Tuesday, December 14, 2010

So, Where's the Holiday Recipes?

I am working on this. I hope to get a couple new brunch recipes made this weekend. Otherwise, I've taken a different direction with this holiday season. I'm doing a lot less holiday and a little more for others. I decorated just the basics and most of the cooking and entertaining was done in November.

The last couple of cold weekends, I have basically been shuffling around in my jammies and wooly socks, drinking coffee and doing my shopping online in between clearing out the house for charity donations. You see this year, I looked around our toy-filled house and said, "Enough." Before more is coming in here, it's time to give away all the toys that our child has outgrown. Time to clear my own closets for warm clothes and shoes that others need.

So, instead of doing more around the holidays, my biggest effort has been to get us down to LESS. I also spent more on charitable donations than any one person on my list including my kiddo. After easily finding six 55-gallon bags of stuff to give away, I realized just how much we still have. Some of her "gifts" are clothes and activity fees and things she needs, not just toys.

For family, I created most of their gifts online, making photo albums to celebrate all the moments we shared in the past year. For nephews, I did gift certificates. Teens pick out their own presents better than I do. Why risk that gift becoming another donation quickly?

Tomorrow, the bags and bags go out for pickup. On Thursday, my spouse and I will show up to volunteer, loading two moving trucks of food and donations and new toys for families in need.

After an earlier health scare for a family member this year, we are pretty grateful and blessed that everyone is healthy and we'll be together at the holidays. This, we feel, is more than enough. It's all that matters.

I will cook this weekend. I'll try to post some good recipes soon. Right now, I'm enjoying this Christmas season in a way I haven't before. Less is good.

Monday, December 13, 2010

12 Books of Christmas

Not a big secret that I often get cookbooks to review. Many of these, I give away on this site, like these THREE books just last month. Others, I give to family and friends. And, I do keep a few. It's hard to let them go, but since I have over 300 on my shelves already ... here's some of the other books that will be under folks' trees this year. Don't ruin the surprise!

For My Brother-in-Law. If you asked my brother-in-law what his favorite meal is, the answer is easy; steak. Steak and lobster if possible. Given that Tramonto's restaurants are both upscale steak houses, this book should be perfect for him as he's started grilling more and entertaining at home. The recipes are definitely meant for entertaining, too. This is big food and premium ingredients for such recipes as; Crispy Sweetbreads with Pecans and Honey, Lobster Potpie, Pumpkin Soup with Foie Gras and King Crab Legs with Piquillo Pepper Butter. The book is meant to be for home entertaining, but home cooks need to be ready for a slightly longer list of ingredients than family meals. Some of the simpler recipes and book features appeal most to me; Braised Pork Shanks with Lentils or Turnips with Cinnamon and Prunes. I also like the oyster-buying and preparation instructions and the guides to different meat cuts as well as how to cook each different cut of steak. Tramonto's bold flavors are paired with personal photos and favorite scripture quotes to underscore the book's theme of family, faith and food.

I probably should keep this one and use it to create gifts for everyone next year. But, it will make a fantastic giveaway for January (hint). Think of it as the gift that keeps giving Orange Cardamom Marmalade, Smokey Tomato Ketchup made with citrus and smoked onions, Biscotti Christmas Trees, Brownie Pops, and a variety of fun "kits" as gifts such as the S'mores one with home made marshmallows and graham crackers. Yes, this should have been October's giveaway, but I get a bit busy at times. Always next year.

I gave this one as a wedding gift earlier this fall. The bride, my much-younger cousin, does not cook. The fifty recipes in the book were a perfect starter for her. I think someone must have been watching over my shoulder when I learned to cook because these are the very first recipes I learned; Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Cookies, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, the first foolproof recipe for Roast Beef, Cinnamon Rolls, Mac and Cheese, Chicken Noodle Soup among others. I can't think of a better set of recipes to get a new bride started in the kitchen all in one small, non-intimidating book.

For My Father-in-Law
I have to confess when I read this one to review it, I got lost in the photos of wide open spaces and rugged outdoor men. Rugged outdoor men cooking. I had to re-read the book to look at the actual recipes. For my father-in-law who spends his life between Montana and the Southwest and has religiously observed "Steak Night" every Saturday for more years than I have been alive? This one is perfect. The chapters are organized not by courses, but each dedicated to a different ranch in a different part of the country. Much of the food is rugged and robust meats and marinades, but there are a few upscale gems like Ranchero Grilled Quail and Blackened Grouper with Orange Remoulade. While I might miss the photos, my mother-in-law will be pretty happy about her man in the kitchen with this book.

For My Friend Jerry, who loves bacon.
Who wouldn't love this book, right? Buried between the smoky meat-graced pages is the path to Bacon morning, noon, night, dessert, drink and midnight snack. All the recipes are from top chefs including Rick Tramonto, Ming Tsai, Pichet Ong, Bradford Thompson, John Besh and even some local ones for us like Celine Tio. This some very sexy, smoky meat recipes not to be missed for bacon lovers. Uh, don't tell my spouse I am giving this one away.

Book Review: Wow, Thanks!

If you want a peek at a few of the recipes from our book, The Cleaner Plate Club, check out this post from Sacramento Book Review. I love that the reviewer liked the recipes and really "got" the heart of the book. Thank you so much!

"If you think that cookbooks geared towards children are all about “kid friendly” (and mostly nutritionally devoid) foods like chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes, you’re clearly not reading the same cookbooks as I am. Authors and bloggers Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin both believe that having children should not automatically necessitate cooking one meal for the adults and a separate meal for the little ones. And their book, The Cleaner Plate Club, proves that they know what they’re talking about.

This gem of a cookbook covers all the bases. Getting to know your vegetables. Quick breakfast and lunch ideas. Healthy dinners featuring all kinds of meats, and a superb selection of meatless meals. And packed in between are pictures, fun little anecdotes about the author’s own kids, pertinent quotations and facts, and even educational blurbs covering topics from eating organically to the author’s own version of the “anti-diet ...”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Beef: What the Poor People Are Eating

My father-in-law has a long-standing tradition of every Saturday night being "Steak Night." We've sat down to the table for that meal together, and just before eating, he always uses the same one-liner, "Wonder what the poor people are eating tonight?"

It's a harmless statement, really. Kind of like my own grandfather's favorite way to order coffee in a diner, "Hot and dark like my women!" Cringe.

But, if I ever did really wonder what the poor people are eating tonight, I don't have to wonder. It's "Beef." As in that very generic looking can, so cheaply produced from commodity meat that it has no branding and no label. The ingredients read, "Beef, salt." And the source of that meat is probably one and the same as the "beef" that ends up in the dog dish. I can't say for sure, there was no label.

I do know, however, that THAT can is what the poor people eat because I packed the grocery box along with 20 friends and co-workers at a recent volunteer day at Harvesters Community Food Network. Each box contained 1 large can of meat-ish something; 2 half gallon bottles of juice, tomato and orange to count as fruit and vegetables; 2 boxes of cereal, 1 large canned milk, canned fruit and vegetables, canned soup. Each box was sealed and labeled. Then stacked on a pallet with a hundred others. Each box represented exactly one week's food for a senior citizen who could not afford to eat otherwise.

We made over 1000 boxes. Earlier in the day, our team also packed 1300 "back snacks" for school kids. The kids take the backpacks home over the weekends when there is no school breakfast and lunch. For many, this is all the food they will get the whole weekend.

It is not great food, but pretty similar to what most kids eat. Milks, cereal, canned meals, snacks and bars, fruit cups.

We had two teams working, packing over 4000 of these kits for seniors and kids. Each day, volunteers come and do more. In other parts of the massive warehouse, teams are mobilized quickly to sort and distribute produce that is over-ripe and the day old baked goods. A floor half the size of a football field is an area for receiving, cleaning and sorting food donations.

Mountains of food donated and cost-effectively purchased are stacked to the ceiling like a Costco on steroids. It seems like an endless food supply. But, with over 60,000 people fed per week from this one building. Those shelves empty at an alarming rate. Armies of volunteers are needed weekly to keep up with the ever-increasing need as the number of food insecure in our nation rises. And despite this massive effort, there are many who still go without. In fact, some 100,000 children in my metropolitan area alone are food insecure. To put a face and context around all these cans and boxes (from the report, Hunger in America 2010):

* 37% of the members of households served by Harvesters are children under 18 years old
* 9% of the members of households served by Harvesters are children age 0 to 5 years
* 8% are elderly
* Approximately 36% of clients are white; 51% are African American, 9% are Hispanic and the remainder are from other racial or ethnic groups.
* 40% of households include at least one employed adult
* 73% have incomes at or below the official federal poverty level
* 12% are receiving general assistance, welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
* 5% are homeless
* 25% of households served by Harvesters report having at least one household member in poor health

If you still need help visualizing the face of hunger, why not look in the mirror? You can help yourself and your family understand what it is to experience food insecurity by taking the Food Stamp Challenge. It would make a great New Year's Resolution project and it would be a fantastic teaching experience for kids.

To take the challenge, you simply vow to spend the same on groceries for one week as food stamp recipients. Here's a quick look at the rules:

• All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food or dining out,
must be included in your food expenses.
• During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase during the week of the project. Do
not eat food that you already had in your pantry or refrigerator (this does not include spices
and condiments).
• Try to avoid accepting free food from friends, family or work during the Challenge
• You will be able to spend the following amounts on food during the 7-day Challenge:
(Note that these are the maximum Food Stamp benefits available to recipients. The actual average
benefit for individuals in the Midwest, for example, is approximately $20 a week.)

Number of Challenge participants in household and Food budget for one week:
1 $50.00
2 $91.75
3 $131.50
4 $167.00
5 $198.25
6 $238.00

Here's more information about the challenge, recipes, and an article from my local paper about the experience of taking the food challenge as a family.

So, what else can we do this holiday as we shop til we drop?

• Food donations, of course, always count. To be sure what you donate counts most, read this post before cleaning out your pantry. The most needed items are staples; Canned vegetables, Canned fruit, Boxed meals, Canned Meat, Peanut Butter, Canned Soup, and Cereal – hot and cold
• Time. Take a day to give back and volunteer. When I see the donation bins at the store, it does nothing to bring home the scale of hunger just in my own community. Plus, hefting half gallon jugs all day was one fine workout for the body and the soul.
• Advocate. The recent School Nutrition Bill proposed taking money from food stamps to fuel the lunch program. Both serve the same needs, so that's a bit like saying, "Do you want to skip lunch or dinner today?" Write Congress and keep up with these kinds of legislation
• If you are an avid locavore and hate the miles of processed foods stacked up, garden. Start a volunteer garden or your own "back 40" feet and donate something fresh.
• Money. Food banks like Harvesters have special purchasing programs and can buy and unbelievable amount of food for the same dollar spent on that maligned can of lima beens tossed in a donation bin.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Holiday Recipes

I have not created some new ones for Christmas yet! I guess I've been a bit busy with all the other holiday activities, or I am just taking a vacation from baking after Thanksgiving! It happens.

Here's some favorite healthy recipes for the season, except the eggnog French toast. That one is just really good! I should be adding some Brunch ideas here soon, so stop by in between binges of online shopping!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Overeating Expands More Than Your Waist

cross-posted at The Cleaner Plate Club

Always tough to talk overeating around the holidays, right? (insert flashback to that pie last week).

But a story on NPR got me thinking this morning. The main focus of the research compared the response of lab rats to sweet and fatty foods or to cocaine. The foods not only were more addictive in the drive to consume, but like the drugs, caused long term alterations to the brain. It certainly explains most of those moments when I believe I have to have chocolate ... or else. But one tiny detail mentioned in the article stuck in my mind.

The lab mice fed a fatty diet when they were weaned to maturity became obese. Not only did their brains show significant alterations, but these alterations did not go away even after the test subjects were back at a normal weight. The pathways in the brain that responded to the pleasure of fatty and sweet foods built a tolerance. More and more of these foods were desired to illicit the pleasure response from the brain. Like an addiction.

The researcher quoted in the article summed it up best, noting that this phenomenon may explain why obese children tend to stay obese for life.

Which makes a pretty solid case for starting better eating habits with kids now before the pattern is too hard to overcome.