm here to suggest that the latter might be the more difficult of the two.
On my class tour on the road from Boca Raton to Jacksonville, my driver and I decided to stop at an IHOP nestled snuggly on the side of Route 95 for lunch. Also known as The International (which other nation?) House of Pancakes.
I assumed I could get something moderately healthy like a veggie omelette, and in fact IHOP has about two "Simple and Fit" entrees, one of them being a veggie omelette, which is made with egg substitute. How a chemical combination made to resemble the taste and texture of eggs is healthier than the real thing, I do not know.
All the "Simple and Fit" entrees were listed as under 600 calories, which lead me to believe that the other dishes on the menu were all well over that number, including Dulche de Leche Pancakes featuring what resembled large tubes of icing sandwiched between pancakes.
I like pancakes. In fact, at the end of this post, I'm going to list all the pancake recipes I've posted on this blog. However, I recognize that I'm what some would call, "a healthy eater." I like vegetables. Even kale. I'll go out of my way to eat them. I exercise. Maybe more than some. Definitely less than others. I watch my food intake, not by counting calories, but by trying to make good choices and recognizing when I'm full.
But I'm not perfect. I've attacked a carton of ice cream with a spoon. I've eaten more than my share of pizza. I've come home late at night and ransacked the fridge like a racoon in the trash. This is life.
I also realize I'm lucky. I live in a city that has more food choices than most with access to farmers' markets, classes, independent food producers, locavore/organic restaurants and the like. I'm able to take advantage of these options. I'm very grateful for this, and I know this is not the case for many who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. This is a topic for another essay, and it's financial and access issue that I didn't list in my two-fold numeration above.
But I take issue with places like IHOP that are continuing to serve nutritionally negligent, over-portioned sugar delivery systems. Yes, there are "Simple and Fit" offerings on the menu, but like my pizza class attendees, only a self-selected group are going to look for them and then actually order them (and also try not to feel like a total ass when you say, "Yeah...I'd like the Simple and Fit Egg Substitute Omelette").
Additionally, the resulting egg substitute omelette looked so sad and watery in comparison to its fluffy, whipped and stacked neighbors, that who, indeed WOULD choose that option. It didn't look good. And, in fact, it was probably the worst omelette I've ever had. And IHOP isn't the only one. There are many more, as you know. John has a post coming up about Papa John's Frito Pizza that will alarm you.
This makes me sad. It makes me sad because I want to be able to convince people that healthy food is delicious. I cook for myself, my friends, and now complete strangers frequently, and manage to make delicious dishes that are nutritionally redeeming. And I know I'm not making a positive difference in the nutritional education system of this country, but I'd like to.
I want to think that the way to stop having items like this on restaurant menus is for people to stop ordering them. But that requires a change in taste. HOW do you change people's taste? How do you convince people that beets are tasty? Or that a quarter pound of sugar-laced lard has no place between pancakes?
I don't know. But I'd like to make an attempt with this blog post. With pancakes. Here are some recipes that I think are both nutritionally redeeming (in moderation, people) and delicious. I created them for Colavita and I'm reposting them here in the hopes that they might inspire you to think of pancakes, food and nutrition in a different light. And, uh...Jamie? If you're listening, I'd love to talk.
Recipe here and video below:
7 (ish) Grain Pancakess.
What You Need:
1/2 cup rolled oats (the real stuff)
1/2 cup millet flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked farro
4 tablespoons chia seeds
4 teaspoons ground flax seeds
1 cup almond or soy milk (you can use regular milk if you like)
2 eggs, beaten
a few swirls of agave syrup for sweetening (you can also use honey)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt
Butter, oil or non-stick cooking spray for you frying pan or griddle.
What To Do:
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl (don't forget the salt and cinnamon!). You can even use a food processor if you like.
Add in the milk, eggs, vanilla and agave syrup.
Blend until well incorporated. If the mixture appears too dry or sticky, you can add more milk.
Heat up your frying pan or griddle and grease with oil, butter or spray.
Ladle the batter onto the griddle in 1/4 cup sized scoops. Keep in mind, you might like to make mini pancakes, or HUGE BIG AS YOUR FACE ones. Go nuts, I'm not gonna stop you.
Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes on one side. Break out your spatula and give those suckers a flip. Let them toast up on the opposite side for about 2 minutes.
Flop them onto a plate and serve with cinnamon butter (I used Ronnybrook's) and more agave or maple syrup. You can also store these in the frigde for quite some time and use them as pre or post-workout energy pancakes.
Feel free to add fresh fruit and nuts!
Blueberry Oat and Polenta Pancakes
Oat and Whole Wheat Waffles (<-- Loosely Related to Pancakes!) with Fruit and Nuts
What You Need:
A waffle maker (gifted by your boss or bought by your own self. Either works)
2 1/2 cups warm (about 100 degrees) almond milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 egg whites
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds for garnish
What To Do:
Mix the almond milk, sugar and yeast in a medium bowl. Let it stand until it becomes foamy (this is the yeast working its magic) - about 10 minutes.
Mix both flours, oats, coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.
Add the yeast mixture and stir to blend it all together. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. You can also leave it to chill overnight so you will be ready for hungry brunchers in the morning.
Separate the eggs, setting aside two of the egg yolks. Mix these two yolks into the batter.
Put the three egg whites in large bowl and with a hand held mixer beat them until they are white and foamy and peaks form (ex: when you lift up the beaters the egg foam will stand up).
Fold the egg whites into the batter with a spatula.
Heat up your waffle iron and spray it with a non stick spray (you can also use butter). When it is hot enough, pour the batter into the iron. Cook until the waffle iron gives you the green light (literally). Your waffles should be golden brown.
Serve with extra blueberries, slivered almonds and maple syrup.