Picture

For our christmas party, my brother and I made a Pomegranate Panna Cotta. It was perfect for the holidays - a slightly tangy pomegranate syrup contrasted by an ultra creamy vanilla custard. YUM. My brother and I got the heavy cream from the Redding Terminal Market. When we opened it up the color was completely different than the heavy cream my mom had bought from Shop Rite, which made me think: Just how important is organic dairy?

Normally, I am of the opinion that buying organic is generally better because 1) you can be sure that what you are buying is free from chemicals, additives, hormones, antibiotics, etc, 2) you are reducing your environmental footprint, and 3) you vote with your dollar and increase the demand for better quality food.  However, the cost of organic milk has been rising over the past few years and is at least double (sometimes triple) the cost of non-organic milk.  So it begs the question of if it is worth the extra price?

Should you buy organic dairy?

Before I delve into the topic further, I will say that the key principle of buying organic is it is more beneficial to buy organic with the items that make up the majority of your diet. For example, I eat tons of kale and berries, but I rarely consume dairy. So for me buying organic kale and berries would make more sense than buying organic dairy. 

There are really two ways to look at this topic.

1) Organic milk from industrial-scale producers (i.e Horizon) vs. conventional milk

From an animal treatment perspective, industrial scale producers of organic milk still keep their cows in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), very rarely let them feed on a pasture, and subject them to the same stressful conditions as factory farms. In essence, these dairy cows are diseased and depressed just like their conventionally farmed counter parts, but are just not loaded up with antibiotics. Environmentally, industrial scale producers of organic milk are still creating the same amount of waste and pollution, even if they are marginally better by eliminating antibiotic/hormone use. 

From a health perspective, all milk, conventional or organic, is tested for antibiotics before being sold to the consumer. Many people are concerned about traces of the growth hormone (rbST) in conventionally farmed milk, but there are conventional producers of milk that do not administer the growth hormone to their cows. Of course, the cost of non-rBST treated dairy is typically higher, but the premium is not as high as organic dairy. Also, organic milk is ultrapasturized to increase shelf life. There has been some evidence to suggest that the high heating temperatures of ultrapasturization actually reduces the quality of the milk and removes some of the nutrients. 

If given the choice between organic milk from industrial scale producers and conventionally farmed milk, I would say that the premium of organic milk is not worth the benefits.

2) Organic milk from small-scale family farms or co-ops of family farms vs. conventional milk

Small-scale family farms generally have better practices, as a result of having the means to allow the cows space and land for pasture. Small-scale farmers tend to the land better, produce less waste, and have a human connection to the farm. However, being certified organic is a huge expense and takes time. 

If you find a small scale farm that is producing quality milk, but isn't certified organic don't rule it out. The cows on that farm might have even more grazing time than those on the farms that are certified, but the farmer might not have been able to chalk up the expense to get certified. This is why I think buying dairy from farms where the cows are grass fed is the best option. Although it may or may not be organic, you can ensure the cow was at least a happier cow than the cows that were unable to graze. In addition, grass-fed has it's own health benefits (higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and CLAs). 

If given the choice between organic milk from small scale farms and conventionally farmed milk, I would purchase the milk from the small scale farm.

In my opinion, the order basically goes like this:
Buy grass fed over organic and conventional.
If you can't buy that or it's too expensive, buy organic from a family farm over conventional.
If you can't find that or it's too expensive, buy conventional non-rBST treated milk.

If you want a quick resource to see if the organic milk you are buying is worth it, The Cornucopia Institute has a great scorecard of organic dairy producers which you can find here. If you are interested in more information, they also have a great paper on Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk.

 
 
Every night before I go to sleep, I heat up some almond milk, add some honey and cinnamon, and drink it as a nightcap (minus the alcohol obviously). I seriously look forward to it every night.

Tonight, I decided to try adding in some chocolate. It was beyond good - like a slightly nutty hot chocolate. I drank it while watching Friends reruns under a huge down comforter. If I had a fireplace right now, I would be all set. 

Almond Milk Hot Chocolate

Ingredients: 
70% Dark Chocolate Bar
Almond Milk
Raw Honey
Cinnamon

Preparation:

1) Heat 2 cups almond milk in a sauce pan and bring to boil.
2) Add in 1 -1.5 tsp of honey. Stir.
3) Add in 1/4 tsp of cinnamon.
4) Break chocolate into 2-3 1/2 inch squares and stir into almond milk. They should melt right in. And then you can adjust by adding in more chocolate if you deem necessary.
5) Watch Friends under a blanket, sit by fireplace, and sip hot chocolate.



 
 
I decided I should probably get into sports to get ready for my move to Boston, so I am supposed to be watching the Eagles v Giants game right now. But it seems like I picked the worst game to start, since neither of the teams have gotten past the 50 yard line for most of the first half. Whatever, I'm just going to write this blog post instead.

Before I moved out, Rachel and I got a chance to make these awesome baked plums. They are SO easy and heavenly. I think that if you bake any fruit with honey, it will turn into dessert gold. We ended up topping it with a little bit of yogurt and cinnamon, and it was perfection.

Finally, touchdown Eagles! Maybe they sensed that people (namely me) were getting bored, and decided to finally make some good moves on the field.

 
 
Picture
Today was my last day of work. It was totally bitter sweet. A part of me was excited for the new opportunity and move to Boston, but then a part of me was sad to leave a place where I had gotten so comfortable and made so many friends. It's especially sad because Megha, one of my really close friends from college has been working with me for the past two years. We used to be notorious for taking coffee breaks, roaming the halls, and going on vacations together. But it is time to move on, and keeping with the bitter sweet sentiments of the day, I thought I would make a blackberry cobbler - using the sweetness of the honey to balance out the bitterness of the blackberries.

This cobbler is such a crowd pleaser. I've made this before for a family party, and if I can please 20 Indians with a sugar-free/grain-free dessert, you know it's a winner. I also made one for Rachel (my roommate). She couldn't reheat it because our oven is totally jank, but apparently it still tasted heavenly even when served cold! 

For this cobbler, I got the ingredients from the Union Square Greenmarket. The blackberries are from Phillips Farm, the egg was from Central Valley Farm, and the honey was from Andrew's Honey


 
 
I used to eat sugar and chocolate like it was my job. Literally, at least once a day, I would eat a sugar laden treat. To be honest, it has been surprisingly easy to find ways to get my sweet fix without the sugar.  So if you are reaching for that pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey Ice Cream (let's not lie, it is their best flavor by far), stop right there and make this Almond Joy smoothie instead. Trust me, you won't regret it.

The inspiration for this smoothie comes from a "health" food place located around the corner from my office. Every time I go in, someone is always ordering the Almond Joy. I decided to look into this concoction that they were making, based off of my favorite candy bar and see if it was actually healthy. Lo and behold, it wasn't half bad. And it tasted like an ice cream milkshake without the the ice cream, milk, and sugar. I know you're asking" so it's a dessert?" Just taste it!* 
I played around with the measurements to figure out how to get it to taste just like the health food place, but feel free to adjust. Also, I got my honey from Andrew's Honey at the Union Square farmer's market, and it is SO sweet and delicious. It tastes completely different from that golden honey crap that they sell in those weird plastic bear shaped bottles.

*Hopefully you caught the Mad Men reference.