I Love SLA!

My “Green” Bowl (with shaved Parmesan).

One of the highlights of any trip to The Netherlands is a stop (or two, or ten) at SLA. SLA is a healthy-eating/salad joint that I just love. SLA has a special way of building a salad, which believe it or not, makes a big difference! 

Even a driving rain couldn’t keep me away from SLA!

SLA focuses on clean and healthy eating in a sustainable and environentally responsible way. Their shops are no-nonsense and comfortable and the food is consistently delicious. On my last visit, I bought the SLA cookbook, and many of the dressings and salad ideas have become staples and favourites.

According to the SLA website, SLA opened in 2013 as a family business – Jop, Nina and Ida – in Amsterdam. The SLA business focus on having as many people taste, experience and share how conscious eating affects life positively. 

“We believe that you are what you eat and that food can be a drug. SLA is our way of heart, head and hands to create an environment that inspires and encourages healthy habits.”

SLA has a new cookbook, SLA Easy, that came out recently. I’ll add it to my birthday list. You can get the cookbook here!


Check out SLA here. #ILOVESLA

 

One Pie Can

I am a sucker for supermarket history and I love to stumble across old-school labels and products. There’s something amazing when a product is so reliable that the label doesn’t change for decades.

I was stumbling around my favorite local store tonight picking up a few items that aren’t available at Aldi (wax paper, washing soda) and I stumbled across this gem. I couldn’t resist snagging a can just because of the great label.

The 10 Year Search for the Perfect Water Bottle

Throughout my day, I drink about a gallon (or two) of water. I’ve had a miserable time finding a water bottle that I like. I started with a SIGG which was a disaster. The bottle started smelling musty after about a week, and started tasting musty about a week after that. No matter what I tried, the bottle was disgusting, and it leaked. Plus the little loop at the top seemed handy, but was actually not all that convenient to grab and go.

Sign bottle that I used about 10 years ago.
Sign bottle that I used about 10 years ago.

After the OXO bottle, I tried the outrageously expensive S’well Matte Army Green bottle. I loved the look of the bottle, but it was remarkably difficult to deal with. The Swell bottle did keep beverages cold (or warm) for hours, but that was its only benefit. The bottom of the bottle had this funny dimpled effect it (similar to a Coke bottle). that, in conjunction with the unbelievably top-heavy lid, made the bottle incredibly unstable. I felt like I was constantly picking the bottle up from the floor, because it constantly was falling over. Plus, there was no way to grab this bottle quickly. You need to dedicate a whole hand to carrying it around, and that—for me—was a no go. After about a semester, the bottle started to smell, which wasn’t so swell, and because there was no easy way to clean it, I moved on.

S'well bottle. Not so swell. Looks great, but not functional.
S’well bottle. Not so swell. Looks great, but not functional.

Then, I found this great, clear OXO bottle that screwed apart in the middle for easy cleaning. I LOVED this bottle and loved the handy wire cap connector, which made for easy, one-finger, grab and go. I also loved that it was clear, so I could see how much I had left in the bottle.

The OXO unscrews in the middle for easy cleaning.The OXO Strive Advance unscrews in the middle for easy cleaning.

I loved this bottle so much that I bought two. They mistakenly got put in the dishwasher once, and that was the end. Somehow, the dishwasher made the latex seal in the bottle fail, and they leaked horribly after that. Despite the leakiness, I still used the bottles for a while, but then the wire cap holder started to rust.

OXO Bottle that I loved until it leaked.
OXO Bottle that I loved until it leaked.

Then, after the OXO bottle, I went total hipster and just used a Mason jar for a year. It was great because it had a generous capacity, wasn’t precious (so it was easily replaceable if I left it behind somewhere), and was easy to clean. It just wasn’t very portable.

Hipster standby.
Hipster standby.

So, completely on a whim, I bought an ecoVessel Bold.

ecoVessel Bold, is taller than it looks.
ecoVessel Bold, is taller than it looks.

Instantly, I really liked this bottle. The loop makes it easy to grab and carry. The lid screws apart in two places, one big mouth, one little mouth, so that’s good and makes it easy to fill and clean. It’s durable, but somehow after using mine for a few months, I cracked the metal on the big lid. Not a problem, I contacted ecoVessel, and they were able to send me a replacement (three, in fact) to ensure that I’ll be able to use this bottle for a very, very long time.

Unfortunately, the ecoVessel Bold model has since been discontinued (of course), but the ecoVessel Boulder line looks just as sleek (if not exactly the same), comes in a variety of colors, and is triple insulated.  I like the fact that they sell replacement parts and that  their customer service was attentive and polite. I would recommend ecoVessel highly.

Finally! My search for a decent water bottle is over… I think!

 

The Cultural Implications of The Great British Bake Off 

This is not my post, but a re-port of a fine article that captures not only the success of this great show, but the cultural reasons for it… it’s the sort of post that piques my American Studies background in a curious manner.

From the original post from Luke Dempsey at The Kitchn:

Tonight PBS airs the Season 3 finale of The Great British Baking Show, the stupendously popular show that taught Americans the meaning of a proper sponge, and introduced them to the steely gaze of Paul Hollywood and cool evaluation of Mary Berry. To mark the occasion, we asked English expat Luke Dempsey to explore his complicated relationship with England past, present, and fantasy. If you had a happy early childhood, as I did, The Great British Baking Show takes you right back to it, to a place where people are uncomplicated and kind and careful of each other. There is no ego, only fun for the sake of it (and there’s a lot of sugar). Set in the grounds of a stately home, in a big tent reminiscent of those used for a local fair (note, there has to be a tent—this is Britain, where the climate is made up of weather, not seasons), the show reeks, to some, of a halcyon time that never existed. Which is why it’s so powerful.

Read the entire original article at: My Complicated Relationship with The Great British Baking Show — Feature Story | The Kitchn

Qunioa and homemade sauce!

One of my favorite Airstream kitchen meals is rice cooker quinoa with red sauce and steamed vegetables. It’s easy, faster than a microwave meal, healthy, filling comfort food.

The recipe is simple:

1 cup quinoa

2 cups liquid (or 1 cup liquid, one cup tomato sauce or pesto)

whatever vegetables are around, chopped

salt, pepper, and cheese to taste.

Combine all ingredients (except the cheese) in the rice cooker on “white rice” setting.  Plate and serve with cheese over top.

The entire process takes about 15 minutes and the result is delicious.

The drawback, is that commercially made sauce is OK, but nothing special. This year, I made sauce from scratch and canned it. The very first thing that I’ve canned on my own.

It was easy … my mom trained me well, and provided good directions in our family cookbook… but it was a LOT of work for 9 little jars of sauce!

homemade sauce
9 jars of homemade tomato sauce

 

Aldi

When I was in graduate school (almost 20 years ago), Aldi opened in my neighborhood, and I was hooked. The food then was inexpensive, high quality, and it was right down the street. I bought my first wheely suitcase at Aldi for $20 (because my German friend had one just like it), and believe it or not, the suitcase has been through the war, and I still use it today.

Well, about a year ago, I made a resolution to stop spending hundreds of dollars a week on groceries, and I paid a visit to Aldi. I was STUNNED to find that Aldi not only stocked a ton of organic staples, but also organic produce and lots of things—as a gluten free vegetarian—that I could eat.

So for the last year, I have cut down convenience shopping at my local co-op (great food, but crazy expensive) and my local Wegmans (good food, but crazy expensive, and ridiculously busy all the time.)

The result is that our grocery bill has gone from about $200 a week to about $60 a week. We eat better, make more healthy choices, and waste less.

Everyone knows that I love grocery shopping—and supermarkets. I’ve often said that if I could be a grocery store historian, I would gladly be one. I have fond memories of shopping at A&P, Loblaws and scores of other stores when I was a kid. To this day, grocery stores are one of my very first stops in any city I visit. They are a unique capsule of standardization and local flavor.

Aldi Logo

Aldi reminds me a bit of grocery shopping in Europe, which (perhaps not surprisingly) is very different from shopping in the US. European stores are smaller, refrigerate less, are more no-nonsense, and are often curiously organized. They are a bit of a novelty in that they are not standard in their typology. They fit in whatever spaces are available and make use of every centimeter.

American supermarkets are all about theatrics, packaging, and lighting to entice impulse buying. They all conform to a similar typology (a long rectangle) and rely on the customer following a zig-zag type pattern up and down each aisle.

Aldi tracks the Euro model more than the American model. Stores are smaller, less theatrical, more practical. Items are clearly marked with signage above, and refrigeration is reserved for things that need it.

Typical Aldi store interior.
Typical Aldi store interior.

One of the biggest differences at Aldi is the produce department. It’s very European. Food comes in crates from the farm (or sometimes pre-packaged) but it’s not dramatically lighted. It’s not sprayed with water. It’s not refrigerated. It’s just there. Oddly, I have noticed over the past year that it also lasts a lot longer. Probably because it’s not soaking wet for days before I buy it.

Aldi Produce Department
Fresh produce selection at Aldi.

Another big difference is the Aldi Finds section. Each week, Aldi features general (non-grocery) merchandise organized around some seasonal theme. The products are incredibly smart, well designed, high quality, and inexpensive. I mentioned above that I have purchased luggage, but I’ve also purchased a power washer, a food dehydrator, some great portable salad bowls, a picnic blanket, and some really great blankets for a fraction of what I would have paid elsewhere.

My parents were a bit leary of Aldi, and I led a field trip to show them how it works. Next week, my two good friends and I are going on a similar field trip. I’ll report back soon on our experience… and maybe, if I’m brave enough, might even include some pictures.

SLA

This past summer, we spent some time touring around The Netherlands and oddly, I found myself surprisingly literate in Dutch. Having some knowledge of the “low German” languages (like Swedish and Norwegian) helped, as did knowing some German, and English. Oddly, because of the virtually non-existant language barrier, I was able to “read” a lot more as we were walking around the charming cities we visited (Delft, Rotterdam, Utrecht).

Increasingly, as I grow older, I am turning into a foodie. I have such an odd vegetarian, gluten free, limit to my eating, that it’s rare that I am “wowed” by a restaurant or culinary experience. In Utrecht, we stumbled upon a restaurant that changed my culinary life. It’s called SLA.

SLA is a salad joint, and as a vegetarian, salad is my go-to meal. But SLA is also a movement. Their salad—and the methods for creating—are unique, and their allegiance to pure food is laudable.

According to the SLA website (this is my own rough translation):

We dream SLA especially of a world where everyone has access to pure food. We are on a mission to create healthy and sustainable food for every person. So that everyone can create healthy eating habits. Granted, that’s a pretty big dream. Fortunately, the weather truly our nature to realize dreams step by step.

Where you start? Well, in the Netherlands. We get hundreds of times each year for the question: what will I eat? Suppose you fill that question as often as possible with organic, unprocessed and local food. All these years and added Dutch do much good for the environment and your health. A single salad, so many benefits.

SLA is beautifully designed and has a stunning aesthetic. The interiors of their shops are relaxed and welcoming, spare but comfortable. The focus is on the food, and the food is truly outstanding.

The SLA process for making salads is also unique. (I know, you’re thinking… how difficult can it be to make a salad?) Well, you don’t know salads until you’ve had one made at SLA. It’s changed the way (and the order in which) I make salads. The process, ingredients, and philosophy is all laid out in the SLA cookbook. Available only in Dutch, but the visual language is completely understandable in any language.

Check out more about SLA on their outstanding website.

The Broken Tangerine Crate.

About 10 years ago, I took knitting lessons from my friend Dorothy’s 90+ year old mom, Ruth. She not only did the impossible (taught me how to knit), but also imparted many interesting stories about the depression and scarcity during World War II. I remember, one night, she offered me a clementine tangerine, and then smashed up the little wooden crate (before my very eyes) and placed it into her fireplace.

My very first instinct was to think: “That’s odd.”

Then I paused for a beat, and thought… “No! I’m odd for thinking that’s odd.”

I mean, how absurd is it that we wouldn’t burn scrap wood for heat? How much more absurd is it that we would put it in the trash to be hauled away to be buried and take decades to decompose.

That seemingly insignificant, inconsequential moment had a huge impact on me.

Ruth also saved seeds from the fruits and vegetables she ate and grew lots of seedlings in her kitchen that, each summer, were transferred to her garden in the back yard.

Again.. why wouldn’t we do that? Why don’t we do that?

About a week ago, I was listening to some NPR story about Monsanto and how Monsanto forbids farmers from saving seeds from year to year. The story recounted how a farmer had saved a bushel of corn (that he grew) and planted it (with the plan to use it to donate to a local food panty) and Monsanto sued him for millions of dollars. Naturally, Monsanto won.

Out for a run the other day, I watched some Laotian immigrants in Buffalo fishing in the Niagara River. My first thought was “Oh my, that’s disgusting.” But, really it isn’t. It’s responsible and sustainable.

It’s strange: we have been so conditioned by big-corpra: big parma, big agriculture, big everything; that only food grown doused in chemicals is safe, that only drugs made by huge factories are safe. When, in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m skittish when thinking about plucking an apple growing from the tree in my local park, but not skittish about eating an apple that was grown 7,000km away in Chile, its natural protective skin burned with acid then rolled in wax, stored in an oxygen deprived chamber for 9 months, and then shipped to my supermarket where countless people touched it as they rifled through the “crate” looking for a “fresh” apple.

Who knew that Ruth—saving seeds in her suburban kitchen—was a rebel pioneer like the corn snubbing Monsanto farmer? So, inspired by Ruth, I made a resolution earlier year to start to be more sustainable. Rather than buying pickles, I’ll make my own facto-pickles (I learned to do this in Estonia this past summer). Rather than buying dried plums imported from Turkey, I’m making my own in my dehydrator. Rather than buying herbs and spices, I’m drying my own. I made my own tomato sauce this past weekend… which, was a lot of work. It’s all a lot of work.

I stopped shopping at the überbig supermarket chains, and I source my food from farmers markets and from Aldi (which has fewer choices and less distractions with impulse junk that I don’t need or really want.) I buy less, store, freeze, and can more, and seem to be making more adventurous and inventive food.

My thinking is this: if I have to work hard to make my food, maybe I’ll appreciate it more. Maybe I’ll eat less of it and maybe I’ll make healthier choices.

I know one thing for sure: it has made my relationship with food much more complicated, and much more satisfying while at the same time simplifying the amount of choice available from my kitchen.

I’ll keep you posted… what about you: how has your relationship with food changed over the years?

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter

About a month ago, my microwave stopped working. I wasn’t sure why, so I checked the fuse box. The GFCI had somehow tripped. Everything else seemed to be working fine, so I didn’t pay it much mind…but for the life of me, I could not reset the GFCI. 

I tried flipping the switch. That didn’t work. I tried pushing the little yellow “test” button. That didn’t work either. I tried both at the same time. That didn’t work. I hauled out my giant Airstream manual and it had no information. I even tried Airforums. No luck. 

So today, the “check” light illuminated on my refrigerator, so I again checked the fuse box. I learned a few things…one, that my fridge has been running on propane intermittently (to my surprise) and second that the GFCI is reset   By pushing the switch DOWN and then up. 
Everything seems to be working now!

Remember: down then up!

 

The year of buying nothing. 

My year of buying nothing is going reasonably well. I have made a small number of miscellaneous purchases bot nothing more than $10. 

I find, as I am eating more healthy food, that salads and power bowls are becoming more and more part of my diet. Despite this, the only bowls I have in the airstream are some shallow red ones. They are sturdy but not terribly practical when it comes to “deep dish” meals like oatmeal and soup. 

  

Enter, the “handle bowl” a sort of large latte mug that can be used for soups, stews, porridge and other “bowl based” meals. We happened to have two extra stashed away in cobalt and almost cobalt blue. 

They are the perfect cost-free addition to the airstream kitchen and perfect because the handles allow them to hang cleanly out of the way.