Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

White and Wheat Pizza

Outside it is nothing but rain, sleet and snow. All day. As dinner approaches, it's not too unusual to see the pizza guy out sliding around making deliveries, because, hey, "I don't want to drive in that." Makes you feel bad enough to almost run after him and tip him a buck — even though you didn't order any pizza.

I didn't call the pizza guy. Not because I felt like cooking on a lazy Saturday, but because our favorite pizza places don't deliver. One is an Italian kitchen that makes more authentic Neopolitan-style pizza. One is a place that makes combinations like fig spread, gorgonzola and prosciutto on an ultra thin crust. And the other is a more thick crust traditional place. I almost always order the same pizza from there: five cheese with a wheat and honey crust.

I decided to combine some favorites and go for five cheeses and a thinner wheat and honey crust. It came out pretty well for a novice pizza maker.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You Better Watch Out

When I started eating local and preaching that gospel, I realize, I stepped into a movement. I took up the banner and joined wholeheartedly. So, it's not a big shock that my heart is a bit heavy in the wake of the farm bill, and the bipartisan resistance to reform. If I force myself to see the bright side, there were a few token wins for small farms, consumers and the environment. The fact that reform was even brought up and made it this far, that's a sure sign that change is coming.

Yet, in what has to be the ultimate irony (and hypocrisy) for the issue, Speaker of the House Pelosi, who pushed new democratic reps to not rock the subsidy boat, led the charge to get all organic food in the House cafeteria.

I suppose I can hope that they source all that lovely food from primarily Big Organic producers since the USDA is now allowing foods sold under the organic label to include 38 non-organic agricultural products as part of the ingredients. Additionally, "organic" meats can still be labeled as such even if the livestock were given such inorganic substances as Atropine, Butorphanol, Tolazine, and Xylazine.

If Big Ag keeps up the pressure to lower organic standards and profit from the consumers' trust in the organic label, and well, the USDA allows it, then we can all be happy that Congress is being lied to at the table along with the rest of us. We're paying for their food, too. Why should they be excused from the same uncertainty we face? Thanks, USDA!

Additionally, Monsanto gets to keep contaminating the neighboring organic crops with GM pollen. Monsanto sells 90 percent of the genetically modified seeds in the world, accounting for nearly all the US soybean crop and over 70 percent of the corn grown here. Monsanto execs should have a good holiday, their stock is up nearly 1000 percent and expected to continue to rise.

I know, the holidays are here. I should drop the warrior mode (more of Don Quixote futility at the moment) and just post some cookie recipes, or perhaps some of Paula Deen's holiday ham recipes for Smithfield Farms. I'll find some good cheer, I will.

Deep down in my crushed heart, I hope that Santa, or some force of supreme justice, really is watching. But, frankly, we can't count on it. All we can count on is us. And what each of us can do about this.

Vote the Big Ag-supporting reps out and tell them why you did it. Tell them what you think of their choices while they are still in office. Eat local as much as possible to keep our family farms alive. Get aware of the issues and participate, even when it frustrates you and angers you. Because, oh hell yes, they better watch out. We're awake now, and we know when they've been bad or good.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kicking Out Your Inner Martha

I can't believe how many folks are feeling stressed this holiday. Seems like more than normal. With tasks like being in charge of the family dinner AND having a little one running around, or just feeding the masses, and juggling work and getting the house clean, who can blame them?

It's that time of year. For a month or so, women who are working at home or out of home, taking care of kids, keeping up the house and already overwhelmed suddenly feel obligated to become a decorator, cook, hostess supreme, personal shopper, card writer, and pastry chef all at once. And on top of already busy lives. I'm not saying men don't help, many of them do. It just seems like women feel the most pressure to measure up to some perfect holiday measuring stick.

Kind of takes all the fun out of the holidays, doesn't it? I'm thinking maybe we should all do less of the trimmings and more of the tidings. That's right. Stop and enjoy the people you love. If the mistletoe is a bit askew, well, angle your head when you move in for the kiss. And have another rum ball — that some one else made.

For Mary, who requested a menu idea for EIGHTEEN, well, here's a few thoughts:

Sweet Potato and Gouda Gratin
This you can make ahead up to the baking step, then cover and chill until it is ready to go in the oven. Add some extra baking time.

Beef Braised in Red Wine — braising is great when your guests might run late. The meat stays moist and is an effortless main dish. Double the recipe, using two 3lb roasts.

Sauteed Chard with Clementine Oranges and Feta — adds a bit of color, quick and easy stove top. You can chop the chard and section the oranges and make the dressing the night before. Or, assign a guest to bring a salad.

Green Beans Sauteéd with Roasted Tomatoes and Shallot — I am thinking if you just have one oven, it will be full, so this is also a stove top dish that is quick. Again, you can prep and chop all the veggies the night before.

Couple loaves of bread (bought from the bakery) and dessert.
Dessert could be as easy as having guests bring a few of their cookies from the season and served up as a whole smorgasbord of cookiedom. Another quick and easy idea is to make a pound cake (again, day or two before) and serve it with a topping like honey-chocolate ganache or even a store-bought ganache if needed. Pound cakes are usually moist, don't require layers or frosting. This makes a one-step dessert. We have a couple of those crazy bundt cake pans around here, even one that is shaped like a ring of Christmas trees. Dust on some powdered sugar and you look like a Domestic Goddess without the work.

I like this pound cake recipe, but use orange extract in place of the vanilla. If you love dark chocolate and orange, then you can add a couple tablespoons of finely chopped candied orange peel as well. I serve this sauce with it:

Dark Chocolate-Honey Ganache
8 oz bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped baking chocolate)
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Put chocolate in a bowl. Heat the honey, cream and butter in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate. Whisk until smooth. You will have to warm this up before serving if you make it ahead. Store it in the fridge.

This variation on a ganache was inspired by this really tough-to-make frozen chocolate mousse dessert thing with truffle cake base. I made it once, and I think you would have to pay me to make it again, even though it was really good. The original recipe (it's the cover photo) can be found in Marcel Desauliners' Celebrate with Chocolate: Totally Over-the-Top Recipes.

How to Read a Food Label

Diet and nutrition experts are the first to recommend reading the labels on food items. But they don't tell you what to read, and what not to. Here's a great example of how the marketing content on a food label can distort the truth about a product.

See? Just another friggin' cookie with refined white flour and natural fats and sweeteners in place of hydrogenated oils and HFCS. Here are some easy instructions to help you avoid being deceived.

Step 1: Read only the ingredient list and nutrition information.
Step 2: Pay close attention to the serving size.
Step 3: Ignore all the b.s. on the label

The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists a few similar "food frauds" on their site. One example mentioned is from a Kellogg's Special K Label:

"[Special K Fruit and Yogurt cereal] combines the crunch of whole grain goodness, the smooth creaminess of yogurt and the sweet taste of berries.”

The cereal contains none or nearly none of these items. However, it is LEGAL for them to place such claims because of the way it is worded:

  • crunch of wholegrain goodness not actual content of wholegrain
  • creaminess of yogurt, but not actual yogurt
  • taste of berries, not actual berries.
See how that works? Deceptive, and yet legal. And totally undetectable in your five seconds to view the label on a hurried shopping trip.

The food industry, like so many other entities (Bush administration for example) are counting on you just scanning the great big print and making an incorrect, if implied assumption.

You can read the list of the worst of these nutritional innuendos at the CSPI site.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mommy Doesn't Deserve a Cookie

You know those days when the writing on the wall is screaming at you and you ignore it anyway.

Yeah, those. I had this cookie dough. This impossible, crumbly, difficult cookie dough. And I had this child, this tired, cranky, difficult child.

And I said, "Let's make cookies!"

I said it despite the screaming. No, not the wall screaming at me. The child. The two time outs before dinner, the not listening. The one-out-of-three-star day at pre-school. It all added up to about an hour of pain. Of out of control Terrible Twos and angry mommy. Oh, the pain, the pain.

And then, it was over. As the cookies crumbled, we were washing our hands. I said, "Kiddo, Mommy was cranky, and snapped at you. And you were not so good at listening, too."

"Yeah, not fun," she said.

"I think we can do better. I'm very sorry. Are you sorry, too?"

"I'm sorry, Mommy."

"Me, too, Kiddo. I love you."

Mommy didn't deserve a cookie that night. Of course, neither did anyone else. But I did deserve to learn a lesson or two about cooking with young kids. Here is the writing from the wall:
  1. Pick your recipe carefully. Make sure it has a good task in it that your child can do. Leave the difficult recipes for another time, or leave them out.
  2. Decorating and sprinkles are ideal projects for kids, if a bit messy. The finished cookies also remove the chance of your child eating raw eggs in the dough.
  3. Pick your time even more carefully. If the kids are not alright, most doughs can chill for a couple days. And so can you.
  4. Make sure you are up for it, too.
  5. Tell your inner-Martha to get lost. Holidays are a lot more fun without that kind of pressure.
  6. Consider a few child-friendly tools. I realized my finger-crushing marble rolling pin was better left in my hands. I bought a child-size silicone version for the small sous chef.
I hate my bad moments as a mom. They make me feel like putting myself in time out. This weekend, I'll have another chance. A whole batch of sugar cookies to decorate and a couple kids to help. Wish me luck.

Politics and Food

I know food politics are low on the totem pole of issues compared with getting out of Iraq, global warming and health care, and overall just finding someone we can trust to be in Washington.

But we should care, we eat every day and what we eat is tied to both our health and the environment. Hell, I wish eating local would help bring the troops home, too. But, it can't. And I am voting, partially with my fork, for change. Which is why news like Hillary's ties to Big Meat (Smithfield and Tyson) are particularly disturbing as I look to the Democratic landscape of candidates.

Even Nancy Pelosi is singing the praises of subsidy and going against Farm Bill reform. Looks like all attempts toward major subsidy reform just died on the table. All-in-all, not a good showing for our Democratic Congress or most of the candidates. It gives me all the more resolve to keep promoting sustainable ag, and local eating since it just hasn't gained ground as a key issue yet with those who would be president.

Do you want to know who is getting the subsidy payments in your state? Here's a helpful database that will give you a quick summary. And more background information on the topic is also here at Mulch.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wordless Wednesday: Not Quite the White Christmas in the Song

Q is for Quick

Charlotte at The Great Big Vegetable Challenge has worked her way through the vegetable alphabet and is now at Q. I've racked my brain, and am sure she has hers, and I can't think of a vegetable that begins with Q. Charlotte's creative solution is to make Q a "quick" category and all the recipes should be vegetable dishes that can be prepared in about ten minutes.

Balsamic Glazed Carrots
1 pound "baby" carrots (these come precut and peeled)
1/4 cup butter (4 tbs.)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
parsley for garnish (optional)

Steam carrots for about 8-10 minutes. In a small saucepan, melt butter and mix with the honey and balsamic vinegar, mix and heat on low. When the carrots are steamed, place them in a serving bowl and pour the glaze over the top. Toss to coat.

Other quick vegetable recipes that can be found on this site:
Sauteed Red Chard with Clementine Sections and Feta
Roasted Green Beans

Roasted Asparagus
Sweet Potato Fries
Lima Bean Hummus

You can learn more about The Great Big Vegetable Challenge and the upcoming book in this interview at Kid's Cuisine. You can also vote for GBVC as a Food Blog winner in the Family category!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Eat Local Challenge - Food Blog Awards

I'm happy to say the other site I work on, Eat Local Challenge, is up for two Food Blog Awards. Food Blog of the Year:

And also for Best Food Blog on a Theme:

The polls are open and will accept votes up until Friday, December
14th, 11:59 pm EST. Official winners will be announced on Monday,
December 17th.

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Not "Too Spicy" Lamb Stew

It's the randomness of trying to please our little diners that gets frustrating. The same child who happily gnaws on a curry chicken kabob and begs for candied ginger, next turns that button nose up at a bit of cayenne with a simple, "Too Spicy." Too spicy means heat, but not-too-spicy can have flavor and quite a bit of spice.

There are always surprises. Such as seeing your little one gnaw away on a braised lamb shank happily, and getting asked a second time for more broccoli when you forgot the request. There are bad surprises as well. A whole plate of favorite foods that does not even get a nibble.

It's all pretty random, but sometimes there is a pattern, it just takes months sometimes to see it. So it was, in arriving at how to spice a Moroccan-inspired lamb stew. I do not say "Moroccan." Because it is not, and I would have a long way to go (in fact all the way to Morocco) to understand the food before I could cook it. But, the recipe has some nice depth to it, without heat. We prepared it together, the three of us, little on standing on a chair between us as mom and dad did the chopping and slicing.

Not "Too Spicy" Lamb Stew
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Friday, December 07, 2007

'Tis the Season

Mark Morford on Black Friday.
"Is this why we're suffering such a general feeling of ennui and disgust and apathy in the culture right now, the nagging feeling that we have no center and God has abandoned us and we therefore simply cannot consume enough goods and technology to try and fill the void?"
I'm trying to keep the holidays focused on the right things this year. Articles like this keep me steady in this conviction.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fruit of the Week

Kind of like "Jelly of the Month" but more fun. Sorry, Clark.

This one was a good one to give the Kiddo to test the limits of "neophobia." Not a shock, she liked it right away. Which makes me wonder how orange food ever got rejected, seems pretty tame by comparison to this.

What is it? Rambutan, a relative to the lychee and native to Southeast Asia. Tastes like a mild lychee, not bad.

Making a Wish

Think about all of the ways we wish for things. Wish upon a star, a coin in a fountain, a birthday candle extinguished; all with a silent wish attached. Always with the warning: Don't say it or it won't come true. When you think about it, this is pretty stupid. I mean, if you are just silent, how is anything ever going to happen, especially if there are others who can help?

I recently got an invite to American Public Media's web project "The Consumer's Dilemma." In the project, you can view other people's thoughts on making the world better and more sustainable, and you can submit your own desire or idea. The ideas are reviewed, and can be browsed and searched. So, if you ever wished silently that the world was a better place, well, now you don't have to be so silent and it might even come true.

What did I wish for? A bit complicated, but here goes. A friend who is a local farmer and I were talking about the "dream CSA." His thought was to have the farm not just supply food to the families that support it, but also walking trails and fishing and hands-on experience. To this, I added "Oh, and a kitchen where people can learn how to cook their produce and food with a teaching garden!" And produce from the farm to go to supporting local food banks.

You can't just hand off a bag a produce and be done, though. Anyone in a CSA knows the kind of time it takes to prepare a meal from scratch. It also takes pantry staples. Not an easy task for anyone busy just trying to make ends meet.

I want to marry the idea of one of those Super-Supper-build-your-meal places with the donated local produce and meats (or an urban garden center attached) and the pooling of food stamp money to buy the staples in bulk at a discount. Thus, very busy "working poor" parents (often single, working moms) could have all the advantages of fresh produce, bulk food purchase discounts, AND ready-to-go healthy meals. Sort of an end-to-end solution.

If you think about it, this is the exact demographic that meal-prep places would serve best (if they were non-profit), plus the concept has empowerment, education, cultural and a social group benefits to it.

That was my idea/wish. Now, go share yours.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Got Corruption?

Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff led the charge to ban voluntary labeling on milk that is hormone-free. It seemed like an odd move when even the FDA resisted Monsanto's (maker of rBST) pressure to ban the labeling. Turns out, Wolff is a dairy farmer himself. I am betting he is not one of the producers who is rBST-free.

Thankfully, state governor Ed Rendell has decided to review the decision. I am thinking he should also be reviewing a decision on whether to fire Wolff.

These kind of inside advantages are a direct cause of many of the problems we face with our food system. To get a perspective on the closed loop between fertilizer, commodity growers, feed and the meat industry, read this insightful article over at Ethicurean. It makes me want to hug our freezer full of local meat.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging: Parsley and Squash

The Battle of Orange Food seems to be a foregone conclusion, victory — most of the time — to the chef. I’m not crediting my cooking skills as much as I would say persistence. Near-obsessive persistence. With the Kiddo requesting multiple helpings of carrot soufflé and sweet potato fries, I could probably back off. I could, but there is the small problem of nearly 100 lbs. of pumpkin, squash and sweet potatoes still lurking.

Like something out of Edgar Allen Poe, I find myself haunted by visions of the Red Warty Thing, all 30 lbs. of its lumpy, russet mass daring me to pick up a chef’s knife and do something about it. It may take something more like a hacksaw to breach that rind, though. So, I opted for a couple of its small cousins instead.

It’s nice to have local produce still around and a freezer of meat for the months ahead. I will miss the fresh greens and abundance of summer, but we’re still as local as we can get for the off-season. Kiddo even woke up heartbroken last weekend missing the market. I’ll be trying to keep her distracted with Christmas events and baking.

In case you think I have lost my mind, (or more of it), that IS a monkey plate garnished with chopped parsley and orange slices. I’ve been trying to up the presentation factor for the Kiddo’s plate to see if it makes a difference. The leering primate kind of detracts a bit from the overall effect, but I do what I can. Which is, in this case, Pork and Carrot Risotto with Parmesan served in a half Acorn Squash. Kiddo gets regular helpings of Chicken and Rice “casserole” at school. I thought it was time she had the real thing. She liked it.

Winter Risotto

Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Monday, December 03, 2007

C is for Cookie

In my first couple holiday seasons post-childbirth, I've did a pretty lousy job of decking the halls. Let's see, the first year, the tree went up the day before Christmas just as the toys got assembled and stockings filled. We would never have made that deadline without the help of a bottle of good wine and the help of a couple of our Jewish friends. They enjoyed the whole experience quite a bit!

Last year, I made the deadline for the tree just a few days earlier, but not much. Friends who live in the neighborhood sneaked over and put lights on our front bushes for us because we had none. The same friends also assisted with the assembly of the pink retro kitchen set. Thank goodness for friends!

This year, by some miracle (I think they call it sleep) and the help of a little Elf, the tree went up the day after Thanksgiving BY NOON. We even had lights on our bushes that same day.

Sure, most of the unbreakable ornaments are stuck in clumps near the tree bottom. The outdoor light display didn't fare much better. And, yes, Santa's Little Helper finked on Mommy for breaking one of the lights, too.

Perhaps Martha would frown on the tacky assortment of leftover bulbs in various styles. Or upon our tree which is not color-coordinated with our interior decorating (or lack thereof). I didn't grow my own greenery to create the wreath by hand. And I sure didn't sew my own stockings (my mother-in-law did).

You know what? Martha's not invited. And the little Elf is having a ball decking our halls. I'm good with that. Real good. And I'll be good with big, loopy paper chains, glitter-covered styrofoam balls with pipe cleaners, and popcorn garland on the tree when we get there, too. Let the Elf have at it.

For everything the Elf and I lack in interior decorating skills, we sure make up for in cookies. That kid can make the best lop-sided cut-outs ever and she can load them up with the sprinkles like nobody else.

My favorite Christmas cookie recipe is the deeply spicy gingerbread from the December 2000 issue of Cooking Light. The cookies stay soft and have cardamom and candied ginger in a rich molasses dough. For a festive touch (and to indulge the Elf's strange fixation with sprinkles), I add a glaze made with 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp. orange extract, and about 1 tablespoon of water plus a tiny bit to desired consistency. Let the cookies cool, dip in the glaze and add sprinkles. Lots and lots of sprinkles.

It seems odd to look for cookie recipes in any "light" recipe guide, but I have never been able to top this gingerbread recipe for flavor. Some of their other "light" recipes for cookies do need to be "un-lightened" much like my front bushes in late January. Such is the case with their recipe for a double chocolate chip cookie. I took some liberties, primarily with the chips and a few other places.

Dark and White Chocolate Chips with Cranberries
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients, salt, baking powder and flour, together in a separate bowl. In the mixer bowl, put the butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Mix until well-combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix well, scraping as needed to incorporate. Add the chips and cranberries and mix on lowest setting until folded in.

Drop in balls of about 1-1/2 to 2 tbs. each onto a couple greased cookie sheets. Bake for about ten minutes, switching the trays halfway through if you don't have a convection oven setting to make them brown even, and just barely on the tops. It makes just over two dozen.

The most important thing for all variations of chocolate chip cookies is not to overbake them. The texture when cooled should be just crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.

It's Monday and the Elf is already asking about making more cookies. This weekend, I promised, this weekend. I'm back to the books trying to nail a recipe for Linzertorte and something else new. When I get brave, I will turn her loose with red and green frosting. Hey, the kitchen walls already need painting. What the heck, let's deck those, too.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Call It Instinct

Women have this longstanding reputation of being "intuitive." We're just naturally bent toward the whole parent thing, it's our gender. Well, not always. But, there is a lot of instinct at work in this whole parenting thing, and less and less of it is my own.

Think about it, the Under-Three Set has limited vocabulary for expressing complex verbal narratives, yet, somehow they all seem to know the same tricks, at the same time. And ALL of them ambush us parents despite our thousands of books, online forums, emails, letters, and desperate calls to friends from the brink of sanity. How do you explain these shared behaviors? Where do they come from? For example:
  1. If she doesn't get what she wants from Mommy, she will immediately turn to Daddy, pitting one against the other. This is lawyer-grade manipulation. WHERE do they learn this? It ain't Elmo, he can't even get his pronouns right.

  2. That meltdown move usually performed in the middle of a crowded store, the one where they drop to the floor and become completely limp. It's impossible to pick them up as they lay there screaming at the top of their lungs.

  3. The absolute ear-ripping tone of whining that can break you. Like those whistles only dogs can hear. Or waterboarding.

  4. An uncanny sense of when and how to screw your whole morning schedule just you are the most late for work, and have a meeting.

  5. The ability to give you just enough positive reinforcement to make you think you get this whole parenting thing just before they totally shatter your illusion.

  6. How to look perfectly angelic while sleeping no matter what they just put you through seconds before they drifted off.

  7. Finally, that incredible ability to see you at your most frustrated and exhausted, and then do or say that one tiny thing that can melt your heart in a second. Ah, kids.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Catching up on Issues

I had tunnel vision just getting all the recipes done for Thanksgiving. Since I am still full and still eating turkey, I thought I would take a break and see what else is happening in the world of food and agriculture.

Lettuce Legislation
New USDA regulations may impact small family farms that grow lettuces. This is big since leafy greens are one of the best items to buy locally. There is a comment period for farmers and consumers to weigh in on the issue. The comment period closes Dec. 3, so it is important to act now, you can read more and follow the link from to add your comments:

"In response to the E. coli 0157 outbreaks last year in bagged spinach, the USDA is considering a change in the federal regulations that could potentially require growers of all fresh leafy green vegetables to follow specified guidelines in the fields and during post-harvest handling. The federal rules would be similar to the California guidelines that were set by large-scale operations after the outbreaks. The guidelines include growing practices that discourage biodiversity and sustainable/organic farming practices, deplete soil fertility, and create “sterile” fields—methods that have not been scientifically proven to actually reduce E. coli 0157 bacteria but are certain to reduce biodiversity, harm wildlife, and burden family-scale farms."
Global Warming and Agriculture
The Washington Post takes a pretty depressing look at the harsh impacts global warming will have for agriculture.

You Say Antibiotic, I Say Antimicrobial
USDA forces Tyson to revise those bright, shiny new "raised without antibiotic" labels on their chicken. Turns out, Tyson still fed the poultry a diet laced with drugs called ionophores which qualify as an antibiotic. Tyson is defending its new labels and the tens of millions of dollars in marketing by saying that this is a "antimicrobial" not an antibiotic. The official Webster's definition of "antimicrobial" is "capable of destroying or inhibiting the growth of disease-causing microorganisms." Sure sounds like antibiotic to me.

Blaming the Chef?
According to a study by, if you are gaining weight from eating out, it's the chef's fault. I support posting the nutrition information for foods in restaurants. I'd like big posters that show what a portion size really is to be plastered on walls everywhere. I agree that an average restaurant single portion is more than a family of four in a developing country eats in a day.

But, unless the chef is walking out to the table and force feeding you everything on the plate like a soon-to-be-foie-gras duck, you are on your own here. Portion sizes ARE obscene. If restaurants could get away with it, they would be smaller. More food equals more food costs.

Fast food places aren't dreaming up three-beef-patty-eight-bacon nightmares without a darn good hunch someone will buy it. The simple truth is, we Americans are lousy (myself included) at self-control when it comes to food. Our demand has driven the perception of portions way off the charts.

Maybe we should all take note of the line spoken by the rail-thin food critic in Ratatouille, "I don't like good food, I love it. If it is not good, I don't swallow it."

The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, released a definitive report on likely causes of cancer and how the lower the risks. The report, a result of five years of research by nine teams of scientists, included information on a link between consuming processed and cured meats and cancer and the need to consume red meats in moderation.

Upon its publication, American Meat Institute Foundation Vice President of Scientific Affairs Randy Huffman said, "WCRF's conclusions are extreme, unfounded and out of step with dietary guidelines."

Oh, that meat industry. Always looking out for us consumers.

And now for something completely different
Some insight into what it is like to be a Japanese housewife. Not pretty.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

An Easy Choice

I took a weekend off to go visit my brother, taking the kiddo with me to see her cousins. With the two of them spoiling her with attention, and just my very laid back brother and myself as the adults, it was a peaceful weekend. For me, anyway. For my brother, the weekend was about as much of a break as he gets, only two calls on the pager and thankfully, none in the middle of the night.

My brother is a large animal vet in a rural area. He pretty much works seven days a week. The pager goes off, and he's out in the dark, cold night pulling a calf, or going to calm and help an injured horse. It's a hard job, not just the hours. While we were sitting in the family room, Dr. Bill told his son to be careful where he put his feet, not to kick the spot on his leg that was still sore from a harder kick by a cow. Dr. Bill also has a shiny row of gold-capped teeth in the back of his mouth from another such kick. He's missing part of a finger where it got caught in between a horse and a chute.

It's a hard job caring for livestock. A hard job that he loves. He has a deep respect for the animals, and for the farmers as well, many who are right there beside him as he works.

I think about him quite a bit these days. While I go to source local meats, I consider the hard work it takes to care for the animals. I think about how the animals are raised, what kind of life they have. I think about how my choices affect these animals and the small farmers who raise them with care.

It seems pretty inconvenient to track down food sources and do the extra leg work. After all, the grocery store is just up the road. It takes some extra calls, and driving a bit out of the way to pick up a steak or two or half a beef. But, I realize now, that consumer choice is nothing compared to the work of raising and caring for these animals.

The choice matters because:
  • It supports a family farm in my community
  • It supports sustainable agriculture
  • It supports raising livestock naturally, without antibiotics
  • It supports a better, humane life for the food animals
  • It keeps me involved and connected to the source of my food
  • It provides my family with a healthier and safer meat supply
  • Naturally-raised meat tastes really, really good
  • Buying in bulk even saves me money
  • And, it's a helluva lot easier than being kicked in the jaw by my own cow
Among the list of benefits, I can now add the issue of public health. With all the headlines in the news about antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, it's pretty notable that this one and the same bacteria strain (MRSA) has been found in concentrations on Canadian pig farms. The study, published in Veterinary Microbiology, sampled 285 pigs in 20 Ontario farms.

MRSA was found at nearly half of the farms and found in about one of every four pigs. One in five of the pig farmers were also infected. Canada will export about nine million pork to the U.S. this year alone. This study is the first one to conclusively suggest that a major source of MRSA in North America is from large-scale agriculture practices and overuse of antibiotics.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Monday? Already?

Thanksgiving dinner turned out well. I managed multiple ovens, burners and the mandoline with only one tiny third-degree burn, a tiny second degree one, and a single cut! Hey, that's a record. The food turned out great, especially the pastured turkey. Stuffing tasted great, but was the drier, fluffy kind, not the gooey kind most people are used to. (Sorry, Jen! Did it go okay?) But the best thing of all?

When we all sat at the table and held hands and said grace, then finished. My child looked up and said, "I like that! I want to do that again!" So, we all held hands again and I helped her through another short word of thanks. I don't care what's being served, that was the best treat of all.

The lesser surprise of the meal was that the favorite side was the cauliflower and chard gratin. It was easy and really good. As promised, here is the recipe for that, as well as the cranberry-applesauce that would go just as well on a Christmas table.

Cauliflower, Chard and Leek Gratin
Cranberry Applesauce
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Countdown to Chowtime

Been cooking all day. All day. Not a bad way to spend a day, but it makes you appreciate handy items like, oh, a food processor. Here's a shot of the herbs we'll use for the turkey tomorrow.

Snow! Just two days ago it was seventy degrees and I was out for a noon run in shorts. Crazy. We even have fresh local salad greens and cauliflower for the Thanksgiving table.

Got to go saute some greens and do the last sinkload of dishes. Then sleep. Brining starts at 6:30 am. I'm thinking I will nap tomorrow. Maybe. Kiddo is already wanting the sweet potato pie. Yeah, I'll be ready to eat, too.

Have a happy and safe holiday!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Local Thanksgiving

We just got a call from our CSA farmer. Due to the odd weather, he's got a bag of goodies for us just in time for Thanksgiving. This means upping the local ingredient quota for the menu. I'll be adding a salad and a cauliflower and chard gratin to the table. So far, the locally-sourced ingredients for our meal will include:

Greens, Cauliflower, Turkey, Eggs, Milk, Cream, Butter, Pork Sausage, Sage, Corn, Cornmeal, Bread, Honey, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Green Beans. I wish the apples were local, and the cider, but the freeze just ruined all the fruit crops this year. Still, much of the meal will be sourced locally, and I feel pretty good about that.

I'm thinking we have it waaaay easier than the pilgrims did this time of year.

The final menu will be:
Apple-Cider Brined Turkey with Maple-Sage Reduction
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Souffle
Green Beans with Roasted Tomatoes and Shallot
Cauliflower and Chard Gratin (recipe in the works)
Pork Sausage, Apple and Sage Cornbread Dressing
Cranberry-Applesauce (recipe in the works)
Vanilla-Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Brown Sugar Crust
Maple Pumpkin Pie (Epicurious, but I may modify)
Apple Tart with Red Wine Caramel and Gorgonzola

Then, the recipes for leftovers begin! What's kicking around in my head right now is a sort of turkey pot pie that is hand held like a calzone. Great for lunch boxes, and easy to freeze. Also, an upscale turkey and noodles.

Sanity Tips

We're in the home stretch for the holiday ahead. Here's a few tips you probably already know to help make the day run smoother:

Make a grocery list from all of the recipes, checking off what you have on hand and then itemizing the list by area of the store. The store is crowded, make it easy on yourself by being organized.

If you have time off ahead of the holiday, make pies and desserts ahead if possible. Set the table and any extra chairs up ahead of time.

The day before, do as much of your measuring and prep work as you can. You can store the prepped ingredients in the fridge in storage containers. Some recipes like dressing can be fully prepared the day before, just leaving the cooking to the day of. Chill the wine.

If you have family around, don't be shy. Put them to work! If someone asks what to bring, don't be afraid to assign dishes or wine or even ice to friends and family who will be attending. Guests like to contribute. An easy request is to have a guest bring an appetizer to give everyone something to munch on ahead of time. That way, you can focus on the main meal.

If you only have one oven, plan recipes for the same temperature as your turkey, and choose more sides that can be prepared on the stovetop.

Never turn down help with the dishes. Never.

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Two Hours Into the Workday ...

Ah, see, I am wrong. You CAN nail jello to the wall. I'll have to get a billing code for this job function. It is Friday, no? Oh, thanks be, it is.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Happy. Thanksgiving.

I was driving to work, listening to NPR. They ran a story about how the culture in Bhutan was once based on a principle of happiness above economic growth. Then, with the arrival of consumerism, that happiness is now in jeopardy. The country has shown a marked increase in violent crime and marital breakups. According to British economist Richard Layard (as quoted in the story):

"Increases in income are matched by increases in aspirations for income. And the net effect is no change in happiness."

Or, a decrease in happiness as it seems. The story really hit me, especially as we head into the holiday season when consumerism is pushed harder than the meaning of the holidays ahead. Now, as I am preparing for a holiday based on gratitude and blessing-counting, now is a good time to remember Happiness.

Humans are funny creatures. We pin our hopes on everything outside of ourselves to bring happiness. The winning lottery ticket, that great job, the next relationship, car, vacation, house, iPod, iPhone, iTouch ...

I saw a pretty amazing bit of research presented that showed people have the capacity to alter their perceptions and make their own happiness regardless of the situation. Scientific evidence that happiness is within, and within our grasp, by simply looking no further than our selves and our lives as is. The discussion refers to this as "synthetic" happiness, but I would argue that it is not so much synthetic, but rather cultivated happiness.

"It's not getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got."

I'm not a big Sheryl Crow fan, but that bit of lyric sticks in my head. I am all about the great miracle that is just another day. Sure, the winning lottery ticket did not show up, but neither did the ambulance. The child, spouse, family and friends I hold dear are all fine. I'm fine. In the global sense, we are rich beyond words. In the personal sense, I feel I am even richer than that.

Even so, there are days when I have to force myself to remember how happy I am. Yep. Force. To focus on the good, to see the joy in the very life I have and all that is around me. Even meditate on it. Matthieu Ricard makes a great point; we spend our lives striving to be good at our jobs, good in school, good at sports, yet few of us in the Western culture truly strive to be good at being happy. Or grateful. Yet, both of these things require effort to maintain and nourish.

As we all gather around the table this holiday, I wish for us all to be safe, well and to be sharing that table with others. I wish for each of us to be full, and not just on turkey, and to be happy.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(Not Gonna) Stuff It

I must confess that this is only my second year of making Thanksgiving dinner. Years past, I'd always been going to my mom's, and now my in-laws these last five years. I spent a lot of years longing to cook that meal myself. To recreate it. Last year, when the football game fell on Thanksgiving, we got our first chance. This year, the big family meal is moved again for a football game, and my husband and I are back in the kitchen for the smaller meal.

So, when you ask for a stuffing recipe (Jen!) I don't have the old family secret one to pull out. I'm still inventing. The following comes from a while perusing Gourmet, cook books and other sources, plus my own ideas, and I am going to go with it. There will be a lot more dishes on the table to keep me safe if it doesn't work out!

My husband is going to brine our fresh, pastured turkey using salt, apple cider and spices. Then we will do a maple-sage glaze on it. He's the go-to guy for all the roasting of large beasts (and most roasts) around here. I want to keep the sage and apple flavor in the stuffing. (Jen, just omit the apples and use all chicken stock if you go this route!). I went with sausage because the farmer where we will get our pork and turkey was out of bacon. Bacon and maple are amazing together. Cornbread is also new, I think it will be a good change. We'll have a loaf of great bread on the table as well.

One thing. I don't believe in stuffing the turkey. For a couple reasons.

First, there is a bit of a food safety issue if the stuffing does not cook through. Nobody likes salmonella for the holidays. Second, the bird is already damn hard to cook on it's own without adding another variable to the mix. See, the breast cooks faster than the thighs and dark meat, and it can dry out. You have to juggle the foil over that part and timing on the other parts. Worrying about the stuffing cooking may screw up the timing on the meat. Nobody likes dry turkey, which is worse than bad stuffing. So, no stuffing the stuffing here.

That said, here's the general idea of our stuffing:

Apple, Sausage and Sage Stuffing
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

A Whole New Kind of Cook Book

South-east European food company Podrakva gives stockholders a different kind of cook book; one you have to cook to read. Tucked inside the annual report, this little recipe booklet is printed in thermodynamic ink. When the book is wrapped in foil and baked, the recipes and words appear. No advice is provided on how to serve or garnish.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Carrot Raisin Cupcakes

Originally uploaded by expatkitchen

Originally posted by me at for Halloween. Still a good one for the holidays!

Ginger-Carrot Raisin Cupcakes
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Child (Food) Psychology 102

I've fessed up to a few "Mom Tricks" in the past year. Nothing like spinach in brownies, but at least one good, honest tactic for making those veggies in plain sight disappear.

You eye the vegetable on your child's plate. Say, "Mmmm, broccoli! I looove that!" Eye the plate again and look back at your child. Beg for the broccoli. "Are you going to eat that? Because I want it!" The previously ignored vegetable matter is now prime desired food. Simply because you want it. Your child will now taunt you as she eats the food, laughing her way to three helpings. This plays on the whole toddler "Mine!" thing. And it's worked for a long time. Vegetables are fun!

Thing is, the Kiddo is no longer a toddler. She will be wise to this trick in a flash. It's time to graduate to the big league and employ those techniques that empower your child and give them control — while they eat healthy. Charlotte over at The Great Big Vegetable Challenge made this whole approach into an amazing blog. We're not quite ready age-wise for this, but I see it down the road, even if the Kiddo eats veggies.

In the meantime, I have started the Fruit of the Week to combat neophobia (fear of new foods). I have also taken to putting the Kiddo to work in the kitchen. She has mastered the cold prep for scrambled eggs. She even corrected me one day when I forgot the salt. Her new favorite dish? You got it, scrambled eggs. Because she makes them herself.

I put this new approach to the test when I had her blend the dry ingredients for pumpkin bread, another follow up in Battle Orange. I also had her pour in the raisins. When the orange bread ended up on her dinner plate, all we had to say was, "Hey, it's the bread you helped make! You did a great job." In it went, orange, raisins and all.

I like this approach. It also keeps me from gaining weight by eating off her plate nightly. But I really like the empowerment and the shared experience of preparing food together. Sure beats rotting in front of the TV.

Come spring, we're going to put in a garden. A small one. I plan on having the Kiddo help with the garden, then help prepare the fruits of our labor. I am expecting the love of food from that garden to grow just as the plants do.

Pumpkin Bread
1 cup flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. cake spice (or use 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice)
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
3 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup canola oil
2/3 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. (Good job for the kiddos). In the work bowl of the mixer, put the sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla. Cream this mixture on medium for about 30 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl down to be sure all is combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on low until just combined, scraping as needed. Pour in the pumpkin puree and the raisins and mix on low until just combined. Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Battle Orange: Update from the Front Lines

All is actually calm on the front. This fall season Battle Orange seems to be barely a skirmish. Sweet Potato fries are now a three- and four-helping item, as is carrot souffle. Sweet potato souffle was an uncontested win. And pumpkin bread showed the success of a new secret weapon: the Kiddo will like anything she helped make. I'm not going to be doing any victory dance, though. It's a long road ahead, a lifetime even.

Here's another recipe from the front lines. I’d been kicking around a recipe idea for — no kidding — two years. It was time to try making Pumpkin Gnocchi.

Gnocchi is not hard to make. It does take a time or two to get the feel for it, so don’t give up on the first try. The key is to know when the dough is just dry enough to work with, and not add too much flour. What makes this task more difficult is that the water content will vary with the type of pumpkin, squash or sweet potato you use. My advice would be to work the flour in a bit at a time and stop just when the dough is no longer sticking to everything. It’s the best I can do short of sending over an Italian grandmother.

I make two batches at a time since it freezes well, and I have a TON of pumpkin and squash to use up. It also gives me a chance to test the recipe a couple times and make adjustments.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce

This post will appear in a Recipe Carnival hosted by Life in America.

Recycling Summer

Sunday’s warm weather was one of those “last chance” days of fall to be outside for a long time. With the short days post-daylight-savings, being in the sun was a welcome place. It was enough, even, to make me not mind the fall cleanup of dumping the soil and remains of our herb garden into the compost heap. I will miss the abundance of fresh herbs. The heartier ones, sage and rosemary, are still growing and will hold on, barely, to grace our Thanksgiving meal.

It’s a remarkable cycle. I was immune to the beauty of the compost heap my husband insisted on. I have come around now that we have begun using it. That, plus the fact that every weekend I fill a 3-gallon bucket with vegetable peels, stems and pulp while I prepare our meals for the week. It’s nice knowing that even these parts of our produce have a function. We raked the leaves and put the jack-o-lanterns in the pile along with the dirt. Through some kind of magic, and hundreds of happy earthworms, early spring will find us using this same material to start our garden anew.

I'll miss the herbs, and not freezing my posterior off. Over the long winter I'll be reading The One Square Foot Gardener and making my plans.

Monday, November 12, 2007

As for the Farm Bill ...

It is still being debated. The subsidies are still in, but the whole bill may be vetoed even after the dust of the debate settles. As for the whole subsidy argument, I heard a wonderful phrase this morning on a totally unrelated topic:

"The economy of influence that governs how Congress operates."

I never thought about Congress being "governed" by the influencers, but it sure is a fitting statement. I guess that would mean our country technically has four branches now; Congress, Courts, President, Lobbyists. I'd say it's time for the Fifth branch to speak up — the Public.

Ethicurean is the best source I have found for links and updates as this issue continues.

Loophole or Sinkhole?

“The government keeps putting out that we’ve reduced E. coli by 50 percent and all of that,” said an inspector. “And we haven’t done nothing. We’ve just covered it up.”

Grammar aside, this comment from a USDA meat inspector is certainly interesting. The cover up he is referring to is the process of just shipping the contaminated meat over the cook only side and not reporting it.

The details of the article are probably most frightening as it describes the fact that the meat companies are "confused" as to why the amount of tainted meat has increased. I don't think there is any confusion. The source is a diet cattle should not eat that gets them to market quicker at a huge price to the animals' health, a processing of the meat that needs more precautions (and thus, decreased production), and expensive testing and destruction of meat that is not fit for consumption. Not confusing. It's just that the answer to the problem is would mean fewer profits and is therefore, unthinkable.

My concern is that is the plants are as "thorough" in cooking the meats as they are in the slaughter, we're far from being out of danger.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging #108

There was an amazing array of recipes and locations for this issue of Weekend Herb Blogging. Lots of fantastic recipes. Almost enough to make me hungry — even after the massive dinner I had. My contribution to this week's WHB is a nice Maple-Sage Reduction sauce that goes great on pork.

My spouse is the meat guy around here, so I helped as he put together the brine of molasses, apple cider, salt, allspice berries, juniper berries, cloves, peppercorns and orange peel. He brined the chops for six hours then seared and smoked them.


Lisa at Lisa's Kitchen, located in London, Ontario, Canada, Creamy Beet Borscht.

Thai Basil and Basil

Desie from maybahay in Sydney, Beef and Pumpkin Stir Fry.

Syrie from Tastebuddies, Thai Red Duck Curry with lychees, pineapple and pumpkin.

Patricia from Technicolor Kitchen in Brazil, prepares Pasta al pesto.

Katie from Thyme for Cooking, the Blog, Vendée, France with Roast Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary.

Kalyn, our WHB host from Kalyn's Kitchen, uses Rosemary in her Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Red Onbions, Rosemary and Parmesan.


Chris at Mele Cotte uses parsley in the dressing for Fig, Pistascio and Goat Cheese Salad.

Laurie of Tastes Like Home — Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska, uses parsley in her Anchovy Stuffed Peppers.

Burcu or Almost Turkish Recipes, makes Veggie Oven Bag Stew (Fırın Torbasında Türlü). Parsley is the herb in this dish.

Pam from Sidewalk Shoes makes Shrimp Pad Thai.

Cilantro also graces Cilantro, Tomato and Cucumber Salad prepared by Jeanne of Cook Sister, London, UK.

Sher of What Did You Eat posts with a recipe using mint and cilantro, Chicken Salad With Cumin Scented Carrot Riata.

Lemon Thyme
Isil from Veggie Way, Turkish but currently living in Guildford, UK, posts history and personal memories of Lemon Thyme.

Mixed and Multi-Herbs
VegeYum from A Life (Time) of Cooking with More on the Making of Teas

Dill, Parsley and Chive blend to make the lovely sauce on Hake fillets with herb-lemon-cream-sauce from kochtopf of 1x umruehren bitte aka kochtopf, aSwiss expat now living in Andalucia, Spain.

Margot from Coffee & Vanilla, London, UK, uses basil and oregano as well as an herbed pepper blend for Couscous with Tomato & Zucchini.

Ginger and Bay Leaf grace the stew pot of Gretchen Noelle Jones, Canela y Comino, Lima, Peru, with her Curried Beef Stew.

Thyme and Basil blend beautifully in Polenta and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers from Katerina of Cabbages and Kings, Seattle, WA.

Toni from Daily Bread Journal, San Diego, CA, makes Bean Soup for a Drizzly Day using bay leaf and thyme. Good to hear from you, my thoughts are with all of the folks there in the aftermath.

Andrea of Andrea's Recipes uses Sage and Thyme in her Roasted Winter Squash with Croutons.

Pam of The Backyard Pizzeria, makes Greek Chicken with Oregano and Parsley.

Bay Leaf, Thyme and Parsley are all found in New England Clam Chowder from Peter of Kalofagas - Pursuit of Delicious Foods, Toronto, Canada

Anna from Morsels and Musings, Sydney, Australia, makes Vanilla and Lemon Rice Pudding.


Katerina from Daily Unadventtures in Cooking prepares Kale and Sausage Soup.

Black Truffles
Haalo, Cook (Almost Anything) at Least Once, prepares a lovely Black Truffle Risotto.

Pamela aka The Cooking Ninja made Cauliflower Gratin.

Cate from Sweetnicks posts Indian Cucumber Wraps which use one of my favorite spice blends, Garam Masala.

Cucumber sounds potent in Gwen's Cucumber Lychee Sake from Intoxicated Zodiac, NY's Hudson Valley.

Neil from At My Table serves Wild Cucumbers.

Soy or Tofu
Anh of Food Lover's Journey, Melbourne, Australia, makes fresh soymilk, lightly sweet with a touch of flavor.

Arfi from HomeMadeS treats us to Tofu and Courgette Cakes.

Buttercup Squash
Annemarie Cancienne of Ambrosia and Nectar, London, England, makes Buttercup Squash Bake. I paid attention to this, I have one of these beauties in my squash stash.
Delicata Squash
The Chocolate Lady of In Mol Araan, New York, makes an interesting recipe called Dinosaur Tibias Delicata Squash Pakoras.

Windy of Windy's Food Corner, UK prepared Zucchini alla Carbonara.

Jennifer of Like to Cook, explains how to make Roasted Chestnuts.

Beetroot Leaves
Ed of Tomato, Melbourne, Australia, makes a lovely salad with edible flower petals and Beetroot Greens.

Sarah of Cucina Bella, makes Super Easy Low-Fat Oven Fries.

Gay from Gay from A Scientist in the Kitchen, Laguna, Philippines posts Of Soccer and Apple Pie.

Next week, November 12 - November 18 WHB #109 will be hosted by Vanessa from What Geeks Eat. Send your entries to vanessa (at) whatgeekseat (dot) com

Friday, November 09, 2007

What a Long Strange Week It's Been

Monday brought the surprise ambush of being a finalist in the Weblog Awards. Between that and the debate this week on the Farm Bill, it's been hard to concentrate around the Kitchen.

To make things a bit stranger, on Wednesday we were driving home from our last CSA pickup. This is also referred to as Pizza! by the Kiddo as we get pizza and ice cream out on the evening. Kiddo usually opts for a brightly-frosted cupcake and eats part of our ice cream. So, driving home, she's eaten part of the frosting off the thing, and says, "Here, Mommy, I don't want it. I want some edamame."

I nearly drove off the road. Child passes up chocolate cupcake for green vegetable. That's big. Granted, the cupcake is not so good, dry and with that metallic aroma to the chocolate that screams "Box Mix!" But still.

Here it is Friday and the debate is still going on for the Farm Bill. Voting is done on the Weblogs. I netted out at fourth. I have to say it was a much closer race than I thought it would be. I have all of you to thank for that. Thank you so much. And, given what we were up against, fourth is not bad at all.

The winner was Serious Eats. Started by Ed Levine, a food book author twice over. The site has a staff of six and has revenue from advertising that supports rich features and even content from Mario Batali. Even so, this site only got 20 percent of the votes.

Coming in as a close second was This site is not so much a blog as the online home base for Gourmet and Bon Apetit magazines. The site has rich features for users to save recipes from a huge database and has a couple blog features in the site written by magazine staff and celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless. Epicurious netted 17.6 percent of the vote.

Third place goes to Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. She posts recipes from top cookbooks as well as a few of her own, being a known cookbook author. The site has won multiple awards in the past. 101 Cookbooks got 11.9 percent of the vote. Less than one percent more votes than this site.

And here we are at fourth. Hey, not bad for a rookie with a day job and an editorial staff of one. With 11.1 percent of the vote, I am excited and grateful to all of the peers, friends, family, coworkers and the amazing grassroots support of all the local food folks from those in my hometown to those across the country. These folks included such great sites as Ethicurean, Mother Talkers, and Kid's Cuisine from the Well Fed Network. I have all of you to thank for helping me get the eat local message out to a wider audience. You are heroes.

But wait! There's more! Just like Ginsu knives, the deals just get better around here. This weekend I will be hosting Weekend Herb Blogging, a gathering of great recipes from cooks around the world that all center around an herb. The recipes look amazing so far and it will be well worth the click back here to get them.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Knead Bread?

Now, that's an oven. This is the inside of my favorite "boulangerie," Fervere. I use the French term as this is not a bakery as well. Bakeries we are familiar with here — other than Krispy Kreme which is more of a factory-type establishment — do desserts and pastries. In France, that would be a patisserie. Two different kinds of places.

All they do here is bread. The finest bread around.

The space itself is sparse, exposed brick walls, bare floor and a couple shelves for the finished loaves, a small work area for mixing. And this oven. It is custom built to be identical to the ancient communal ovens in Europe. The fire is fed at night, and the breads are baked using the residual heat. Each day the bakers have to calculate baking times and temperatures for each of the loaves and the timing for everything.

The flour is custom-milled from local organic grains. Even the yeast was cultured from the local air to impart a unique flavor to the breads, just as identifiable as the tang of real San Francisco sourdough. The shop is open just a few hours a day until sellout, and that happens fast. If you know the different loaves made each day, you can call ahead and reserve one.

When you ask the bakers about the process, they can talk at length about each facet of bread making. Each is clearly a perfectionist. You walk into this place, and you might as well be stepping into 200 years or more past. The smell of fresh baked loaves is heavy in the air. It's so good, you want to shake your fist in the air, curse Dr. Atkins and do a happy carb dance all at once.

This is where we will find the bread for our Thanksgiving table. This is where I go to find a link to real food. It's the kind of place we should all seek out in our community and support. If we don't, it will be too easy to lose in the wake of "progress." The same progress that has led our country to a really screwed up food system.

Indeed, the difference between bread and the flavorless, pre-sliced, HFCS-laden mush on grocery shelves is one of the most profound illustrations of just how far off track we've gone with our food. How did we get here? Why?

I don't know. But pass the butter.

Okay, NOW It's Thanksgiving

Okay, NOW I can think about Thanksgiving. Not that I didn’t months ago when I claimed one of only eighty pastured turkeys from a local farm, but now I can finally start thinking about how to cook the beast. And what to cook with it. And the wine. Oh, my, yes, the wine.

I have this thing about pushing the next holiday before the current one has been celebrated. This is especially true in the fall when retailers are shoving catalogs at me before the Halloween candy has even hit the shelves. When the bizarre cologne ads hit TV at the same time as the NFL, and every billboard starts to scream “Bling!”

Hey, what happened to Thanksgiving?! Retailers are just drumming their fingers until Black Friday. Enough, I say, heathens. Let there be Thanks. Giving.

Thus, finally, as the jack-o-lantern heads to the compost pile, as the Elmo costume mercifully makes its way to Goodwill, and the last of the sugar buzz fades. Only now, do I contemplate my favorite holiday of the year. And what a feast it shall be. Let the menu planning begin.

Some possible favorites to go on the menu:
Cinnamon-Vanilla Applesauce
Delicata Squash with Red Rice, Cranberries and Pecans
Maple-Orange Sweet Potato Souffle
Vanilla-Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan-Brown Sugar Crust
Red-wine Caramel Apple Tart with Gorgonzola on a Walnut Crust
Pumpkin Puree (for pies from scratch)

We're keeping local ingredients as the center of the meal with a pastured turkey from a nearby farm. I'm thinking that will be brined, stuffed with sage and apple and given a maple glaze. I'd also like to do a variation on my Honey Cornbread to make that into a stuffing using local cornmeal and honey. I've got a couple weeks, I have some time to invent a few new things as well.

Earlier in the season, I blanched and froze fresh green beans for Roasted Green Beans. I wanted something green on the plate. The good news (sort of, with a worried glance toward global warming news) is the long fall we are getting may allow for a few local greens from our CSA.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sarma is Slavic for Love, Sort of

The first thing I thought when I saw this site was up as a finalist in the Weblog awards (please vote) was “Is this some kind of mistake?!” Then, I freaked out when I read the other finalists. I still feel like the indie film director at the Oscars tugging at the hem of my off-the-rack dress while I hear the whole crowd of beautiful people muttering “What was that film? Did you see that?”

The only comforting thought in my head is "Thank God I am not dressed in a giant, dead swan outfit."

Then, the dust settled a bit, and I remembered with panic, “Oh man, my newest recipe to post is cabbage rolls.” Not that there is anything wrong with Slavic comfort food. I grew up on the stuff. When the ginormous head of cabbage arrived in the CSA bag and the freezer is full of local, grassfed beef, I knew what to cook. I just didn’t know all of you would be coming for dinner.

Neither of my grandmothers were, as they say, great cooks. That stereotype is a myth in my family tree. But there was one thing my favorite grandmother could do better than anyone else: make the most out of a cheap piece of meat. Much of this skill came from being one of nine children in the house of a young widow. The rest of it surely came from having to leave school in the eighth grade and go work at a meat packing plant.

I can still hear her knife singing against the steel, flashing back and forth so fast it would make your head spin. She could put an edge on even the cheapest hunk of steel, too. When butchering time came for one of my great uncle’s beef, she would be standing at the side of the butcher making sure all the good cuts were there. At five-two, she was hardly a menacing presence, but, oh, mess with her family and look out.

She loved fiercely and completely, worked hard, survived much including the Depression, nearly dying in childbirth, and working and raising a child alone while her husband was at war. She knew loss and hard times, but she was the happiest person you could meet. Always singing as she worked, a flurry of perpetual motion and laughter.

To my grandmother, like so many who lived through the Great Depression, food was love. I remember us being kids at the table, giggling as she asked our father, “Want some ice cream, Joey?” We were never sure which was funnier, hearing our father called the “Joey” pet name or the heaping amount of ice cream she’d put in the bowl.

Next to her legendary root beer floats, also filled to the brim with ice cream, my favorite dish of hers was cabbage rolls. There is no recipe written and passed down. I pretty much had to do this one from research and memory. More than any other specific memory, my grandmother Ruby (Rubalinska) reminds me of being loved unconditionally and selflessly.

Holupki (Russian) or Sarma (Serbian) Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Meat filling:
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 onion chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked white rice
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 egg
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt

1 very large head of napa cabbage, or two medium ones, rinsed, hard white stem cut off, and leaves pulled off whole

2-24 oz. can/box/preserved chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the sauce by pretty much putting all of the ingredients into a large sauce pan and simmering while you do the other steps. The vinegar-sugar combination is a nice sweet-tart foil to the cabbage flavor.

Cook the rice (1/2 cup dried rice to 1 cup water). Saute the onion in a bit of olive oil until just golden. Cool a bit. Combine all the filling ingredients in a large bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Steam the cabbage leaves for about 5-10 minutes until pliable. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick spray. Lay in the smallest cabbage leaves for a layer to prevent sticking and burning. Make each cabbage roll by laying out a cabbage leaf with the stem end toward you. Put about 1/3 cup filling on the cabbage leaf end toward you. Fold the sides over, then roll the whole thing up vertically, much like a burrito is wrapped.

Place each cabbage roll into the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the top. Bake at 350 for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Serve in heaps with love. 

Fruit of the Week

Today is our last CSA pick up and the farmers market closed at the end of October. I always feel a bit lost this time of year. Which might explain some of my stranger behaviors such as stockpiling pumpkin, squash and sweet potatoes like a crazed, pessimistic squirrel facing eternal winter. However, even 200 lbs. of local orange vegetables is not enough to quell the lost feeling.

There is a huge blank spot open on our Saturday mornings, not to mention the empty shelves of the fridge where I keep all the produce we buy.

I even feel a bit like a tourist in the produce department at the grocery store. So, I do what all tourists do — go for the most bizarre and unusual experience I can find. I mean, if you are going to go on vacation from eating all local, you may as well go somewhere exotic, right?

Call it adventure tourism for the palate. I use this time of year to introduce the Kiddo to all kinds of new flavors and textures, things that just won't grow here. It's definitely not the same as the farmers market or going to the farm, even. But it's fun to explore a bit, and it's a good way to get past the "picky," that neophobic thing kids do which drives us all nuts.

Last week's Fruit of the Week was Pomegranate. Kiddo pulled her chair up to the counter to watch as I cut into the fruit and pulled back the insides to get the deep red, iridescent seeds. We shared them as they pulled away from the peel, laughing. I still have juice on my cabinets. It was a good excursion. Next week, I have my sights on this crazy thing called a Buddha hand.