I’ve been off McDonald’s for awhile, trying to erase the sins of the holiday season by following the plan put forth in Tim Ferris’ book, The 4-Hour Body. It’s all about rapid fat loss and it’s been working pretty well, so I’m not eager to mess with it, but the beauty of the program is that once each week, you are required, that’s right, required, to binge. One must do so carefully, but still.
So this Saturday, I’m planning to head over to a Bay Area McDonald’s and try a new, limited-time product they launched this week called Fish McBites. I’m a sucker for restaurant history, so I thought it was cool when I learned that this year, McDonald’s celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. That makes it a perfect time to launch a new fish product, but in 2013, we must be careful about sustainability and McDonald’s is on it with this one. Fish McBites contain wild-caught Alaska Pollock that is responsibly sourced from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainable fisheries. That makes McDonald’s the first fast food chain in the U.S. to offer MSC certified sustainable fish on its menu all year long (the same MSC certified Pollock is in the File O’ Fish sandwich too).
Fish McBites are only available until the end of March. They timed the launch to coincide with Lent, a period of time in the Christian calendar when people often decide to give up things, like red meat.
And Fish McBite’s aren’t only available in grown-up portions. For the first time ever, the limited-time Fish McBites Happy Meal brings a fish entrée option to the iconic Happy Meal.
Fish McBites Happy Meals with 1 percent low-fat white milk, 100 percent apple juice or fat-free chocolate milk, meet new nutrition criteria in the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.
When StreamingGourmet first started back in 2008, it was primarily a video site, hence the word, “streaming.” Today, I return to those roots by sharing this video collection of Julia Child clips. She would have turned 100 this Wednesday, August 15. Bon Appétit!
On a trip to Delaware in early June, I had the privilege of observing the process of harvesting and freezing peas with Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary, Edwin Kee. We toured a pea farm near Milford and the PictSweet pea freezing and packing facility near Bridgeville. Mr. Kee explained that peas are a cool weather crop. They are planted in February/March and harvested in early June.
On this early June day, Delaware is abuzz at how amazing the pea yields are this year. Pictsweet tells us they are on track to harvest over five and half million pounds of peas in Delaware this spring. That’s right. 5.5 million pounds. They are pulling in peas at a rate of 3,500 lbs/acre. That’s the best pea yield in Delaware 10 years. The long, cool spring which featured a warmup in the middle hit it just right.
What do you do when you’re pulling 3,500 lbs of peas off of every acre? You quickly transport them to the freezing plant for sorting, grading, washing, washing, more sorting, more washing, blanching, flash freezing and storing. Peas typically move from field to frozen in 4-6 hours. Can you believe it? 4-6 hours. I’ve always heard that frozen is more fresh than fresh. Now I know what that means.
The equipment involved in moving millions of pounds of peas in just a short harvest window would blow your mind.
1) First there is the harvester. This machine can also operate as a lima bean harvester. Each one of these harvesters will set a farmer back about $400,000 and there were 3-4 of them working this field this afternoon. It doesn’t just pull the pea shoots up off of the floor of the field, it sucks them up, rotates them in a drum, beats on them at just the right pressure to make the peas pop out of their shells and diverts the shoots away from the peas to dispose of them on the ground. It preserves the shelled peas which are then transfered to a large dump truck headed for the processing plant.
2) The next piece of equipment the pea encounters is the tenderometer. That’s right a tenderometer. Once the peas arrive at the plant, the size and tenderness of the peas are measured to determine their maturity and their value. The price paid to the farmer is decided here. In the grading room, one by one, a few shelled peas are put into a Tenderometer for measuring. Invented at the University of Maryland after World War II, the device literally measures how tender the peas are. Tender peas that are the right size get frozen. Starchier, stiffer peas might go to canning where they will hold up well during the canning process. Once the price is determined, the entire truckload gets dumped onto a conveyor belt outside the plant and the processing begins.
3) Up next: The sorting and washing starts on the pea processing line. I was not permitted to photograph this part of the tour, but the Pea Processing Line pictured above is for sale at a farm equipment website called http://alibaba.com. It resembles what I saw.
This line starts right at the outside of the building where the drucks drive in and dump their loads and then the line snakes through the building and continues to get more and more refined. Peas are moving a mile a minute along these conveyor belts and the machinery is loud. Employees where hair nets and protective equipment for their ears. Mr Kee explained that when he was a young graduate student, 30 years ago, working on improving the tenerometer, he would stop by the plant and their would be 75 people working the line. Now it takes only about 25 people. The machinery has replaced the need for humans to do any of the manual sorting of the peas.
4) The next piece of hi-tech equipment on the line? The Optical Sorter. You won’t believe what this machine is capable of doing. Peas fly through this machine at incredibly high speeds. Peas that don’t deserve to make it into a PictSweet frozen bag of peas must be sorted out. In the early stages of the line, they are more crudely bumped out, sifted out or blown out, but once inside, the sorting must get more precise. This device takes an individual picture of every pea (there are billions going through in a day) and in the time it takes the pea to enter the scan area and get photographed, the machine is able to send a signal so that peas that are the wrong size or blemished in some way are blasted with a precise laserlike blast of air. That blast of air kicks that singular pea out while allowing the rest to pass through. Did you get that? Photo, signal, air blast, bad pea gone.
The rest zoom on their way through wash after wash, a quick steam bath at about 210˚F for 2-3 minutes, then more washing and finally flash freezing. At this plant the peas are put into large, 3ft. by 3ft. plastic lined cardboard boxes and stacked in a warehouse for storage. They aren’t put into the consumer size bags you see below at this plant. They wait until they are ready for distribution at retail grocery stores before packing them in the consumer sized bags.
The frozen pea storage warehouse reminded me of winery caves, because there were rows and rows of stored product that stretched into the distance. Each box is barcoded and the field of origin and date of processing are recorded.
Vegetables make up about 6% of Delaware Agricultural revenue. The highest portion of revenue comes from the Poultry Industry which makes up 74%. Vegetables grown for processing (freezing and canning) earn Delaware farmers about $28,000,000/year and use about 30,000 acres of land. Before canning, freezing, and distribution technology existed at scale, farmers had no incentive to grow more produce than their families could consume. It’s only through these distribution channels and preserving technologies that farmers could produce excess and earn a profit. The last ten years have brought consolidation in the industry and there are now only 4 vegetable processing companies left in Delaware. PictSweet is one and it processes more than just peas. A national company, they are sourcing product from Tennessee, California and elsewhere, but in Delaware, in addition to peas, they are processing lima beans, corn and green beans.
I have 2 kids. A boy who is 7 and a girl who is 4. We’re lucky. They are not overweight. They are healthy. We work hard to put a variety of foods in front of them every day and to encourage fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains and low-fat protein. We have meatless meals and Dad is a vegan. So what am I doing taking my kids to McDonald’s, you ask?
McDonald’s is on a mission. Just ask Scott Rodrick. He has spent more than 20 years building a franchise of more than a dozen McDonald’s locations in San Francisco. His father was one of Ray Kroc’s earliest franchisees, opening the first McDonald’s in South Florida in 1950. If anyone has witnessed firsthand the changes that have taken place at the McDonald’s corporation, it’s Scott Rodrick.
He was generous enough to give a few food bloggers/writers a tour of one of his San Francisco McDonald’s and to explain just what’s been going on over the past few years. The tour, and the menu sampling that occurred afterwards were eye-opening for me. Now when I’m on the run looking for a healthy snack, I actually think, McDonald’s. Crazy. Right?
Here’s why it’s not as crazy as it sounds:
1. McDonald’s sources its fresh ingredients from the same places my supermarket does. Bagged Greens? Yes. Blueberries from the Central Valley? Done. Major Brand Apple Slices? You got it.
I assume that the fresh blueberries they’re putting on top of the Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal won’t be on the menu year-round, but they’re here now. These aren’t freeze-dried blueberries reanimated when hot water touches the oatmeal. These are true, fresh blueberries delivered almost daily to your local McDonald’s and sprinkled on top after the oatmeal is ready. See below for more about what the inside of a McDonald’s walk-in refrigerator is like and how the produce is stacked neatly in small packages. Just like home, but better.
2. Egg McMuffins are made with eggs that are cracked right onto the griddle.
I know. Right? The cooks crack the egg into a little nonstick fry ring like the kind you can buy at Williams-Sonoma. Want to cut down on the fat and calories in an egg McMuffin? Ask them to hold the cheese or hold the ham or both. Also, the English Muffin part has Margarine in it. You could ask about not using the Margarine, but I think it is literally in it, so remove one of the pieces of bread and eat it open top. Altogether, the one pictured here contains 300 calories and 12 grams of fat. No cheese brings it down to 250 calories and 9 grams of fat. I can live with that once in awhile.
3. My kids eat the apple slices and don’t finish their fries.
In early 2012, McDonald’s modified the happy meal and reduced the french fry serving size to 1 oz (100 calories). They added a bag of apple slices to every meal too. In San Francisco, to comply with a “no free toys” law, they started charging 10 cents for the toy and donating the proceeds to build a new Ronald McDonald house at UCSF. Not a bad solution.
We usually substitute bottled water (for a modest surcharge) for the milk. And you can also request 2 bags of apple slices instead of the 1 bag each of apple slices and fries. My kids are normal “kid eaters”, but they have really turned on to apple slices and are happy to forgo the fries. Worried about salt? Ask for your fries salt-free. It takes a little longer to get the meal, but fries are made every 7 minutes at McDonald’s, so you can get yours fresh, hot and salt free and never wait longer than 7 minutes.
4. Sure the strawberry banana smoothie has a lot of sugar in it, but so do smoothies everywhere else and the ones at McDonald’s have the most vitamin C. For the record, my kids order the small strawberry-banana smoothie which is a 12 oz drink clocking in at 210 calories.
This is a special treat for my kids and one that replaces getting a milkshake or an ice cream cone (something we rarely, almost never do). Given that, the 44g of sugar 1g of fat and 210 calories don’t seem so bad.
Ever wonder just how much sugar there is in the fruit smoothies you’re out there consuming? Well, I decided to compare Jamba Juice, Starbucks and McDonald’s. Each offers a 16 oz strawberry banana smoothie. Here is how they compare:
16 oz Strawberry Smoothie
16 oz Strawberry Alive Smoothie
16 oz Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Calories: 300 cal
Total Fat: 2g
Total Carbs: 60 g
Dietart Fiber: 7g
Protein: 16 g
% DR Vitamin C: 35%
Calories: 250 cal
Total Fat: 0g
Total Carbs: 50 g
Dietart Fiber: 2g
Protein: 11 g
% DR Vitamin C: 60%
Calories: 260 cal
Total Fat: 1g
Total Carbs: 60g
Dietart Fiber: 3g
% DR Vitamin C: 90%
5. The signature salads totally rock, as long as you’re not going to try to eat one in the car while driving.
McDonald’s doesn’t use preservatives in the bagged salad greens and they are delivered in regular sized bags. When you order a salad, there is a cook in the back who assembles it then. They put greens into a bowl, then sprinkle tomatoes on top, the beans, the little tortilla strips and finally, they slice a freshly grilled piece of chicken and place it on top.
Looking to control calories and fat with your salad? Skip the croutons and drizzle half of the dressing packet over the salad instead of the whole thing. Make sure you get the grilled chicken, rather than the crispy chicken.
6. The fruit and walnut salad is a great snack for the kids. It is the most hidden item on the menu. Even most employees don’t realize it’s there, but if you ask for it by name, they can find it.
The vanilla yogurt is yummy and low fat and has helped my children get over their fear of plain yogurt. This snack demonstrates to them that fruit, nuts and yogurt are a satisfying snack. It’s easy to handle in the car too.
7. The Honey Mustard Snack Wrap with Grilled Chicken is only 6 Weight Watchers® Points Plus™. I can order that when I’m driving and can’t order a signature salad.
This was a standby emergency snack the last time I did Weight Watchers. I lost 18 lbs. It helped me get over my double quarter pounder with cheese obsession.
8. The Fruit & Yogurt Parfait is a great dessert or snack. At only 150 calories and 2g of fat, what’s the big deal? It tastes great.
Another item to help introduce your children to the concept of fruit and plain yogurt. You can transition them over to organic ones that are less sugary once you convince them it’s a yummy breakfast or snack item in the first place.
9. You can ask for stuff just how you like it. No salt? Check. No mayo? Check.
Want another option that really doesn’t set you back calories and fat-wise? Try the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich, but order it without the mayo and you’ll cut 5.5 grams of fat off of the total. Wonder how I know this? The McDonalds.com website features a nifty tool where you can deselect ingredients from any item on the menu and it will retally all of the nutritional information right in front of your eyes. See the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich Nutrition tool here. The tool is a little buried. You will have to click on a little red plus sign next to the word Nutrition to get the tool to slide out. Once you get access, you’ll be amazed at how effectively you can cut fat and calories by eliminating mayo-based sauces and cheese. I also recommend eliminating half of a bun whenever possible.
10. The kitchens and pantries at McDonald’s are immaculate.
I toured a downtown San Francisco location right after the lunch-hour rush and everything was clean as a whistle. I expected the walk-in refrigerators to be stacked floor to ceiling with product, but that’s just not the case. Their walk-in fridge was more orderly and clean than my fridge at home. McDonald’s receives almost daily shipments, so no one shipment has to be too large. Fresh produce is picked at the farm, triple washed and delivered to McDonald’s locations within just a couple of days.
In the walk-in, we saw eggs in cartons by the dozen. A few bags of fresh greens, Maybe 10-15 fresh packs of individual serving blueberries and so on. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I might not have believed it. We weren’t allowed to photograph it, but a nice kid from Connecticut was allowed to photograph it. His photo looks exactly like what we saw.
I’m impressed that McDonald’s is making such a huge effort to improve nutritional quality of their foods and that they are willing to invite small groups of people into their kitchens to see their efforts firsthand. Not every fast food chain is cutting salt and fat. Go to Carl’s Junior and get a The Amazing Grilled Cheese Bacon Six Dollar Burger™ and it will set you back 80g of fat!! and over 1000 calories! And that’s just for the sandwich. On the McDonald’s menu, the most fat grams you’ll encounter are about 40g for many of the bigger cheeseburgers. That is more fat that you should have in a day, so if you’re going to go the cheeseburger route, you gotta do it sparingly. The Double Double I like at In-And-Out Burger has 41 grams of fat, so even though everyone praises In-And-Out, they’ve got the same fat content as a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder.
All this to say, you can make healthy choices at McDonald’s if you try and you’re aware. And I’m surprised to find that it’s easier than ever and easier than elsewhere to do that for myself and my kids at McDonald’s.
It’s 6pm on a Saturday night in July, and I am in the middle of nowhere. “How can nowhere exist so close to San Francisco?” I wonder. Just 30 minute’s ride and here I am, rounding a curve on a dusty two-lane road, fields stretching out to the horizon. I speed past the small sign I’ve been looking for: “Frog Hollow Farm.” As I prepare to complete a U-turn at the traffic light ahead, I think, “That’s a small sign for such an influential farm.”
Frog Hollow Farm, and its owner, Farmer Al Courchesne have been at the forefront of the organic movement for 25 years, supplying the likes of Berkeley’s famous Chez Panisse and even Whole Foods Markets, with sustainably and organically farmed stone fruit and other crops. And yet, this small sign is all that denotes this significant landmark.
The evening begins with a tour of the farm led by Farmer Al. A small group of us have registered for the privilege. Farmer Al drives a golf cart while we trail after him, hanging on every word. He describes the techniques they use to avoid conventional farming practices like spraying chemicals. The technique he says revolutionized organic orchards fifteen years ago, is an approach that completely short-circuits the fruit fly breeding cycle. On every other tree in the orchard is a little white, plastic packet, which is exhaling female pheromones. When the males show up looking for mates, they are confused. There are so many decoys they can’t find the real thing. Since the female eggs never get fertilized, the cycle gets cut off at the start.
He reveals his failures as well as successes. A few years ago, he bought a batch of seedlings with a newly developed rootstock. They remain stunted and weak today. In fact, he pulls one tree right out of the ground in front of us. It turns out that the new rootstock is particularly appealing to the resident moles and these trees never had a chance.
But he assures us that this is all part of the process. He continues to experiment and sometimes those risks pay off.
Our group is now ready to join the rest of the partygoers who have assembled around the makeshift kitchen Richard Blais has created for the event right at the edge of the orchard. Next to this kitchen is a stage where the Band, Trio Garufa will play. Long tables with white tablecloths and rows and rows of sparkling wine glasses (reminiscent of the rows and rows of peach trees) surround the stage. I am attending this event alone, so I flip into strategy mode as I contemplate navigating the rest of this evening solo. The one drawback of being on the VIP tour is that I have missed all of the hors-d’oeuvres. This seems like a bit of an oversight to me, but I try to let it go. I approach the bar and order a glass of wine, then spot a familiar face. Ryan from Foodbuzz.com (now she’s at GlamMedia), is here. I reintroduce myself and we reminisce about the good ol’ days at Foodbuzz when things were just getting started in 2008. It is a lifetime ago in www years.
Most seats at the long table are already tipped forward with handbags poised neatly on top the place setting, including the seats that surround Ryan. I wander farther down the table looking for an empty seat. Then I am relieved to notice there is a VIP section. There will be a seat for me there.
I sit down in between two groups of strangers. The faces in both groups are familiar because we were all on the tour together. The group to my right are parents and their grown children, spouses and partners, celebrating the Mom’s birthday. The people on my left comprise a team from Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard Foundation. Also nearby is tonight’s MC for the event, food writer and blogger Carolyn Jung. Introductions ensue as we all settle in for tonight’s main event: the meal.
I enjoy a glass of Bloomfield Vineyards 2010 Viogner, which makes me think, “Yes. I have finally found “my wine.” I like sweeter white wines generally, and particularly on a warm summer evening when peaches lurk nearby, but I always thought that Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite. Now I know. Viogner’s the thing. And this one is to-die-for.
Carolyn introduces Farmer Al to crowd, who thanks everyone for coming to this event and supporting such a great organization as Edible Schoolyard. Then Carolyn introduces Chef Blais, who comes bounding on stage, excited to be here. He even admits that he’s a little nervous cooking for such a discerning group as Bay Area folks passionate about food.
The first course arrives: Chilled Hiramasa with fried chicken, smoked aioli, and pickled radishes. It is paired with Bison Organic IPA from Bison brewery. We are told that the chicken has been cooked sous vide and that a thermal immersion circulator has been brought to the farm from San Francisco’s Spice Kit just for the occasion. Soul Food Farms have grown the chickens. They are well known for raising chickens humanely and with dignity. A big deal is made about the chicken.
I’ve read that sous vide cooking means that the texture of the food is not altered during the cooking process so I convince myself that the pink stuff in the middle of my plate is the chicken. With the family to my right, we talk and laugh about what goes into sous vide cooking and agree that the texture is interesting, the chicken seems almost raw, but has a delicate flavor. The fried bits on the plate are tasty too. They are like the coating on fried chicken, but without the chicken. It turns out that these pieces are in fact, the chicken. The bit we’ve all been puzzling over is actually, the Hiramasa – it’s raw fish, darn it, not sous vide cooked chicken. I blush with humiliation. I have to completely recalibrate my experience of this dish. I secretly hope the family doesn’t remember my gaffe. Marguerite, the mother whose birthday it is, says, “Oh my. I don’t eat raw fish.” She’s runs a clinical microbiology lab at UCSF. She should know.
I do wonder though, “What happened to the actual chicken?” There was all that humanely raised, organic chicken at some point during the cooking process, but on the plate, al that remains are fried panko crumbs. Weird. Oh well. On to the next course.
Cutlet of petrale with cherry tomato and anchovy raisin butter. This dish is paired with the Viognier I’ve been enjoying. I wonder if the tomato is raw fish too, but it’s just a tomato. It’s delicious, but I do wonder. “Where are the peaches?”
Much laughter and hilarity ensue while I continue to get to know the family next to me. We discover many intersections in our lives. Greg, one of the grown sons, worked at the same Bay Area company as my husband, though they didn’t overlap. Georgia, his sister is a landscape architect. Some of my best friends are landscape architects. All of the grown children went to boarding school on the East Coast. Me too. Me too. It was fun to hear their stories and learn the rough outlines of their lives. Greg and his husband Victor are expecting a baby in late summer. Everyone is excited, but there is some anxiety too. One never knows until it is final.
I feel myself hopeful for them. Wanting the best for Greg and Victor. Even wanting to hear the news when the baby comes. But, that’s ridiculous, of course. I only just met them. And yet.
Next comes the Grilled Pork Belly with cauliflower and peaches. It is paired with the Bloomfield Vinyards 2008 Pinot Noir. It is dark outside now and we can’t see our food. My knife has long since been removed by a server, but who needs a knife when the pork belly literally melts in your mouth? It’s delicious, but I still can’t taste the peaches.
Carolyn Jung stands to announce the winners of the silent auction. Marguerite, the Mom of the family next to me, has placed a bid on having Farmer Al come to your home to do a tree pruning consultation. Her daughter, Georgia has recently planted several fruit-bearing trees, and her mother hopes to win this prize for her. Greg has bid on a private dinner for 6 with Chef Andrea.
We wait with baited breath while Carolyn reads the descriptions of the items that are at stake. Then she announces the first winner. Marguerite has won the tree-pruning prize. Applause erupts from our end of the table. In the end, Greg wins the dinner for 6 and his husband sponsors a row of trees at the orchard. His name will appear on a plaque.
Winners, one and all, it’s time for dancing and dessert. Professional tango dancers take to the stage and Georgia and I wander over to get our ice cream cones. The ice cream is Santa Rosa Plum ice cream and somehow there is liquid nitrogen involved. This is chef Blais after all. The nice little surprise at the bottom of the cone? Dark chocolate. The cones were provided by Berkeley’s Ici Ice Cream.
In the end, it isn’t the fruit, or the liquid nitrogen, or the amazing wine pairings that make the night memorable. It isn’t the sustainably and humanely raised local chicken, or the plum ice cream, or the sun setting across the orchard. As is almost always the case with a great meal, what makes it truly special are the people I have met. Marguerite, Wes, Greg, Victor, Georgia, Nuria, and Glenn, may we enjoy another meal together someday.
Tyler’s missing a fork. A high school senior prank? or an avid fan decorating his dining room with Tyler memorabilia? Police are still investigating.
You see, Tyler Florence’s logo contains two forks. Not one.
Word about the missing fork hit the Twitter waves when Tyler tweeted it last night at about 6:30pm.
Sales clerks at the store today were mystified. They speculate that local high school seniors who are graduating this week have perpetuated a prank on the beloved Mill Valley resident who opened the store only one year ago.
Meanwhile, Tyler continues to use Twitter to get the word out and plead for the return of the missing Fork.
He’s even using Twitpic.
Despite the distraction, Tyler’s busy schedule pressed on as he spent the afternoon in his home kitchen preparing food for a book launch party at the store tonight. And tomorrow morning at 9AM his time (noon EDT), he’ll be cooking something for his Twitterlicious Friday cooking class. I don’t know how he manages it all.