Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!

Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!
peel, eat, repeat

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010......what? Holy cow, what happened to the millenium that just happened?

New Year, new beginnings, lot’s of resolution and strength the first few days or weeks anyway but as sparkling clean January rolls into hearts and chocolates February, life returns to normal turning ambition as cold as the frost on the fences and roofs. Good news is keeping nutrition mojo flying high is easier than ever for savvy local shoppers. Score exercise as well as the best produce going at your seasonal farmers market. My preference is in Walnut Creek on Saturday at Kaiser Shadelands from 9 to 1. Convenient time and day to get what I need for weekend entertaining or stocking up for the following week with tons of close parking to dash in and out when it’s raining. Developing the of habit of shopping farmers markets has benefits ranging beyond getting the best tasting, freshest produce you can buy. When you pull yourself out of that warm bed, you are inadvertently lengthening your day making it easier to get all those weekend projects started and finished while making it to all those games.

By mid February the gym is not as crowded, my gym anyway, allowing a quick cup of morning tea before flying off to claim my square on the padded floor and the e-mails I receive for vegetable recipes slack off considerably.
One of my resolutions this year is to work a little harder at keeping the interest up in the buying, cooking and consuming, of fruits and vegetables.

Studies continuously show that eating a diet containing lots of plant based foods helps with health problems across the board as well as maintaining good health and energy levels.
With all that energy you garner taking up a walking program or gym routine you tone up not only your muscles, but your mind, heart and lungs as well. Within a week or two, your legs and arms take on this toned, firm feeling when you or someone else rubs them, feeling your long lost muscles asserting themselves, reflecting brighter eyes and clearer skin gazing back at you from your mirror in the morning.
New feelings of sparkle and energy will draw you to new interests, or possibly new interests to you as well. Perhaps you’ll be extending your walk to a hike in the hills or possibly a run. Maybe a long term fitness goal like a cancer walk or run is in the future. Exhilarating bike rides with a great farmers’ market snack break on a blanket somewhere semi private with a beneficial friend or loved one is definitely a positive side effect. The possibilities are truly endless. Did I mention the effects of a healthier you on your sex life? Mmmm, have I gotten the wheels turning, maybe squeaking just a bit??

Make the time. You and your family will appreciate it. They say that it only takes 30 days to make or break a routine.

Bottom line is that it is not a month long thing. It is a life change and gradually it will become of part of you, making you, your family and the planet happier adding a spring to your step and a swagger to the flip of your shiny hair.
Wow, all this from seasonal, local vegetables and a walk? Where do I sign up.....

This is a lovely, incredibly sexy salad that showcases amazing winter citrus with equally amazing winter beets. Feel free to choose yellow or golden beets, Chioggia or wonderful old red. A combo is stellar. Serve salad with nice crusty bread as a foil for the goat cheese in the salad. Rub a little beet juice on lips for an irresistibly tasty, kissable mouth.

Roasted Beet and Orange Salad
4 medium sized beets
1 Cara Cara orange
1 blood orange
1 navel orange
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
¼ cup crumbled chevre or feta
3 cups assorted salad greens
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash beets and remove stem end and root tail. Rub with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in baking dish, cover and roast at 350 for about 45 minutes to an hour until beets are easily pierced with a knife. Let cool until you can easily handle them. Peel, quarter and slice the quarters about ¼ inch thick.
Peel and slice the oranges. Place greens in a bowl. Toss in the beets, oranges and goat cheese. Drizzle remaining olive oil and rice vinegar over. Season with salt and pepper and gently toss to mix all.
Serves 4.

Winter Squash, Root Vegetable, Lentil and Brown Rice Pilaf
This is a great side dish served alongside poultry, fish or meat but is also a fantastic vegetarian main course served with a nice winter greens or cabbage salad.
3 cups cubed winter squash
3 cups cubed root vegetables
1 cup cooked lentils
1 cup cooked brown basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup vegetable stock
¼ chopped fresh herbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté vegetables in olive oil until soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add lentils, rice and vegetable stock and simmer for about 10 minutes until stock is cooked into the vegetables, lentils and rice. Add chopped herbs and season with salt and pepper. Serves 6.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A sad day

From the very first moment my eyes connected with hers, it was love at first sight. She was a scrappy little thing, unimaginably angry with the world for brutally taking her mother and siblings away from her at birth. We found Camille at 4 weeks of age in the pound and aptly named her after the latest hurricane. An astoundingly sweet Calico, with bright blue eyes and the cutest pink nose, always twitching with curiosity, Camille was up to any mischief but too smart and sassy to ever get caught in the act.

Jumping into trees to eat bird’s dang near every week of her life, I always was horrified by that, yet to keep her inside was to see a cat in agony. Our house has been pest and rodent free for 19 years.
Camille was laid to rest today with my son and I sobbing uncontrollably as I still am, as I sorrowfully pen her obituary. She is buried in a place of honor, next to Roscoe, the first love of my life and Eddie our amazing guinea pig we lost a few years ago, in the backyard orchard.

Most comforting, to me, is to have a treasured member of your family curled up in your bed at night, always at the ready to move, hopefully to get some food, as you do. Unfortunately the good comes along with the sorrow. My Dad pointed out to me years ago as well as just the other day, animals, loved pets, do not live as long as humans. I pointed this out to Luke just a few minutes ago. Comfort is not found so early in the mourning of our sweet Camille, but it will be sooner than later.

We have our current three year old hurricane, Katrina, roaming around crying. She did not have to travel to the vet with us to know what the heck is going on around here. I could tell something was off with her when I woke up this morning. She knew, she knew her mother and best friend was going to leave her today.

Our beautiful, independent, sweet, soul sister Camille, we love you and will never forget you. Let any wily feline try, excepting Katrina, to come close to filling your pristine white socks. It is a long shot my darling girl. It is a long one.

Camille the amazing 19 year old calico we were beyond fortunate to share a life with. You will be missed. Gone but not forgotten.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hot Off the Presses and if I can figure out how to add the graphics......

"... Hardscratch Press of Walnut Creek, a small publishing house known for its fine-crafted books ..." ― The Independent (Livermore, Calif.)
... and, to celebrate our 20th year, a fine-crafted calendar (and a great gift)!
A fifteen-month guide to what's seasonally fresh and locally grownat Bay Area farmers markets, with simple, sensuous recipes by Lesley Stiles, and delicious watercolor art by David Johnson.ISBN: 978-0-9789979-6-0.10¾x16½ inches, on fine acid-free,100% post-consumer-waste recycledpaper. $17.50 (incl. Calif. sales tax). For sale at Shadelands and Moragafarmers markets in December, or we will mail ($2.50 for priority mailper calendar) to as many addresses as you request. Also available unbound, for framing.Lesley Stiles runs a catering business in Pleasant Hill, Calif., and promotes sustainable and healthy food sources. She provides cooking demonstrations at Bay Area farmers markets and helps schools start gardening programs, in addition to writing the food blog, “Do you know where your food came from?” ( Hardscratch Press designer David Johnson’s illustrations of produce and other subjects appear regularly in the Contra Costa Times. Versions of many of the recipes and paintings in The Farmers Market Lover’s Calendar, 2010, previously appeared in the Times as the Produce Pro.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Farmers Market Lovers Calendar is here!! 15 months of amazing, mouth watering water colors of fruits and vegetables by Dave Johnson along with tantalizingly sexy recipes and suggestions by yours truly. Available at Diablo Valley Farmers Market Saturday from 9 to 1 in the Shadelands Kaiser parking lot or at the Moraga Farmers Market on Sunday from 9 to 1 in the Moraga Shopping Center complex. We will be selling in these markets through December. You can also get them at or e-mail me and I will get one out to you. They are $17.50. A perfect hostess gift or perhaps for your special fruit and veggie lover friends for under $20.00.

Made Shepard's Pie the other night and Luke asked me if I could make it every night. He liked it. I told my new friend Spencer I would put it up here because he is a cooking man with 3 teenage sons and so here it is. I tried to keep it as healthy as possible without a lot of fat and loaded with veggies without the boy catching on. It worked. Hope it works for you.

Shephard’s Pie, My Way
½ pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, grated
1 bunch kale, chopped fine
1 ½ cups chicken stock
½ cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon flour stirred into ¼ cup cold chicken stock
3 to 4 potatoes cut up
½ head cauliflower, cut up
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup grated Reggiano parmesana
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to *425 and spray or grease a large, deep baking dish. Heat sauté pan and add olive oil. Heat olive oil and add turkey, onions and garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes until browned. Add carrots and kale and cook for about 5 more minutes. Add stock and tomato sauce and cook 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile boil the potatoes and cauliflower in water until soft. Mash with milk and butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the meat mixture into a sprayed or greased baking dish and top with mashed potato and cauliflower mixture. Top with grated cheese and bake 2o minutes until bubbly and lightly browned. Serves 4 to 6.

As we wade ever deeper into holiday territory I actually am feeling pretty good about the whole thing this year. I have embraced my anti consumerism rant and am trying to not be quite so affected by the mass of humanity waging price wars as well as territory wars over cheap bullshit that sweet little people in other countries spread across the planet probably were hurt in some way to produce. I have noticed that there are a few alternatives to plastic electronic shit like buying a goat or cow for someone in a poor village somewhere. That is a good one. You can buy your loved ones carbon off sets or home owners edition wind machines too. There is always good stuff at the farmers market (besides our amazing calendar) like olive oil, jams, fresh nuts, like those, fruits, you know the drill. Everyone I gift is getting a home made garam masala spice mixture in a recycled jar with a recycled ribbon and a recipe for using said spice on a piece of paper made from 100% recycled materials. Ho, ho, ho. Poor Lucas.

Steph and I went hiking in Briones the other morning and it was incredible to be walking on our own ridge in snow! Green shoots of new grass peeking up everywhere and then these hill sides sprinkled with snow. What a beautiful contrast. That snow business was fun. Cold but pretty awesome.

Lots of sweet varieties of great citrus at the market waiting to be tried, kiwi, greens...mmmm
Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Giving thanks every day helps get you through everyday or Happy Thanksgiving

Holidays are moving into my consciousness a bit lately. I guess being a caterer I probably need to be thinking in that direction to pay my mortgage but just the same I am really not a huge fan of this time of year. There I said it. I must get it from my mom as she absolutely hates Christmas and usually gets into a big funk around now. I can't blame her really. Growing up with six brothers and sisters was a challenge for us but must have been brutal for her. That right there is a whole lot of planning for Christmas morning with seven stockings to figure out and seven Santa makes my eyelashes hurt thinking of it. No wander she hates it all even if we are all grown and no longer get anything but an exchange gift that we all participate in so everyone only has to get one thing for the whole family. I have a son and six nephews and they all only want the dough and I ain't talking about the edible kind. One of my nephews and his bride, my new niece whom I adore are expecting their first child. You would not be exaggerating to call this a HUGE event in our family. We have not had a baby around for several years. My youngest nephew is turning eight in December and we are ready for a baby. Just not mine. My parents will turn eighty, celebrate their sixtieth year of marriage and welcome their first great grandchild next spring. I am going to be busy for those parties being the only one that likes to cook out of the whole brood. It is my pleasure

Back to the holidays.....I have some ideas, opinions, hints whatever about all this bizarre eating and pressure drinking for the months of November and December heading all the way into January. Keep it simple all the time. Never forget to breathe, walk, exercise your mind and body. Get out into nature or take a yoga class and let the kundalini kick in.

Always take your own food to parties. When it is a potluck, take a big bowl or basket of satsuma mandarins or a great veggie tray with goods you procure from a farmers market. Make a nice salad with a little protein in it so you don't get stuck with the choice of going hungry over eating some ghastly store bought concoction. We all know that you need to drink a glass of water for every drink to minimize hang over and wrinkles but try two in between to keep the waistline a bit more in control.
Choose that dessert or cookies wisely. I can understand eating something that tastes shitty and makes you feel even worse if you're in a bad mood, having a tough day or something but if you are just taking them to take, be a little picky. You are going to have a million choices for about 45 days. Also if you make the good thing, you know you can use whole wheat flour and fresh fruit etc... to minimize trauma to your system.

Too preachy? Whatever, you're the one still reading this.

I also need to start a buzz around a Produce Pro calendar slated to make it's debut December 1st. It is a 15 month calendar with Dave Johnson's amazing original water colors of seasonal fruit along with my prose about said fruit for each month. It was astoundingly difficult to choose only one fruit per month but we did it and we are almost ready to distribute it. The cost will be in the 15 to 17 dollar range as it is expensive to produce but it will be a great piece of interactive, ever changing art work on your wall or whatever for 15 months. More on that in a week or two along with info on how to get it.

I am going to leave you for now with a few recipes for some veggie side things as well as a short list of food ideas in my battery if you ever decide to indulge yourself with a caterer!

Happy Thanksgiving...I know I have a whole lot to be thankful for and I do not only think about it on a Thursday in late November but every day my feet are able to hit the floor of my house and I can crawl walk into my son's room to wake him up again is a good day.

Peace and love, mush, mush etc...

This dip can be made with light cream cheese and it will not get wierd. It is an offering that will render you popular and a ask back guest to parties. Serve with good crackers or sliced baguette.
Shitake Pate
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ pound of shitake mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh thyme and savory, chopped
¼ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
½ pound chevre
½ pound cream cheese
Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil. When onion starts to soften, add the mushrooms and cook over low heat about 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce, thyme, savory and nutmeg. Sauté for a minute longer. Put mushroom mixture into a food processor and add the cheeses. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Use this for your awesome veggies from the market.
Blue Cheese, Herb and Yogurt dip for Crudités
½ pound good blue cheese
2 cups plain yogurt
3 tablespoons assorted chopped fresh herbs
2 cloves fresh garlic
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all in food processor and pulse for a minute or 2. Adjust seasonings. Makes 3 cups.

Grilled chicken breast or shrimp are an exellent addition to this salad but it is also an amazing salad as aside as well.
Napa Cabbage Salad w/ Pea Tops, Fuyu, Feta and Lemon Oil
1 head of Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1 Fuyu persimmon, quartered and sliced thin (substitute Satsuma Mandarins in winter)
1 bunch pea tops, washed, dried and sliced thin
4 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of blond Balsamic
Sea salt and pepper
Toss everything together in a bowl.

This dish, in the right situation, if you are willing and able, will get you laid by almost anyone eating it.
Apple, Onion and Squash Gratin
2 apples of your choice, get sweet if you like sweet and tart if you like tart, cored and sliced thin
1 red onion, sliced thin
2 delicata squash, peeled, seeded and sliced thin
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 pint cream
Spray a large baking dish and layer apples, onions, garlic, squash and cheese in dish. Drizzle cream over and sprinkle fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Bake in a hot *400 oven covered for 30 minutes and remove foil and cook for 20 minutes more until browned on top. Serves 4.

This is ditto as above but can also be eaten from more than just a plate or...alright I'll behave...
Mashed Butternut Squash with Potatoes, Celery Root and Parsnips
This is an exceptional way to get more nutrition out of your mashers. Works well with cauliflower too. You can use chicken stock in place of the veggie stock if desired.
4 large yellow or red potatoes, cubed
1 medium sized butter nut squash, peeled and cubed
1 celery root, peeled and cubed
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
Water to cover
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup stock
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ cup grated aged Gouda cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Place veggies in a pot of salted water, cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer until soft. Drain most of the water, leaving some to mash with. Add stock to desired consistency. Stir in cheese and season with butter, salt and pepper and garnish with parsley. Serves 8.

The title speaks for itself....
Sautéed Assorted Winter Greens w/ Pancetta, Herbs and Garlic
3 pounds assorted braising greens, chopped
¼ pound pancetta, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons assorted chopped fresh herbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons chicken stock
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Sauté pancetta in olive oil for a minute and add the garlic. Sauté for 2 minutes and add greens. Sauté for 3 minutes and add the herbs and chicken stock. Cook for a few more minutes and season with salt and pepper.

Do not save this only for the holidays. It is amazing with or without the cream addition.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange Soup
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Zest and juice from 1 large orange
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup white wine
4 cups stock
1 cup ½ and ½
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
Sea salt and pepper
Heat oven to 425*. Toss squash, onion and garlic with olive oil roast for 20 minutes until caramelized. Remove from oven and place into a large soup pot. Add the white wine and turn heat to high. Reduce by half and add the stock and orange zest. Bring back to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Add the half and half and puree with a stick blender. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

A partial and just tickler list of things I can create for you for your party if you ever needed any help....

Hors d’oeuvres
Crab cakes w/ lemon verbena aioli
Brie Bites – mini puff bites w/ brie and homemade preserves inside
Pesto and chevre torte w/ croutons – cream cheese and chevre whipped together and layered w/ fresh pesto
Imported and domestic cheeses – interesting crackers
Sautéed assorted mushrooms over warm brie – sliced baguette
Grilled peaches and proscuitto w/ balsamic drizzle and arugala
Oven roasted tomato and proscuitto tarts w/ garlic jam and fresh thyme
Truffled potatoes stuffed w/ mushrooms and brie
Smoked salmon Crostini w/ curried deviled eggs
Grilled prawns marinated in lemon and oregano
Chicken sate w/ spicy peanut sauce
Foccacia bread w/ roasted butternut squash, pancetta and reggiano (seasonal)
Foccacia w/ toasted walnuts, caramelized onions, fresh figs and gorgonzola (seasonal)
Seasonal fruit
Roasted seasonal vegetables w/ balsamic drizzle
Salad Caprese (seasonal) organic heirloom tomatoes w/ fresh made mozzarella, assorted basil and balsamic drizzle
Grilled lamb or steak, with caramelized onions and peppers open faced pannini
Foccacia bread w/ caramelized onions, thyme, pancetta and fresh mozzarella
Crostini w/ orange tapenade, smoked salmon and crème fraiche
Toasted walnut, feta and fresh herb spread w/ croutons
Sliced prosciutto w/ shaved reggiano parmesana and lemon olive oil on a bed of spiced arugula
Smoked Turkey and Avocado Panini on herbed sourdough rounds

Entrée Stuff
Tossed market greens w/ Satsuma mandarins, feta and toasted almonds w/ lemon vinaigrette Summer time replace mandarins with pears or white nectarine or even some awesome apples
Caesar salad w/ home made croutons and dressing
Chinese chicken salad
Syrian Fatoush salad w/ cherry tomatoes, cukes, feta, olives, onions, pita chips and lemon-cumin vinaigrette
Grilled vegetables w/ balsamic drizzle
Roasted beets w/ orange can be a salad with arugula and toasted walnuts too

Polenta layered w/ grilled vegetables and fresh mozzarella w/ a fresh tomato sauce
Chicken breasts stuffed w/ mushrooms, chevre and herbs
Roasted salmon w/ rosemary, olive oil and sea salt
Marinated grilled tri tips w/ mushroom BBQ sauce
Pork loin stuffed w/ dried apricots and herbs
Turkey breast stuffed w/ dried figs, chevre and garlic
Braised short ribs w/ rich oregano and orange peel sauce

Fresh apple cake w/ lemon glace
Rocky road brownies
Fresh fruit crisp w/ vanilla ice cream
Chocolate layer cake
Chocolate decadence cake
Assorted cookies
Fresh fruit short cake

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

as summer starts to give up the fight

Walking along the trail she can feel the air around her body taking on a thrilling thickness as it kisses her skin. Even the shadows are sexy and unpredictable these days. As the sun moves lower in the sky she thinks how summer is giving up the fight. We’ll be waking in darkness rewarded with amazing sunrises. Snuggle up around the old stove outside grilling crabs and fall vegetables lazily sipping that luscious vionger. Butternut squash time she thinks. Risotto with caramelized onions, roasted butternut and shaved Manchego or lentils dense with lovely chunks of orange Delicata and freshly ground curry spices.

Lovingly her gaze wonders to the garden where tomato plants are shriveling next to breathtaking hued lettuce and kales. Peppers shine proudly deep magenta on their cold worn branches, determined to last another week or two accumulating as much sugar as possible. Those bad boys are getting eaten raw first, stuffed with cheese and grilled and roasted next to the last tomatoes in the end. Beet tops push through loamy soil promising a bounty in a month or two, little tops as soon as a week will garnish astoundingly sweet, fresh lettuces.

Apples are in for the season, resting in boxes in the cold cellar, waiting.
So juicy this year, snapping, crunchy, juice running down her chin as she chomps into it. Oh yeah, this is right and good that food should be so fresh, tasting of earth and love while nourishing body and soul. Eyes closed she tries to tease out all the different flavors blasting in her mouth and brain. Honey, alfalfa, pineapple all sparking a different idea or thought of what to do with those apples, cooked or raw.

Sun is sinking into a purple and pink horizon and the fire is waning as the day starts dimming down, she gingerly stands up and stretches like a sleek cat, as tempting sounds unconsciously escape her mouth. Mmmm, time to start dinner she thinks, or is it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Clean nuts, apples and my face on twee twee's stool

Walnuts, almonds and other large scale nut growers have a nasty secret that not too many consumers know about. Along with spraying the trees and ground with chemicals, the nut meats, after shelling, are also sprayed with fumigant to prevent moth worms and beetles from infesting their massive storage bins full of years worth of nuts. Raid is a fumigant just to get a picture of what I'm talking about here. I do not know about you, but that just does not work for me or my son or my clients that trust me to feed them real food. Alternatively you can get your nuts at a farmers' market and be sure after discussing growing techniques with the farmer what is going on with your nuts. Besides the fact that you aren't poisoning yourself, nuts bought in season from a local grower really taste awesome. Almonds actually taste like almond milk, sweet and creamy. You start to realize that marzipan made with almonds like these could actually be really tasty. Walnut have less of a furry tongue tannin coating leaving a less harsh acidic after taste and a downright full flavor after toasting in a nice hot oven for a few minutes. Pecans return to the place they belong as a seasonal nut addition to very special baked goods and treats. Do your own taste comparison and see what you think and remember that if you absolutely can not get to a farmers market to pick up your nutritionally packed super food nuts and have to get them at a grocery store, unless the nuts specifically state organic on the label they are probably sprayed with fumigant. Talk to your farmer and ask them how they treat their nuts and see if this is the way you would treat yours, if you grew them.

Catalan Tomato Sauce
This sauce is especially appropriate for this time of year as it uses the end of season tomatoes, fresh almonds and fresh dried grapes (raisins). These raisins can be found only at the farmers’ markets and are made from the current crop of grapes. The difference in flavor of fresh, current crop almonds and raisins is astounding. Do you own sample test and get in on this well kept secret. You will never buy almonds or raisins from the store again!

6 to 7 large tomatoes of your choice
5 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, chopped
3 tablespoons good olive oil
½ cup fresh almonds, toasted and then chopped
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup fresh raisins
juice and rind of 2 oranges
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Core the tomatoes and drop into the boiling water for about 10 seconds each. Remove from the water and peel tomatoes when you can comfortably touch them. Cut peeled tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Chop tomatoes and pulp. Set aside.
In a sauce pan heat the olive oil. Sauté garlic and onions in oil until opaque and slightly caramelized.
Add tomatoes, capers, almonds, raisins and orange juice and rind and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper.
This sauce can be used for pasta but tastes great on grilled chicken or grilled salmon.
Makes about 2 cups.

Walnut and Basil Tapenade
Tapenade is a Mediterranean relish that can be used for chicken or fish and this particular tapenade is very good on pasta as well. I always use the rind of the lemons before I juice them no matter what I am making. Toasting the walnuts first will leech out some of the tannic acid so prevalent in walnuts and give them a nice golden hue. You can toast your bag of walnuts all at once and store the unused portion in an air tight container in the freezer.

2 cups fresh basil leaves, in season
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
½ cup toasted walnuts
1 6 ½ oz. jar pitted Greek olives (found at Trader Joe's)
3 cloves peeled fresh garlic
juice and rind of 2 lemons
¼ cup good olive oil
I tomato of your choice, chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place the olive oil, lemon rind and lemon juice.
Add the herb leaves a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.
Add the olive and pulse more to fully incorporate.
Season with salt and pepper and remove from processor to a bowl.
Stir in tomato.
Makes about 2 cups.

Apple season is here again filled with an amazing array of apple varieties to choose from. We had an apple festival at the Diablo Valley Farmers market last weekend and it was a blast. Apple comparison tasting and apple cooking demo along with Rainbow Farms hot, spiced apple juice. The clown formerly known as Twee Twee, now Cesare Menedez, balloon man extroedinare, was there and I found out that I have the dubious honor, along with Oprah, Brittany, Liberace and more, of my face on one of his kiddie stools. I actually got to sit on my own face! You can too! Yippee and thank you Cesare.

Apple Sauce
This will make about 4 to 5 cups depending on your apple choice. Also if you use a sweet variety you may want to use water instead of juice and adjust the lemon juice. The lemon juice has the added effect of keeping everything a nice color as well. You can store unused sauce in a jar with a tight fitting lid in the reefer and use within the week. Be sure to make it up and down the aisle at your farmers market to sample your perfect tasting apple or combination of apples!

6 large apples, peeled, cored, rough chop
¼ cup white grape juice or apple juice
ground cinnamon
a couple drops good vanilla
Juice and rind from a lemon
Place apples, juices and lemon peel in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Cover and cook until apple are soft enough to mash. Serve warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Apple, Onion and Squash Gratin
This is a perfect Thanksgiving side dish that I created because I am not overly fond of marshmallow sweet potatoes and needed to fill that void for fear of getting in trouble with my Dad. It has been a family and friend favorite since that first time!

2 apples of your choice, get sweet if you like sweet and tart if you like tart, cored and sliced thin
1 red onion, sliced thin
2 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded and sliced thin
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 pint cream
Spray a large baking dish and layer apples, onions, garlic, squash and cheese in dish. Drizzle cream over and sprinkle fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Bake in a hot *400 oven covered for 30 minutes and remove foil and cook for 20 minutes more until browned on top. Serves 4.

Autumn Greens w/ Apples, Walnuts and Citrus Dressing
Autumn is a great time for greens of all kinds as they love the cooler weather and thrive in it. Crisp, sweet and full of flavor they are good in any combination anytime! This is especially good as apples and walnut are in season and abundant at the farmers’ markets. Blue cheese is a great addition too.
½ head of romaine lettuce, washed and torn
½ head of red leaf lettuce, washed and torn
2 cups of arugula, cleaned
1 apple of choice, sliced
½ cup fresh toasted walnuts, chopped
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons lemon oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix greens together in a salad bowl. Toss in apples and walnuts. Sprinkle on oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and toss. Garnish with cheese. Serves 4 to 6.

My Version of a Waldorf Salad
I do not like the taste of mayo and mini marshmallows messing up the flavors of amazingly crisp, sweet, juicy autumn apples so I use yogurt and a drop of vanilla instead. Current crop carrots, raisins (dried grapes) as well as fresh almond and walnuts make this a great salad on the merit of the ingredients alone! When they are in season in early autumn you can also add fresh grapes into the mix for an amazingly sweet, crunchy addition.
3 crisp, sweet apples of your choice, cored and sliced thin
½ cup toasted almonds, chopped
½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 ribs celery, sliced
½ cup dried grapes of your choice
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons local honey
1 lemon, juice and peel
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Lettuce leaves
In large salad bowl, mix together yogurt, peel and juice from lemon, honey, vanilla and salt. Add in apples, nuts, raisins, carrots and celery. Serve on a lettuce leaf. Serves 4 or 5.

Fresh Fruit Crisp
6 cups fruit
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar
½ cup butter, melted
2 T vanilla
1 t cinnamon
½ c oats
1 T salt
Preheat oven 350*. Butter baking dish. Place fruit in dish. Mix flour, sugar butter, vanilla, cinnamon, oats and salt in bowl. Crumble onto fruit. Bake 1 hour until fruit bubbles and top is crunchy and lightly browned. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or cold the next day for a very decadent but sensuous and utterly fulfilling breakfast. Serves 6.

King Size Apple Cake
This cake is best served the day after it is made to let the flavors mellow. It is moist and dense and is great for in the morning with coffee or tea or dressed up with a Lemon Glaze
1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons good quality unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ cup hot water
3 cups grated fresh apple (about 2 ½ medium sized apples)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1) Preheat oven to 350*F. Heavily butter and flour a 10 inch bundt pan.
2) Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, until pale yellow and light. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy.
3) Sift the cocoa, flour, salt, cinnamon and allspice together onto a piece of waxed paper.
4) Add the baking soda to the hot water and mix until it is dissolved. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the soda and water mixture beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
5) Stir in the apples, raisins and nuts. Spoon the batter (which will be very thick) into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is deep brown and springs back when lightly touched, about an hour and 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then unmold from the pan and allow to cool thoroughly before serving.
1 10 inch cake (10 to 12 servings)

Monday, September 14, 2009

a ripe Brown Turkey fig

She stood looking at the tree, eyes squinting against the blazing sun; hand over them, shielding the glare so she could see the luscious purplish black, sack like orbs, stem bent just at a perfect angle for twisting off the tree. Late summer heat waves radiating off the ground as well as from an impossibly blue sky and every other angle were quickly coaxing the figs to perfect ripeness. White milk gushes from the stem as it is separated from the tree, sticky nectar on her willing fingers. Gently splitting open the fig with her thumbs always steals her breath momentarily at the sight of the shades of deep magenta, illegal reds and soft green, a flower unfurling in her hands. With quickening heart and racing pulse she moves the fig closer to her mouth, imperceptibly, shaking with anticipation of the smooth, slippery texture that will move through her lips and onto her tongue, willing the assault of sugar, chocolate and berry onto her taste buds. Trembling slightly she closes her eyes and with a will of their own her hands bring the fig into her warm, waiting mouth and once again she is shocked, dazed as bliss over takes her and she slowly releases a held, exotically perfumed breath, her first taste of Burt’s amazing, ripe, Brown Turkey fig, of a long Brown turkey fig season filled with every concoction she can imagine in her fig wild head.

Honey thickened and rosemary scented balsamic syrup drizzled over a fig half, gently, lovingly stuffed with a pinch of fresh goat cheese. Placed on a fig wood fired grill just long enough to let the cheese believe it is melting. Pushed into a thin, soft layer of hard wheat dough, showered with prosciutto, Manchego and caramelized onions, breathing in intoxicating smells as the pizza bakes only to be dusted with fresh picked thyme and sea salt out of the raging oven.
Another one out of hand, she is still profoundly, physically affected by the texture, smell and taste of that Brown Turkey.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

aahhh......butternut squash

Butternut squash has always been a pivotal vegetable for me. The presence of this squash in the garden and at the market indicates a rising level of excitement in the air. My heart starts to race and I always get a little dizzy and out of body when I think about the risottos and lentils to be concocted out of this smooth amber, elongated treasure. It is hard to imagine that it was almost a year ago that I made butternut squash and orange soup and the pristinely cubed and roasted squash that my son refers to as butternut candy. Just cut the ends off and peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut into small cubes and toss with good olive oil and kosher salt and roast at 400* for about 20 minutes. The sugars all get released and start to caramelize and it is a fine little addition to any salad, sauté or just eaten by itself it will give you goose bumps.
It never ceases to amaze me that as soon as my eyes come in contact with the butternut squash, the weather starts to become a ruling factor in my life. All of the sudden we go from the take it for granted hot, to a daily weather event. I find myself saying over and over again how much I adore this time of year around here. The shadows at any given time of day are amazingly different than they were last week. The garden is perking up and losing the washed out look of late summer heat. The air is crisper and I find myself sighing with a smile when the slightest breeze touches my skin. It makes me feel celebratory and I usually throw a party this time of year.
The cooler season vegetables are saying the same thing. The lettuces are sweeter and perkier. The colors and hues are brighter and more pronounced. One can start to imagine the salads that can be created with the baby arugala and frisee, the red leaf Lola Rosa and romaines. The thought of current crop olive oil and new cheeses make me want to sing out loud. Add some fresh walnuts or almonds and pears or apples and well let’s just say it is something that is to be shared with a special one or twenty.

When I am hiking in Briones or the Laffayette hills the colors that come out at you are astounding. On the top of a high ridge I sat down to have a luscious snack of some Alhambra Valley Bartlett pears and blue cheese and after I had taken a few bites and I was able to focus, I looked around and I was sitting in the middle of the orb weaver spider’s commune. There were literally hundreds of these tiger eye colored, huge spiders, one to each web just hanging out probably wondering which one had invited me to their party. The sight of it and the realization of their numbers actually stopped me from eating for a minute.

Pomegranates are in the markets and the fuyu persimmons are already here. I always love to see the scarlet orbs of the pomegranates hanging in a tree next to a persimmon tree. Such contrasts are special to me and never fail to keep me looking in people’s back yards when I am out walking in the neighborhood. don't look in peoples back yards...liar!

Starting to be a nice time of favorite!

the eat in and other school food related stuff

The Slow Food Eat In, Delta Diablo Chapter style was a success by our standards meaning that there were not hundreds of people but the ones that did show signed up to join our Slow Food chapter and become involved in some action! Yay! We had a nice crowd and some delectable offerings and the big shade trees at Las Lomas provided awesome lazing about on a hot day atmosphere. I will say that I am disappointed that Las Lomas felt that they had to charge us a rental fee to use such a small area of a public school for a school related cause. Andy at C and M party Rentals gave us the use of tables and chairs for our event FREE! Whole Foods and Frog Hollow Farms donated some amazing Frog Hollow peaches and Kristie Knoll from Knoll Organic Farm donated the biggest treasure of all, her incredibly sought after figs. So why the school felt the need to force us to dip into our meager funds and pay them almost 400 bucks that would have otherwise been spent on our Diablo Community Day School Garden. This is the school in the area where the students attend that have been expelled from all other schools. Sort of a last ditch effort and we have built, with the students help as well as funding from Kaiser, Slow Food and Orchard Nursery, an amazing garden! That money should be there instead of in the coffers of the school district. After all we had our own insurance....

Anyway we got a whole of signatures for the Child Nutrition Act petition

Gail Wadsworth is the muscle behind our chapter and maintains the blog and without her and her husband Peter as well as head tabler Lucy, this event would not have been possible. Thank you!!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Slow Food helps with school lunches

Join us for a community pot-luck picnic at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek.This event is free!We are gathering in support of healthy school lunches. This is one of over 200 eat-ins being staged across the US on September 7 this year to send a message to Congress. As a national day of action, Slow Food is hoping to persuade our members of Congress to increase funding to school lunches and make a commitment to improving the quality of food served to our children every day.Bring your friends and family! For the month of September only,new donations to Slow Food at any level will provide a one-year membership in Slow Food USA. This is a wonderful time to join Slow Food and support good, clean and fair food.So gather with neighbors and others who share your views on feeding our children and have fun at Las Lomas on September 7.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sex in the kitchen and other summer treats

Peach and Lavender Jam
5 cups of ripe peaches, peeled and crushed up
2 tablespoons lavender blossoms, crushed
Finely grated peel from 1 large lemon
Juice from said lemon
4 cups sugar
1 3 ounce package of low sugar pectin
1 tablespoon of butter

Mix together the peaches, lemon juice and lavender blossoms. Measure out 5 cups and place in a large, non reactive heavy bottom pot.
Mix ¼ cup sugar with the pectin and stir into fruit. Throw in the butter. Bring to a hard rolling boil and add the rest of the sugar. Bring to a hard rolling boil and boil 1 minute more. Place in sterilized jars with new lids and process in water bath for 10 minutes. Whenit is particularly hot, which is most of jamming season, I like to close all the curtains, turn on all the fans and don my apron and nthing else to make my jam in a comfortable, non binding atmosphere.....yum.

Fresh Corn and Tomato Risotto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups Aborio rice
1 cup white wine
7 to eight cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups fresh corn cut off the cob
1 cup chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes, your choice
½ bunch chopped fresh basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Manchego cheese for grating on top

In a medium saucepan, heat the stock. Heat olive oil in a wide heavy pan. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and add the rice. Sauté the rice until opaque in color. Add the wine and let simmer for a minute. Add the stock a ½ cup at a time allowing it to absorb after each addition stirring constantly. The rice will become creamy. Taste occasionally to check for tenderness. Add tomatoes and basil and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with cheese. Serve at once.
Serves 4 to 6.

Eggplant, Summer Squash and Heirloom Tomato Tian
4 Japanese eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise and grilled
4 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise and grilled
4 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced crosswise
1 pound chevre, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
kosher salt

On 4 separate plates, arrange a slice of tomato. Follow with a slice of squash and then a slice of eggplant. Sprinkle with a bit of rosemary and add a slice of chevre. Repeat w/ remaining slices of vegetables and cheese. Sprinkle w/ olive oil and vinegar and season w/ salt. Serves 4.

Grapes w/ Fresh Pecorino and Basil
2 pounds assorted grapes, washed and cut in half
1 pound fresh Pecorino cheese, cut into small cubes
1 bunch of basil, chiffonade
3 tablespoons good olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Toss all together in a bowl and season w/ salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes promote world peace

Bright orange with a tiny radiating green tinge at the stem, tasting of summer memories while running a length of wet, slippery plastic on crabgrass, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes are the closest taste to a real tomato I have had the pleasure of savoring in recent years. Hands down first choice in the ground in spring and always the first variety to pop up volunteer style in my garden. Initial little yellow babies harvested never make it past the outside branches of the plant. Savored in the garden, hot, with long, guttural sighs, they will not make it into the house for a couple of weeks.

Once inside they grace everything we eat for as long as they produce well into fall. Lucky recipients of my food always wonder at the origin of the luscious little yellow tomato. Uninitiated ignorantly wonder at the ripeness or readiness of the yellow tomato. I laugh in private. Not to be confused with the yellow pear tomato, oh no. Sorry for you if you make that mistake at the nursery. It is like having your baby switched. Pears are mealy and watery, resembling a store bought Mexican tomato in winter no matter how ripe they get on the vine. I also planted a green grape cherry tomato along with a host of others this year. Green Grape runs a close second to the Sun Gold. Visions of big, fat heirloom tomatoes come to mind while devouring the succulent cherry Green Grape.

After you have had enough little cherry tomatoes sucked directly off the vine, it is time to tote in having some fun in the kitchen toying with your tasty little muse. Halve tomatoes and toss with cilantro, chopped jalapeño, tiny bit of garlic, some finely chopped red onion and lube up with some really good olive oil and rice vinegar, crack the salt and use this for grilled fish or chicken or silky marinated grilled tofu.

Tossed with some nice sheep’s milk feta, chiffonade basil, and a very good olive oil with a few cracks of sea salt, this base can used to flavor hot or cold pasta or quinoa, spread on croutons or lusty hunks of great bread or just spread on your body to be licked off by a willing partner. Add Greek olives, lettuce, pita chips and cucumbers tossing with mint, cilantro, lemon, cumin and olive oil for an astounding salad. Awesome by itself or with a sizzling spiced chicken breast, pulled off the grill with all the juices soaking into your salad creating this hot/cold yin/yang breathtaking, demanding a moment of silence, physically stimulating entrée. Be sure to share with a very close friend as the sun sinks and the crickets commence with the concert.

Just my thoughts on the dazzling little Sun Gold cherry type tomato.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Food Inc., the sad truth about the food machine in America

After viewing Food Inc. recently I was struck to devastating sadness. I cried much to the embarrasment of my son. Of course the horrendous treatment to the animals or the even worse treatment to undocumented workers in the slaughter houses or even the way the chicken farmers are indebted to the Big 5 is sickening. More than anything in the film though, was towards the end, flashed on the movie screen were the business cards of some top officials in the United States government. Almost all, either cabinet officials, senators, congressmen, people making the rules for us. People that we elect, year after year in trust that they are of our party, our beliefs and looking out for our best interests. As suddenly as the cards appeared on the screen, they flipped over and showed the same name with the job title each of these top officials, top law makers, each held with one of the Big 5. It struck me how stupid I must be, how trusting. Then it struck me that I am indeed an intelligent person researching issues, listening to public radio, trying to get somewhat unskewed news versions of current events. What about the people that don’t even read a newspaper but get all their knowledge off some conservative news station? We are all being duped in a very big way and it made me sad. These people don’t give a shit about what is best for anyone but themselves and their re-election campaigns. That made me sad.
I worship at the alter of food and social justice. I buy local and organic, support farms, try to recycle everything and compost even more. I teach kids how to grow their own food and take responsibility for their lives. I teach kids as well as adults how to cook and make healthier food choices. I like to think that I know a bit about the deplorable circumstances surrounding most conventionally grown and produced food and animals. I have read all of Michael Pollan’s books and seen him speak several times. I attended Slow Food Nation Conferences for a week. That is why with a very small income, I place more emphasis on my food dollars than on my new sheet and shoe dollars. But those folks on Capitol Hill making these decisions that perpetuate the unjust and horrible food system in the United States as well as other parts of the world make me feel as if my efforts could never be enough in the face of the money and deals that go down in our Nations capitol and that makes me sad.

The Big 5, the five companies that control our food system in America and other parts of the world have a whole lot of aliases. For example Cargill can be Colgate and Tyson can be Natures Bounty and Monsanto can be Nestle and well, you get the picture here. They own everything. If a person wants to be a large chicken farmer in America they need to start somewhere right? So they call the Tyson people and they start to cast the magic spell on these unsuspecting and possibly quite down and out individuals that have a piece of land. First they will need chicken houses and Tyson can help them with a seemingly low interest loan for a few hundred thousand dollars to build a state of the art Tyson chicken house. That is probably where the contracts comes in, when everyone is still on a honeymoon high and aren’t really reading all that fine print. Then they get the chickens. Tyson’s choice of course, contractually. The food? Yep, Tyson’s choice. The way the chicks are raised? Yes again. Everything thing that has anything to do with those chickens is what Tyson says. What if you don’t like the practice, it turns your stomach and goes against your morals? Tough shit, you signed a water tight contract for 7 years and you are stuck because you will lose EVERYTHING if you walk away. It is a sad truth about conventionally grown chickens. But it is the same with seeds. In that film there is this little old guy that does seed cleaning. He goes around Iowa or Nebraska with a little machine on the back of his truck that gets all the chaff and rocks out of seeds so that you can use them again for next years crop. Monsanto sued him for encouraging the reuse of THEIR round up ready patented seeds. He says he has nothing to do with where the seeds come from or if the farmer he is working for chooses to reuse seeds that he purchased from Monsanto. He does not know where the seeds were purchased and most of his clients are not customers of Monsanto anyway. They shut him down. Ran his legal funds out, ran his life savings out. The man is broke and without a business that his grandfather started a hundred years ago because Monsanto had to stop him. They were threatened by him I guess. What is that mentality? That makes me sad.

I will keep voting and researching issues and teaching kids and buying local and growing my own food and raising my own chickens but jeez….it is a sad truth about the food system in America today and only reinforces the happy truth that we need to, can and will, slowly, but surely through voting with our dollars, buying local and keeping up on the issues, change the food system in America.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pork on your fork

Do pork and meat really come from little plastic and Styrofoam containers on the butcher’s shelf at your large grocery chain or big box mega store? Didn’t think so either. The so called “swine flu” may or may not be an international pandemic that will bring about world disorder but it does bring up the subject of knowing where your food comes from.
Recently Slow Food Delta Diablo Chapter had the “Pork on Your Fork” event at a farm in Brentwood where a pig and a couple goats were slaughtered with an audience. Shot in the head and throat slit faster than you can say “I’ll have bacon with that” may sound a bit creepy, to me it sounded fascinating, but the event was specifically organized to bring awareness to the subject of how the little piggy gets from rolling in the mud to the Styrofoam.
Once the event was publicized there were a few irate, incredibly insulted vegetarians that contacted us about why and how we could possibly subject humans to this horrific experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no lover of pork or pork product unless I am in a small village in Italy because of the way America raises and processes pig meat. Large scale production, 99% of pork production, is cruel and disgusting producing unhealthy, hormone and antibiotic stuffed pork meat for consumption but as always consumers hold the keys to the pig pen by voting with their dollars. Just as the organic foods movement has raced into Americas consciousness so will small scale meat production, if we demand it. Currently you have to put a little effort into finding some decently raised meat to buy and feed yourself and your family. Whole Foods and Prather Ranch Meats are worth looking at on a large scale but do fit into the large grocery category. Also becoming popular are CSA’s for meat. Marin Sun Farms (415.663.8997) has been around for awhile and are getting into chicken meat as well as beef and pork and in Vacaville Natures Bounty Farms ((707) 693-0908) produces all natural hormone and antibiotic meat for sale. They have been raising livestock for 16 years and are actually certified meat inspectors. The Bay Area Meat CSA managed by Berkeley Slow Food joins together community people looking for the best local meat choices and pairs up buying and sharing power with local ranchers and producers. Soul Food Farms ((707) 469-0499) produce chicken meat and eggs for sale. There is always the option of buying meat, fish, eggs etc. at your farmers markets too.
These are just a few examples and options of industrious humans demanding a better grade of food as well as a better grade of life and death for animals raised for consumption. As with pretty much all choices of knowing where our food comes from and purchasing what we see as the best quality for our consumption, it takes a little bit more effort than blindly, robotically pulling so called food off the grocery store shelf to line pockets of faceless billionaires’. That effort is well worth it and beautifully transfers some of that booty to the small family growers and producers that not only have a face and name, but have actual farms to go tramp about on while seeing first hand the animals that may be dinner tonight. People are going to continue to eat meat and events like Pork on Your Fork are meant to raise awareness and educate about how meat should be raised and processed. Sorry if we have insulted anyone, it was not intentional, unless of course you are still participating in the disgusting raising and slaughtering of the styrofoam enclosed piggy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Are you ready for skin kissy weather?

Fluttering butterfly chrysalis thoughts of spring begin to softly awaken thoughts, paying attention to how it is going to work when mercury rises and clothes need to be, shall we say a bit less shielding than winter coverings. That was a nice way to say yikes!, it’s time to put on shorts and tank tops. Forget about the bikini, although I did sport a bikini one summer when I was 17 and went to Lake Shasta with only my girlfriends and not my family. We were very into making string bikinis at the time. I had to stop eating to get into it, for quite sometime actually. Then it got a bit weird so I figured I would be my curvy self eat healthy stuff to prevent myself from delving even deeper into a pretty salacious disease, ending my bikini experience. We were on our own for about the first time in our lives on a long drive from the Bay Area to Shasta for a week and starting to feel our wild teenager allure around guys our age and then some. It is a pretty clarifying moment when you realize initially what your effect is on the male population as a long haired, long legged 5’ 10’ 140 pound 17 year old sporting a bikini or a halter top and shorts or any type of clothing that shows skin. Throw in being able to bait a hook, set up a tent and ride a dirt bike while gourmet camp cooking and sparks start to fly creating a situation where you never will have to buy your own alcohol again.

My sisters however got my mom’s genes and still wear bikinis in their later years and look great but I digress. I frankly get a little freaked out about the whole thing and am torn because I love spring temperatures, kissing my warming skin, encouraging many smiles and sighs, but it is always interesting when the inevitable clothes shedding starts.

My mom was really ill with a kidney infection and is home now but we are watching what she eats to get her health back. My sister Kathi told me about a diuretic soup to make for her to help shed this amazing amount of water she retained making her legs so big she could hardly lift them. Dandelion greens, chard, celery, parsley, all things green. She told me make it into a broth but I made it by chopping all the greens up and simmering in water to by cover by about 3 inches. After about a 30 minute simmer it is pretty thick with the greens but it really works like a charm for a nice, healthy toxin cleanse from the body without getting into any of the scary concoctions at the health food store. It worked for her to help get rid of all that water. I myself have been drinking stinging nettle tea and broth. It is awesome, meaty and sweet at the same time being the sort of food that you can feel delivering sunshine into your veins as you drink it.

It really boils down to cut out sugar and the second dinner now doesn’t it? I have the exercise thing down, how could you not around here? We have the best hiking. You can get in a nice one or 2 or even 3 hour hike and still get all your stuff done for the day that you need to. We love Briones and know every trail. Mt. Diablo is a different animal altogether. In the winter and spring it is really a lot colder and a bit wilder than Briones but in the summer it is too blazing for me and I tend to skip it until the days get a bit shorter and the birds try to figure out where they are going before they remember that they live in the Bay Area and don’t have to go anywhere. We need to explore Mt. Tam way more than we have but it takes an hour to drive over there so on the back burner it patiently waits. Redwood Regional is great and not quite as far a drive. We like to go in on the Canyon side and walk over to the San Lorenzo res ending up in Oakland. This is perfect weather for hiking and the trails are in perfect shape without too much mud but not slippery and sketchy either.

Just thinking about those skorts hanging in my closet, every once in awhile almost taking one off the hanger to see if it will button but then I chicken out ,allowing my blood pressure to calm down before thinking about trying again. Maybe if I can self tan enough I will work up the nerve. Nothing like bright white flab to make you back out of the closet quietly and deftly before the bomb drops.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wait a minute...I think I saw a food system change

After years of trying to get food offered for life and nutrition to our students in schools we are finally getting some positive feedback from the people that hold the purse strings and rules that go with the money, the feds. Michelle Obama has dug up the sacred White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden with some school kids, giving credence to all of us that have been planting school gardens for years under suspicious and watchful eyes. She has legitimized kids learning how to plant their own foods while learning science, math, getting exercise and sunshine along with a million other positives of kids growing their own produce.

Her husband has new people trying to figure out a corrupt, inherited USDA in control of the national school lunch program joke. Tom Vilsak, the new secretary of agriculture actually took a jackhammer to a patch of lawn in front of his headquarters to create his own organic community garden. Wow, this is a guy on the team of our future food system shapers, radical, independent and aware that change needs to be made for the health of our country physically as well as metaphorically.

Current systems dictate taxpayers money pay the large, massively unconscious and devastatingly polluting large agri business growers to grow way too much corn and soy. Then we pay their subsidiaries to figure out devious ways of sneaking highly refined corn and soy byproducts into every kind of prepared foods available in a supermarket loaded with enough habit inducing sugar and fat to keep the sheep happy and coming back to the deadly trough until they get educated enough to change their eating and shopping habits to stay alive. The system continues on to pay those same large agri business people more money to put this hideous food into the national school lunch program, oh and yes by the way lets subsidize the whole operation with taxpayers money again. Sounds fishy to me and the old ways are definitely starting to stink up the hood. Perhaps this is all news to you and you thought that it was just cheap, bad food we fed the kids to keep everyone’s costs down. Simply part of the shenanigans my dear. I feel like the Obama administration may curb the dumbing down of America simply by encouraging Americans to take responsibility and become a part of the process of knowing what they are eating and how it got into their pantry.

After years of breaking bread and breaking ground with school age students it is most rewarding for me to be a part of a process that instead of going backwards to promote healthy eating is inching in the forward direction not only talking about supporting, but sustaining as well as growing the number of small family farms creating a food system that is based on local growers and people buying from these “food sheds”. The impact on our environment has the potential to be earth changing literally if the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation internationally of foods is reduced based on local consumption. Amounts of fossil fuel generated fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides may be reduced by the smaller growing model. Conventional smaller farms do not use as much as the large monoculture agri business and the organic growers use fossil fuels to grow their foods In the form of gas for tractors mainly.

Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers came about after world war two when munitions factories needed to be used as something else. They had already been using the technology to produce mustard gases as well as other weapons for the battlefields and the jump into this new realm of capitalism was not far. Sometimes I wish that I had the mind to come up with that stuff…
Agriculture took a major right turn with the availability of all these new fangled tools and the farm that used to rotate crops year after year no longer had to because of fertilizers. Farms that used animals as part of the growing process for fertilizer, weed control etcetera, no longer had to because it was easier to just buy the chemicals and grow one huge crop year after year. Few knew the outcome would be a fat, lazy polluted country dying from obesity related diseases although some did predict just this outcome.
Demand fresh fruit America! In Northern California our farmers grow year round producing an amazing amount of incredible veggies and fruits. Support these people putting out an incredible effort to bring you fresh food with no government help and little pay in return. Shop at a farmer’s market year round, rain or shine and not only in the summer when the fruit is sexy and luscious. What winter produce lacks in bikini appeal it more than makes up for in a warm, cozy snuggle of the beach campfire.
Better yet, plant your own garden on the new moon becoming a part of your future of food in America.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Have you ever had a pivotal food moment?

Pivotal food moments seldom arrive with warning, always sudden and electrifying, excavating a memory or sensory moment or even a DNA link to a past life spreading clarity as a shattering dream can before deliciously waking out of it. A sudden taste, jolting you into the moment like no yoga pose possibly can, slowing breath, savoring five places on your tongue while your imagination and heart race with possibilities. For my 16th birthday my parents took me to the Hotel Mac in Point Richmond for a special celebration dinner. That is a huge sentence holding untold awe and wonder as I have six siblings and they love to eat don’t get me wrong, I mean if you were not quick at the dinner table it could get ugly, but my parents would no sooner have thought that they would want or appreciate a dinner at the Hotel Mac than a sharp whack with my mother's favorite mode of discipline, the vacuum cleaner hose. We were not ever in the chips too very much and meals out consisted of breakfast at the Nut House where Black Angus is with my granparents when someone had a first communion or maybe the A and W when we went to the drive in movies on Contra Costa, all nine of us in the station wagon for a Saturday hamburger and root beer float before hand. They knew I would though. I had been making soups and stews and lasagna and baked eggs with maple syrup and cakes and cookies since I could reach the stove. The only present I ever wanted for Christmas, year after year, was an EZ Bake Oven, and thanks to the Army Reserve, I always got it, along with some oranges, walnuts in the shell and a popcorn ball in my stocking. I had had moments of taste clarity in the past when I would accidentally put two or three things together and think Mmmmmm, yes that would work, once again the wheels turning but that night at the Hotel Mac, before I had butchered so much cow and pig so as to only be overwhelmed by the stench and stickiness of the blood up to my armpits to steer me clear of meat for fear of retching at the smell or texture in my mouth, oh long before that, I had my very first taste of filet mignon with béarnaise sauce. Oh the haunting acid of the champagne vinegar to cut through the eggs and butter, the reduction so perfectly fine and the tarragon fresh chopped and tossed in at the last second. How the filet, char grilled to a salty crust, melted in my mouth and thrilled my throat no end as the perfectly complex sauce stealthily followed stealing my heart and incurring such longing in my soul that to this day that memory is my finish benchmark having no sauce leave my sight for others to devour without achieving that balance of acid to velvet on the entire surface of my willing tongue. mmmmmmm

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sparkling, beckoning slyly in their sweet little bunches

Probably the best perk of being a self employed food freak would be the countless hours of mandatory research required to compile information (food) that makes one a, well, a fairly respectful self employed food freak I guess. Current crop of evolving seasonal fare requiring shopping and gorging in the name of research includes winter greens of all kinds. Bok Choy, Yo Choy, Gai Lan, Thai Broccoli, Chinese Broccoli, Hmong Broccoli, Red Mustard, Rappini, Italian Broccoli, Chinese Mustard, a plethoric rainbow of chards, spinach, arugula to name a few. There are so many braising types of Asian greens in season at the farmers’ markets it is enough to make your eye lashes longer just looking and most come in compact little bunches costing like a buck making it easy to buy 5 or 6 at a time and prepare them for one or two meals a day. Loaded with calcium and iron they are also powerhouse free radical fighters going to bat for your health and longevity not to mention your sparkling eyes, pink cheeks and sculptured waistline with every brilliant morsel savored. Awesome simply steamed in water, veg stock or chicken stock doused with a bit of lemon oil and cracked sea salt or try adding chopped greens to your favorite soup or stew. Can not beat a nice sauté with olive oil and garlic with soy sauce splashed in at the end. Warm tummy, happy day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Citrus mania or how to slack a thirst

There is no end of variety bizarre or not and an amazing supply of citrus in California in season now. Blood oranges, Chou Chou tangerines, pommelo, Fairchild tangerine, citron (Budah Hand) kumquats, tangelo, Cara Cara oranges and the list goes on. You can usually find them all and usually at the same time at your local farmers' market. I like to say that before reaching for the juice, eat the whole fruit to slack that devilish thirst.

Blood Oranges
Harking originally from Sicily in the 1500’s, slicing into Blood oranges can be shocking to the virgin taster with crimson shot scarlet flesh and juice. A mutation of sweet oranges, Bloods can be smaller than their cousins lacking nothing in flavor when purchased fresh, locally, at their peak. Less acid along with a weird fruit pigment combine for a winter treat that lingers shortly prompting immediate seek and find maneuvers at farmers markets. Haunting tropical tastes with raspberry nuances, Blood oranges lend their talents smoothly to a plethora of culinary pleasures. Try fresh squeezed juice in champagne blushing the cocktail pink to go with your cheeks. Margaritas crave the addition of the Blood juice as well. Sliced roasted yellow beets blend color and flavor with magenta segments tossed with rice vinegar placed on winter arugula dotted with chevre creating a stellar main or side. Fennel, jicama and Bloods make a stunning salad, brilliantly crisp. Reduce Blood juice with a bit of cream, adding segments at the end, luxuriously thrilling a roasted chicken breast. Toss sharp watercress with Blood segments and juice drizzling lemon oil and cracking salt creating the perfect foil for fresh grilled fish. Three words, fresh, now, aaahhhh.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Seasonal Fable
When the weather turns cold in California and the peaches and strawberries are a distant, warm memory, the citrus show comes to town.
They tout their wears as the “New Winter Fruit”
Satsuma’s, Blood Oranges, Cara Cara, Minneola, Honey Tangerines, oh the names so exotic you can feel the warmth on your skin.
“But wait”, they say “We are the cool weather crop.

Ahhh, the mercury begins a slow ascent and the light stays longer to the day and a new show comes to hawk their goods to let you know that they alone are the seasons best.
Earliest the Berlat, Black Tartarian, and Tulare. Not to be out shined the more leisurely step up to brag, Bings, Royal Anne and Rainer.
Yes, we think pies, tarts and the luxury of standing in the velvety Northern California spring with asparagus on the grill, cleaned strawberries on the counter and cherry juice dripping down your arm.

Monday, January 5, 2009

making thumbs green without paint

One of my gigs is school gardens. Building, maintaining, planting, creating, whatever you want. My friend Stephanie and I started small, just getting one in at our kid’s middle school. We really just wanted to enrich the science curriculum and get some fresh food into the cafeteria but it has morphed into this amazing way to teach kids about food and where it comes from. A lot of the kids have never really put their hands into soil before let alone grown anything with those little hands of theirs. Most of them are totally convinced that their food comes off the shelves in Safeway.
Some of them are way to cool to be messing around with some crazy old ladies and wormy dirt but the cool factor disappears in about five minutes when they realize that they are actually part of this idea that that can actually grow something. As soon as this happen we no longer have to worry about vandalism because if these kids catch any of their posse messing with the garden and their pepper plant, some ass is gonna be kicked. They check their plants daily. We love bringing them over to the green side.
Getting them to try it is another story. Most of them will eat dang near anything I put in their hands but there is the ick contingency and depending on the popularity of the ick person it can trigger a chain of icks and then no one will try anything. We are starting to do cooking demonstrations in the garden with the stuff that we grow at lunch time. We are starting this at the high school where there is a closed campus policy so we have a sort of captive audience if you will.
Hope they like the beets……..