About Me

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Oakland County, Michigan, United States
My friends call me the "grammar goddess." Really. ;-) I own a freelance writing, editing and tutoring business. Previously, I served three years as food editor for The Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant, which kindled my interest in food writing. My other areas of expertise in writing include features, community news, architecture/construction and engraving/personalization. I have a frightening number of cookbooks and watch too many DIY, HGTV, Food Network, Cooking Channel and Antiques Roadshow (BBC and PBS versions) shows. And I tweak nearly every recipe I make.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Helping the homeless and saving money with ugly vegetables

You may not know this, but I used to work as a cashier in a grocery store in the 1990s.

I met a number of people who received WIC and/or food stamps at my first grocery store, where I worked for two years. Some of these customers I got to know very well because they bought small orders and came in two to three times a week. It was clear that most of them were embarrassed to be buying food with assistance. Some came in with a chip on their shoulder, expecting to be criticized, whether by other customers or the cashiers checking them out, I'm not sure. 

I treated them like any other customer, often calling them by name. Why wouldn't I? It's good business to get to know your customers and it was a small enough store that I could learn many of their names. 

The woman (and by and large, it was they who were buying) clearly weren't used to being treated that way. Once we were better acquainted, some told me that. They came to our smaller store because the people were nicer and it was close enough to walk. It was evident they were used to being treated as second-class customers somewhere, which made me upset on their behalf. 

Sometimes I wondered why they picked the items they did, though I never criticized. The items they bought, almost universally, were cheap and/or on sale, were filling and often non-perishable, except for WIC items such as milk and cheese.

A couple of the other customers occasionally commented to me about a prior customer's choices (whether purchased with food stamps or not). I either changed the subject or politely ignored those comments from the busybodies and got on with my job, rather than telling them to mind their own business. 

Fruit and vegetables my customers bought with food stamps were almost always canned. I didn't connect that 20 years ago, when I started working at the first store, to the fact that fresh fruits and vegetables are almost always expensive. I did clue in, eventually, but I didn't know what possibly could be done about it. I knew fresh produce was more expensive, and some of these ladies had three or four kids to feed.

Let's go forward 20 years. A few articles and blog posts I've recently come across are giving me ideas of what could have been done back then and should be done now.

The most touching of the articles was the most personal; it was by Brooke McKay, who documented a trip to the grocery store with a woman who lives in crisis housing within the homeless shelter at which Brooke volunteers. Brooke gave Tori $50 (name changed for privacy purposes), though actually they spent more because she didn't want Tori to have to take any of the food back. She was surprised that one of the items Tori picked was an $11 bag of apples. The trip broke through the assumptions people often make about the homeless and those on food stamps. 

The comments section also is rather enlightening. I will admit that I had a few tears in my eyes reading the blog and comments. (“There but for the grace of God go I.”)

A big part of why produce seems to be so outrageously expensive appears to be food waste. 

According to a 2013 NPR (National Public Radio) blog post I read, Doug Rauch, formerly Trader Joe's president, planned to use edible produce past its sell-by date in prepared food that will be cheap in his supermarket-restaurant hybrid that features food that other stores would have thrown out. The Daily Table market will be in Dorchester, Mass. It was scheduled to open this year. I've been searching for half an hour and still can't figure out whether or not it's opened yet.

It's mentioned in other articles, too, including this one 4 Restuarants Rethink Food Waste, on www.sustainableamerica.org's blog. The post offers some fabulous ideas, as does another on that site, called Ugly Produce Can Be a Beautiful Thing. One of the points noted is that at every level, ugly produce is wasted. 

In a quest to reduce waste, grocery chains in the U.K., such as TescoWaitboro, and Sainsbury's Food Rescue embrace the sale of these fruits and veggies at discounted prices. In Europe, it's Ugly Fruits leading the way. Intermarch√© in France also is promoting the benefits of ugly produce ... and a 30 percent discount, according to a grist.org article. French shoppers are gobbling them up

Ugly Produce Can Be a Beautiful Thing also commented that the U.S., Greenling, which delivers groceries in Texas featuring local food and organic produce, "sells 'seconds' that have slight physical defects" while another delivery service, "Fresh Direct," based in Long Island City, Queens, rates its produce from one to five stars and customers can choose their grade, either taking a chance on one-star produce, which can be inconsistent to the perfect five-star produce. Home delivery is available in some areas; check the list. Out west, Grocery Outlet "sells closeouts and overruns, including produce." 

If you want to know more, here are additional sources I found interesting:






Friday, August 1, 2014

Where in the world is Anne? And here's some gluten-free news to chew on

"Where is the world is Anne?" you might ask. "She hasn't posted since April." 

Ahem. Shameless plug incoming (and you can't say you had no warning, either). 

Since my last post, I have published a book of poetry, Reflections, which encompasses more than 30 years of my poetry, with amazing illustrations and cover art by Sarah J. Waldock, who is an author in her own right. 

My book can be found here on Amazon.com. And here on CreateSpace. Check it out.

And now, for some gluten-free news to chew on. Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.

Now this news doesn't affect my home state of Michigan, sadly, but is cool to know for travel purposes. According to an article in Supermarket News, Wegmans now offers sushi made without gluten, including gluten-free soy sauce Kikkomans formulated especially for the supermarket chain. 

A later version of the story indicated that the sushi is not labeled as
gluten-free, because of the possible change of cross-contamination. 

I believe Wegmans is covering its corporate bottom with careful language. 

Still, making that change definitely is a step in the right direction, and good for those who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease but avoid gluten for other reasons. 

I'd like to hear my readers' opinions on Wegmans' actions: good move, or "close but no cigar?"

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Yotsuba Ann Arbor ... delicious but slow

See the pretty sushi? Jen and I had fun tonight eating this at Yotsuba in Ann Arbor. Jen's was a tempura jalapeno Philly roll (right). Mine (below)  was a combination we shared of all things California roll: regular, spicy and tempura. It was delicious! The only downside was rather slow service.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Every time I turn around lately, I see another charity event involving food.

Perhaps it's due to the fact that people are more likely to attend indoor events in the winter than the summer?

At any rate, there are some awesome events to choose from coming up in Southeast Michigan. (Some are even within half an hour's drive or less from me, which is ... unusual.

You might consider one of these three events coming up in the next six weeks or so:

  • This Saturday, Feb. 1, try an authentic Russian dinner, First Presbyterian, 1432 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48104. It will fund mission work. For details about the menu, guest speaker, mission and costs, check out Ann Arbor MLive or go to the church's website. RSVP required; call 734-662-4466.

  • The next one's in my neck of the woods. Enjoy Freedom Work Opportunities, Inc.'s 30th anniversary celebration on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 59West, 786 W. Highland Road, Highland Township, MI 48357. The $50 entry fee includes dinner with your choice of top sirloin with au jus or chicken marsala entrees paired with garlic parmesan mashed potatoes, mostaccioli, green beans almondine and a dessert/coffee bar. A photo booth, a silent auction with a wide variety of items  and a live auction with  Highland Township Supervisor Rick Hamill serving as auctioneer is featured. Among the great prizes for the live auction are a drive for two around the General Motors Proving Grounds track and four "park hopper" tickets to Walt Disney World are all part of the fun. For more information about the silent or live auction items, or to purchase tickets, go to Freedom Work Opportunities' website.

  • Metro Detroit Empty Bowls event is from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 16 in the Assumption Cultural Center, 21800 Marter Rd., St. Clair Shores, MI 48080. A $10 minimum donation is accepted. The event features food from top area restaurants and inspirational music by The Ambassadors. To purchase tickets, or to donate, click here. For more information, see the listing in Hour Detroit.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Healthier eating out for holiday celebrations

It's a holiday, so you want to join in having some celebratory food and your favorite holiday drink. With the wide variety of foods around, sometimes it's hard to make sure you are still overall meeting the goals of eating healthy. I have this problem as much as the next person, but I've learned a few things over the years.

Try to keep it to one small cookie!
There's no need to be crazy about it: for example, don't munch only on plain celery sticks while looking longingly at the pie your cousin is eating. For one thing, it'll make him nervous the way you're eyeing his food. In addition, that level of self-sacrifice might lead to overeating later.

Take it easy
"All things in moderation." While I've gnashed my teeth on some occasions I have heard this, it still is true. I'm not trying to be a killjoy; all these suggestions are meant to enhance your enjoyment of the holidays while minimizing the pain involved getting on the scale after them.

The best thing to do, with both snacks and dinner, is to take a plate up to where the food is, select what you will eat and move on out.

You and I both know what makes a healthy dinner, really. I don't think we need to go there. Do you?

Personally, I find the nibbles before and after and the dessert course much harder to deal with than what's for dinner.

Standing in the kitchen next to the snacks or eating standing up by the food buffet both tend to lead to mindless nibbling. Take some things you really like that scream "holiday food" to you, but don't get carried away. And go sit down rather than staying by the food. Meanwhile, keeping your mouth busy with talking with friends and family between bites also helps to keep down the food intake. If you follow these steps, you'll still have room for a reasonable dinner and a light dessert.

But a buffet of snacks is hard for almost everybody, including me. People tend to nibble here and there; and, before you know it, you've consumed hundreds of calories!

Better choices can be tasty, too
There usually are some healthier choices from the snack buffet (pick two or three if dinner follows). If the snack buffet is your dinner, have between five and seven choices.

Just try these:
  • a handful (no more) of your favorite nuts 
  • plain tea, black coffee, or water for your drinks, rather than punch, cider or eggnog, is a very good idea
  • two small pieces of dark chocolate or fruit covered with dark chocolate
  • a roll-up consisting of a slice of lunch meat and a slice of cheese
  • two to three pieces of sushi (if quite large, limit to two pieces)
  • grape or cherry tomatoes (my personal favorite; I will, left to my own devices, eat them all, even without dip)
  • pickle chips and/or olives (keep it to 10 or less if you need to watch sodium)
  • fruit salad or other fresh fruit (grapes, strawberries, pineapple tidbits, or apple slices and fruit dip made with low-fat yogurt are all good choices)
  • veggies and either low-fat spinach-artichoke dip or ranch dressing 
  • approximately three cubes of your favorite cheese (the equivalent of about one string cheese stick, depending on size). 
  • Three cubes or three small pieces/slices of ham, sausage, salami, prosciutto or smoked salmon (I am like a starving mouse when it comes to cubes of cheese and love prosciutto; believe me: you do not want the "hungover" feeling from overdoing either of these items)
Other ideas to avoid overeating

If you want a cup of eggnog, try diluting it with skim milk and keep to a small cup (1/2 c. is one serving for any type of eggnog). Try either low-fat eggnog or one of the non-dairy versions available in the natural foods sections of many stores, including Kroger and Meijer. Any of these choices are lower in calories than traditional eggnog.

Why not make your favorite healthy treat to share? Then something you like and can eat without derailing your balanced diet will be available. You might even make a healthy main dish, if dinner is something very heavy like 10-layer lasagna and bread sticks. (This does require coordination with your host/hostess, but usually that's not a problem. That's especially true if you follow a healthy diet for medical reasons and explain that.)

Fill up on unadulterated veggies (steamed beans versus green bean casserole, for example, or salad or the raw veggie tray with a little bit of light ranch) and take small amounts of high-calorie items. (At the risk of sounding obvious, any dish smothered in/mixed with cheese, sour cream, butter, fried onions or mushroom soup, it is pretty high in calories.)

Protein, such as turkey ham or lunch meat rolled up with a slice of cheese is a better bet than potato-cheese casserole.

A serving of sweet potatoes is usually a better option than whipped, mashed potatoes with cream and butter. If your sweet potatoes come with marshmallows baked on it, why not make it your dessert?

One reason I adore having bite-sized desserts at a party is that I can try two or three things without totally destroying my game plan. The point is to limit yourself to the equivalent of one fairly small dessert portion. So try fresh fruit instead of pie, cake or cookies when possible. If pie is your must-have holiday food, keep it to one thin slice or two very thin slices (1/4-1/2 inch thick). Ditto for cookies: have one normal-sized cookie or two small cookies.

Above all, don't forget to enjoy yourself when you're out for the holidays.








Thursday, October 17, 2013

Crunch Granola donates half its profits to fight hunger

Outta my mind on Thursday evening ... OK, I'll stop scamming from Bob Talbert, a heck of a columnist who would have been awesome at blogging had he lived in the digital age. 

I'm feeling nostalgic about a lot of things as I plan to go to Central Michigan University during Homecoming weekend. It may not be the best idea ever, going there Homecoming weekend for my first trip back in years, but the timing worked out. I already will be halfway there for a going-away party for Julie, a good friend and former coworker at The Catholic Weekly.

Even as I look back, I know that moving forward is the way to go.

I'm inching my way to a gluten-free, and, possibly down the road, a mostly Paleo/Primal lifestyle. Not because I've ever been diagnosed with Celiac disease, but because I feel it is a simple way to cut out the worst things I tend to eat fairly easily. I did the gluten-free thing for several months last year and earlier this year. Once you have some convenience products to rely on, it can be easy. But remember, even if it is gluten-free, that doesn't mean it's good for you. I speak from experience!

One of the things I miss when I am eating gluten-free is granola ... and, even though I was born at the height of the "flower child" movement, I am unlikely to make my own. It's not cheap, but I think I may try Crunch Granola, for these reasons: 
  • It's gluten-free.
  • The business is based in Wolverine Lake, not too far from my home.
  • 50 percent of the profits are donated to Forgotten Harvest food bank or, if sold in Lansing, the Greater Lansing Area Food Bank.
  • As of today, the number of donated meals financed through Crunch Granola sales is 39,234: not bad for a year's work! 
For more information about how this business got started, see this article by MSU Extension 







Monday, August 19, 2013

A banner day for gluten-free eaters?

You may have heard the word on the street. 

The FDA has defined a gluten-free standard, which leads to hope that gluten-free eaters will be able to confidently choose a food that is labeled gluten-free and know it meets a certain threshold for gluten: less than 20 parts per million (ppm). 

An excerpt from the FDA's findings states: 

"In addition to limiting the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 ppm, FDA will allow manufacturers to label a food "gluten-free" if the food does not contain any of the following:
  1. an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
  2. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  3. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten
Foods such as bottled spring water, fruits and vegetables, and eggs can also be labeled "gluten-free" if they inherently don't have any gluten.
The regulation will be published Aug. 5, 2013 in the Federal Register, and manufacturers have one year from the publication date to bring their labels into compliance."

That doesn't solve all the problems, of course. There are people who cannot tolerate 1 ppm of gluten. But it's a start. 

In the meantime, look for these seals certifying pretty rigid standards for a food to be defined as gluten-free. Or stick to naturally gluten-free foods, including fruits, vegetables and meat. If using gluten-free grains, make sure they are certified gluten-free. Bob's Red Mill has certified gluten-free oats, for example, as well as gluten-free flours. 

Just be careful. Each of you is a unique treasure; take care of yourselves! 
 

For more information, check out these articles: