Friday, February 29, 2008

Unethical business

Another recent newspaper article caught my attention. This one is about California berry growers who are unhappy with new restrictions on pesticides. It has to do with the air pollution caused by spraying the fumigant. The pollution violates the Clean Air Act.

The growers say they'll have to stop growing strawberries if the regulations take effect. Only strawberries, evidently, make enough money to make it worth it for them to grow anything. No strawberries - no nothing, is what they are saying. They'll let the land lie fallow.

Hallelujah. Let it lie fallow. Let the soil recover from pesticide poisoning and then grow something organically. Something that nurtures the soil and the air and is safe for people to eat.

Honestly, conventional strawberries are one the worst fruits you can eat, when it comes to the amount of pesticides passed on to the consumer. It never ceases to astonish me that these things sell at all.

Why are people still buying them? Why doesn't everybody ignore the conventionally grown berries and buy the organic ones?

But you know what really gets my goat? It's the attitude of business. Particularly, of the farmers who grow these conventional crops, but also of business in general. Because this attitude is everywhere.

It's the idea that I, as a business owner (of any kind of business) have the right to produce my product for the cheapest rate I can. That I have the right to destroy rivers, soil, air, to poison people (as long as it can't be "proven"), to cause erosion, to wipe out species of fish or birds or animals or plants, to hire illegal immigrants and pay them starvation wages, to do anything I can get away with, for as long as I can get away with it.

As long as I can make a profit.

I can hear your eyes rolling. But look, I'm a business owner. I have nothing against making a profit. And you know, I could make a better profit if I covered the cost of my clients' groceries and went to the cheapest grocery store on the block and bought old, marked-down meat, produce, and canned goods loaded with perservatives. I could easily charge my clients enough to cover the cost of these groceries twice over.

Great bottom line!

But it's not honest. It's not ethical. I feel strongly enough about it to run my own business in an ethical way. And I feel that every single business, everywhere, should be run in such a way. No corners cut. No cheap ingredients.

You know, back when the processed food industry was in its infancy, food processors used "fillers" such as sawdust, plaster of Paris, and chalk, strychnine, copper chloride, arsenic...

Really and truly. And it wasn't China. It was us.

All in the name of increasing profits.

Conventional growing methods, using fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and mono-culture are just another example. With far-reaching consequences because we are killing the soil and poisoning the water.

This isn't the way to run a business. Yet we allow our entire economy to rest on it, and ridicule the people who call for ethical behavior.

Is this really the way we should live?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cynicism about Diversity

As I was reading about the seed banks, the nasty corner of my brain began a taunt against those who think mono-culture is a good thing. One of the problems created by Big Ag and our commercialized food industry, is that it's created a reduction in seed diversity.

Nature creates hundreds, maybe even thousands, of varieties within a particular species. Before industrialization got hold of corn, for example, it grew in wild proliferation throughout the Americas. Now we're down to just a few varieties, grown in great plots of land that cover thousands of acres. It's all the same kind of corn and we all eat it. We eat it in practically everything, due to the proliferation of corn syrup. Cheap and filling.

Monsanto and its ilk would love to make this situation even worse. They like nothing better than creating a specific seed and getting a patent on it, then selling it, year after year, to farmers who then have to buy the special fertilizer to make it grow. And they sue the bejesus out of farmers whose fields are contaminated by these wind-blown seeds, accusing them of "stealing" the seeds.

When these are the farmers who went out of their way to NOT buy the damn things because they wanted to grow Real Food!

Oh, don't get me started.

Where did my point go?

Ah, there it is: I am bitterly amused to see us, on one hand, establishing special, "safe" places to store our seeds, when on the other hand, we're voluntarily wiping out the same seeds and handing our lives over to Big Ag.

Don't we get it? We need these seeds. We need diversity. One single insect, one single bacteria or mold or virus, can wipe out entire food sources because we've let the food industry whittle our crops down to one or two varieties. Mono-culture brings the same danger. We shouldn't grow acres and acres of Just One Thing because we lose the protection that is built-in when there are many different plants in the same area. Or the protection that comes from rotating crops.

We should fight it everywhere we see it. One of the best ways to fight it is to not buy it. Refuse to buy produce grown on a farm that uses mono-culture, fertilizers and pesticides. Insist on organic, sustainably grown food. That includes fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, fish... whatever you eat, it should be grown honestly and sustainably. It should benefit the planet and be there for your grandchildren.

As much as possible, grow your own. Preserve your own by canning, drying, freezing... whatever you can do.

We need to think about our food. We need to insist that we have control over it and refuse to support wasteful practices and policies, whether they are implemented by government or by corporations.

Keep it local. Keep it diverse. Support organizations like or Slow Food in their attempts to protect our plant heritage. Let nature do what nature does best: create new and diverse things to eat.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Saving Seeds

No, not saving seeds as in reserving from your crop so you can plant next year. That's good to do, too.

This is saving seeds in the doomsday-apocolypse-kind-of-way. I didn't know we did this. That's "we" as in the human race. Yep, this is a joint effort, world-wide. There are "seed banks" scattered around the planet, where the seeds for our food are safely stored in case of disaster.

Cool, isn't it?

The reason I heard about it is that a new seed bank has just opoened in Norway: the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built deep in the permafrost in a remote Arctic mountain. It can withstand earthquakes, storms, and nuclear attacks.

You know, in case there are any survivors of said nuclear attack and they want to eat. Of course, we have to hope that someone with the keys to the place also survives, but that's another issue...

There are other seed banks, not all in great places and some have been destroyed (such as one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan - guess who might have, indirectly, had something to do with that?). A bank in the Phillipines was flooded after a typhoon.

So it's important where these are built. Having worked on the Yucca Mountain Project - our feeble attempt to find some place to bury nuclear waste - I have a good idea of hard it is to find these places. There are so many factors to consider.

But the idea is great. The seeds will be safe and people can withdraw them as needed (no, it's not necessary to wait for the nuclear attack). Any country in the world can deposit seeds for no cost.

It's funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, founded by U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and Biodiversity International.

Now for the cynicism: we need to make sure Monsanto doesn't have any ownership in this thing. They'll patent all the seeds and indenture future generations who need to make withdrawals.

Tomorrow, I'll get more cynical and talk a little about the "diversity" side of this issue.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Harvesting All Around

Here's a neat idea:

How often do you go for a walk and notice fruit lying around on the sidewalk? People have lots of fruit trees but let so much of it go to waste. I've always felt somewhat guilty about it, but I always "steal" a few lemons that are on the ground of a certain house I pass on my walk. Now someone has turned it into a business.

Natasha Boissier and a group of friends have started harvesting trees in Berkeley. She provides the equipment and the workers and they'll come to your house and clear your trees. The food is donated to homeless shelters, school districts, and food kitchens.

This is a great community service. I'm jealous because I've thought of doing something similar, but I didn't know how to start. I'd like to go a step further and be able to process the fruit, too. If it can't be used, then make it into a sauce or pie filling or something that can be canned and sit on someone's shelf for a while. That would be useful to a family, too!

We need these trees in our cities. It's so essential to have this food growing right in front of us. But we need to be aware of it and not let it go to waste. So if you're in the BayArea and have a tree or two or three, call North Berkeley Harvest at 510-812-3369.

And if you're interested in preserving some of that fruit for yourself, give me a call. We'll work something out!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Magic of Cooking Seasonally

In our ultra-modern, high-speed life, we have become used to driving to the local grocery store for whatever food we feel like having. With the Food Industry in charge of what we eat, the calendar never even enters the equation.

But one of the most important ways to think about food, is to think seasonally and locally. Before we go the store, before we even plan our meals, our first question should be, “What is growing, right now, within 100 miles of where I live? What about 50 miles?” The answer to that question not only tells us what we can buy for dinner (or breakfast or lunch), but it will also supply the exact nutrients our bodies need for the season of the year.

Because this is the way I live and work, the first thing I loved about Beth Brown’s new cookbook, From a Witch’s Kitchen, is that she has categorized the recipes by season.

Don’t give me categories of Meat, Salads, Desserts, etc. If, as is happening in my area now, the trees are beginning to pop out in buds and I’ve just taken off my sweater because the sun is warming me nicely, I go searching for Spring recipes, like Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese (p. 37) or Penne with Asparagus Pesto (p. 42).

Asparagus pesto? Can I come for dinner?

If I’m still in winter’s grip and the thick sweaters and socks never leave my body as I write my book, I want a hearty Black Bean, Rice, and Chipotle Stew (p. 16) simmering on the stove, and maybe some mulled wine to sip as I read by the fire.

Our bodies, after millions of years of evolution on this planet, are attuned to the seasons and we crave the food that’s growing right outside. From a Witch’s Kitchen shows us how to do this and it sets us free to experience the magic of the kitchen and a sense of place.

As Beth says, “Celebrating the Earth and her cycle of life is a tradition rooted deep in all of us – now get into your kitchen and bring a celebration to every plate!”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Using Food

Chocolate is on my mind because I've been hired to bake some goodies for an Event. Chocolate goodies. Oh please, make me work for a living.

I made more waffles this morning for our freezer stash and I need to cook the butternut squash. I also need to make a sauce out of the oranges. Both of these things were in last week's CSA box. Today is pick up for the next one. The green vegetables always go fast, but the roots not so. And I think I've mentioned how Not Big I am on fruit.

I've always been this way. Except for berries and some tropical things, I prefer my fruit to be sauced. So apples, pears, oranges - all the old standbys get put in a pan and cooked. Sometimes, I'll can them, so they keep on the shelf for a while. Otherwise, I freeze them in smallish batches and pull them out as needed. I eat some everyday, usually at breakfast, but that's about it. I like to use them with meat entrees, too. Dried fruit is good for that, too.

Even bananas I prefer in a smoothie or something. I won't eat raw pineapple at all - it always has to be cooked. But I really do like it when it's cooked. Especially upside down in a cake...

I think I'll throw the squash in the oven and have some for lunch. I'll freeze the rest for soup or something later.

It all gets used!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More leftovers

I've just returned from a restful and exhausting vacation (those are the best kind!) and I'm back to figuring out What's for Dinner. I have so many frozen homemade meals in my freezer, the hardest part is just making the decision.

It's time for fish, so I took out the scallops/mushrooms-in-a-cream-sauce dish and I'm letting it thaw. I have some broccoli rabe from the CSA and that will go quite nicely. Easy to do.

I baked the leeks last night, sprinkled with breadcrumbs, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I also sauteed some leftover broccoli with a bit of tomato, basil, and rosemary. These were served next to a grilled NY steak from a local rancher who lets his cows feed in the pasture. Quite a yummy meal.

Remember that cabbage I needed to use? It was terrific mixed with last week's chard, a can of tomatoes, sliced onions, garlic, oregano and the leftover cooked ground beef that was in the freezer. It made so much, we'll get two more meals out of it. What an easy dish to make, too!

Tomorrow is another CSA pick-up day and none too soon. I've managed to use everything up, except for the butternut squash. Those fresh veggies have been wonderful.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Here We Go Again

Another beef recall.

When - when - are we going to stop this food industry madness? When will we go back to being responsible for our own food?

Oh never, I know. Not really for our own food, as in all the time, the only one responsible for planting, growing, harvesting, feeding, preserving, preparing, and anything else-ing, that we need to do for all our food. But we've got to break it down into smaller groups. Into regions, at least. None of this one-company-produces-billions-of-pounds-of-meat that go all around the country. And to the rest of the world, too.

What - don't they have cows in Asia?

Dude. I know they do.

Why do we continue to buy bags of loose greens when we know they've come from a warehouse that got lettuce from all over the country and piled them all together in a big bunch and stuffed them into bags?

When we know that if just one small batch of lettuce from one tiny farm anywhere in the country had a problem with their lettuce (say a minor e-coli bacteria-type problem) then every bit of the lettuce mixed with it and put in those bags, now has the same problem.

Why do we continue to buy it? Excuse me - why do you continue to buy it? 'Cause I can promise you, I don't.

Not even the organic stuff. I'll buy my own separate little head of lettuce and wash and tear it myself.

Sure I could still get sick, if I happen to buy the lettuce from the one tiny farm with a problem. But you won't. And neither will ten thousand other people around the country.

Put Big Ag out of business. Run - quickly - to your nearest CSA or Farmer's Market and buy all your food from them. Find CSAs that give you produce, meat, eggs, even milk. You'll probably need to join several to get everything that way. If you have to shop at a grocery store, shop at one that buys from local ranchers and farmers and buy the food that comes from the local source. Don't buy the food that comes from China or from the slaughtershouse six states away.

Do what you can. Just do it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Leftovers and Veggies

I've been looking for recipes to use up my CSA veggie box. We're going to be gone for a few days and I want to be sure everything gets used. Must not waste the fresh veggies!

The cabbage has been here a week, so today is its day. I'm going to simmer it in tomatoes with some leftover cooked ground beef, along with garlic and basil. A sprinkle of parmesan should go nicely with that. I have some chard that has also been around a while. Hmmm. Do you think I can add the chard to the cabbage and beef? I bet it works!

When we get back, I'll bake the leeks in a bit of cheese sauce and we'll see if I can resist adding a breadcrumb/butter topping. Just a sprinkle? Please?

That leaves lots of bok choy, more chard, and a butternut squash. I have a marvelous recipe for Hot 'n Sour Soup that will use the bok choy and the chard, as well as the some of the leftover chicken and chicken broth in my freezer. That sounds like a winner.

Butternut squash needs no excuse. I might just bake it and eat it for lunch!

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

PCB in our Food

The CC Times had an article today about cleaning up the bay. For years, there has been a warning in place to severely limit eating fish taken from the San Francisco Bay. All the usual committees and investigations and political discussions have been going on and at last, a plan has been sent to a state board for consideration. Amid all the usual protests from industry, which does not want to pay for cleaning up the bay.

This kind of thing has always thrown me for a loop. In the first place, what industry, for whatever reason, has the right to pollute a source of food for a people? Where did they get this right? Why has government turned a blind eye and let them do this? How is it possible that people don’t see a problem with this?

PCB was banned almost 30 years ago. Go us. We did something right. But the damage from PCB did not fade into the sunset. It seeped into our soil and into our air and into our water. And it doesn’t go away for a long, long time.

So we are told to eat no more than two meals a month of fish from our bay. Pregnant women and children are limited to one meal a month.

But this is our food source. We should have access to all the edible species in our food source, with sensible conservation our only restriction.

Here’s the jaw-dropping paragraph:

“A coalition of business and industrial groups argued that rather than requiring costly cleanups, the water board should focus more on warning anglers not to eat too much fish.”

What!? How? How did we get to this? What is wrong with these people?

“Just don’t eat?” That’s your solution? Every person in that coalition should lose their business to a more responsible adult and THEY should have to live in such a way that most of their food comes from the bay.

How completely arrogant and irresponsible they are. I’m furious. We should all be furious.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Family dinners II

The hectic weekend is behind us and I can concentrate on getting caught up: filing, bookkeeping, writing, menu planning. Very slowly, my desk is becoming visible. At least, parts of it are.

Grandkids staying over always means more food than we usually eat and this weekend was no exception. I started with that lovely roast on Friday night, with the blue potatoes and white beets and celery and onion. I steamed the beet tops, too and I assure you, there was not one word of complaint from those 11 and 12 year old boys. They ate everything in sight and I had to finish filling them up with pumpkin ice cream layered with chocolate sauce and nuts.

Why yes, I did have some, too. Thank you for asking.

Friday night was sleepless and disturbing for Rick and I, because our 14 year Australian Shepherd had several coughing spells throughout the night. AND, my shoulder was killing me, probably from the yard work I'd done earlier. Around five a.m., we finally doped the dog and me, and we all got some sleep. The result of all this is that I slept late and awoke to find Rick halfway through cooking the pancakes. Tea was ready, and he poured me a cup while I threw some bacon on the griddle and started chopping up the leftover potatoes for sauteeing.

So that was our breakfast, along with lots of good butter and real maple syrup. The pancakes were amazingly fluffy and light. The bacon was turkey, which I consider cheating, but I had only a few slices of the Real Stuff, so I didn't get it out. I don't care for turkey bacon, so I had just 1 piece, but I made up for it by pouring maple syrup on my potatoes.

I love that.

Since breakfast was late and big, we all ate oranges for lunch and then went out for an early dinner. We let the kids choose, which is how we ended up at Chevy's and rest assured, there was not one healthy thing about the meal, except maybe for the black beans. I know. I should have had a salad, but I didn't want to. I get like that sometimes.

Things got worse on Sunday, when I made biscuits for breakfast, along with scrambled eggs, the rest of the potatoes and a few slices of bacon chopped up with the potatoes. I don't mean to honk my own horn, but the biscuits were GOOD. I used my low-gluten mix with a little sugar and baking powder, butter, and raw milk. I had three. I know better. But I had three. With butter and honey. I put organic blueberry preserves on one.

You can imagine that by now, I'm desperate. We were taking walks - a long one on Saturday and a slightly less long one on Sunday, but nothing even close to the calories I was consuming. Around 2:00, we all seemed peckish, so I made us each a large salad with lots of CSA greens, some olives, scarlet turnips, tuna fish and homemade croutons. Better. Not great. But better.

No dinner was needed. But we did have a martini.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Family dinners

My grandsons are spending the weekend with us, which means I get to cook for 4 people instead of 2. That's actually easier to do.

I've got a roast thawing out and some BLUE potatoes from the CSA box, along with celery and white beets. I think all those items will be wonderful roasted together. The beet greens will add more color and nutrients to the meal; I'll give them a quick steam.

I've been busy and this is actually the only meal I've got planned out for the weekend. But I'm not worried because when I cook (for just the two of us) I usually make extra (because it really is easier to cook for four - or six). Those extras are even now in my freezer. It's just a matter of deciding what to thaw and heat. I have plenty of veggies still, and LOTS of salad. I think one meal may be a main dish salad of some kind, maybe with tuna fish and cheese on top.

I'm thinking of making a loaf of bread, but first I simply have to get my baking mix made: that delicious mix of various flours that we use for everything. Then I'm going to spend some time in the sun. I've been outside a bit already, and it's a wonderful day!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Vegan Valentine

My friends' daughter, Nicole Spiridakis, has an article out on NPR with great recipes for a vegan Valentine's Day.

Check it out!

New Vegetables

Ever had romanesco? Me either.

I got a couple of these pretty veggies in my CSA box. Romanesco are FRACTAL veggies. But that's just how they look.

These aren't the kind of thing most people will pick up if they see them in the store. Most likely, they'll say "are you supposed to EAT that?" and they'll walk on by. And that's if you even see them in the store. I don't believe I ever have.

But they're good. I cut them into eighths and steamed them. Real simple. Sprinkled a bit of salt and pepper on them and that's all they needed. These were bursting with flavor, but I have to warn you: they were in my CSA box, so were just harvested. Although they did sit in my frig for a few days.

Bascially, anything you can do with broccoli or cauliflower, you can do with romanesco. If I get more, I want to make a quiche with leeks, kalamata olives and feta cheese. Sounds good, no?