Saturday, September 29, 2007

Meat Recall

21.7 million pounds of meat?

My stars and whistles, people, what are we doing to ourselves? Is it really necessary for one company to produce that much meat and send it all over the country? Why can't we have smaller, localized processing plants that handle the meat from a few ranches? I don't how many ranches would be necessary to make a profit, but I don't think we need one company doing this much.

We're asking for trouble. No - we're begging for it.

So if you have this meat, dispose of it like they've instructed. Then run to your nearest farmer's market or Slow Food connivium and ask them to help you find pasture-raised local meat. Or go to and search for meat by your zipcode.

STOP buying meat at the usual grocery stores. Insist that your meat not be raised in a feedlot and fed on corn, soy, and the parts of other animals.

Don't depend on the USDA. You are the only one who can make sure the food in your house is safe food.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I love pumpkins. I like squash in general and winter squash is sweet and yummy. I love the autumn feel that comes with seeing a grouping of vibrant, colorful gourds on a table or in a bowl. And we can do so much with this fabulous food!

For me, there's nothing better than pumpkin soup (unless it's French Onion Soup - I'll have to get back to you on that). Orange, warm, smooth pumpkin soup served in the shell: wow. And so good!

How about Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes? This great idea comes from Jessica Prentice of Wise Food Ways and I make it every Fall. Just peel up some butternut squash, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes, boil them up, drain the water, and mash them with creme fraiche or buttermilk or yogurt, salt, nutmeg, mace, or allspice. These are fabulous!

A big hit at my house is Cooking Light's Sweet Potato Casserole. Feel free to substitute butternut squash for this, too. I'll pass on the marshmallows (fake food - sigh) but I'll use the brown-sugar-butter-pecan topping.

This is all great comfort food, but remember that these orange-fleshed foods provide nutrients needed at just this time of year. They're good for you! Be sure to look for them at a farmer's market or find a farmer who's growing them. Buy them local and hopefully, organic. You'll really notice a difference in taste!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Truth in Cartoons

I thought today's Pickles cartoon was kinda funny in a hopeless, cynical kind of way:

Pickles Sept 27

How many people live their lives doing exactly this thing. Eating what's convenient and never giving a thought to where or how or why the food got there. Which is exactly how the food industry wants it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Baking mixes

One never knows where one will find Good Ideas about food. This week, it was Mother Earth News, of all places. There were enough Good Ideas to give me a few entries, so today's is about making up your own baking mix.

I've been doing this since my kids were little ones. I mean, just read the list of ingredients on the box of Bisquick or Aunt Jemima pancakes. Is this really what you want to be eating? Giving to your kids?

Everyone harps on saving time, but really and truly, how much time does it take to mix your pancakes from scratch? Five minutes, maybe? And that's if you don't have the mix made up ahead of time!

So mix up the dry ingredients in whatever amount works for you. To use the example from Mother Earth:

5 pounds whole wheat flour (or go half and half with unbleached all-purpose flour; but I just don't have that stuff in my house!)
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup oat bran
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup baking powder
1 tbsp cream of tartar
3 tbsp salt

Mix it all up and store it in an airtight container. Store some in the freezer if you won't use it within a month.

When you're ready to make pancakes, just use your mix on a 2:1 ratio with milk and eggs and oil. (Two cups mix with one cup milk, one egg, one tbsp oil). I love nuts, so I usually add some walnuts to the batter, and don't forget to throw in some fruit, if you want!

The same mix can be used to make biscuits.

You save time in the morning and you're not feeding your family a factory-mixed conglomerate with preservatives. Now, don't say anything about the mix that tells you to "just add water!" I swear, you are not saving enough time to make the health and taste trade-off worth it!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Our Farm Bill

Sunday morning. We get two papers on Sunday, the SF Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times. A leisurely breakfast and time to read them both.

So there’s a great article in the Chron about the farm bill. Yeah, that one.

I know the House passed it and sent it on to the Senate. I know they made some important but very small changes. We continue to be in deep doo-doo, folks.

The crux of the article is that the farm bill is archaic. It had its use at first and hopefully, solved the problem it was created to solve. But like a lot of programs, it wasn’t supposed to live forever. Congress’s continual renewal of it is destructive and expensive.

We lobbied. We wrote letters and emails and sent faxes. We told our representatives over and over, what was wrong with the bill and what they needed to change. They aren’t listening. They continue to let the various food industries write their own portions of the bill. They continue to give billions of dollars to large-scale agriculture and corporate farms. They continue to subsidize, cotton, soy, corn, dairy, sugar, peanuts, etc. They continue to subsidize monoculture and fertilizer and pesticides.

They don’t subsidize vegetables, nuts, or fruit. They don’t subsidize organic. Sure, California complains about that because California grows most of the vegetables, nuts, and fruit, and not so much of the other stuff. But the point is not which state gets the money. The point is the damage done to our health and to the economy because our government subsidizes Big Ag.

This is also the bill that pays farmers to not grow something. Umm… how do I get in on that?

A lot of us question whether subsidies are good at all. Personally, I’d like to see them go away just on simple free market principles. The example in the article was about salad: if people are demanding a variety of nutritious, dark greens for their salads, but Congress is subsidizing iceberg – guess what a farmer grows? If he wants the subsidy, he grow iceberg. Sure, stubborn people scrounge around until they find a farmer who grows what they want. But why should it be so hard?

And because the market can’t control what’s available to buy, we have to pay much more for those nutritious greens. The subsidies for iceberg means it costs the farmer a lot more to grow them. (This is just an example - the farm bill does not subsidize iceberg lettuce.)

We want organic, we want fresh. We want research and innovation. We want rotated crops and farming methods that nourish the land.

We get monoculture. We get factory farms and sludge piles and fertilizer and pesticides. We can corn syrup as a way to use up all the corn that’s grown and the corn syrup gets put into nearly every kind of food that’s available to buy. We get diabetes. We get fat. We get cancer.

Follow the money.

Friday, September 21, 2007

My Weekly Meals

I've been enjoying my cooking this week. It's always fun to pick out a few seasonal recipes and then be able to purchase about 80% of the ingredients at the farmer's market. I bought everything I needed on Saturday it's worked out great, as usual.

Yesterday, I made a batch of stuffed piquillo peppers. Yum! Brown rice, a tomato, some parsely and a smidge of saffron (nope, that's not local). Cover 'em with cheese and bake for about 20 minutes. Those peppers were spicy, which I really like!

This was a variation on Marion Nestle's recipe in last month's Cooking Light.

I served them with leftovers from the night before: grilled tilapia with a pinto bean salsa. Also a Cooking Light recipe.

Today, I've got some pork sausage from my CSA order and I'm going to cook it up with some roasted mushrooms and butternut squash that I have leftover from another meal. Don't know this recipe yet - I'm winging it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

U.S. Food Policy: Breastfeeding promotion and formula marketing

U.S. Food Policy: Breastfeeding promotion and formula marketing

This is a great article. Take a minute to click on the link and read it.

There are so many possible issues to address when the topic is breastfeeding and most of them are real and important. This is the kind of topic that I could fill a book writing about, but for now, let me just say this:

Women - we can breastfeed. Nearly all of us. Nearly all of the time, for the amount of time a baby needs it.

But, like a lot of things related to women, we do it better when we have a community that supports it. Women are communal creatures. We learn by observing, by gosssip, by instructions, by practice. Almost by osmosis. If a girl is around women who breastfeed with contentment, with joy and satisfaction - that girl will breastfeed successfully when it's her turn.

But if she's left on her own, with a job to return to and no flexible schedules or community to help, and with the convenient packet of formula the hospital gave her - she's doomed. All of the little conflicts, all of the discomfort, all of the questions, will just pile up until she's overwhelmed and the baby is crying and the house is dirty and dinner is not ready and the boss wants that report...

We need to do better. As a community, we need to provide what women and babies need: time, emotional support, and someone to do the dishes. We need a society that accepts women and babies into all aspects of the culture, even the workplace.

After all, that's not just "her" baby lying there. That's a human being who will grow up to have a place in the neighborhood you live in. You have a stake in all of it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I always fret a bit about the wasted food when they do this kind of thing. But it leaves you with a smile.

School gardens

I think it's encouraging when I hear about people planting gardens in odd spots. I think they are great for the community and we really need to expose our children to the Real World of our planet's ecosystems.

Even the rich are doing it. An article in today's Times talks about a prep school in Delaware that has started a garden. The students do the work, they use the food in the cafeteria and include it in the science curriculum.

Call me crazy, but I think every school in America should do this and that includes the high schools. It can be part of vocational training (gardening, farming, cooking, etc.), science (soil science, food science, biology, ecosystems...). I would even go so far as to suggest working in the garden should be a requirement. This can be flexible, obviously, for disabled students, but nearly everyone should be able to do something. There's also the benefit of getting the kids outdoors. We never get too old to need that.

Think of the fun: the kids plant some seeds, grow a plant, harvest it, cook it and eat it. When they go home and see the box of Hamburger Helper, don't you imagine they're going to start asking Mom and Dad why they can't eat Real Food? Like they do at school?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Birthday Beer Bacchanals

Friday brings long lunches and the chance to catch up with old friends and former co-workers. As a personal chef, I spend a lot of time alone, so these events are important to me. I really miss my friends now that we no longer work together!

So today was the 3 B's: birthdays to celebrate with a beer bacchanal at Jupiter's. It's really easy to tell that we're older than we used to be. These affairs are much quieter than you'd think. And I didn't even think to bring a camera. But you can't beat the fun of Jupiter's patio on a sunny Berkeley day along with their home-brewed beer.

You knew I'd get around to something being done locally, didn't you? I'm sure most of the ingredients are not local, but Jupiter's does brew their own beer (along with it's sister pub, Triple Rock, down the street). Sorry. This isn't a review of these places, but go ahead and check them out. My devotion to them is based on years of memories and friends, as well as the good beer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cooking at Home

I've been trying to include a lot of local food in my diet for a couple of years, now. It's been a great experience and there's no doubt I love the food. Yesterday, I talked about my canning frustrations, but when all is said and done, the simple truth is: I love to cook. So I'm always trying to make my own... whatever. I like to buy local ingredients and go from there.

This includes my quest for the perfect yogurt. I wasn't interested in yogurt with "fruit" or anything else in it. I wanted plain, true yogurt. I'd add my own mixings at home.

The baseline was the yogurt I had for breakfast in 2003 at Glenloe Abbey in Galway, Ireland. It was creamy, rich, and fresh. It tasted like the milk had just come from one of the cows we could see outside the restaurant window, grazing in the Abbey's pasture.

Back home, the search began. And failed. And failed again.

Okay, it's a no-brainer that Lucerne or Dannon or Yoplait weren't going to make the grade. In fact, it wasn't always easy to even find plain yogurt in those brands. Everything was loaded with sweeteners and flavoring (rarely with any actual fruit, mind you - but lots of flavorings). So I moved on to Strauss (not bad), Nancy's (still not bad), and Pavel's (too strong). But none of them came close. It's true that by this time, I no longer remembered the exact taste of my baseline yogurt, but I figured I'd know it when I tasted it.

As I got more into buying local foods, the search was complicated by the location factor. Technically, Strauss is local, but can I really be sure the yogurt in the store came from a cow in California? Certainly the milk was mixed in a factory with milk from other parts of the country. Not good enough. Then I found Redwood Hills Goat Yogurt and that came pretty darn close. About as local as I could get, it was creamy and rich. I loved it. I had a hard time finding it sometimes, but it was great.

Except... not quite there. I was content, but a little bud of dissatisfaction kept nudging me on. What if, I occasionally thought, WHAT IF - I made my own yogurt?

I don't always move quickly. The thought fermented (hee) in my mind for a while and when I read Barbara Kingsolver's marvelous book "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" I came across her chapter on making cheese. Which led me to and the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. Okay, I know. It's not local. But I could buy a yogurt maker from them, couldn't I? See, just like with canning, I needed some hand-holding when it came to making yogurt. They not only sold a great yogurt maker, they had lots of instructions.

So I jumped in. Fresh raw milk from Claravale Farms (which I could get at Whole Foods or pick up with my occasional grocery order from Three Stone Hearth), a little bit of powdered milk, some yogurt starter and...

Oh yeah. If this yogurt is not at the baseline, it's too close to call. I'm hooked.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


September is Eat Local Challenge month, and of course, I signed up. I try to do this even in months when there is no challenge.

I like this month's theme, though: the beginning of the harvest and turning our thoughts toward preserving our food. I love all the blogs about people canning their harvest, and all the wonderful pictures of glorious jars on shelves, but let me be honest: I'm food preservation challenged in the biggest way.

I grew up typical 60s American suburban. Our food came from the grocery store - in cans, boxes, and preferably frozen. TV dinners were the rage. Add to that a mother who worked full-time and who hated fish, cheese, and mushrooms. When it came to most of our meals, it needed to say Swanson or Chef Boy-ar-Dee. I was 16 before I saw a fresh strawberry.

My mother grew up on a farm in Texas and she hated everything to do with it. She hardly ever talked about it and I never heard her pine for the fresh vegetables of her youth. Except for okra. When okra was in season, she bought it by the bushel-full and mixed it up with cornmeal and salt, deep-fried it, and we'd sit at the table eating pounds of it. I still love that stuff. She also bought yellow squash and cooked it with a cream sauce and lots of pepper. I loved that, too.

So you can see it was unusual to ever get "fresh," let alone freshly grown. And the idea of canning anything - well, the idea just never occured. I didn't even know the average human being could do that kind of thing. If you had asked me, I probably would have said it came from a factory somewhere. Everyone knows that!

I've done some canning over the last few years. Just fruit - chutneys, sauces, butters - easy stuff. I've never even tried jams because the idea of using pectin makes me nervous. I'm not sure what it is, you see. Any other food I want to preserve, I do by freezing. I'm the freeze queen, or I would be if I actually had something other than the side compartment to our Amana. I'd love to buy a chest freezer but what do I do about our famous California brown-outs and blackouts? Does a freezer need a separate generator?

So here's my problem: I'm totally enamored of Real Food. I would love to spend days cooking and canning all kinds of fresh produce, in all kinds of exciting ways. But I need a teacher. I need people to do it with, who'll talk and laugh and have a good time while we work. Who'll show me what pectin looks like and how to use it. Who know how to use a pressure canner or what the saurkraut is supposed to look like after a few days. People with Experience.

It would be so cool to really know how to do it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Food Values

The life of a food purist is not an easy one. Take shopping day, for example. I first must go to the farmer's market, since that's where I'll find local, fresh, and organic food. Local is the key word, here and it's usually my first criterian. Not only am I not going to buy fruit and vegetables from Mexico or South American (or China!) I'm going to try not to buy them from Georgia, either. Or even Washington or Oregon. I'm going to first look for food that's grown within 100 miles of where I live. And yes, I'm really lucky in that regard, since I live in the Bay Area. It's amazing what's grown or found within 100 miles of here.

So after the farmer's market, it's off to Whole Foods for whatever I absolutely must have that wasn't at the market. I'm usually pretty lucky there, 'cause I can still find most of my produce from local farmers. Whole Foods puts up signs telling you where the stuff was grown. Try looking for that at Safeway!

In general, the local thing works pretty well for me. I only buy what's in season, so there's no need to get the asparagus from Peru. I got it when it was harvested in California. After Whole Foods, then I hit Safeway for the few items my husband refuses to give up, like Mocha Mix, cereal, turkey bacon, etc. That list is getting smaller and smaller, thank goodness.So three stops for groceries and beyond that, I also belong to a meat CSA which distributes once a month. That requires a trip to Berkeley, but I get grass-fed meat from local ranchers, as well as eggs from chickens that got to scratch for their food, and I'm hoping for a heritage turkey or ham for the holidays.

My last stop will probably be Peet's coffee (a non-local item I'm not giving up!) to pick up a 2 pound bag of beans. But I'll get that tomorrow when we go see a movie. Peet's is next door to the theater.The taste of the food is so far beyond what's sold in normal grocery stores that I hope I never have to go back to them. It can be a challenge, but it's worth every minute!

Teaching cooking

I've got two cooking classes coming up and I'm hoping these will really be fun. I've taught small groups - usually demos in homes where everyone gets involved. These are actual classes through the parks & recreation department.

I can't wait.

The first class is October 11 and according to the announcement, I said we'd be preparing:
Roasted Chicken with Pears (or peaches if they're still around)
Radicchio, Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad
Upside Down Pear Cake

The second class is November 8 and I'm into a vegetarian dinner:
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Hazelnuts and Dried Cranberries
Kale Salad
Corn Pudding

I'll have some freebies for people, lots of recipes and of course, we get to eat! Let there never be a doubt why I decided to start cooking for a living!

If you're in the Bay Area, you can register for the classes at

Monday, September 10, 2007

Food ingredients

Just a quick note cross-posted from my writer's blog. An article in the Contra Costa Times recently pointed out the difficulty of tracing contaminated food back its source. This is one reason I don't buy any produce in bags and why I severely limit purchases of processed food. Here are a couple of quotes from the article (and the link. Hope it works):

"Companies increasingly are paying others to make the foods we eat - or the ingredients in them - and then selling it under multiple brand names.""Generally, the identities of contract manufacturers remain secret for reasons of commercial confidentiality.So how can consumer learn where their food comes from?The truth of the matter is today, to a large degree, you can't. ...and efforts to improve on it have been beaten back," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union."

See, this is what gets my goat. I prefer to know what's in my food. I like knowing, at least in a general sense, where the ingredients came from. 'Secret for reasons of commerical confidentiality'? Your contract manufacturer's have to be secret? What the hell for?

Opening Post

I'm doing my duty and separating my blogs. THIS BLOG is about food.

Why food?

Wellllll.......... because I'm a foodie. Because I'm a personal chef. Because I can't deny the fascination implied in evolving on a planet along with food sources and then watching what happens when we try to pretend it didn't happen that way.

Because food tastes good. (Okay, maybe that's the biggie).

Because I want to know what you think about food and food policy and what you eat and how hard and how easy that is for you.

I want to know what you feed your kids. What you'd like to feed your kids.

I want to ramble and laugh and tease about food. I want to talk about my business and maybe talk about my clients (but I promise to be nice - and discrete). Because I want to stretch my wings and try new things and find out how you're making food work for you.

I want to hear from you. Opinions. Facts. Trials. Heartbreaks. Weight gains. Weight losses. Pregnancies. Breast Feeding. Nutrition. Fast food. Slow food. Safeway, Alberstons, Molly Stone or Whole Foods. Costco. Walmart. What works for you. What doesn't.

I'll preach. I'll flail. I'll probably make fun at some point.

I'm impatient. I'm compassionate. I may use rough language and I may express strong opinions you don't agree with. Jump in, although I reserve the right to restrict rude and useless posts. No flaming allowed, but feel free to let me know what you think.

This blog is about food. Food - is about life. Join in. Let's talk

If you're in the Bay Area, see my website at Maybe I can cook for you.

If you want to know about writing, see my writing blog at

I've written one newly completed novel, currently titled "Dunallon" and have one in progress called "Galaxy Farmers." No cookbooks, although it's possible that Galaxy Farmers will include recipes and tips about gardening, canning (or otherwise preserving), and the many magic ways food interacts with our lives. It 's about Real Food produced by Real Planets. Hey - we have one of those!

See? This should be fun!