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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What??! Another Calendar??

Hot off the presses the 2011 Farmers Market Lovers Calendar has arrived on newsstands everywhere. Well almost everywhere. I mean at least they are on the worldwide web, 2 places! and Once again Dave’s amazing watercolors of seasonal fruits and vegetables found at farmers markets and a few mouthwatering, provocative recipes for each month.

Locally they can be found at ORCHARD NURSERY & FLORIST 4010 Mt. Diablo Blvd. Lafayette, CA 94549 (925) 284-4474

At Orinda Books 276 Village Square , Orinda, CA 94563 Store (925) 254-7606 ...

The Gardener 1836 Fourth Street, Berkeley, California 94710
510.548.4545 | Fax 510.548.6357

You can also find us bundled up selling them Saturdays at the Diablo Valley Farmers Market in the Kaiser Shadelands parking lot from 9 to 1 in Walnut Creek and at the Moraga Farmers Market on Sundays in the Moraga Commons parking lot from 9 to 1.
They make a great hostess gift for holiday parties under $20 and are great for the fruit and veggie farmers’ market gourmet cookin, art lovin peoples in your family.

Shorter days and dropping mercury set the stage for stellar winter gardens and this year with our much extended warm autumn winter gardens should be better than ever. At all of our school gardens we had an amazing Community Service Day in Pleasant Hill in September with crews of tireless volunteers making light work of weeding, pruning, laying mulch, filling boxes with amendments’ and compost rendering these school gardens kid planting ready for year round crops. Broccoli, snow peas, cauliflower, chards, kales, peas, onions, garlic, carrots, beets, radishes, lettuces and greens, all student planted, tucked in for winter ready to lay some fresh vegetable goodness on us in a month or two. Already lettuce and arugula have made it into the salad bowl with abundant fresh herbs.

We harvested a bushel basket of potatoes from the College Park garden memorably scarlet, rose and purple and sautéed them with the onions we had planted last year. Special Ed students gingerly slicing them up to toss into a pan of sizzling olive oil instantly transporting teachers, aids and students to a cozy, heartwarming happy place just with the heady scent. If you have never tasted fresh dug potatoes, you ought to ford valley and stream to get you some. They are completely different from a store bought variety. Starches are almost non existent and even cooked well new potatoes have a crunch and snap to them with a clean finish reminiscent of water chestnuts.

Apples played a starring role in the Diablo Community Day School lunchroom this week. Comparative tastings prove to be a priceless tool illustrating to students different varieties of apples, all the same fruit, with amazingly varied flavors, textures, colors and names. We tasted them on Golden russet apples from 1750 eastern US as well as Dutch rooted apples from 1648 and pink tinged Grenadine among many others. Students’ rate whether they like, dislike or are ok with each apple and use these figures to determine percentages in their math classes. Tastings definitely do double duty for Stephanie and I cementing the true knowledge that we are both multi tasking control freaks and project this on all of our captive students by bribing them with food.

The Bridge Program at Loma Vista Adult Ed organic garden as well as Diablo Day School Organic Garden do not have the support of a traditional parent teacher club consequently leaving us without a steady budget for our nefarious activities in the gardens and kitchens at these school so we hosted a fundraiser dinner in conjunction with Slow Food Delta Diablo, sort of an underground thing which I am into these days, at Steph and John’s house the other night. We could fit 22 people and charged $50 a piece and it was sold out before we could even advertise it. I cooked for it and the girls all served and it was a blast. We sold lavender sachets that the students at College Park made from their own lavender plants as well as doggie treats that the students at The Bridge Program made. We almost made our budget for one of the schools so now we just need to get the dough for the other one going. Expect news of another dinner in January and a wine tasting event at Periscope Cellars in March.

Fuyu persimmons, apples, pomegranates, kale, chard, cauliflower, broc, carrots, beets, grapes, current crop nuts….just a few of the amazing items to be found at the winter farmers market currently. Get out and get some goodness flowing through your veins and opening your heart and mind to wonder and success, joy and passion. Support the farmers and maybe pick up one of those dang calendars.

Faro or Spelt as it is also known is the whole grain of the wheat berry. When cooked until soft it makes a great foil for salads or sides not to mention an awesomely nutritious vegetarian main dish. Mixed together with rice and quinoa, well draw your own conclusions when you taste the combo…you will not be disappointed!

Quinoa, Faro and Brown Rice Pilaf w/ Sautéed Seasonal Vegetables and Herbs
½ cup quinoa
½ cup brown rice
½ cup faro
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into medium sized cubes
2 carrots, chunked
2 golden beets, peeled and cubed
1 bunch cauliflower, broken into flowerets
1 bunch broccoli, broken into flowerets
1 bunch Swiss chard or kale, sliced thin
¼ cup of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, tarragon, thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook quinoa, rice and faro separately as directed. Sauté onion and garlic in oil until slightly caramelized. Add in squash, carrots and beets, broccoli and cauliflower. Sauté for 4 minutes. Add broth and simmer covered for about 5 more minutes until vegetables are tender. Add grains, greens and herbs to vegetables and heat through. Season to taste. Serves 6.

This is so easy my son makes it regularly. It is so tummy warming that you will swoon and sigh heavily.
Cauliflower Soup
1 large head cauliflower, core removed and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
½ cup ½ and ½ or unsweetened almond milk
½ teaspoon fresh curry powder or garam masala or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until slightly caramelized. Add cauliflower and sauté for a few more minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes until cauliflower is soft. Blend with an immersion blender or in a blender cup and add ½ and ½ or almond milk. Bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat and season with spices, salt and pepper.Makes 4 nice servings.
Alternatively add a large chopped yellow potato along with cauliflower and omit cream. Can be garnished with a nice grated cheese.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jammin on my mind

Life is an amazing joyride and there are many things that I am eternally grateful for but I have to say that the sound of lids popping on newly crafted jars of jam is something that never fails to turn me on. Working the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market today netted me not only a fantastic day of rapture among dazzlingly blue skies of San Francisco amidst scads of enthusiastic holiday crowds of clever planners of the Labor Day pic nics and bar-b-quer’s, but it also crowned me the joyous receiver of masses of Knoll Farms Brown turkey figs not quite strong enough to endure another week of cold storage. Criminal to let even one of these savage, slippery, sensuous fruits go to waste, in my mind meant a full blown session of preserving summer in a jar. Having been the fortunate receiver of yet another farmers extra blackberries, my mind went to a sweet place of combining love with love and ending up with bejeweled jars, lids popping, on my counter. On yet another scorching summer evening as the sweat inched down my spine I was suddenly and profoundly filled with longing, my mind a swirl with ideas to incorporate this enticing concoction into all manner of dishes and treats for my loyal as well as savvy catering clients.

I had the good fortune to run into June Taylor, preserve queen of the East Bay, while she was procuring only the best figs for her jam from our stand. She truly inspired me to get jamming. No pectin in these jars either and they set up thanks to a divine recipe from Marie Simmons, critically acclaimed author of Fig Heaven, among many award winning cook books. Even non fig fanatics should own this book for the plethora of inspirational recipes containing the ancient internal blooming fruit.

Kristie also had a boatload of dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes to unload so tomato sauce is next utilizing fresh velvety chartreuse basil as well as celery, onions, thyme and oregano from my garden. Pickles are also on the agenda in the very near future.

Even though it has been a cool summer or maybe because of it, I have an incredible amount of luscious vegetables smiling at me all day long from my rich dirt. Our College Park High School Organic garden is a bit of an end of summer mess but beneath the sunflower and hollyhock jungles one will stumble upon elongated, smooth, perfect Japanese eggplants, pumpkins, 3 or 4 different kinds of tomatoes, strawberries, loads of figs, basil, amaranth, potatoes, literally bushes of thyme and tarragon, squash, apples and more all started from seeds in our greenhouse by the special day students we are fortunate to be able to name ourselves helpers to at the school.
On September 25 from 9 am until whenever we are having Pleasant Hill Community Service Day and College Park’s garden is on the list of projects. We will be weeding, taking down some of the flower jungles, replanting our strawberry beds, laying mulch in pathways and topping off other beds with compost and just generally getting our garden ready for the kids to get the winter garden in. If you want to help or just come down and revel in the joy of the scene, do it! Let me now if you want to come or if you need more info about the eventful day.

As the weather shifts and the air gets that quality to it that literally makes love to your skin as you move through it, allow yourself to be mindful of all our blessings of Northern California produce at our many farmers markets and gardens everywhere and take a flying leap into the realm of home preservation to discover the sound of that popping lid and then you tell me it don’t get you just a bit sexy and riled up.

As always I must mention taking a hike in the hills surrounding us. Last week we spotted a mountain lion on the Pine Tree trail in Briones. Amazing. We have seen owls, hawks, tarantulas, great blue herons and on just about every hike this summer our adrenalin level has been greatly elevated by sighting, hearing or sensing a rattlesnake. All just in Briones, just in our back yards and available to everyone that gets out there, taking a look and reveling in the season change.
And for Gods sake get some figs down yer gullet!

Marie Simmons Fresh Fig, Lemon and Strawberry Jam
(I used blackberries in place of the strawberries)
1 ½ pounds ripe figs, any variety, stems trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ lemon, cut lengthwise, quartered, seeds and white pithy center removed, cut crosswise into thin slices

In a large, heavy non-reactive skillet, combine figs, strawberries, sugar, lemons and lemon juice. Mash fruit with a potato masher. Let stand for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Bring fruit mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring often. Lower heat to medium low and gently boil jam, stirring often to prevent scorching, until thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes. About halfway through the cooking time, use a large metal spoon to skim off any white foam that has accumulated on the surface.

Ladle hot jam through a wide mouthed funnel into 6 sterilized half pint jars. Process in a water bath 10 minutes or simply cover with lids and screws and keep refrigerated.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

An evening at the Underground Farmers Market

S F Forage keeps popping up in my consciousness or e-mail box, quite predictably peaking my curiosity, so when I got the secret e-mail regarding the date and location of the “underground” farmers market I could not resist the pull, but I did. Then my friend Gigi called and said she was going to the East Bay one, they also have it in S F, so I went. Very interesting indeed. Having been a part of helping organize above ground farmers markets for a long time I wanted to know what the difference was, plus it stirred my competitive ire. When I asked the folks at Forage SF, via their website, what the difference was, it really was only differentiated by the permit processes that choke a good deal of crazy inventive and mega talented chefs, bakers and food producers. To sell at a regular farmers market you need proof of a permitted commercial kitchen to produce your food in according to all health codes. You also have to follow a whole host of sometimes ridiculous rules. This can be not only intimidating but expensive as well and incredibly inconvenient to boot. At the underground market you do not go through this process. As I was explaining this to my Dad, he voiced the thought we all had upon first hearing of this which is, in a word, yuk.

At the last minute we were given the location, an auto dealer parking yard at Broadway and 24th in Oakland. Intriguing. When we rounded the corner off Broadway we were greeted with a long line outside of a gate. On the inside of the gate were several hundred people milling about and probably about 50 vendors peddling their wares. After scouting a parking spot, we waited in a pretty swift moving queue and paid two bucks at the gate to get in. Scents wafting about our heads kept us in that line salivating, anticipating gastronomies’ delights. First we encountered these amazing vegan chocolate and lavender cupcakes and truffles, beautifully and professionally decorated. Meringue sandwich cookies, chocolate chip cookies, handmade breads, caramel and fluer de sel ice cream, basil ice cream, more luscious cupcakes, enough sweet stuff to make you feel high just looking. I succumbed to a delightfully tiny coconut and vanilla bean cupcake. My eyes blurred and I had to stop Gigi and Kelly to make them take a bit. Amazingly and surprisingly it tasted as good as it looked. Most baked goods, in my opinion, do not and are not worth the calories. We tasted kombucha, a fermented drink with intestinal healing qualities that we quickly realized we would need if we tasted too much more. Heirloom tomatoes layered in a Chinese take out container with hand made fresh ricotta, basil sprouts and olive oil topped with a crack of black pepper was the best savory food to my palate although there was a really nice lentil and lentil sprout dish that was a close second. Things I did not taste but can only imagine were really good were the macaroni and cheese with homemade hotdogs, sharp cheddar and salty potato chips sprinkled on top. These guys had a long line as did the jerk chicken people, the slider people and the ever present pulled pork people. All organic, hormone free, fresh made buns, fresh made mustard and ketchup etcetera. We tasted a tamale with black beans and quinoa that was great and there was even a stand selling raclette melted under an ingenious machine imported from Switzerland gooed over the top of garlic and olive oil roasted Yellow Finn potatoes and cornichons. Also present at many booths were the jams and jellies representing peak season in California. One fascinating to observe hippy guy was concocting these cones made of flax seed and spices with yummy salads and pastes inside drizzled with his special tamarind sauce. I did not see anything yucky, nefarious doings or anything dirty or not at the temperature it should be at. Plus there was really good beer on tap.

Live music was setting up to play when we finally left after 8 pm. They were going to 10 pm and the party was getting started.

I did not see anywhere any fresh produce though. Apparently there was an earlier market that was all produce and this was the all food one. Vendors are strictly screened and pay fifty bucks a pop to appear in the underground market. They all said that it was indeed a circuit and they knew all the vitals well ahead and that there was always a line around the block at all the markets. It was a fun experience and I will go again when a certain secret e-mail drops almost as if by a Hogwarts owl into my box.

Some summer recipes…..

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.

Grilled Peaches w/ Fresh Mozzarella and Balsamic
3 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh mozzarella
½ cup basil leaves
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Toss the peaches in olive oil and set on a hot grill. Mark and heat through. Remove from grill and set aside. On a platter alternate slices of peach w/ slices of mozzarella and basil leaves. Drizzle w/ balsamic and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Serves 4.

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.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Does it always have to be about food?

Spring cleaning, no matter how much I despise house cleaning is really pretty easy around here because of our tiny abode we call home. Admittedly there have been times numbers have been crunched while fantasising about my own bathroom and a bedroom with room for a couch and computer desk so I could reclaim my living room slash dining room to actually, well eat in. Reality crashes in screaming "how many times could you go to Italy or France or Mexico with that money you want to spend on a flipping bathroom?" and so consequently over the years it never happened and now Luke is 16 and a half and probably, hopefully, maybe, heading off somewhere shortly and then I may not be so happy to have my own bathroom. Scratch that last sentiment as growing up with three brother and three sisters has ingrained in me that no matter what I really want my own bathroom. I was reading The Environmental Magazine and on the cover of the May/June 2009 issue (I know it takes me awhile to get around to magazines) is a picture of a tiny house. Tiny houses are the rage. Even smaller than mine. These houses are 400, 500, 600 square feet con todo. Architects are jumping on the bandwagon and creating really cute little Victorians or ranchouses or whatever you want in those sizes. Very interesting article saying what I have known all along, we do not really need that much space to live in and the small ones are not only far superior for the environment than the big American Dream homes, but way easier to clean.

What about this huge dazzling blue bowl of sky springing sweet peas from their shells and making tomatoes yellow flower up while defining the relationship between squash flowers and baby fingers of squash big enough to grill. I may be getting a bit ahead of myself but truth be told it is all working. I think I may have overdone it on the tomatoes, I have planted more than I can count and that is just in my own home garden. We still have all four school gardens going strong too. Yikes. Hopefully we get some huge harvests this summer and can get some kids excited about peddling them to local restaurants and maybe even the farmers markets. In my perfect world it will rain every Wednesday through the summer. Hey a girl can dream can't she.

It looks like the Pleasant Hill farmers market opened with a bang captivating our fine citizens rendered giddy with joy as they sample strawberries. Cherries will be on this week as they in my opinion were a bit off the last few weeks. I tasted some today and that full of juice mouth feel is in the house. Made a pea pesto for a crostini the other day with a dollop of goat on it. Ouch baby. Need a favor done? Make that for someone and they will do anything for you. I have tried it works.

Peas and Pea Shoot Pesto Crostini w/ Citrus and Chevre
1 pound fresh English peas, shelled
½ bunch pea shoots or tops, chopped
½ bunch chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 cloves fresh chopped garlic
Juice and peel from 1 lemon, Peel from 1 orange
¼ to a ½ cup good fruity olive oil
¼ cup chevre, Croutons
Salt and pepper Place peas, pea tops, parsley, garlic and citrus juice and peel in bowl of food processor or blender. Pulse to chop fine. Add oil in a steady stream to desired consistency and season with salt and pepper. Place a small amount on a crouton w/ a dollop of chevre. Makes 2 cups.

Ancient Chinese saw apricots as a sign of cowardice, while Europeans believe apricots an aphrodisiac. Fortunately our early spring cold snap benefited local apricots producing bumper crops of smooth, rosy tinged deliciously orange globes, intensely sweet fleshed with a teaser kiss of tartness beneath skin giving apricots their unique character among stone fruits. Like cherries, fresh apricots pair well with fowl. Stuff chicken breasts with chopped apricots, chevre and loads of fresh thyme. Roast to golden love status and serve with pan juices enriched with Marsala and butter.
Half apricots and stuff cavity with gorgonzola and chopped, toasted walnuts. Grill until the cheese thinks it is melting and drizzle with orange Muscat for tortuously luscious bites of early summer. Nothing tastes like fresh apricot pie but a nice crisp sure comes close. Recipe follows and be prepared to swoon at the ease and flavor of this amazing dessert.

Spring produce is definitely on the way out being replaced by amazing summer fruit and vegetable crops. Cherries are peaking; you can really taste the maturity in these ruby gems. When eating a cherry it is like taking a gulp of cherry juice. White nectarines are still a bit firm but taste like a rose geranium smells. Yellow peaches are in half swing with breathtaking combinations of sweet and tart. Some early peaches are loaded with mind blowing nuances although they will benefit from a few more weeks of maturity when that unforgettable O Henry from J and J Farms at the Pleasant Hill market makes her appearance on market tables. What a difference it makes when fruit is picked ripe and in season.

All these fruits sliced up and spooned over cereal in the morning with a little yogurt or cottage cheese brings the morning meal up a notch letting your taste buds sing louder than the morning doves. The blackberries are going to benefit from a little more time but are sure symbolic of impending summer. Summer squashes are all over the market as well as some really nice basil. I got a vegetable from one of the Asian growers the other day that I thought was Thai basil but was corrected by the farmer. It is a green to be sautéed with meat or chicken that tastes a lot like a nice mix of mint and basil. Be your own detective and ask the farmers about this as well as their other unfamiliar but interesting and tasty vegetables that are frequently passed by due to lack of taste experience. Make it a Jimmy thing and get experienced! Nice showing of eggplants and green beans too and the English peas are going strong next to the fava’s. The peppers are not far behind as are the show stoppers, heirloom tomatoes and corn, moving in just in time for end of school and graduation bar-b-ques. Spring and summer produce do the same amazing cross over thing that summer and fall do in September and October. We are pretty food fortunate up her in the north of the most western state.

The Troy Spencer Memorial Garden is going crazy with big crops of luscious summer produce. Mrs. Ouimet’s Leadership classes started all these plants from seed and did an amazing job of stewardship this year for the garden. Weeding is their middle name! The science classes have all made an appearance to impart a bit of their own leadership into the garden as well as learning a few things too. We should have a nice continuous summer harvest well into the start of school in fall for some nice additions to the cafeteria.
The College Park High School Organic Garden is going pretty wacko as well. Mrs. Piecush’ Special Day Classes have been the stewards of this garden starting seeds, weeding, planting, and maintaining all of it! They are amazing and we have learned that she will be teaching summer school on our campus this year so we get an extended summer season with our kids in the garden. Huge bonus for Steph and me! We should have a pretty amazing summer display moving into the fall here too.
Our amazing hills are golden now dropping their green almost over night. I still love trekking up and down them regardless of color. Some cooler hikes can be had in the Oakland hills now too. Use it and lose it for the swimsuits!!

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.

Shortcakes for any kind of Fruit!
I like a nice, fluffy, barely sweetened biscuit for my shortcake. Warm from the oven with just a touch of butter on it, ladled with cut up fruit that has been able to macerate for an hour or so, possibly with a bit of Framboise or Grand Mainer and a dollop of honey sweetened whipped mascarpone, this is shortcake nirvana.

2 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons melted butter
¾ cup buttermilk or milk
Preheat oven to 425*. Butter a pie tin or glass. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl, flour, salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and baking powder. Cut the 4 tablespoons butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers or a pastry blender until it resembles dry bread crumbs. Add the milk and mix quickly until dough comes together in a sort of sticky mass. Pat into pie pan, brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle teaspoon of sugar on top. Bake for about 15 minutes or until light brown on top. Cut into 8 wedges.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

May I have some asparagus and green garlic please?

Stephanie and I just finished doing a cooking demo at the middle school highlighting a major spring hitters, asparagus and green garlic, tossed with organic brown rice pasta, lemon, olive oil,veggie stock and some grated parmesana reggiano. Sounds good right? It was excellent but what would it matter if the kids who make up our target audience heckle for pepperoni pizza and turn up their noses at this amazing concoction? They did not heckle and in fact loved the dish and wanted the recipe. We publish all the recipes on the schools electronic twice weekly newsletter. However this story had a different beginning when the demo’s started a few years ago. We planted the organic garden and got it into the science classes but we wanted more. We wanted the food from the garden to go into the cafeteria as well creating a broader audience and pool of participants for the garden. We quickly learned that we were going to have to have the demo’s to get the students to actually taste real food. Food that by the way, they grew all by their own sweet, little selves. We were not the queens of popularity to begin with. Over the last 5 years a shift has occurred. We are very popular now and working in the garden is a choice assignment at Pleasant Hill Middle School.

Michelle Obama did another kick off of her pet project “Let’s Move” on Friday. She is beginning to get the idea, along with all the people that are actually doing the work that it takes more than just plopping health and great food in front of people, students. It takes time and I just hope that they all stick with it. Our country did not develop the physical state that we are in overnight. It took years and it will take years to fix it.

Get the palates back I say. Show these kids at a young age what food is and how to produce it themselves. They may start out grumpy and raggin on about yucky bugs and mud on the designers but it only takes a little time before they are enamored by their work. Teenagers and most youngsters are pretty self centered so the key is to make it, whatever it is, all about them.

I guess what I really started this rant about is that it does not take billions of dollars to do something about childhood obesity and all the related diseases causing our kids to have shorter life expectancies than us. It takes action and involvement. It takes a little planning and commitment on a local level. Get out to your kids, or niece or nephew or grand kids or neighbor kids schools and start a garden. It really is not that hard or Steph and I would not have 4 of them going simultaneously on 4 different campuses. At least I don’t think I work that hard. These kids just need the info to be able to grow, cook and eat and these particular grains of knowledge are not on the STAR TEST so it aint going to be taught in school. We have to do it for the schools and students. We have to think that this is something worth fighting for in our communities. If we wait for Michelle’s business to trickle down to us we are advising you to not hold your breath. I am a little skeptical I guess but with all those aforementioned billions is seems that a good deal of it will get caught up in administration before we get a working garden in every school. One that actually has kids working it as well as eating from it. This is leading us to better health for our babies, our future operators of our communities, our states, our nation.

Steph and I do not run numbers except how much product we needed for a cooking demo so I can’t tell you if there are any changes in weight or related statistics but our success can most definitely be measured in the mouths and minds of our students. When they ask “what are we cooking today?” and we reply “organic brown rice pasta w/ sautéed organic asparagus and green garlic” and the say “Yay!! I want some”, well you can draw your own conclusions about it but we nod our heads and look at each other with big smiles. Yep, not very scientific but I think it is working for our kids.

If you need any information or direction on starting a school garden we can probably help. We have lots of experience now and know a bit more than a few years ago about it. Most schools want a garden and volunteers but need a leader, a coordinator for the project. Be that leader and give the kids of our communities a fighting chance against junk food giants and years of bad information devastating their health. You will be rewarded every time you get your hands dirty and see the satisfied determination on their amazing faces.

The recipe with the addition of cremini mushrooms and under that the samwe recipe but with quinoa instead of pasta. It's all good.

Asparagus Pasta w/ Green Garlic and Cremini Mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound cooked pasta such as brown rice instead of wheat or Orchiette or small shells to hold sauce
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock, heated
1 pound asparagus, sliced in ½ inch pieces
4 stalks of green garlic, cleaned and sliced
1 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
6 ounces of Reggiano parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly grated pepper
Heat olive oil in a deep sauté pan. Add green garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes until it begins to caramelize. Add the mushrooms and asparagus and sauté for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add a cup of stock and let it come to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes until asparagus turns bright green. Add pasta and heat through. Season w/ salt and pepper and toss in parsley. Garnish w/ shaved parmesan. Serves 4.

Asparagus Quinoa w/ Green Garlic and Cremini Mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound cooked quinoa
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock, heated
1 pound asparagus, sliced in ½ inch pieces
4 stalks of green garlic, cleaned and sliced
1 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
6 ounces of Reggiano parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly grated pepper
Heat olive oil in a deep sauté pan. Add green garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes until it begins to caramelize. Add the mushrooms and asparagus and sauté for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add a cup of stock and let it come to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes until asparagus turns bright green. Add quinoa and heat through. Season w/ salt and pepper and toss in parsley. Garnish w/ shaved parmesan. Serves 4.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Closing the food gap and what the hell is a food desert??

There is a growing food gap in the United States just like the one that has been present all over the world for years. Food gaps as well as food “deserts” represent a growing financial gap as well. Food deserts are areas where there is literally no access to fresh food for the folks that live there. Large grocers have deemed these areas not profitable enough to have a chain there and farmers markets usually don’t operate in these areas because it is usually a merchant association or similar group that seeks out a market to come and revitalize a downtown or some other spot where people are trying to make money. If it is a location that would not prove profitable for the farmers it aint gonna happen. Usually transportation is difficult in economically depressed areas and people tend to not have cars. There is a twenty year life span difference between affluent areas and poor areas. So where do the people shop? Corner liquor stores and fast food franchises are where food is purchased daily. There are entire generations and cultures of people eating this way proven by the statistics of heart disease, obesity and diabetes among children as well as their parents and grandparents.

What to do? Simply offering produce stands and farmers market access to the neighborhoods is doomed to failure. Education is key. Teaching people how to cook, eat and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetable is a daunting task. In our school garden programs we have been presenting food tastings for a few years now. We are this year really making some progress with what kids will taste, eat and actually come back for. A lot of what they taste is grown by them in the school gardens. Beets sautéed with their greens in olive oil and garlic, coleslaw with cabbage, carrots, celery, herbs and a light herb vinaigrette, sautéed kale with brown rice pasta are a few of the items sampled. We are finding more and more that given the opportunity to try the food, they now trust us enough to do so. Imagine taking on the task of educating a whole community of all ages, races, colors, cultures with the common factor being little money, poor health and poor eating habits. Education must be followed immediately with some sort of subsidized farm stands, after school programs, in school programs, in home programs and then all must be not only constantly followed up on in the neighborhood but the tastings and education must be ongoing for several years to take hold and actually change eating and buying habits. This is a good place for Michelle Obama to start at with her campaign to eliminate food deserts in 7 years. Understanding the issues is a good place to start as well and her 400 million bucks will certainly make a starting dent. Act locally if you see an area that you can help in. Ask me any questions anytime!

That brings me to my rant about the broken food system in America, a noble rant but altogether too big for this blog.
Michele Simon,, creator of Appetite for Profit, a great site that has all kinds of great radical activist food facts and rants she can educate you about. Looking at it today I found a campaign called Retire Ronald, . Awesome in its hilarious simplicity, the movement is essentially directed at and an offshoot of food marketing to children. Ronald McDonald was the first time anyone ever tried focusing on the kid instead of the parent holding the wallet. It worked and is an industry worth billions of dollars annually. Build loyalty and brand recognition among children and you have a lifelong flow of cash as a direct result of said marketing. Genius, diabolical, and immoral are words that come to mind. She also has a great story about Yale and PepsiCo sealing a deal to finance a new research center about food and nutrition. Wow.

Spring has really sprung and thanks to some prolonged rain we are actually out of the drought. Recent hard rains may delay some of the strawberries coming in season right now but not for long. You can get berries at the markets from Santa Barbara but it is always nice when the more local ones start showing up. You always want the organic ones because of the methyl bromide on conventionally grown berries. Not good for you or your kids. Bought Brentwood asparagus today at the Concord Farmers market. Yum, yum. Look for fresh cut ends for best flavor. Grill, sauté, steam, whatever it is all good.
News on the street is that the Pleasant Hill farmers Market will be located on Crescent Drive downtown in front of the theatres! Yay! More room for more choices, hopefully lot’s more organic and lots of parking in the garage. Good be a perfect storm for finally getting a market that reflects the needs of Pleasant Hill. Market opens May 1st with a grand opening celebration May 8th.
Wildflowers are out in abundance in our hills. A walk up the Falls Trail on Mt. Diablo will reward your efforts tenfold with an amazing show of flora and fauna only seen this time of year. Briones has here show going full tilt right now as will and a walk out Carquinez Scenic this weekend was mind blowing with the flowers as well as the unforgettable views.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sweet smellin aroma wafting down from heaven

Having never heard the name before, Ronald Howes, it did not immediately jump out at me as I performed my ritual daily scan of the obituary section of the paper looking for friends, acquaintances or familiar names that I can pass the word on, to whoever, until suddenly the headline caught my eye, “Inventor of the E Z Bake Oven Dies” Holy shit, that dang E Z Bake oven ruled my life as a little girl. I adored my light bulb driven, foul cake producing oven. It was the only gift I ever asked for, for years unless I was asking for the cake mixes that went with it. Cakes and cupcakes and cookies emerged from the oven with a weird, plastic kind of smell and the icing mixes were pure sugar of some kind with coloring and the water that you added. No matter, I loved it. I made cakes and cookies all day long, as long as I had the mixes. I bought my son one when he was in about the 3rd grade thinking, foolishly in retrospect, that he was going to be as enamored as I at this amazing creation. He thought I was insane when I gave it to him, me all smiles and Sullivan nods. “You love it, right baby?” Needless to say, he and a buddy made one cake, looked at me with the “are you ok?” look and declared it disgusting and bizarre and would have nothing else to do with it. No problem, I still loved it. I finished all the mixes and gave it to a neighbor with the information on where to get more. Even as a grown woman with a 35 year professional cooking career behind me I loved that thing. My sisters and mom actually felt a little bad for me when I told them that he had passed on. I felt compelled to click on the Leave Comment Here button of the obituary and left a comment in the family book. I just said that I hoped Ron and past oven recipient angels, along with all the ovens past, blue plastic or pink, there was even one year an oven that came out with the flower power stickers to put on it, were baking up a storm in heaven. I’m sure he was welcomed with open arms.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lusciously delctable winter delights and other treats

I know we need the rain and everything but it sure has been sweetly restorative to bask in a few days of sunshine, ramping up the vitamin D intake before it goes away again for awhile. Been getting all kinds of yard play in, trimming and digging around in my backyard garden and I found all the arugula, parsley and chervil that we planted way back in the fall. Luscious salads are topping all kind of stuff round here from grilled fish and tacos to curry roasted veggies with tofu and feta. Cabbages are tightening up and cauliflowers are just peeking curmudgeon style, starting to give up the fight and just get big for us.

Broccoli and cauliflower are in peak season in Northern California, barraging taste buds with creamy bursts of ethereal bliss. Available year round about these parts, flavors really do change in these months possessed with dropping mercury. Preparations of these cruciferous gems at this time of year are impossible to screw up regardless of what you do rendering them as the stars of any show. (Although a friend of mine found an amazingly huge chanterelle while trimming his woods today that could give them a run for their money when I sauté slices in a little butter and green garlic to sit royally atop a few slices of roasted sweet potato barely showered with sea salt. But I digress.)

We picked a few giant heads of cauliflower from the College Park garden and sautéed them with some of Shantha’s spices she brought back from her trip home to India for the special day classes. They totally scarfed, no hesitation whatsoever about the spices. These kids actually planted this stuff, tended it, helped it grow and eat it! We also picked a ton of broccoli from the CP garden and are making soup on the quad for lunch tomorrow to hand out to the student body. Totally a rush having 2300 teenagers of varying ages and stages of maturity mob you wanting to get a sample of broccoli soup. We got them trained well round here. Just for your information they also mob us when we sauté beets and beet greens with garlic and olive oil and not only eat them but rave to us about them and want the recipe. We have a whole garden box dedicared to beets, Chioggia, red, yellow, whatever dang near ready for the young masses at CP to chow. They also mob apple crisp and carrot cookies or whatever bizarre enticements we can come up with to persuade them to make healthier food choices. Gentle persuasion. Hopefully a dram of that push is trickling down to the folks at home that really make the food choices.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times magazine today by Christine Muhlke about fish, regulations, catch restrictions and limits, and ways of getting around decimating the fishing industry while still keeping a close watch on dwindling or endangered species. Focusing on this particular fisherman in South Carolina, Mark Marhefka, the article touched briefly on the interesting angle of community sponsored fishery where the community slash customers buy a share up front and get 2 to 10 pounds of fresh, locally caught fish a month that is sold to them by the guy that actually fished for it very much mimicking the CSA’s we see more and more farmers solidly embracing. He also sells commercially the fish he catches and works with colleges and scientist on issues of fish sustainability. It kind of comes down to familiarizing the consumer with some little known varieties of fish that in out parents day may have been considered sub par or junk fish. Brings to my mind the change in attitude towards beef cuts that in the past were considered too cheap to sell and are now on the menu’s of some of the best restaurants in the country. New restrictions on familiar fish such as snapper, salmon etc. could possibly introduce the savvy fish monger an opportunity to create a new fad for the competitive chefs vying for your dinner dollar out there.

I found a new citrus yet again this year at The Pleasant Hill Market at the corner of Gregory and Pleasant Hill Rd. Tahoe Gold tangerines. Big, seedless spheres, reminiscent of sweet pepper jelly on the tongue they are easily peeled with loose skin, a perfect foil for lunch boxes, brunch snacks and all around nice to keep a few with you in the car when bad urges may come upon you to sate yourself and keep doing whatever it is you are supposed to be doing instead of going to Coco Swirl for frozen yogurt.

Try to get a hike in before the next rains. I remember saying that to myself all last winter and it never did rain.

Cauliflower Soup
1 large head cauliflower, core removed and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
½ cup ½ and ½
½ teaspoon fresh curry powder or garam masala or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until slightly caramelized. Add cauliflower and sauté for a few more minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes until cauliflower is soft. Blend with an immersion blender or in a blender cup and add ½ and ½. Bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat and season with spices, salt and pepper.
Makes 4 nice servings.
Alternatively add a large chopped yellow potato along with cauliflower and omit cream. Can be garnished with a nice grated cheese.

Broccoli Soup
8 cups chopped broccoli, about 3 to 4 nice heads
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
½ cup ½ and ½
1 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion, celery and garlic in olive oil until slightly caramelized. Add broccoli and sauté for a few more minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Let simmer until broccoli is soft. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add ½ and ½ and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 nice servings.
Alternatively add a large chopped yellow potato along with broccoli and omit cream. Can be garnished with a nice grated cheese.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sun is shining and the broccoli is ready for pickin!

A new grapefruit is on the scene, exciting…ok well maybe not too exciting but really tasty whether or not you like grapefruit. Oranges crossed with grapefruit create a really big orange looking fruit that is sweeter than sweet and has a grapefruit finish. They are calling it a Cocktail Grapefruit. I am venturing to guess because the flavors are similar to a grapefruit juice drink. Yummy! Also look for a Peach Mandarin, looks like a Satsuma with a little bit tighter skin, still really easy to peel and a tropically lush flavor that actually has peach undertones. I found both of these gems at Hamada’s farm stand at the Diablo Valley Farmers Market. (Saturday 9 to 1 Kaiser Shadelands parking lot) I also found the Cocktail Grapefruit aka Sweet Grapefruit at the Diaz Farm stand at Tuesday Concord Farmers Market. (Todos Santos Park 10 to 2) They have really great citrus as well as Hamada. J and J has good fruit too but not the fancy new ones.

Good News Flash about Pleasant Hill Farmers Market: the City of Pleasant Hill is reviewing an agreement with Pacific Coast Farmers Markets, same operators as Concord FM as well as about 50 or more other farmers markets in the Bay Area. I don’t know if anyone remembers or even knew that last year California Farmers Markets tried to get the Pleasant Hill market and move it in front of the old Left Bank as well as add about 30 more farmers. California was not awarded the contract and went on to open the new Diablo Valley Farmer Market at Shadelands. That market has been great all year, probably 3 times at least as many growers as old Pleasant Hill, none of the bizarre craft stuff, just a farmers market, for some serious produce shopping. Crafters are ok when the item is truly homemade but when stuff is coming in manufactured in some factory in another part of the world it has no place in a farmers market and no claim to anything remotely resembling sustainable practices.

Pacific Coast does not have crafters in their markets either, just farmers, flowers and food. So I for one am very excited about a new Pleasant Hill Farmers Market. Is there a new location on the horizon? Maybe on Crescent? More farmers for the people of Pleasant Hill? Time will tell. Having been personally involved in the operations of farmers markets for 10 years I know well that it is difficult to get the shoppers down to the market but I also know that with effort, ingenuity and a little bit of marketing cash it can be done. Look at Diablo Valley Market. From 0 to 60 out of the gate. That market has been great from the get go because the operator gave the shoppers a lot more farms to choose from, a lot more organic to choose from and put some dough into the management and promotion of that market. It shows and I hope the same will follow for Pleasant Hill and we get a market to be proud of that farmers will be happy to sell at.

Our organic garden at College Park High School is really growing great guns. Broccoli is ready everywhere. Garlic is perfect for the green garlic love and cabbages are getting tighter heads every day. They will be ready in no time. The Brussels sprouts are adorable with their little round cabbage heads adorning huge stalks of great leaves. Students are amazed and bewitched by the knowledge that this is how they grow! Wait till we cook them together and they taste fresh broccoli and fresh Brussels....oh yeah, this is why we put in the hours and do the work, just to swivel some young taste buds in our direction of healthy choice. Yeah, their is a bit of a glow over here.....

Sun is shining magnificently today and I just got to hit the trail but wanted to drop a few recipes on you before I put on my muddy old hiking boots and borrow someone’s dog. Get outside now before it starts raining again!

This is a great soup that first night is soup and second night thickens up into a base for a nice piece of grilled fish. Feel free to add a chopped head of Gai lan, chard or spinach at the end for a super punch of nutrition.
Lentil and Butternut Squash Soup
1 large white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cups of peeled, cubed butternut squash
3 carrots, chopped
6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups of cooked lentils
2 tablespoons of freshly ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons of freshly ground cumin seed
salt to taste
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes. Add squash and carrots and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the stock and the spices and bring to a simmer. Add the lentils and simmer on medium heat until the squash is soft. Season with salt. Makes enough soup for a nice lunch or dinner for a couple of days.

Winter Vegetable Soup w/ Rosa marina
1 large red onion, chopped
1 celery root, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 cups of cubed butternut squash
2 tablespoons of olive oil
6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
½ bunch of chopped parsley
! bunch chopped Swiss chard
2 cups of Rosa marina pasta or orzo
salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion, celery root, carrots and squash in olive oil for 5 minutes.
Add stock and bring to a boil. Add pasta and simmer until the vegetables and pasta are cooked. Add parsley and chard and season with salt. Makes enough for a few days of constant soup.

A mesmerizing little simple slaw that leaves you with a great big smile on your face and people coming back for more.
Napa Cabbage Salad w/ Tangerines, Feta and Lemon Vinaigrette
1 head of Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
3 tangerines, peeled and sectioned
4 new onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup crumbled feta
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon of white balsamic
Sea salt and pepper
Toss everything together in a bowl. Serves 4.