Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Blessed Samhain!

I won't quote Shakespeare. I think witches are cool.

In fact, I'm dressed as one as I write. Well - I'm a cat-witch. And I can't find my pointy hat. I can't find pumpkin liqueur, either, which is a real shame, 'cause have you ever had Pumpkin Martinis?

One part liqueur, one part rum, one part half and half. Shake with ice and pour into a martini glass rimmed with cinnamon-sugar. Top with nutmeg.

Oh my.

I'm going to be good and not make myself any pumpkin cupcakes but I am fixing a delicious pork loin with Cider-Sherry sauce. This sauce is one step this side of heaven and it's a Weight Watchers recipe.

1/3 cup dry sherry
1 cup apple cider
1/4 cup raisins
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp unsalted butter

Combine all except the butter and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil 11-12 minutes, until reduce to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and swirl in the butter. Serve warm with ham steaks or pork loin.

Have fun!

Monday, October 29, 2007

What is local?

Over at the Eat Local Challenge blog, there's a great article by Gary Paul Nabhan discussing local food.

Gary Paul Nabhan: Deepening Our Sense of What is Local and Regional Food

He makes a lot of good points, but his general thesis is that we need to think about what we're doing. Think about why we do it. It's easy for someone like me to just jump on a bandwagon because I like the sound of it or it "feels right" or seems to make sense. That's okay to start with, but at some point, I know I need to sit down and tell myself why I believe something is true or not.

I have a comment or two about a few of his points:

"3. The miles a food travels (“food miles”) must be placed in the size and volume of the mode of transport, its source of fuel, and its frequency of travel."

As long as we settle in cities, the farmers are going to have to get the food to us. Yes, we can have urban gardens, even rooftop gardens, but it would be a rare city that could grow all its own food within urban limits. Even buying food at the farmer's market from a farmer 20 miles outside of town will require some transportation. Most farmers drive hundreds of miles everyday to various markets in a given region. It's still "local" by our definition, but there's a lot of fossil fuel put into it, anyway.

"4. On farm energy and water use matter. If a farm near Tucson Arizona is irrigated from a canal that transports Colorado River water hundreds of miles (and at high ecological cost to wild riverine species), or if it uses fossil groundwater set down during the Pleistocene pumped by fossil fuel set down in Iran during the Pennsylvanian era, what is to be gained by promoting its food?"

This one is near and dear, since I was born in Tucson and lived there for 35 years. It's a desert, folks. Eating local in a place like Tucson requires some real effort. And we need to be honest with ourselves: these places were NOT meant to support large populations. I don't care if you do like the sunshine. If you insist on living there, learn to like jicama, dried beans, and pear cactus. That's what the area can support.

"5. Other on-farm inputs matter just as much. Where are the sources of hay for livestock, compost for garden crops or nitrogen for field crops? They should be locally if not regionally-sourced. Why call lamb locally-produced in Idaho when its flock has wintered part of the year in California and its hay comes in from southern Colorado?"

This is a good one. Now I think it's traditional for ranchers to move the herd from one locale to another. That's what cattle drives are. But is it "natural?" Is it sustainable? Dunno. What about our own sheep and cattle in California that are grass-fed? What do they eat in the summer when the grass is dead and brown?

"6. Fair-trade with other cultures, localities and regions is fair game. "

I think it would be a sad world, indeed, if we did away with trade, altogether. Trade has always been the engine for human interaction, for exploration, for expanding our knowledge of each other and the world. So someone is always going to grow something that is needed someplace else. Spices. Coffee. Maple syrup (please don't make me give up maple syrup)!

Maybe what I want is the romantic vision of the trader coming into town and setting up on market day, visiting with people and participating in the local events that happen there, and talking about his home and life. We lose this with our sterile, effecient middleman procedures, when the food is shipped to a central warehouse and sent from there to stores around the country. We don't get to meet the trader or grower and talk about life in that place or life in our place. Our food becomes empty.

And that's sad.

Friday, October 26, 2007

They're Taking my Raw Milk!

This is too important to let get by:

The California legislature has passed a law, with no public debate, that will pretty much put raw milk ranchers out of business. I want my milk raw, folks. Unpasteurized. From a clean farm withequipment and clean cows who've been out on pasteur all their lives, and with all the bacteria it's supposed to have.

Yes, I will buy it illegally if I have to, assuming I can find someone who's selling it illegally. But I shouldn't have to. This is ridiculous.

For the record, I don't use raw milk when I cook for clients. I don't even give it to my husband. The use of raw milk is an individual decision and the government has no right to take it away.

Getting Your Children to Eat Vegetables

Let me warn you up front: this post may piss you off. Honest, I'm more subtle when dealing with clients, but since this is my blog, the gloves are off.

Everyone's heard about the cookbook debate. Did Jerry Seinfeld's wife rip off a nutritionist's cookbook? For the record, I doubt it. She's got kids, someone advised to "try this," it worked and since she's married to a celebrity, she had an in for getting a book published. End of story.

That's not what bothers me.

It's the whole idea of catering to our kids. THAT bothers me. Seriously, I've met people who always feed their kids separate meals, because the little tykes don't like "grown-up" food. This seems to be a big thing with the current crop of American parents, especially the middle/upper-income, educated group. I cringe every time I hear about it. What do these people think they're doing?

I can imagine how it gets started. New Mom home from the hospital has very little help or support and can't get the hang of breastfeeding. Maybe she has to go back to work. The hospital gave her formula, so why not use it? So Mom starts feeding the baby it's own special food, made bulk in a factory someplace and shipped in a cardboard or plastic container. When baby gets older, Mom and Dad buy the little jars of "baby food." Because it's a baby, right? Babies can't eat Real Food, can they? The parents never learned they could start with things like mashed potatoes, applesauce or bananas, rice cereal, etc., and as baby gets older they could just mash or blend up the food they eat and feed it to the kid. Graduate to cutting the real food into tiny pieces so an older baby can eat those. They don't NEED THOSE JARS OF BABY FOOD!

But Mom and Dad are now well convinced that the child must have special food. It's always had special food. So they never actually give the child the food that Mom and Dad are eating. And suddenly, we have an incredibly picky child who won't try anything except quesadillas and boxed macaroni & cheese, or pizza. With just cheese. Along with anything from McDonald's or Taco Bell, of course.

Look. If you're serving fresh, homemade meals with lots variety and vegetables, you're kids are not going to starve if they don't like something! Even if they don't like lots of things and at every meal, they're hiding something under the plate or surreptitiously feeding the dog under the table. It's OKAY.

Just keep feeding them. Don't make a special meal. Heck, don't even argue with them. Just serve the food, eat it yourself, clean up the kitchen (or have the kids do it) and get on with your life. Don't give them snacks later. They should have no other options except what you prepared for dinner.

They'll figure it out. You can encourage them, you can dress up the veggies with sauces or seasonings or cheese or anyway that you like to eat them. Serve them plain once in a while, but make things look attractive on the plate. Place a slice of lemon on the broccoli. A tiny pat of butter on the peas. Let the kids use the salt and pepper shakers. And if they turn up their noses and only eat the meat and potatoes, so what? I promise, if you keep serving them, if you cook them skillfully, and make them look nice, someday the kid will surprise you and start eating it.

Maybe they'll try it at a friend's house or at a restaurant and decide it's okay. After all, you're just Mom, what do you know? But somebody else's mom, or a chef somewhere, can give them something and they'll go for it. It's the nature of the beast.

Expose them to food. Let them watch the Food Network or those silly chef competitions. Take them to the farmer's market. Take them to a "pick your own" orchard. Have them flip through the cookbooks and choose a meal for you to cook. Let them help cook. Plant a garden. Get their school to plant a garden. Make food fun. Enjoy it yourself.

But DON'T cook them special meals. You'll still be doing it when they're teenagers and they will not be grateful. They'll think they deserve it and you're the one to provide it. Makes me shudder.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shopping Geometry

Good tip today from This is something I also teach when I give a cooking class:

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. If you can enter a grocery store, buy your week's groceries, and never get to the center aisles, you're eating healthy food. The center is where all the processed food resides. These are the aisles loaded with sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, corn syrup, and unpronounceable ingredients born in a chemical laboratory.

These items are expensive, too, and we're paying for ill health, as well. It's true, these are also the items that are usually on sale. When was the last time you saw a two-for-one on organic apples? Misplaced priorities, as usual.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


The USDA has passed some standards for grass-fed meat. I'm leary of anything this organization does, but these standards seem to be on the good side. Here are a couple of links:

The USDA release:

A blog article by Bonnie Powell that gives us a good explanation:

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Successful Meals

Don’t you love it when you prepare a meal and everyone goes, “YES!”?

That happened to me on Saturday when my grandson’s were staying over. While my husband entertained them by slaughtering them at Monopoly, I prepared some Chicken Parmigiano over spaghetti squash, with sautéed kale.

It’s hard to go wrong when you dip chicken pieces in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs/parmesan cheese, then brown them olive oil. That meal is going to be GOOD. Smother them with homemade marinara and mozzarella cheese, and bake it for 20 minutes, and that meal is going to be GREAT.

I thought the spaghetti squash would be a fun alternative to pasta and fewer calories, too. The kids loved it. And you may think 11 and 12 year old boys wouldn’t eat kale, but they did. I never showed any sympathy when my kids tried to hate vegetables and they’ll eat just about any of them, today. I’m glad my daughter’s doing the same thing with her kids.

All I did with the kale was chop it up and sautee it in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. I had half a lime sitting around so I squeezed that into it. Flavorful and healthy!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cooking Class

We had a great cooking class on Thursday! Mind you, it was a small cooking class, since I had just three students. But that's okay, we had a good time without you, anyway! Sort of like a cozy meal with friends. But we'd have an even better time if more of you are able to come to the next class.

That will be on November 8, 6:00 pm at the Pleasant Hill Community Center. Visit the Rec department online to sign up. It's the Indian Summer Cooking Class and we'll be making Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Hazlenuts and Dried Cranberries, Kale Salad, and Corn Pudding. This is a beautiful vegetarian Thanksgiving meal, if you have someone like that at your table this year.

My three students and I got busy chopping right away, with two of them working on the peaches and leeks for the chicken and the third student mixing the batter for the chocolate-pear cake. Once we had everything in the oven, we washed the greens for our salad and made our dressing. Then we sat and discussed easy tips for meal planning, grocery shopping and how to find locally grown organic food.

Then we ate! You know that time of silence that happens when people are hungry and first start eating a delicious meal? We all did that! It was so funny! But after a few bites, we got back to our discussions and enjoyed the wonderful food. Thanks to all my students for their help!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Leftover Soup

I’m sure you know that I mean soup made out of leftovers. Must eat more vegetables! I’ve been saying this to myself for years and progress is painfully slow. I really like bread. I like cheese. I LOVE corn chips and salsa (with cheese or without). So my sincere attempt to add vegetables sometimes involves throwing these things on salad. But I’m nowhere near the several servings a day I need.

So – today, I made soup. I didn’t have much in the frig: my main goal was to use up the celery. You know how it is. You need one stalk of celery for a recipe and what do you do with the rest? So I cut it up, along with an onion. I sweated these in a little olive oil, then added a can of chicken broth. There was a rind of parmesan cheese in the frig, so I threw that in and let it all cook a bit. Then I took out the rind, mashed the vegetables with my stick blender (I love my stick blender), added a bit of milk and some leftover frozen mixed vegetables that had been hiding in the freezer.

A little salt, pepper and parsley: great soup! I’m sure the parmesan rind helped a lot. I’m going to save these from now on for just this purpose!

I didn’t skip the bread: I had some croutons I threw in there. I’m big on crunch. But I ate extra veggies, today! And I have more soup for tomorrow!

Monday, October 8, 2007


I’ll shortly be starting an experiment. My husband and I have decided to reduce the amount of gluten in our diet. We’re not allergic to it, at least not in any obvious way. But wheat has become a ubiquitous food item, one of those otherwise innocent and healthy ingredients that has fallen victim to the food industry’s penchant for cheap calories.

It’s in processed food – dishes it has no need to be in, but is used as a filler or binder or to add protein. We don’t eat very much processed food and I don’t think we get an unreasonable amount of gluten. But I adore bread and will often snack on it and I love cakes and pies, too, although we seldom eat them. I eat the waffles I wrote about last week. And I use flour as a thickener and don’t get me started about crackers. I could eat crackers all day. My husband has the waffles or cereal for breakfast and he has a sandwich at lunch. He’s better than I am about not snacking, but if I serve a dessert, he’ll eat it.

I sometimes have clients who ask about gluten-free diets and I’d like to have the experience to make them good food. Baking is the hardest part and the main issue to tackle. It’s easy to avoid gluten if you just eat meat and vegetables, but people seem freaked out at the idea of not having muffins or bagels or cookies. So I want to start experimenting with other grains and seeing if I can come up with waffles and pancakes without using wheat flour. I know I can buy gluten-free bread for sandwiches and I’ll probably do that to see what the loaf is like and how it tastes. I’ll be a tough customer, that’s for sure.

I’ll never be satisfied with a purchased food item that uses chemicals or sugar or gums to make the product work. I’d rather give up drinking soda than drink the sugar-free stuff with those horrid fake sweeteners. I’d rather use real butter than the chemical-laden stuff they call margarine. So I’ll be looking for a loaf of bread that uses good, whole-grain flours that don’t contain gluten, without adding some strange ingredient to hold it all together.

This should be interesting. I’ll keep you posted!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Whole Foods

Mark Morford talks about Whole Foods, here. If you read it and you're not familiar with Morford, keep your sense of humor about language. It won't hurt much, I promise.

But about Whole Foods. I know that even among the elite of Foodies, Whole Foods has its detractors. They are not perfect, especially from a local foods perspective. They started out with lots of local farmers on board, but have since gone the way of more and cheaper. I mentioned in an earlier post that their frozen veggies come from China and a lot of produce is from points Way South. A lot of meat is from New Zealand, a lot of fish is from everywhere else.

Okay, they're far from perfect. But Morford's right. They do more and better than nearly any other grocery chain in the country. If your choice is Safeway or Whole Foods, I know which one I'd recommend.

My preferred order for grocery shopping is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), the Farmer's Market, then Whole Foods. I get what I can from the first two and whatever else I need, comes from WF.

And it's easy to avoid the produce from other countries because at Whole Foods, they tell you where it's from. They'll give you the name of the farm, right there on the display. I don't see this being done in any other stores. Even though they've sold out in a lot of ways, they still offer lots of produce from local farmers. Buy that and try to find the organic version. That's the produce that's in season where you live. Which is the healthiest way to eat.

Unlike Morford, I'm not tempted by the fancy glitter. Even at Whole Foods, there are entire aisles I almost never go down, because I'm not after processed foods or wildly expensive gourmet items.

But my blessed Gaia - the cheese. I have no resistance in the cheese department. Can I have one of each, please?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Easy Breakfast

Mornings are hard on people. Getting ourselves and various family members to all the places we have to be, is stressful. It's a shame really, because mornings are such a beautiful time of the day. The world seems peaceful and clean as the sun rises and the birds start to sing and hop around the yard. Mornings should be a time for thoughtfulness and serenity, sipping our coffee or tea and just enjoying the start of the day.

Yeah. Right.

Okay, it's not like that at your house, is it? Not here, either, I'm afraid. But there are a few things you can do to not only make your morning easier, but healthier, too. Now there are lots of web sites that will teach you about making your bed as soon as you get out of it (I do this and it really helps) or how to greet the sun with a yoga position (I do this sometimes). I'm not going to get into those tips.

But - waffles. Yes, I can tell you about waffles.

My kids loved Eggos when they were little and even then, I cringed whenever they ate them. I hated to buy them. Fake food at its worst. And usually, I got up quite early and made the kids a fresh, homemade breakfast. It's my favorite meal and I love all kinds of things for breakfast, so it was for me as much as it was for them. But they would beg for Eggos. Go figure.

My husband loves Eggos, too. But I'm NOT eating them. He agreed, that if I could find a waffle recipe that made waffles he liked and could just pop in the toaster, he would eat those. The guantlet was thrown and I immediately took up the challenge.

So here's the recipe, found on Cooking I make a double batch, let them cool on racks, and store them in the freezer in those gallon-size plastic bags. Take out one or two, throw in the toaster and there you are. Easy waffles made with organic whole grains, flaxseed meal, free-range eggs and organic milk. Not a preservative in sight.

I add a cup of walnuts and extra cinnamon to my batter and I use a normal, thin-size waffle maker. These fit into the toaster better.

I encourage you to give it a try. Eat Real Food!