Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And ending the year with stars...

I'm ending this year's postings with gratitude. I've been blessed with another year of health, friends, family, and, of course, food. Wonderful food! And I'm grateful to each and every one of you who has read my blog, enjoyed it, and left comments for me. I love reading your blogs, and find inspiration in your photography, writing, and the enormous sensitivity of our food community when it comes to issues involved with the foods we eat. It reminds me of a quote I read recently of Wendell Berry, who said "Eaters must understand how we eat determines how the world is used."

I wish each and every one of you a joyous, healthy, holiday season, and leave you with a simple, but simply delicious recipe for a mouth-watering cookie, posted originally on the blog Smitten Kitchen. This was the third cookie I brought to the cookie exchange, and one I could have eaten till I was positively round.

Toasted Coconut Shortbread
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2004

The original recipe was double this size, yielding six dozen cookies. I halved it.

1/2 cup (about 1.5 ounces) unsweetened shredded coconut*
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature**
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (Updated: for unsweetened coconut, the smaller amount; sweetened, the larger amount)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread coconut on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until coconut is light golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Cool completely, then grind in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender until coarsely ground.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Mix in salt and vanilla. Beat in flour in 2 additions. Stir in toasted coconut. Gather dough together, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough disk on lightly floured work surface to scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using 1 3/4- to 2-inch-diameter cookie cutters, cut dough into rounds. Transfer cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather dough scraps and reroll; cut out additional cookies.

Bake cookies until light golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. (Can be made ahead. Store airtight at room temperature up to 1 week.)

One final note: I was informed that my copying of a recipe from The Luna Cafe (my last post) constituted a violation of copyright laws. I am not a lawyer, I'm a food blogger who made the mistake of thinking that it was OK to copy a recipe if you didn't claim it was your own, you gave the author credit as well as a link back to their blog. As I've never had any objections to this practice before, I was surprised to learn that not everyone approves of this practice. But since it's not my intention to harm anyone's private property, I have removed the recipe from my last post. I have left the link to The Luna Cafe's post with the recipe for what I called "Mole Moons", so if any of you wish to find that recipe, you can click on the link.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Polka Dots and Moonbeams

OK, I have to confess something. I made a confession last week, and now I have to confess that my confession wasn't accurate. (Don't you just hate it when even your confessions aren't entirely true?) I said that I don't often eat desserts, and that part is true. What I left out, was that when I find something I like in the dessert world, I just don't stop eating them. And at this time of the year....well, it's hard to get through a day without some kind of sweet staring at you, singing it's sweet little song. And like a siren, it lures you in. So the walnut cake I found so irresistible last week was gobbled up quickly and has become an insistent memory.

And then came this past Sunday's cookie exchange. I had attended it last year and found that the camaraderie was at least as good as the cookies. This year's invitation set something off in me that I still don't understand. Perhaps it was fueled by the walnut cake. Perhaps the taste of a spectacular dessert made me lust after more. I don't know. All I know is that instead of making the requisite one kind of cookie, I was whisked off to cookie nirvana, and the next thing I knew, I was up to my elbows in flour and butter, concocting not one, but three different kinds of cookies. (Is there a "cookies anonymous" out there?)

Since the blogosphere is filled with spectacular bakers, I figured I wouldn't have any trouble finding recipes that sounded interesting and different. I was right. I turned first to one of my favorite bakers, Patricia over at Technicolor Kitchen. Not only does she bake divine looking sweets of all kinds, she also photographs them beautifully. And she posts about them in both Portuguese and English! Anyway, I was treated to a mouth-watering photograph of her spiced sables with eggnog glaze. Cookie #1.

I have absolutely no idea how I came across The Luna Cafe, but I am forever grateful for the wonders of the internet for leading me to this site. On it I found the recipe for the most amazing cookie I've ever tasted. Seriously. You can stop reading the rest of this and just jump to the recipe. I'll understand. When it was my turn to explain to the crowd what I had made for the cookie exchange, I didn't know what to expect when I told people that I had made a chocolate cookie that had ancho chili powder and cayenne. All I can say is that I should have at least doubled the recipe. One woman called it a mole cookie. Since everyone's recipe for mole is different, it's possible. But I do love the sound of "Mole Moons", don't you?

Enough said. You've been reading enough already. Time to get down to the baking. I'll post the recipe for the last of the cookies next week.Spiced Sable Rounds With Eggnog Glaze

Cookie Dough:

1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, cold and coarsely chopped
1 cup + 1 ½ tablespoons caster sugar
2 eggs
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups + 4 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder
Glaze
1 egg
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon dark rum - I used white

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2 cups + 2 ½ tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
freshly ground nutmeg, for scattering


Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine. Add lemon zest, spices, flour and baking powder and mix until just combined. Divide dough in four equal parts and form each one into a log that is a little more than 3.5cm (1 ½ in) thick. Wrap well in baking paper and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350; line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Unwrap one of the dough logs (keep the others in the fridge) and slice it into 6mm (¼-in) rounds. Place onto prepared baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until just golden – mine needed 15 minutes for staying in the fridge for 24 hours.
Repeat with the remaining logs.
Make the glaze: whisk egg, brandy, rum and vanilla paste (if using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds with the back of a knife and add to the bowl) in an electric mixer for 5 minutes or until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar and whisk until thick and pale.
Spread icing over warm cookies then scatter with a little nutmeg and cool on a wire rack. Let glaze set completely before storing the cookies.
Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 90 – I halved the recipe and got 48


Mole Moons

In order to find this recipe, you will have to click on the link above for The Luna Cafe. The Kitchen Notes below are my own, and have not been copied from any other source.

Kitchen Notes:
First of all, unless you plan on using the parts you cut out to make your moons less than full, don't count on there being anywhere near 6 dozen cookies. Definitely double this recipe. And forget about them lasting for weeks. They'll be eaten long before then. Also, I thought I would be making some orange flavored glaze to decorate these with. I had no time, so I used the eggnog glaze from the other cookies. Worked like a charm!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Walnut Cake

I confess I don't often eat desserts. It's not that I don't love them - I do. But if the meal is good - and it often is - I often don't have much interest in eating more at the end of it. I look at all those photos you guys post showing spectacular desserts and I drool at the sight of them. But the same problem arises each and every time I'm done with a meal - I'm full! Boring, I know, but what can I do?

Now, the obvious solution would be to wait a bit, let the meal settle, and then go back for dessert. It works, and I've occasionally done that. Thanksgiving is the perfect example. Sitting around the table with 13 family members, all talking and laughing and sharing stories - it's easy to take time eating the meal, which many of us helped to make. It's one of the reasons I love this holiday. I get together with my family, whom I love, and it's about being together and sharing a meal - not about shopping for gifts.

At the end of that meal, we were treated to the traditional pumpkin pies, which my eldest brother has perfected. This year he experimented with 2 different crusts, both of which were perfect.

And then came my sister's walnut cake.

When I looked at it, I thought it might be somewhat dry. WRONG! It was perfect. I mean perfect as in this would be the cake to bring to any gathering and enjoy watching people's faces as they took their first bite. And then their second slice. And then watch them eying that last slice, debating whether or not to be polite and let someone else have it, or bold enough to reach for it themselves, halfheartedly offering to share. My sister, who has mastered the art of baking as well as anyone I've met, always offers an alternative to pumpkin pie for those who aren't partial to it. Every year it's terrific. This year it was an understated miracle.
I'm not certain where she got the recipe, but here it is as she sent it to me:

OLIVER'S GRANDMOTHER'S WALNUT CAKE WITH SAUT√ČED PEARS AND CINNAMON CREAM
Serves 6-8
Cake:
1 stick of unsalted butter
3C walnuts
1C sugar
5 eggs, room temp.
1/2 C flour
2 Tbls. Kirsch (I used 1 Tbls. Poire William)
xx sugar
350 degrees
Use 2 tea. of the butter to grease a 9" round baking pan. Line bottom with parchment paper. Use 1 tea. of the butter to grease the paper.
Put walnuts on baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes til they darken slightly. Cool. Grind in processor to fine powder. In a large bowl, beat remaining butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add nuts, flour, and kirsch. Mix well and pour into prepared pan. Bake approximately 30 minutes, depending upon oven. When cool, dust with xx sugar.
Sauteed Pears:
2 Tbls. unsalted butter
6 small or 4 large Bosc pears, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/4" dice
2 Tbls. brown sugar
3/4 tea. ground cinnamon
1 tea. ground nutmeg
2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
In a saute pan or skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat and cook the pears, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or just until softened. Sprinkle with the sugar. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice and mix well. Cover to keep warm.
Cream:
1C heavy cream
1Tbls. sugar
1 tea. ground cinnamon
Using an electric mixer set on medium-high speed, whip the cream and sugar until the cream is thick but not dry. Add the cinnamon and continue whipping until the cream is the desired consistency. Serve the cake topped with the pears and the cream.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving in East Hampton

I love East Hampton in the winter. The history of this place is bathed in pale light, and bare trees etch the sky in the afternoon...
Main street is devoid of tourists.And Louse Point - an awful name for a beautiful place - harbors no hoards of summer sunbathers. At this time of the year, East Hampton gives the brief illusion that it is what it once was - a haven for artists and writers looking for some space in which to paint large canvasses and write books. The Hamptons, in those days, were filled with fishermen and farmers who were willing to be good neighbors and trade food for paintings in some cases. A local family out there came into a couple of Jackson Pollack's that way before anyone had ever heard of him. It's a place where you can still find an independent book seller on Main Street, with creaky wooden floors and people who smile at you and say hello.It's where I purchased "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver - a book which had been on my "list" for too long, and which I started reading on the plane home. I may be the last person in the food blogosphere to read this book, but if by any chance you happen to have it on your list as well and haven't gotten around to reading it - it's time. She writes about a year in which her family lives by the locavore's credo. Her arguments in favor of S.O.L.E. food (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) are cogent and well researched. It's something I posted about here, when I wrote about Amaltheia Dairy's organic goat farm.

I must confess that I feel something close to giddiness when I see the many streams that are currently feeding the local food movement. As a health care practitioner, I couldn't be more pleased, and I say "It's about time!" The high cost of cheap food is nothing short of insanity, and I don't believe that we are a nation so bereft of ingenuity and insight that we cannot come up with a better plan. Fortunately, the word has been getting out - in books, movies, magazine articles, as well as on TV shows and radio programs. If Congress cannot figure out how to craft a reasonable bill addressing health care (is anyone surprised?), then your local farmers can. We can start with the simple fact that what you put into your body might - just might - have something to do with what you get out of it. Think about putting 20 octane gas in your car. Would you do it? Then look around you at all the people who have been sold the idea that it's OK to put the equivalent of 20 octane food into their bodies. It gives me the shudders.

But back to East Hampton.......
It's a locavore's definition of heaven. The roadside markets are filled with the produce of the season, including pumpkins as far as the eye can see, giant cauliflower.......even purple ones.....
And even bigger turnips!
And my sister, who lives in East Hampton year round, wouldn't consider buying her food from a regular grocery store until the dead of winter, when the farm stands have shut down. So our Thanksgiving feast consisted of a turkey from a local farm, roasted brussel sprouts, carrots and purple cauliflower, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and white potatoes from the farm stand, and baked goods made with eggs from a local farm.

I love my sister.

And when I get her recipe for the walnut cake she made, I will post about it. (I photographed it with my cell phone. Don't expect miracles!)

Did you get to eat any food for Thanksgiving which was produced locally?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Duck a l'Orange and another hike

This is the perfect time of year for hiking in southern California. The heat of summer is gone, but the temperatures are still warm enough for a tee shirt. Besides, I am not good at languishing indoors. I am much better off when I move, getting my blood circulating. Especially on the weekend before Thanksgiving. It will take most of the day to fly to the east coast, and then I'll be with my family. We will be eating, and eating often. We will sit a lot. With any luck, we'll get a walk in. A walk. One. And that will be followed by a meal.

So now is the time to get out and move. And we have a park in San Diego called Mission Trails Regional Park which is an incredible resource. It's probably about 15-20 minutes from my house, and it has 4 mountains in it. I've hiked three of them. The landscape isn't lush - it's more desert chaparral, but depending upon where you enter the park, it can be beautifully quiet.
There are parts of the park which are dedicated to hikers, and parts which are shared with mountain bikers. We did pass several bikers, but only several of them. The rest of the time, we had the place to ourselves. I hiked with D and another friend K - an ex bicycle racer. He told us that he used to bike in the park up the side of one of the mountains until he had to lift his bike and carry it up to the top. To each his own. We went in on the south side of the park, crossed a small dam and hiked uphill. A long, steep hill. Then down the other side to a wash, where we headed north towards the trail which leads to both North and South Fortuna mountains. I knew I wasn't going to make it to the top today, so we looped back before we headed up the steep gravel strewn path. We had several more steep hills - both up and down, and by the time we got back to the car an hour and a half later, I'm sure we had a total of at least 600 feet of elevation changes. That might be an underestimate, but it certainly isn't an overestimate!

One of the good things about hiking for several hours is that it makes me hungry. And when I get hungry on a Sunday, I want to make food for the week. This week will be a short one, as I'm leaving on Tuesday, but I have room in the freezer. And I know that I will not be bringing home any leftovers from Thanksgiving. So I will not get to cook that week of turkey recipes -- the sandwiches made with cranberry sauce and the turkey curry and soup. So I decided that I would make a duck. I haven't had duck in years, I think, and I do love it. That coupled with the fact that I have a friend who just bought a house with orange trees made me decide on duck a l'orange - a tried and true standby.

My necessity for a rich, orange flavor led me to include several sources of it - including some triple sec. You can add any kind of extra kick which appeals to you - either in the form of a liqueur or orange extract or even marmalade.

Duck a l'orange


1 tsp table salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 fl oz orange-flavored liqueur

1 tsp Smart Balance Organic whipped buttery spread, margarine

4 pound(s) uncooked duck with meat and skin

1 1/4 cup(s) apple juice

1/8 cup(s) fresh orange juice

1 Tbsp raw orange peel

1 cup(s) onion(s)

1 clove(s) garlic clove(s)


Wash duck and pat dry. Make slits in the duck skin and poke a mixture of salt and pepper under the skin, as well as rubbing the outside with it. Chop onions and garlic and stuff the cavity of the duck with the mixture.

Place duck on a rack breast side down, splash a couple of tablespoons of Triple Sec over the top, then dot the top with butter and place in a 400 degree oven. Keep your baster handy, as you will be basting this bird often.

At this point you can do whatever other chores need to be done, but don't wander too far. You will need to keep basting the bird, and there will be plenty of fat to do so with. After 20 minutes, turn the bird over, baste again and roast for another 30 minutes. You will want to baste it about every 10 minutes.

Pull the bird out, making sure that all the juices from the cavity run back into the pan. Pour everything from the pan into a large measuring cup and stick it in the fridge. After a while, you'll be able to scrape the fat off the top. You won't be left with much, but that's OK - you can build your orange sauce from here.

Return what's left to the pan and turn on the heat to medium. Grab your whisk and start stirring......Keep stirring.....and when it gets real bubbly, you can add the apple and orange juice as well as the peel. Stir some more. If you notice it's particularly thin, as I did, you can add either cornstarch and water or flour and water - whichever you have on hand. Be sure to mix them together first before adding them to the pan, as this reduces the lumps. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

I heard a story on the NPR the other day about apple farmers in the northeast who are starting to make hard cider. They are trying to bring back a craft which was popular back in colonial times. Have any of you tasted any of this? I'd love to hear about it. I would imagine that this would be a meal which would go quite well with hard cider. As I didn't have any, I savored what I had - a nice Sangiovese. It worked.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Kitchen for an Old Home

Back in 2003 I knew I had to do something about my house. The plumbing was on it's last legs in the bathroom, and I was brushing my teeth in the bathtub. I had thought about remodeling my house - it was 700 sq. feet - but it was only a thought until the plumbing became a real issue.

I live next to a house which could easily be on the cover of Architectural Digest. It has great "bones". It sits down in the canyon and from up here you can't really tell how large it is. It was designed by an architect who lived there when I moved into my house as a renter. He sold it several years later to a man who is also an architect, who gutted the inside and upgraded pretty much everything. By then I had bought my house. I was friendly with both owners, and so when I mentioned that I wanted to remodel my home, they both gave me drawings of possible remodels. I appreciated both gifts enormously, but neither one of them really spoke to me.

So I invited a couple of friends over to dinner, and after wining and dining them, I dragged out the plans I had been given. "What do you think of these?" My friend John said "You need to think of the outside walls of your house as your space, and then ask yourself what you want done with that space." "That's exactly the kind of thinking I was looking for, but didn't get in either of these drawings!" I answered. While John and I were talking about the space and how to think about it, his partner was sitting quietly studying my house. He finally said "You know, this is a lot like the house I built for my mom in Tijuana. Do you want to see what I did?" "Sure!" And I handed him a piece of paper and a pencil. He sketched out the plans for what would turn into my current home.

I moved in with a girlfriend at the end of April of that year, and at the end of September I moved back into my new old home. The house, which was built in 1940, now has a new roof, all new windows, new plumbing, new electrical and new floors. Most of the old plaster remains, including the lovely arches that were part of the interior and which give the house a Tuscan feeling. I have increased the footprint by about 200 sq. ft, bringing me up to a grand total of 900. I now have 2 bedrooms (the master is big enough to walk around the bed when making it - yeah!!) and two bathrooms, having moved the kitchen up to the front of the house off the living room. I am in heaven.

There are people who say that remodeling a home is fun. They claim that shopping for granite and sinks and faucets is terrific. I have heard that. I have actually heard that. But right now I cannot remember who these people were or what planet they came from. They obviously weren't single and working, trying to support themselves. But if I never have to remodel another home in my life, I'd be quite content, thank you very much. It's like trying to squeeze yet another life into an already packed one.

But I must admit that I absolutely love my home - and especially this kitchen. I stressed over the cost of that hand made glass light fixture over the island. But now each time I walk into the kitchen I see happiness hanging over that island, and it makes me smile.

This post is inspired by Penny over at Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. She asked us to post a photo of our kitchens on Wednesday. It's 11pm on Tuesday nite. I think it's close enough for government work!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pork Roast with Persimmons

My friend D and I took a hike today. I mean, it was one serious hike. We started at the glider port in La Jolla, which overlooks the ocean. I cannot believe that I've lived here since 1986 and have never been to the glider port! We hiked down the path from there to the ocean. It's fairly steep, but has steps. We came out on the south end of Black's Beach and headed north, walking all the way to the north end of Torrey Pines. Then we headed up the road and hiked along the top of the cliffs until we got to the north fork of Broken Hills trail. From there, we headed down to the beach again and then walked back to the trail by the glider port.It's interesting how the cliffs are so different on the north end vs. the south end of the beach. On the north end you get vertical cliffs with no vegetation. On the south, the cliffs are more gentle with shrubs growing up the sides. All along the top, there are the Torrey Pines - far fewer than there used to be before the drought weakened them and then the beetles came in and finished the job. But still, there are some left on top, and they are quite beautiful.
The hike up was killer. It was the last of the 8 miles, and just as steep. The stairs didn't seem as friendly. I was self cannibalizing by the time we got to the top, and I was out of water. Fortunately, there's a little place up there which serves sandwiches. We got the last of the grilled salmon on rosemary sage bread and a fresh bottle of water. For $10, we could eat our sandwich and watch the parasailers as they leapt towards the cliff, looking like some strange puppet hanging from a giant, arched nylon wing.

When we got home I was aching, smiling and chilled. A pork roast seemed like the perfect way to warm up, and will provide much of my food for the week. I had purchased some persimmons about a week ago and they were finally ripe. Pork and fruit go so well together, I knew I had to combine the two. I had a 2# pork tenderloin ready to go. Besides, I was inspired by Terry's recent post over at Blue Kitchen. I needed some pork! Not the same dish, but pork nonetheless.

I decided to brine the pork first. Or at least, my version of brining it. I just combined 3 TBS of salt with 2 TBS of sugar, mixed them thoroughly and rubbed them all over the pork. I let it sit for about an hour and a half while I prepared the fruit. This is the method I use when I make gravlox, and it does a nice job of drawing the water out of the fish, so I figured it would do the same for the pork. It did.

While my pork was brining, I cut up an onion, about 4 good sized mushrooms and the persimmons. I used a spray of oil in the pan and added about a tsp. of butter and some minced garlic. I prefer both my onions and my mushrooms cooked well, so they took about 6 minutes or so on medium heat. After about 4 minutes, I added the persimmons which I had chopped coarsley, as well as some thyme.

I got out my large roasting pan, took out the rack and laid down sprigs of fresh rosemary across the bottom. I washed the salt off the pork and then placed one half of the tenderloin - flat side up - on the bed of rosemary. I spooned half the fruit mixture over it, then laid the other half - flat side down - on top, finishing the whole thing off with more of the fruit mixture. A splash of apple cider went over the top. I cut a red cabbage into quarters, and added a couple of potatoes cut in half and into a 350 oven it went for about an hour.

Brining has become one of my favorite things. The tenderloin came out juicy and moist, and the apple cider and rosemary played off each other, balancing sweet and aromatic. The persimmons were sweet but not at all cloying. To borrow a phrase used by Terry, this roast was good. Company good. And the cool part was that I got to soak my aching body in a hot tub while it was roasting....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Breakfast Bread Pudding on cool mornings

The days have turned hot enough to warrant shorts for a hike, but the night time and mornings are cool enough for a sweatshirt. I go out for a run/walk these mornings and smell toast and coffee coming out of the kitchens in the neighborhood. Why is toast such a comforting smell?

I jog through my serene neighborhood and pass people walking their dogs. The liquidamber trees are finally red. Occasionally I will pass someone talking on a cell phone, or a car will drive by with it's driver on her way to drop the kids off at school. But other than that, it is quiet. It almost feels as though the world is holding it's breath, waiting for something to happen.

Twenty years ago today, something did happen. The Berlin Wall came down. I've been listening to the radio all day, and there have been stories of people who were there, walking from east to west in amazement. It didn't seem possible. One young couple who had already fled to the west found themselves like salmon swimming up river. They were heading to the east to tell his parents that they were going to be grandparents. She had gone to the doctor that day and discovered she was pregnant. They were the only ones headed from the west to the east. That, too, seemed impossible.And apparently Mstislav Rostropovitch went to the wall and played Bach on his cello. Can you imagine this? I mean, I can imagine Bono organizing a concert for something like this. But to just show up spontaneously and play without benefit of bodyguards? It boggles the mind. The world has changed in 20 years.

I come home from my run/walk, sweaty and in need of a shower and some breakfast. My friend D made a bread a couple of weeks ago. No recipe (he never uses one) - just threw things together and knocked it out in an hour. He didn't love it. I did. It had currents and walnuts and poppy seeds. I have no idea what that round of citrus looking thing was in it, but it had a citrus-y thing on the bottom. Oh, and some kaffir lime leaves stuck to the bottom as well. I ate it as bread while it was still edible, and stuck it in the fridge when it began to harden. Then I found this recipe for bread pudding on the Weight Watchers site - a mere 4 points on their calculator. I adapted it to my current bread situation. I'll give you the recipe as it's written, but you can substitute any kind of bread, I'm sure. Raisin bread would work great, I suspect.....
4 oz. French bread, day old, trimmed of crust and cubed. About 3 cups.
2 small peaches, pitted and chopped
2 TBS raisins, or dried cherries
1/3C low-fat, ready-to-eat granola
3/4 C 1% low fat milk
2 TBS sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

One day before serving, lightly spray a 1 qt. glass or Pyrex baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine bread, peaches, raisins and granola

Whisk together milk, sugar, egg and cinnamon. Stir into the bread mixture. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to 350F. Uncover bread pudding and bake 30 minutes or until bread is golden.

Kitchen Notes:

The original recipe called for this to be served with warm, reduced-calorie pancake syrup, but I find that totally unnecessary. With the peaches, raisins and sugar, I personally don't need any more sweet taste. Besides, I don't buy low-fat pancake syrup. Or low-fat cheese, for that matter. I will eat less cheese if I must, but I won't substitute the flavor of a full fatted cheese. Sacre Bleu!

I don't have low fat granola. It wouldn't occur to me to buy such a thing. Or 1% milk, for that matter. I used regular granola and low fat soy milk. I didn't need to add raisins, and I only used 1 TBS of sugar. Needless to say, I didn't measure the cinnamon!

For anyone wishing to lose weight, I'm still promoting the Weight Watchers approach. You can eat anything -- it's about portion control primarily. Fiber intake too. I don't worry about following their recipes exactly. (Have I ever worried about following ANY recipes?) Interestingly enough, I heard another story on the radio today which said that research has shown that for those who diet, if they restrict certain foods, those foods act as drugs when they are re-introduced into the diet later. So if you don't eat potatoes, for instance, you will find yourself addicted to them if you eat them later.

So I'll stick to Weight Watchers, have a glass of wine with a dinner of protein and veggies and a half a baked potato. And I'll devour some bread pudding for breakfast. To date, I've lost 8 pounds.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Something so simple...

So my question to you is this: How do you have a food blog, cook, photograph, eat, think about and write about food - and lose weight? It's not that I'm obese - I'm not. But my recent trip with my sister yielded over 400 photographs and about 5 extra pounds. Now, 5 pounds isn't much, I realize. But that was on top of the 5 that had crept up over the last....oh...maybe 3 years. And as we all know, Thanksgiving is around the corner - a holiday devoted to gluttony. And I'm going to my sister's house, and she is a phenomenal chef as well as a superb baker. ("Superb" might be an understatement, actually.) And my entire family loves to eat. And cook. So I'm staring into the headlights of an oncoming train - and that train is called "The Weight Gain Express."

Better to get some of these unwanted pounds off now, I say.

Now, some of you might be asking yourself "How is it that she's talking about losing weight, and yet the photo on the top is of potatoes, of all things! I mean, isn't that the first thing you cut out when you want to lose weight? (Notice that at no time do I say the "d" word here. It's a 4 letter word and I don't like it.) Well, that depends upon how you choose to go about losing weight, and most of us go about it the wrong way. We start with our food intake and then add on the exercise. That's backwards. At least, for most people it is.

I happen to be fortunate to live somewhere where I can go outside pretty much the whole year and get some exercise. Except when it's raining - which it does less and less of every year - I prefer to take walks. Long walks. Like, for instance, walk to a friend's house in downtown San Diego, which is about 3 1/2 miles from my place. Or I'll walk to do my grocery shopping. In that case, the walk is only about 3 miles round trip, but on the way back I'm carrying weights. Last time I did that, I actually weighed what I was carrying when I got home. 23 pounds. (I did curls on my walk home with the bags.)
Years ago I traveled in France with a friend and her mom. When we parted ways in Niece, I took off by myself and went to Arles - a lovely city with a Roman arena, and the place most people associate with Van Gogh. I found myself seated on the patio of a restaurant right across from the arena, and at the next table was a woman "of a certain age" seated by herself. We smiled at each other and she asked "Vous et toute seule?" (You're alone?) "Oui". And she gestured for me to come join her, which I did. I got to practice my French for the evening, as we ate our wonderful dinner, followed by a long walk on a balmy night. She was wearing a knit dress which made it clear that she had a terrific figure, so I asked her if she belonged to a gym. She laughed at the idea. No, she said, I walk. She walked everywhere, and that was her exercise.

So now, back to the potatoes. I decided that since I'm already walking everywhere, doing yoga, even lifting weights from time to time (other than grocery bags, that is), and my bike is in the shop being repaired - I needed to focus on what I was eating. And since I've been slim all my life, I'm not really programmed to do any of those popular kinds of diets. I don't intend to drink a shake and call it a meal - not unless it's a breakfast smoothie. I've examined many of the diets that are out there, and the only 2 that make any sense to me are the South Beach diet and Weight Watchers. I've done South Beach before and it works. That is, until you start adding carbs back into your diet - bread, pasta, potatoes, baked goods etc. -- you know, all those foods that will, eventually, creep back onto your plate. Especially at Thanksgiving and during the holiday season.

Which left me with Weight Watchers. This is something I've done before and it works. You can eat anything - even potatoes - and lose weight. It's a question of how much you eat, rather than what you eat. It's a weight loss program designed for someone who loves to cook and eat and yes, even have a glass of wine. So far I've been on it for two weeks and I've lost 6 1/2 pounds. I've even "fallen off" the wagon and had brownies and salmon spread on crackers and chili con queso on chips at a party one night. That added a pound, but it came off quickly as I got back on track.

This evening I will be enjoying a dish I made from the 4 different kinds of eggplants I bought at the farmer's market this past weekend - bright orange Turkish, a green Japanese, and 2 small, round purple ones - sliced up and added to a pot with onions, garlic, ground turkey, peppers and tomatoes. (I decided to have a "nightshade" meal.) To go with that, I will be devouring the rest of these roasted potatoes. The photograph would have been better if I hadn't eaten several slices before I photographed the dish, but oh well. It was worth it. ;-)

I sliced the potato and put it in ice water to soak while cooking the above dish. When the pot was ready, I drained the potatoes and patted them dry, put a tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl and tossed them with salt and pepper. The oven was preheated to 400 degrees and it took about 50 minutes to roast. Can potatoes really be this sweet???

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fall food...

Fall doesn't start in San Diego until November. Now, I realize that November is just around the corner, but every year around this time, I get antsy for fall food. I remember hunting for boletus mushrooms in New Mexico, which were always plentiful a week or two after the summer rains. Depending upon the year, that could make them pop out any time between August and the end of September. Mushrooms always made it into our fall menus. As did squash. We never sprayed our garden with pesticides, so we did battle with squash bugs all summer -- horrid pale things which latched on to every squash and squash stem. Just seeing them gave me the creeps and turned me murderous. Soapy water, alcohol and water - anything that would kill them and leave the plants with no poisonous residue - I was on it!

Having spent 2 weeks of eating mostly beef in Montana and Wyoming, I decided that my body needed a break. I needed a satisfying vegetarian meal. And having seen some gorgeous fall scenery in Wyoming and South Dakota, I knew that I needed the fall food to go with it.
I don't know about you, but when I look at scenes like this one, I find myself wanting foods that, at the very least, compliment the colors. There are so many fantastic squashes at the market these days. I could probably do a post every day for a week on a different winter squash, and never repeat myself and never get bored. And truth be told, the recipe I came up with would work well with any winter squash.This recipe all came together after I had been cooking with a friend a couple of weeks ago. We wound up making a red rice dish with lemon zest and dates which worked beautifully with the entree that evening (5 spice rubbed pork spare ribs). I made something similar several days later, only using wild and brown rice instead of the red rice. So I had these leftovers, you see.... And that, for me, is where some of my favorite meals start.

Here's a recipe which replicates, to the best of my ability, what I did. I leave you to your own imagination after that........

1 medium acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise and seeds removed
2 sprays of cooking spray
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 cup cooked wild and brown rice mixed
1/3 cup almonds, toasted and finely chopped
1/4 cup dried dates, finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Heat the oven to 450°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Place squash cut side up on a baking sheet, spray with cooking oil over the tops and insides of the squash halves, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in the oven until just fork tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place 1 tablespoon of the melted butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion and celery, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in thyme and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat and stir in the rice, almonds and dates and lemon zest.

Divide the rice filling among the roasted squash halves (about 1/2 cup for each) and drizzle an additional TBS of melted butter over top, if desired. Continue roasting until the squash is completely fork tender, the edges have started to brown, and the filling is heated through, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Kitchen Notes:

I don't know about you, but I've just recently learned that sawing a winter squash in half with a serrated knife is the way to go. I'm amazed that I still have all my fingers, after all these years of using a sharp knife - either a cleaver of a good, strong chef's knife!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Organic Goat Farming in Montana

"First, seventy-two labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us."
Thus begins the Buddhist meal verses - the ones that are repeated before each meal, like saying grace. "We should know how it comes to us" is growing in popularity in this country - as in the "Buy Local" movement, in the "Slow Food" movement, and in the USDA's program "Know Your Farmer, Know your Food". More and more of us have become interested in knowing where our food comes from, which is part of the reason why farmer's markets are becoming more and more popular in cities across America. We want to meet the people who are involved in growing our food - to put a face and a name to our veggies. Perhaps this deeper connection to our food gives us a deeper connection to our own bodies than we have when buying food in a Styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic in the supermarket.

This connection became even more apparent to me on my recent trip through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. In my last post, I talked about potatoes. I cannot think of anything more grounding than the deeply inhaled scent of a warehouse filled with earthy potatoes. You cannot help but smile when you feel practically every pore open to absorb whatever molecules of potato might float by on the air. And our host and guide through that cavernous building could not have been nicer or more open to our questions.

From Idaho we went to Montana, and it was just outside of Bozeman that we were treated to another unforgettable connection with food and the people who produce it. I had been given a brochure for the Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Belgrade, Montana, owned and operated by Sue and Mel Brown. I emailed them before we left and got a response from Sue, telling me to call her husband and he'd be happy to give us a tour of their farm when we got there. With the help of our cell phone and two sets of eyes carefully watching for road signs and numbers on the mailboxes, we managed to pass it and turn around only once. There are no signs - just goats in several enclosed areas set far back from the road. We drove up and passed a young man shoveling hay by the fence with dozens and dozens of goat heads poking through, eagerly devouring the fresh meal.Mel Brown is as laid back a man as your likely to meet, with an easy smile and a dry sense of humor. As we stood in the shade of a tree with a goat gently nibbling on the strings at the bottom of my cargo pants, Mel talked to us about animal husbandry and the food industry in this country. Originally from England, he spent time in Guatemala and did the first embryo transplants in cattle. (As a result of that work, women who want to get pregnant and need to have an embryo transplanted can have that done - it's the same technology.) From there he came to this country and worked at first with cattle before he and his wife started Amaltheia back in 2000.










When Mel told us that there were four corporations which produce most of the food in this country, even I was surprised.












When I got home I heard an interview with Tom Vilseck, our Secretary of Agriculture, confirming what Mel had said - that approximately 70% of the food in this country is produced by less than 4% of the farmers. Basically, our food comes from ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), Cargill, IBP (Iowa Beef Producers) and Tyson. That's a huge amount of money controlled by a very select few. The consequences of that are so far reaching that it would take a book - or many of them - to sort it all out. (As a kind of aside, Jenn, our very own Leftover Queen selected me to win her giveaway of the book "Stuffed", by Hank Cardello. If you want to read about at least some of the consequences of giant agribusiness controlling our food, I suggest you read it.)

So how do people like Mel and Sue make it in this country? How do individuals go up against the giants? The short answer is "It ain't easy". But the good news is that the old adage about timing being everything is what makes Mel and Sue's business shine like the north star. Because the tide is definitely flowing in their direction. People are beginning to wake up to the consequences of our current methods of food production. Yes, we can produce a tremendous amount of food at an amazingly low price. That is, if you only count the price at the cash register. But over the years it has become more and more apparent that our food production techniques are making us sick.Sometimes it's obvious, as when there's a recall of beef due to the presence of e. coli. Mel addressed the issue of e. coli and said that it could be controlled easily if the cows were allowed to grass feed - especially at the end. That would change their ruminant and eliminate the bacteria, but it would cost more to do it that way. As things are done now, the cows are corn fed - or overfed - and as a result they have to be slaughtered sooner rather than later or else their organs would all break down. (I'm sorry - I'm really not trying to make that steak look less appealing! But I AM trying to make a case for grass-fed beef.)To paraphrase something Mel said, farmer's don't know how to farm anymore. Unless they can spray everything, they don't know how to produce. And this is precisely why people like Mel and Sue are in the right place at the right time. Because people are literally hungry for food that is produced organically, ethically and sustainably. The goat's milk cheese produced by Almatheia made with vegetable rennet, not only rivals anything produced conventionally that you can find in the supermarkets, but it also satisfies that hunger to keep your dollars flowing in the direction of that which is sane and sensible, good for you and good for our earth.

But wait - there's more! A byproduct of making goat's milk cheese is the whey. What does an organic farmer do with all that whey? In Amaltheia's case, they use it to feed pigs. So they are raising pigs on an organic diet. We didn't get to taste any pork products while we were there - I don't think the pigs are ready yet - but they looked as happy as pigs in......... Well, let's just say they looked happy.And then there's the matter of manure. Lots of goats + lots of pigs = lots of manure. So what do you do with it? Why, compost it, of course. And use it in your garden to produce an enormous crop of vegetables. (And of course whatever vegetable matter is left over at the end of the season will be feed for hungry animals.) And when there's still huge piles of it left after you've used all you need? Why you offer it to neighboring farms so that they can benefit as well. And then, of course, it becomes obvious that chickens would be a good next step. There's room. There are pens. And as someone who has actually raised chickens myself, I know the difference between an organic egg which was laid within the last week where you have to smash it against the pan in order to break the shell, vs. those anemic looking thin-shelled things available in the grocery stores. No contest.

We left after several hours (and some luscious samples - thank you, Mel!) and headed east across Montana. We were driving through cattle country, and I gazed out the window at all those cows grazing peacefully on the hillsides. They were all still healthy because they were doing what cows do naturally - eating grass.

We all have a choice in what we eat, and I don't know anyone who is perfect 100% of the time. We eat healthy foods and we eat junk food, just as we exercise and then "fall off the wagon". My personal commitment to my own health includes eating organic foods as often as possible. I don't stress over it when I go out or eat at a friend's house, but when I go to buy fruits and veggies, you'll find me in front of the organic section. Same thing with chicken and eggs. I make those choices because I know how to stretch my food dollars. The organic chicken I purchased recently was initially roasted and fed 2 people. The leftovers went into making Tom Kha soup and curried chicken salad with coconut, almonds and cranberries. And I still had a leg and thigh left for lunch today, with green beans, almonds and shitaki mushrooms.

What do you do to stretch your food dollar? How important is it to you to eat organic food?

I also want to urge you to visit Amaltheia's website: Amaltheia Dairy. You'll find a beautiful selection of cheeses available for purchase.p.s.: This just in from Sue: Monsanto just bought the largest wheat seed company in Montana. So the number of players in the food industry just got smaller.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Potatoes make the meal

I don't think I will ever look at a potato the same way again. I've always loved potatoes - baked or mashed or fried - and I've always considered them simple but satisfying food. But after visiting Walters Produce in Newdale, Idaho, I've gained a new respect for the lowly spud.

My sister and I have been on a road trip through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, and tomorrow we will head for South Dakota. Our first stop was in Tetonia, Idaho - just west of the Grand Tetons. We opted to stay at a bed and breakfast in Idaho, rather than pay the exorbitant prices in Jackson, Wyoming. The Locanda di Fiori, or Inn of the Flowers, turned out to be more than we could possibly have imagined. It was, in short, perfection. The owner - Carol - has become our new best friend. Not only did she pay attention to every last detail, including Ralph Lauren sheets and towels, organic soaps, and herbal teas in our room, but her breakfasts are to die for. Our days started with fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, French toast, ham, and the best coffee west of the Mississippi. They continued with laughter, intelligent conversation, the last float trip of the season down the river in Jackson, Wyoming, with the Barker Ewing company, where we saw moose, river otters and bald eagles - to mention just a few things. Carol then bought us some wine at Dornan's restaurant in Moose - yes, that's Moose - Wyoming, with a spectacular view of the sunset over the Tetons. We laughed and talked and wound up having pizza and more wine as we watched the colors change.

She then guided us back to the inn, where we changed into our suits and soaked in the hot tub for about an hour, sipping wine and practically listening to the stars crackle in the crisp night air. The next morning we said our goodbyes, and we headed off to Newdale. Carol had told us about the potato processing plant there and said that we had to visit it. At this point, we knew that we'd like anything she said, so we crossed the tracks, turned right, and drove down to the office.W. Jeffrey Walters and his brother are the third generation owners and operators of Walters Produce.
He took us on a tour of his facility, which processes something like 800,000 pounds of potatoes - mostly from Idaho. The soil in Idaho is volcanic - a rich, black soil which produces potatoes unlike any other kind in the U.S. Potatoes from farms owned and operated by the Walters family, as well as farms all over Idaho and surrounding states arrive daily by trucks. They are graded, sorted, washed, inspected, bagged, boxed, dried, shipped and stored - all in a giant, automated facility which employs hundreds of workers - many of whom are on a work program from the local prison.With every step through the plant, we inhaled the earthy smell of potatoes. Right now they are processing mainly russets, with some Yukon golds. At different times of the year, there are different varieties being processed. By the time we left, we absolutely needed to have some potatoes! We both opted for some of the medium sized ones - perfect for baking. He was so kind - he gave us a small bag of them, even though we only asked for 2! So far we haven't stayed anywhere where we have baked them, so we will probably go back with them in our suitcases. But what a fabulous souvenier! It beats a tee shirt any day!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Using up leftovers before my next trip...

I know....I know..... I seem to be going on more and more trips lately. I just got back from Orcas Island and now I'm headed off to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. And Montana. And South Dakota. I mean, there's a buffalo roundup in Custer State Park just minutes from Mt. Rushmore! What's a gal to do? When I was in New Mexico over Memorial Day weekend, a friend told me that she had gone to it several years ago, and the ground shakes under your feet as 1500 bison come roaring over the hill. I knew I would have to check that out. Besides, I've never been to that part of the country, and it's something I've wanted to do for a long time.

So I'm doing my own version of a roundup here at home. I'm rounding up everything I've got lying around the fridge and trying to eat it before I leave. While I try to limit the amount of pasta I eat, it really is the very best way to incorporate leftovers into a tasty meal. Now I need to invite the neighborhood over for dinner so that I don't have leftover leftovers!

This meal is one that doesn't really have a recipe. You take whatever pasta you've got and cook it. You add whatever leftovers you've got. With me, it was mainly grilled veggies, tomatoes from my garden (not exactly "leftover", but I did want to eat as many as possible!), and some goat cheese. I tossed it together with some olive oil and had a simple, tasty meal. I've done this many times over the years and it's always different depending upon the leftovers, but it always works.
I'll be leaving tomorrow and back on Oct. 1st. But before I go, I wanted to respond to something that Terry B from Blue Kitchen wrote in his comment on my last post. I had stated that part of our national obesity problem comes from petroleum - that we'd rather drive than walk. His response was a good one (I'd encourage you to read it). He stated that it was a cultural thing - that Chicago was a walking town, whereas St. Louis was not. I get this one. I was born on Long Island, and New York City is a walking town, as are pretty much all the cities in Europe. When I lived in the mountains of New Mexico, it wasn't common for people to walk to the grocery store, even though it was only 1 1/2 miles away, because there were no sidewalks. But New Mexico is a place where people who love the outdoors go to live. Instead of walking to the grocery store, people go for hikes in the mountains in the summer and ski in the winter.

Here in San Diego, there are sidewalks, but walking is still looked at with suspicion. Jogging? No problem. But walking? Is there something wrong with your car? Perhaps when the price of gas gets up to what Europeans have been paying for years and years, even people in San Diego will consider putting on those new walking shoes and actually walking in them!

Have a great couple of weeks, my friends! Oh - and if anyone knows of a great little restaurant in Bozeman, Mt., or anywhere near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Obesity, "Stuffed Nation", and further thoughts on food

Jenn, our very own Leftover Queen and founder of the Foodie Blogroll, has brought up a subject which has been on my mind for years. It was prompted by the book "Stuffed" by Hank Cardello, who is also the author of the blog Stuffed Nation. Jenn has asked us to write about our thoughts on the escalating obesity rates in the U.S. as well as food policy in this nation.While I have not yet read Mr. Cardello's book, I'm someone who has been in the "alternative" health care field for the last 18 years, and have had lots of time to think about food and health. I have had many people call me to ask if acupuncture will help them lose weight. (The short answer is "yes", but the real answer is more complicated than that - perhaps a subject for a future post.) People are truly searching for ways to lose weight and are willing to put their dollars to work to do this. Snack food companies have understood this for years, which is why the supermarket aisles are filled with fat free and sugar free foods as well as "diet" sodas. So why is it, with so many diet foods at our disposal, are we gaining so much weight?

For many years, I'd tell people that the answer was petroleum. Petroleum, you ask? Yes. People will get into a $25,000 car, move it 8 blocks to the supermarket, and then go in to buy a fat free or sugar free snack food, hoping it will help them to lose weight. In Europe, where people have paid over $6 per gallon for gasoline for many years, they walk. They walk in the winter and summer. They walk in the rain, the snow, the heat and humidity. I remember years ago when traveling by myself in southern France, I met a woman at a restaurant in Arles. She invited me to sit with her as we were both dining by ourselves. After dinner we took a walk together and I noticed that she had a great figure for a woman "of a certain age". When I asked her if she belonged to a gym she laughed. "Mais non!" She told me that she walked everywhere.

I live in southern California, where walking is looked upon with some suspicion. I walk anyway. I came back from a grocery store which is about a mile and a half from my home, carrying my groceries. A neighbor looked at me with surprise and asked "Did you walk to Henry's???" "Yes." And I wondered if this woman would consider it strange to walk 3 miles if she was in the mountains on a hike? I doubt it. Just strange to do it where there's pavement.

So petroleum plays a big role in our obesity, because it enables us to easily move from here to there without having to expend much effort. (Read "calories"). We take the elevator. We drive the car. The guys who are out there doing yard work are using those gas powered blowers to blow the leaves around, rather than an old-fashioned rake, which requires more effort. If you've seen the movie "Wall-e", you can see the exaggeration of what petroleum has done to us. We have become rounder.

Another reason we are gaining weight as a nation is the subsidies we pay our farmers for corn and soy products. Corn is what they use to fatten cattle. High fructose corn syrup is what they put in almost anything out there that's sweet. In other words, we have marched ourselves into a national feedlot, happily eating our corn and growing fat. Farm subsidies are part of our national policy, and I can imagine that there'd be a cogent argument in favor of subsidies. I won't get into that now, but there is something called the Law of Unintended Consequences. Whether you're in favor or against subsidies, it must be recognized that where we, as a nation, put our dollars affects all of us. And when we make it a national policy to subsidize certain crops, it makes it seem that they are cheaper. When we perceive that these foods are cheaper, we will find more and more ways to use them, whether or not that perception is based in reality. Taxes pay for subsidies, after all, so it's a question of whether we pay more in taxes or more at the supermarket.

And finally, there's the way many of us eat. I mentioned in my last post that I had seen the movie "Julie and Julia". When Julia Child was writing her book, fast food restaurants either did not exist, or if they did they were in their infancy. Women, for the most part, cooked. Meals were made primarily from scratch. "Convenience foods" were an outgrowth of WWII. They came from the rations that the soldiers used in the field - the dried and powdered foods that were developed to feed the troops. After the war, food manufacturers tried to sell these foods to women, but initially women rejected them. They didn't want to "just add water". After some research was done, it was discovered that if women had to do more than add water - if they had to add an egg and some oil to the cake mix - they were more willing to buy the convenience food. It was probably the first "crossover" concept in the food industry, and it was an enormous success.

Another post-war development was the electric (and gas) refrigerator, which replaced the ice box. As refrigerators developed, their freezer components went from the size of a couple of ice cube trays to what we see today. All of this invited the food industry to create newer convenience foods, and today we have what I'm sure must be a multi-billion dollar industry which has the capacity to feed many people for a relatively low cost. The hidden cost, of course, is the consequences of eating all this processed food - most of which contains corn and soy, as well as ingredients which are unpronounceable. If you can't pronounce something, how do you know it's food? Will your body recognize it as food? Or is it the equivalent to putting 20 octane gas in your tank? Would you consider putting 20 octane fuel in your tank? I doubt it. But most people are more than willing to put "20 octane fuel" in their bodies. Then they wonder why they don't feel well, and where this "dis-ease" came from. Perhaps what we put into our bodies has something to do with what we get out of them?

The increasing popularity of the "slow food" movement, and the idea of eating locally produced foods is something which would make grandma smile in her grave. She'd recognize it for what it is - common sense. What we are discovering is that common sense produces some darned good eating. We are being told that it's not really possible to make the leap to common sense right now - that it's too far from where we are to the common sense of eating home made food produced locally. I'm not convinced of that. It seems to me that one of the "silver linings" of the recent economic downturn is that more and more people are learning about gardening, and how to grow their own food. Will it replace modern agribusiness? No. Of course not. I would never underestimate the power of the money behind modern agribusiness. But I'm pleased to see an increasing number of community gardens which are springing up. And I'm thinking that at the very least, the kids who are getting to help their parents out in these gardens will make an important connection between the food they eat and the land it comes from.

I'm reminded of going to a local, high-end appliance store when I was remodeling my house back in 2003. A salesman was walking me around the store and showing me all the different appliances which I would need in my new home - stoves, refrigerators, faucets, showerheads etc. As he whizzed down a hallway with me in tow, I stopped in front of a gorgeous stove. "What's that?" I asked, breathlessly taking in this gleaming steel object with copper railings and a flat top with concentric steel flat circular plates set into the top. "$35,000," he answered, as he whizzed off. Later, I wandered back to have a closer look. I believe it was a La Cornu stove, with 2 ovens. He told me that the way you adjusted the heat on the top was to move the pot closer to the center of the rings for higher heat, and further away from it to reduce the heat. "Just like my friend Julie's wood cook stove", I thought. And then I laughed. To think - modern technology has advanced us to the point of cooking on a wood cook stove without the wood, and at a much, much higher price.

Our taste in food just might be going back to the time when grandma was a girl, too. If we can keep the price down to under $11 per tomato, we just might be on to something!

One last comment. For those of you who think you do not know how to cook, or live with someone who thinks they don't know how to cook, I have a wonderful story. A friend of mine's husband had his best friend visit from Ohio. The friend made dinner for all of us. My friend's husband looked at his old friend and asked incredulously "You know how to cook???" "No" said the friend. "But I know how to read."