Thursday, January 31, 2008

What if there is no food?

I'm disturbed, today, and this post is a depature from my usual ramble. I read a newspaper article about people in Haiti having to eat mud 'cookies' to survive.

Now, starvation is not new. Famine has always been with us, somewhere on the globe. But it left me wondering.

My first reaction was 'What kind of government lets this happen to its people?' I do wonder about that, but again - it's not new that these places have miserable, corrupt governments. It's a cinch that the rich and those in authority are getting plenty of food. Otherwise, something would be done about it.

But what can we do, as just people, to prepare for this kind of thing?

Why does famine happen? Weather is a big reason - drought and floods, mostly, bringing along disease and wiping out the crops. Insect invasion - locusts can strip an entire region in no time. People invasion - war, genocide, power struggles.

In Haiti's case, the final straw was a hurricane, although they've been in trouble for years. So how do we prepare? I don't mean in Haiti or Bangladesh or Ethiopa; we send them relief but don't do anything about the corrupt governments, so we're throwing the relief down the proverbial drain. But what about ourselves?

Any of these things can happen here. And if it's severe enough, I suspect we have one of those governments that will not worry about certain segments of the country. We may be on our own.

If a drought occurs for several years, our precious backyard gardens will not be alive to feed us. The farmers will not have crops. The animals will die on the hills and in the feedlots.

How do we prepare? In the end, are even we at the mercy of nature? Are there ideas I'm missing?

Monday, January 28, 2008

My Gnocchi Adventure

I needed to make gnocchi for a meal, but hesitated at the high-glycemic, low fiber aspect of it. And I was disappointed at that, because I love gnocchi. In the spirit of moderation, it's probably okay to have them once in a while (once a year or so?), but I wondered if there was another solution.

They're made from potatoes, right? What if I used a yam or butternut squash? I bet that would be good! So I went to my copy of Silver Spoons.

If you don't have this quintessestential Italian cookbook, you should get it. It' s absolutely worth using. It's got a whole section on gnocchi. Pumpkin gnocchi, spinach gnocchi, parmesan gnocchi... wait. Are you sure I can have this stuff just once a year?

But guess what else? The very last recipe was for... whole wheat gnocchi! An interesting recipe, indeed: whole wheat flour, oat flakes, barley flakes...

How healthy can you get? So I made 'em. And they're wonderful! A little heartier, of course, than the pillow-soft potato potato kind, but tender and oh-so-biteable!

So with a bow to Silver Spoons, published in the U.S. by Phaidon Press:

Whole Wheat Gnocchi (with extra notes by me)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I thought it needed more binding, so I tossed in another handful - about 1/4 cup more)
1 1/4 cup oat flakes
1/2 cup barley flakes
1 cup milk (I used nonfat)
1 egg
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Heat the milk to just below simmering and set aside.
Mix the dry ingredients together, add the egg and milk and stir to combine. The dough shoud be soft but hold together.
Let rest for 30 minutes.
Using a floured surface and working with small batches, roll the dough into long rolls about 2/3 inch wide.
Cut the roll into pieces about 3/4 inch long. Transfer to a clean towel. Repeat until all the dough is used. Sprinkle a little flour over the pieces.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt lightly. Cook the gnocchi in batches for about 15 minutes. The batches should be small enough that the gnocchi can boil freely. Gnocchi are supposed to be done when they rise to the surface of the water, but these rose in about 5 minutes, so I let them cook the entire time.

Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and add the next batch. (If your water gets too much flour in it, you might need to start fresh).

Serve with melted butter and parmesan cheese, or the sauce of your choice.

Or: freeze for later use. I lay them out on a cookie sheet, so they aren't touching each other and put that in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Then I transfered them to a baggie and tossed the whole thing in the freezer. I can pour out the number I want to cook, when I need them.

If you cook them from the frozen state, be sure to add more time. I'd add 5 minutes and taste one.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


After feeling blah all day, I've managed to recover. Not soon enough to save the day, but I have gotten a couple of things done.

I wrote a little in the novel (as apposed to opening the document and staring at the screen), I MADE DINNER, started a sauce, and I fed the dog. Don't snicker. That's important.

I'm not a citrus person, in general. I like margaritas when they are made with real limes and I like lime in my gin. That about takes care of it. I don't go searching out oranges to eat and I don't drink orange juice. It burns my mouth. Now, I can eat the hottest jalapenos around and not have a problem. But don't make me drink orange juice.

All that to say that a bag of oranges and tangerines came in my newly joined CSA vegetable box, this week. I'm not complaining, mind. I know when I join a CSA that you get what you get. That's part of the fun.

But I knew we wouldn't eat them. My husband drinks orange juice, but he likes the frozen-in-a-can-pulp-free-concentrate and he doesn't like the other stuff. The Real Thing, you know. That's okay, he's made a lot of changes since coming across my path and he's sweet.

What do to with the bag of citrus? I don't work in an office so I can't foist them off on colleagues. Rick's office already has a standing fruit order.

Well.... I made a sauce. Tossed 'em in a pot with a little maple syrup, cinnamon and cloves. Oh yeah, and a little brandy. Just 'cause. I let it all simmer for a while and now, it's cooling in jars. It will go great with a roast chicken or even on pancakes.

What do you do with extra oranges?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tortas and leverage

After cooking for a client all day, I don't necessarily want to come home and cook for us. Usually I have plenty of already-prepared meals in the freezer, so on days I'm working, I have it ready to heat up. But I saw this recipe over at Mental Masala Blog and I had to try it. After all, I had the swiss chard, already.

Torta verde: a savory pie from Italy

I used whole wheat flour instead of white flour and replaced the potato with a yam (I didn't have any potatoes). But the crust turned out flaky and good and oh boy, was that filling delicious!

I tried something different with the dough. Usually, I have the hardest time rolling out dough. It never gets thin enough or wide enough and I always give up. I know what most of the problem is: I'm too short. It's hard to get good leverage when whatever you're rolling is practically at chest level.

So yesterday, I pulled out the kitchen stool and stood on that. What a difference! The dough was thin and hugely round and it was almost perfect!

It's a pain to drag the stool out, but probably worth it for all kinds of things. I'm thinking kneading, especially. That's another thing that's exhausting and not always successful. Leverage is the thing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Celtic Folklore Cooking

My Celtic cookbook provided a nice fish recipe for dinner last night. Isn't it odd how, when we think of Irish food, we tend to think of potatoes, lamb stew, and maybe corned beef & cabbage? Now, Ireland certainly grows the potatoes and has lots of cows and lambs, but let's not forget: it is an island. One thing they have plenty of, is fish.

I had purchased some Bay Scallops and found a recipe for a sort of fishy shepherd's pie. Scallops, onions, and mushrooms in a white sauce (with a bit of sherry), baked under a layer of mashed potatoes. I made it a full meal by putting some broccoli in the bottom of the dish and layering the other ingredients over that. I added some nutrients to the potaotes by using one white potato and one sweet potato.

It was a completely satisfying dish.

The chapter on seafood has recipes for things I've never heard of, like dulse, muggie, and sloke. Muggie is fish stomach and dulse and sloke are seaweeds. The recipe for the dulse starts with, "after removing the dulse from the rocks..."

Ha! Now, that's local!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Raw Milk Safe for Now

The crowds descending on Sacramento had an effect: the legislature has given us a reprieve and rescinded the restrictions on raw milk. Here's the link for the article in the SF Chronicle:

The gist of the story is found in these two paragraphs:

Raw milk proponents say the coliform limit is impossible to meet, and that it's unnecessary because most coliform are benign, or even good for human health, and that raw milk already is tested for the kinds that cause illness, including E. coli and listeria.

The department, which has a long history of trying to outlaw raw milk in California, said in a statement that "coliform do not belong in raw milk" and that AB1735 "went through the normal legislative process."

You probably don't need me to say that I agree with the first paragraph and laugh derisively at the second (the "department" is the California Department of Food and Agriculture).

I have to confess to curiosity: why is the CDFA so determined to wipe out raw milk? There is plenty of pastuerized milk sold in the state. It's not as if raw milk is the only thing available or that raw milk proponents want to force everyone to drink it.

They can't even say that people who drink raw milk are costing the state a fortune in health care costs because they're always getting sick or dying. (They did try to pin some illnesses on raw milk once, but their case fell apart. The dairy and all the milk tested clean for e coli and listeria).

Raw milk producers are not even a threat to Big Ag. There are only two raw milk dairies in the state and about 40,000 consumers who buy the stuff. You can't even follow the money in this case.

I don't get it. But I'm glad we got through to them and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It doesn't sound like the CDFA is going to give up.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Raw Milk

Today, many, many people are descending on Sacramento in an attempt to get our legislature to let us be grown ups.

Our nanny government has decided that we don't know enough to not eat things that might hurt us, so they must make it illegal to sell raw milk.

You know. Milk from the cow. Like people have been drinking it for thousands and thousands of years.

We protested enough that they've decided to let us have a public forum to fix their bill. You can find information here:

The gist of the problem, as usual, is semanitcs. The legislature is using an incorrect definition of coliform bacteria, and like the false premise, this only leads to a false conclusion. Raw milk drinkers hope desperately that our lawmakers figure this out and will change the wording of their bill. Or get rid of the bill, entirely.

Or I swear - I'm gonna buy my own cow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Last night's dinner

I love waking up to foggy mornings. The world looks clean and mysterious and cool. Watching the mist while tucking in with a bowl of hot cereal and some green tea is a great feeling.

I'm taking a break from cookbook recipes to talk about the easy and yummy meal we had last night. But what to call it?

Bourbon and Mushroom Pork Chops (does that sound okay?)

I had two very thick pork chops and I know from experience that thick chops have trouble cooking all the way through. So I figured I'd have to bake them.

I started with 1/4 onion, finely chopped and a bunch of oyster mushrooms, also chopped. I browned these in a bit of butter over medium-high heat, using a skillet that can also go in the oven.

Once they were thoroughly browned, I moved them to the side of the pan and placed the chops in the center (sprinkling them generously with salt & pepper, first). The chops had plenty of fat, so I didn't use any extra oil.

When the chops were brown, I put them on a plate and sprinkled about 1 or 2 tbsp of flour over the mushrooms and onions. I let it cook for a minute, stirring it the whole time, then poured in 1/4 cup Kentucky Bourbon, scraping the pan to bring up the browned bits. Then I added about 1/2 cup nonfat milk and stirred it for a minute. I tossed the chops in there and spooned some of the sauce over them.

Covered it with a lid and the whole thing went in the oven at 400, for about 15 minutes.

While that was cooking, I chopped and steamed some Broccolini and made a salad.

The whole dinner was ready in 30 minutes and it tasted so good!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cookbooks: The Cheese Board Collective

I'm so far behind, I haven't even read this month's Cooking Light, yet.

Okay, wait. I don't mean read, I mean skim. Looking for recipes, you know. It's been a long time since I've been able to sit down and actually read the darn thing.

One reason I've been writing entries about my new Celtic cookbook (besides the fact that I LOVE it!) is that I haven't had time to look at my other new cookbooks. But I did get others.

Like: The Cheese Board Collective Works. Just like that.

I was begging for this book and I'm delighted I have it. If you live in the East Bay and you've never had the Cheese Board's pizza - well, just drop what you're doing and get over there, RIGHT NOW.

They are in Berkeley on Shattuck. In the Gourmet Ghetto.

In the East Bay, there are two kinds of pizza:

Italian (or Chicago), best personified by Zachary's, with the flakey crust, incredible tomato sauce and rich, salty toppings. Great sausage. Actual stuffed pizza that you will not find better, anywhere.

Then there's what I call New Age Pizza. This is the Cheese Board style: delicate, flavorful crust, fresh herbs, cheese made from raw milk, sheep's milk, goat's milk. Experimental toppings like corn, eggplant, or cabbage. Fresh, organic ingredients.

Yum. You have no idea.

So now I have their cookbook, with recipes not just for pizza, but for bread and buns and scones. There's a chapter on cheese, which is less about recipes and more about description. Great information.

There goes the diet.

As I try the recipes, I'll blog about them. This is real cooking and comfort food. I can't wait.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Continuing Saga of Celtic Folklore Cooking

Breads, Porridges, and Breakfast Foods

This entry could amount to the confessions of a breakfast junkie. I love breakfast. I'm not sure I've missed one in years, unless I was scheduled for a cholesterol check.

I eat a variety of dishes for breakfast. Hot cereal, pancakes, waffles, muffins, eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast... I take them all at one time or another.

You know what my favorite is?


Yep. Plain, old-fashioned oatmeal, with butter, brown sugar and milk. No raisins, please.

These days, I've altered it a bit, going for honey, cream, and cinnamon. Sometimes I'll put applesauce in it, but I prefer it the plainer way. Complete, homey goodness.

Well, you can imagine that a book on Celtic cooking would have recipes for porridge. You'd be right, too.

1 cup water (or half water, half milk)
3 tbsp oatmeal
dash of salt

Add the oats to the water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and stir at a low heat for about five minutes.

Please don't use those horrid instant oatmeal packets. If those are in your house, throw them away at once!

I'll wait.

Did you know fairies like porridge, too? It's in there. There's also Pratie Oaten (potatoes and oatmeal fried in butter), Burstin, Flummery, and Furmenty, and I'm not making that up.

That's just the first few pages of this section. There are fritters (oh, how I want to try Elder Flower Fritters), pancakes, Hot Cross Buns, and Boxty.

Did you know that Cinnamon Toast used to be made with claret mixed with the sugar?

There are bread recipes (soda, rhubarb, or onion), scones, Crescent Moon Rolls, Dumbcake (I'm not certain one is supposed to eat that), corn dollies and pumpkin bread.

Did the Celts have pumpkin? I thought that was New World.

Doesn't it sound wonderful? Makes you long for morning, so you can put on a pot of tea and have breakfast.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Celtic Cookbook

Celtic Folklore Cooking
by Joanne Asala

I’ve been browsing through my Celtic cookbook. One of the best things about it (besides the recipes) are the stories scattered throughout. These are tales from the past, things like Cardiwen’s Cauldron, a busy tale of a an ugly son, a protective and vengeful mother, the servant who innocently received a spell meant to help the son and the chase that ensued.

There’s the Milkmaid and the Sailor, about a girl who falls under an enchantment when a mysterious sailor touches her apron. She is doomed to follow him everywhere, until her brother cuts the apron strings and throws the apron in a fire.

Sometimes the stories are related to the recipes, such as the story about Whiskey, You’re the Devil, or the history of Hot Cross Buns. More often, they tell of us of the culture and the way of life in Ireland (or Wales or Scotland) long, long ago.

They are amusing from our point of view, of course, but I like how the stories show us the people. I only hope that a few thousand years from now, the stories they tell about us, will be as enjoyable.

The author also sprinkles ancient proverbs throughout the text and these are hilarious. ‘Course, if you think about them, you nod your head and say, “well, of course.” But you have to think about them.

“Chicken today and feathers tomorrow” (Irish proverb)

“If you go into the forest for a day, take bread for a week.” (Irish)

“Tea seldom spoils if water boils.” (Scottish)

See what I mean?

The history of the recipes is discussed and which holiday(s) the food is sacred to. And whether or not one should share it with the fairies.

That might be important to know.

Monday, January 7, 2008

New Cookbooks

I got some new cookbooks for Yule. They were on my wishlist, which is now empty. It was quite a haul!

My favorite is Celtic Folklore Cooking by Joanne Asala. It's published by Llewellyn Publications, 2007. It's just incredible, with all kinds of tidbits and poems and descriptions of Celtic life and traditions.

Like the author, I feel connected to Ireland, as if I lived there in another life. I love all things Irish and fairies and Druids and this book tells me about that and the food they ate, too! It doesn't get any better.

Being a book about Irish cuisine, the chapter on beverages is quite long and satisfying. We have Syllabub and eggnog and hot whiskey and buttered rum. Spring wine. Ale. Mulled cider and milk punch. Along with stories about John Barleycorn and about wassailing. Traditional times the drink is served and how it fits into the Wheel of the Year and celebrations of the seasons.

I'll post more about each section as time allows. I'm already trying some of the winter drinks and this promises to be a cookbook I use all the time!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Eating on Vacation III

Yesterday, I rambled on about Filippi’s. Great Italian restaurant. But the real reason we visit Oceanside (well – except for the relatives) is Marieta’s Mexican Restaurant.

Right in Oceanside, Marieta’s has lovely, homey Mexican food. I grew up in Tucson and I’m truly picky about Mexican food. I like the Real Thing, spicy and tasty. And please don’t give me a Margarita made with that horrid sweet & sour stuff. Use a lime, please. Sugar isn’t even necessary, as far as I’m concerned.

Like most Mexican places, they start you with chips – thin, lightly fried, and slightly salty. The salsa is finely blended, with generous use of cilantro and peppers. Some people might like it to be milder, but I’m happy. They also give you a little bowl of spicy, marinated carrots and onions. My husband’s 12-year old nephew and I agree to share these and we always have to ask for more. Such good stuff!

The food is simply good. I’ve never had a bite of anything that wasn’t top-notch. Well, until this time. I had to agree with my father-in-law: the rice was not up to standard. It was just blah. I didn’t notice until he mentioned it, because I always mix my rice and beans and add salsa (a habit from childhood). And frankly, lately I’ve taken to avoiding the rice in Mexican restaurants, because it’s always white rice. No fiber and waste of calories as far as I’m concerned. But I tried it here and when I tried a spoon of rice alone, it was like eating air.

Rice aside, everything else was better than ever. The beans are made the way your Mexican grandmother would make them, if you have one of those. I had the pollo mole and it was spicy and good. My husband always has the chili Colorado and he’s always happy with it.

There’s nothing exotic here, just typical Mexican food for Americans, so you get the enchiladas and tacos and burritos. They do have an extensive seafood section, with lots of fresh catches, all cooked with generous spices or sauces. The grilled shrimp is fabulous. There is also a popular Sunday brunch, but I’ve never done that.

Even though it’s typical food, it’s truly good. A big step above the usual chain places and I wish we had something like it in my neighborhood. There’s not much that’s good east of the Caldecott Tunnel. There are a couple of places I like in Berkeley – Mario’s and Cancun – but we never go to Berkeley to eat (wish we did). We always joke that for good Mexican food, we need to go to Oceanside.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Eating On Vacation II

We had a chance to visit my daughter and her husband for a day, while on vacation last week. Like me, Mary is a foodie, and so is Alec. So after a few hours of climbing over cliffs and exploring tide pools, they knew exactly where to take our famished group for a late lunch.
Filippi’s Italian Grotto. It’s in Little Italy in San Diego and Oh My Goodness. This was Heaven.
Filippi’s is a delicatessen – a tiny store packed to the rafters with olive oil, sardines, and a hundred specialty Italian items. Prosciutto. Smoked Provolone. Aged Parmesan. The freshest bread you can imagine.

But the real secret is the restaurant. Even at 3:30, there was a line. As you squeeze through the narrow aisle past the meat counter, the hostess takes you back to a room with tables. Then another room with tables. And another one. It was like a space warp or something. The inside was bigger than the outside!

We decided to forgo the excellent pizza and ordered a large antipasti for the four of us to share. Then we ordered lasagna and ravioli with meatballs and sausage. Alec had a meatball sandwich, deciding to concentrate on the main attraction. The sausage is freshly made in the store and was the best Italian sausage I’ve ever had, with a substantial sprinkling of caraway. Marvelous sauce with fresh parmesan cheese. A decent Chianti – I’m sure they had better ones, but we’re cheap when it comes to ordering wine in restaurants. There was enough food for two more meals, each. I’m serious!

Don’t bother with the rolls. Order the garlic bread and let yourself live.

Health-wise, it’s probably not something you’d do every week, although if you ate just a quarter of what you’re served, you’d probably be all right.

Can we get one of these in Walnut Creek?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Eating While On Vacation I

I find it amusing that vacations are so much to be desired, anticipated with relish, planned for, saved for and “yeah, we’re finally going!” But one thing that always has to be put aside, is healthy eating. I know that people who are on diets experience this. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, whatever you’re doing, you can’t do it on vacation.

Just eating a healthy diet is practically impossible.

Visiting family is the worst. I love these people. I don’t want to offend them. So I always approach the visit with the idea that I’ll eat whatever is offered and keep my mouth shut. It’s just for a few days, after all. A few days of processed food won’t kill me.

But, I do what I can.

My husband and I have started packing up some food to take with us. We used to be coffee snobs, until coffee began causing stomach problems and we had to give it up. But all the relatives are used to us showing up with our bag of Peet’s coffee and taking over their coffee pots early in the morning. We always offered to make enough for them, but they usually turned us down. They wanted wimpy coffee, preferably flavored with hazelnut or something. So we’d make our coffee, then wash the pot and leave it available for them to make theirs.

As we’ve begun eating a more natural diet, we’ve added things to packed food. Breakfast at the relatives’ homes is always a do it yourself option. So my husband packs his cereal and raisins and nuts, as well as a few bananas. ‘Course, the relatives usually have bananas; we just bring what we have to use them up. I bring my grains for hot cereal, some of my canned fruit sauce, local honey, some cream and my homemade yogurt. We now bring green tea instead of coffee.
I usually throw in a bottle of brandy or gin, too. Most of my husband’s relatives don’t have hard liquor in the house and I get antsy after a week.

Once we’ve arrived, I offer to cook, at least one meal. More, if they’ll let me. Then I hit the produce section and buy the freshest stuff I can find. Most of the grocery stores are things like Vons or Wal-Mart, so I’m rarely happy with the state of the produce. But it doesn’t come in a can.

I spend a lot of time biting my tongue in the eternal effort to stick to my resolution and not say anything about the food. I don’t give suggestions when they talk about what’s for dinner. I don’t refuse to eat at any particular restaurant (except Denny’s. They all know I won’t eat at Denny’s.
So far, no one has suggested McDonald’s so I’ve been spared that.)

I eat Aunt Jemima pancakes and Jimmy Dean sausage on the one day when breakfast is a group effort. I eat the Betty Crocker Salad, which I truly do not understand, and I ignore the white bread and margarine. If we’re going to be eating sandwiches, we’ll usually buy some whole grain bread at the store, assuring everyone that we wouldn’t dream of eating all their Wonder Bread.

I think it’s hilarious. And I hope I’m not coming across as snobbish, critical, or hateful. The simple fact is, I don’t eat the way most people do, and when I’m visiting, I’m putting my food preferences on hold.

No, I don’t need a medal. But when they come to my house – it’s my turn.