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United States Regional Cuisine: Soul Food

United States Regional Cuisine: Soul Food

The history of American soul food can be traced all the way back to the days of slavery. More often times than not, the slaves were given the most undesirable part of the meal, the leftovers from the house. Pairing this with their own home-grown vegetables, the first soul food dishes were invented. After the slaves were freed, most of them were so poor that they could only afford the most undesirable, inexpensive cuts of meat available to them. (The leftover, unwanted parts of a pig such as tripe, tongue, ears, and knuckles). As in the days of slavery, African-Americans used their own home-grown vegetables and things they could catch or kill to complete their meals.

In the modern United States, soul food has truly evolved. It has become part of the African-American culture, bringing family members together on all occasions from birthdays to funerals, to spend time together preparing meals. The history of soul food is mainly an oral one; recipes were never really written down so while two families may be preparing identical meals, chances are that they don’t taste very much alike. Different ingredients, cooking methods, and techniques go into preparing soul food meals, causing the end results to come out differently.

One of the most obvious and widely-recognized characteristics of African-American soul food is the fact that hot sauce and more intense spices are incorporated into meals as often as possible. For this reason, soul food is not for those who can’t take the heat or are prone to heart burn!

Another characteristic of true African-American soul food is that nothing is ever wasted. Having originated from the leftovers of just about anything. Stale bread was quickly converted into stuffing or a bread pudding. Over ripe bananas were whipped up into banana puddings, and other ripe fruits were put into cakes and pies, and leftover fish parts were made into croquets or hush puppies.

Sunday dinners are definitely the times when soul food is most commonly seen on tables. Sunday dinners are a time for African-American families to get together to prepare and partake in a large meal. Sunday dinners normally take up the entire day (normally following a church ceremony), and family members come from far and wide to partake in this meal together. Sunday dinners took place in the form of potlucks, also, where various family members contribute a dish or two and form a big, fine meal. Collard and mustard greens, kale, ribs, corn bread, fried chicken, chitlins, okra, and yams are all excellent examples of African-American soul food that might be found at a Sunday meal.

Soul food is not generally a healthy option for a person that must monitor their diet. Fried foods are generally prepared with hydrogenated oil or lard, and they usually tend to be flavored and seasoned with pork products. Since this may be what contributes to such a high percentage of African-Americans that are significantly overweight, soul food preparation methods are now slowly starting to be refined, bringing a lot more healthy options to the table. Rather than the increasingly unhealthy pork products, use of turkey-based products is becoming more and more popular as time passes. The fried foods that are so beloved of the culture can now be prepared using a lower fat canola or vegetable oil.

Lunch Means So Much More Than Fast Food

Lunch is the forgotten stepchild of the meal day. We spend a fair amount of energy planning dinner, and we (sometimes begrudgingly) spend some energy making sure we eat breakfast. But more than one of us has looked at the clock at noon, realized we are hungry and then scarfed down whatever was available and easy.

Too often, that means fast food, vending machine food or – for some people – nothing at all. And this is truly unfortunate. Nutrition experts tell us again and again that eating three meals and two snacks a day is the surest path to good nutrition and a balanced diet. And even if you are eating lunch, a hamburger and fries doesn’t get you very far on the path to good nutrition.

So, how do you change this? Lunch is a tough one for people who work outside the home. Sure, you can pack leftovers from dinner, but what if there aren’t any or you didn’t like dinner in the first place? Making a sandwich and adding some fruit sounds easy, but that’s just one more thing to do in the morning and if you’re in a rush, it’s one of the first chores you’ll discard.

Here are some tips to bring lunch back into focus on busy weekdays:

*Do plan for leftovers, if possible. If you like what you’re making for dinner and think you wouldn’t mind having it for lunch tomorrow, set aside some before everyone else gets fed. Put it into the fridge and your family will never know a portion of the entree is missing. Best of all, you’ve already done the work. Add a piece of fruit and yogurt and there’s lunch tomorrow.

*If you must have fast food, stay away from fries, most hamburgers, anything breaded and fried and most salads. Yes, I said salads. Sure, you’ll get some nutritional content from the lettuce and all the other goodies on the salad, but the dressing might have as much as 30 grams of fat in it, most of it saturated fat. Stick with light dressings or even keep a bottle of dressing in the fridge at work. Otherwise, stay away from fast food salads (and they’re never that good anyway). Try a grilled chicken sandwich, sans fries.

*If you’re out and about running errands and get hungry, stop at 7-11, and grab a bottle of milk, some trail mix or a granola bar and a piece of fruit. It might not be gourmet, but it will get you through to a small snack later and then dinner.

*Keep lunch items at work. There are many things you can keep in your desk that are shelf stable and still healthy. How about tuna packets and crackers? How about some fruit in its own juice? Nuts, trail mix and granola bars are all good choices. Stay away from sodium-laden canned soups and noodle bowls. Not only can they provide you with more than the maximum sodium you need for one day, they also won’t provide the complex carb and protein boost you need to get you through the afternoon and keep you from stalking the vending machine later for an unhealthy snack.

Food Shop Online

The Internet is a wonderful world within itself. Even though it has its problems, the benefits far outweigh the set-backs. With its apparently unlimited amount of websites on every subject and topic, no matter what your interest is you can find millions of sites. In the real world you can’t come close to experiencing all of the stores or shops that sell the widgets that you are interested in. How many times in the real world have you visit a restaurant or little store in your hometown for the first time that has been in the same location for years? If it is a pleasant experience you wonder why you had not tried their business sooner.
You might have driven past their location for years, and then one day you decide to go inside, only to find out that they offer something that you absolutely love or have to have.

The Internet is exactly the same way, I have been on the Internet for about 10 years and I just recently decided to try food shopping online. I have been an online shopper from the beginning. I never had a problem with trusting the merchants that I purchased from. That’s why I cannot understand what took me so long to try online food shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the supermarket, even though it’s not one of my favorite things to do, but I don’t mind going to the market. My wife has told me that there is something sexy about a man that food shops. So that alone is enough incentive for me to go with her. Going by myself is another matter all together.

One day the food shopping needed to be done, and I drew the assignment. I decide to check online to see if any of the local supermarkets had a website or offered delivery. Approximately 20 minutes later I had schedule for delivery $175 worth of groceries from the very supermarket that I was going to be going to. They had every item on the list that my wife had given me. For a nominal fee of $6.95 they would bring our groceries to our house at a day and time that I specified. The whole time I’m thinking that this is worth every penny of 7 bucks, no shopping carts with a bad wheel, no crying babies, no long check out lines, no price checks, clearly the only way to food shop.

The delivery was scheduled for the next day, our delivery man was on time and courteous.
He also did not drop the 10 bags of groceries at the door, he carried all of the bags to our kitchen. I’m not sure, but I think he would have put them away if I asked. I was more than happy to give him the $7 tip that I gave him. The surprise of the whole thing is that I did not tell my wife that I had scheduled the delivery, after the delivery guy left, come to find out that, figuring out a way to do the food shopping without going to the supermarket is even more sexy.

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Fast Food Takes Its Place

What if someone asked you to name the great cuisines of the world? What would you say? French food, of course, is famous. Italians are world-renowned. Greek food has its own following. What about America?

Well, what comes to mind when you hear the words “American cuisine”? Personally, I think of the 1950’s drive-up restaurants, with milkshakes and old-fashioned hamburgers and Coney Islands dripping in mustard. That’s probably not the typical definition for the word “cuisine”, but it definitely defines American food.
But wait a second. What does the word “cuisine” mean, exactly? The textbook definition is “A characteristic manner or style of preparing food.” According to that, there’s nothing more American than a hamburger, large fries, and a chocolate milkshake. That meal, served in its own greasy white paper bag, might just be the epitome of everything that is American.

American fast food chains have spread all over the world. They are a symbol of western life in far-off lands, a landmark, loved or hated, by tourists and natives alike. Even the French, who carefully monitor each word that enters their language, have allowed in “hamburger” and “hotdog” to refer to these distinctly American treasures. What exactly is so appealing about this distinctly American tradition of hot, greasy, tasty food on the run?

For one thing, fast food has a constancy about it. Every time you order a cheeseburger from a particular restaurant chain, you know what that cheeseburger is going to taste like. If someone mentions fast food french fries, you can immediately imagine the taste in your mouth and the striped paper pouch in which they arrive, complete with a layer of salt collected at the bottom and that one short, squat little fry, overdone and sharp at the edges. In a constantly changing society, it seems, Americans and others all over the world derive a real comfort from knowing exactly what they are getting. It’s the same thing they’ve been getting since childhood.

Secondly, the massive appeal of fast food comes from the fact that it is, indeed, fast. Where else but America could such a thing have developed? We’re a busy people, with multiple jobs and deadlines and kids and responsibilities, and knowing that we can pick up pre-cooked, steamy hot food in a bag and bring it home to satisfy hunger with minimum fuss is definitely appealing. You technically don’t even need to dirty your silverware.

It may be unhealthy, and it may be expensive, and it may be contributing to the decline of Americans sitting down to dinner together every night. But let’s face it- like the gas-gobbling SUVs we love to drive, Americans have a dichotomy of love and hate with most of the things they’ve created. And fast food, in all of its greasy glory, is here to stay.

Besides, sometimes it’s a wonderful thing to be able to overcome your guilt, forget about your arteries for just a minute, and buy yourself a burger. And maybe even super-size it. After all, it’s the American way.

Diet Food Doesn’t Have To Be Boring!

Not too long ago, my mother and I were talking about food and diets. “Your grandmother used to feed you pasta five nights a week,” my mother insisted.

“She did not!” I exclaimed, stung. After all, I remembered my grandmother as a wonderfully varied cook who could make anything taste wonderful. She served all sorts of meals, not just pasta! There was spaghetti, of course – she was Italian, after all. But she also made Ziti with vegetables. And Linguine. And tuna casserole with. ..elbow macaroni. By the time I’d finished naming off a typical week’s worth of menus, I had to concede my mother’s point – but I made mine as well. “But… it didn’t FEEL like we were eating pasta every night!”

There’s a point to this story, I promise, and here it comes:

One of the biggest reasons that people slip off their diets and eating plans is BOREDOM.

It’s very easy to look at the foods allowed on your diet and see it as restrictive and boring. Chicken four nights a week. Fish three times a week. Green leafy vegetables till they’re coming out of your ears. Who wouldn’t get bored?

The answer is – anyone with a good set of cookbooks and a healthy imagination. Perk up your cabinet with spices and fill your refrigerator with fresh fruits and vegetables, then look for novel ways to combine them.

Here are a handful of tips for non-boring, healthy, low-cal eating

1. Spice it up!

Spices are one of the quickest ways out of the diet doldrums. Rosemary and fennel with chicken, mint rubbed into pork, pepper and lemon mint on fresh fish – the ‘blander’ the food, the higher the effect of the spices.

2. Dress it up.

Fruit vinaigrette dressings make wonderful marinades for meats and dressings for warm or cold vegetables. Try broccoli drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette or cabbage spiced up with apple vinegar and pepper.

2. Herb-infused olive oils – tarragon, ginger, fennel and more.

3. My brother the chef gave me a set of three oils for Christmas one year and it completely changed the way I’ll cook forever!

4. Low sodium soy sauce is a great way to flavor up just about anything.

5. Fruit

The bitterness of dark leafy greens like spinach were practically designed to be eaten with mandarin oranges, raspberries or chunks of pineapple.

Still need some help? Here is a list of the absolute best cookbooks on the market to help you fight those diet boredom blues!

The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
This cookbook features polenta, couscous and more!

Laurie’s Low-Carb Cookbook
This everyday chef shares recipes that are so easy to do!

Low Carb Meals In Minutes
Use this book and get six weeks worth of complete menus that include shopping lists.

Dr. Atkins New Diet Cookbook
This one’s from the creator of the Atkins Diet

The South Beach Diet Cookbook
This book is packed with more than 200 recipes for delicious low-fat foods

Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favorites
If meat isn’t your thing, this cookbook shares recipes from one of the most famous vegetarian restaurants in America

American Heart Association Low-Fat Low-Cholesterol Cookbook
Are you trying to lower your cholesterol or take care of your heart? This book has great tasting recipes that are good for you—and your heart!

American Heart Association Meals in Minutes
If you’re constantly eating fast foods because you simply don’t have the time to create great tasting healthy meals, check out this book!

Joslin Diabetes Center’s Vegetarian Diabetic Cookbook Meatless and vegan recipes that are low fat, high fiber, and delicious

The Guilt-Free Gourmet Famous cruise ship chef Sam Miles put together this wonderful cookbook from his six years traveling on ships as a cook.

So, now you’ve got some ideas and some resources—there should be no reason that you have to live with boring foods—even if you are on a diet!