Archive for the ‘food events’ Category

Darra Goldstein’s Global Gastronomical Tour

April 7, 2010

I was having a little pity party last week. I was the host and only guest.

Minor surgery left me laid up. So I spent another Spring Break having a staycation; plans for a road trip got nixed at the 11th hour when it was clear that the recovery was going to take a little longer than expected.

(You know when you’re on a hiking trail and the sign says: Allow four hours for this walk. And you think: “I’ll do it in two hours tops.” That was my mind-set on post-op healing estimates. Turns out, where incisions and anesthesia are concerned, such an approach isn’t recommended. You only set yourself up for disappointment.)

How to get myself out of misery mode? A lecture at the University of California, Berkeley by Gastronomica editor in chief Darra Goldstein was just the ticket I needed to transport me away from my aches and pains and into the world of food and ideas.

Goldstein, in town to attend a couple of Gastronomica-related events timed for the publication’s 10th anniversary, was new to me, as was the journal she founded.

Published quarterly by UC Press, the elegant (and exxy, at $13 a pop) magazine melds food and culture in an eclectic mix of scholarly essays, fiction, poetry, and arresting visuals.

This latest issue includes a provocative piece on the dearth of great women chefs, a forum on food porn, photos of pristine Portuguese pastries, a discussion of chocolate and terroir, a story on Sudenese cuisine, a moving memoir about one man’s mother and her white diet, and an essay on poet Sylvia Plath’s passion for food. And there’s still more.

Gastronomica is a place, says Goldstein, to examine both the deeper and darker sides of food, and use food for thought to provoke readers to seriously contemplate what goes on their plate. But it’s not heavy handed: Goldstein knows how to play and have fun with her food too.

In the past the journal has covered parrot-eating in the Renaissance, the cultural ramifications of the Atkins diet, genetically modified foods in Zambia, the ethics of eating apes, and the eating habits of hefty sumo wrestlers in Japan. Quirky, even eccentric, stuff.

When Goldstein isn’t polishing manuscripts she teaches Russian history at Williams College in Massachusetts. She’s lived in Russia, studied in Helsinki, and traveled all over the globe pursuing her professorial and personal inquiry into food. Oh, and she’s written four cookbooks, won awards, and researched the culinary origins of cutlery, too.

My colleague Dianne Jacobs, who first brought this discussion to my attention, says she wants to BE Darra Goldstein. (You can find her take on the talk here, pink bathrobe and all. Pink? Not what I would have pictured.)

I’d settle with having Darra as a brilliant best friend. Over the course of a couple of hours she covered a lot of ground, geographically and intellectually, regarding food, culture, and identity, in conversation with sociology professor Barry Glassner, author of The Gospel of Food: Why We Should Stop Worrying and Enjoy What We Eat.

What I loved most, and helped me see beyond my own front door, was Goldstein’s take on topics where I felt sure I knew what she was going to say and yet, each and every time, she surprised me.

A half-dozen highlights:

  • Eating at the table, something both vital and universal to all of us regardless of color, creed, or religion, would seem a simple way to forge friendly ties among uneasy ethnic communities. Right? Not necessarily so, given Goldstein’s experience editing Culinary Cultures of Europe, which features writers from 45 countries weighing in on how food might encourage tolerance and diversity, coupled with her hands-on involvement in Israel on a meal-making project designed to promote tolerance between Israelis and Palestinians. Who knew that the origins of the falafel — a delicious fast food sold the world over — could be so complex and foment so much distrust? Is this chickpea patty an Arab or Israeli creation? As Goldstein tells it, what one person may see as culinary adoption or assimilation another may view as cultural appropriation.
  • Watching McDonald’s set up shop in developing nations is always bad, yes? Hold that preconceived notion, cautions Goldstein. In Russia before Macca’s showed up restaurant culture was dirty, dismal, virtually non-existent, and the service was surly. The much-maligned American conglomerate created farms to supply their Soviet burger joints. It was good for the economy. Russians flocked to the Golden Arches for decent food, served in a friendly, clean, and efficient fashion. Not long after, national pride saw Russia spawn some fast food shacks of their own.
  • Everyone should jump on the locavore bandwagon, natch? Local food sourcing is a fine flag for Californians to fly, given our super long growing season, but Goldstein lives in the New England Berkshires. If she chose the close-to-home-only route she’d be living on rutabagas and turnips all winter long.
  • Globally, the locavore movement can have a devastating impact on economies dependent on agricultural exports. Take Georgia, a nation the food scholar knows well, since she lived there for several years. When Russia placed a ban on Georgian food imports the Georgian GNP dropped a devastating 75 percent, Goldstein says. Further, she argues, locavorism can be seen as an extreme form of fear-driven reverse NIMBYism, and speaks to Americans’ compulsion for safety and security around what they eat, along with other aspects of life.
  • The famous French saying, tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are, penned by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825, may sound trite today, but there’s truth to it as well. Choosing vegetarianism is often an individual’s first significant assertion of independence, offers Goldstein by way of example. (So my mum was right. But what will my son do come adolescence: Start eating steak?)
  • In terms of cultural connections, language is lost long before the last vestiges of food ways are forgotten in an ethnic group, so closely is eating tied to identity.

There was talk, too, of Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker piece on the French phenomenon Le Fooding, which Gopnik didn’t seem to understand so it was a bit lost on me (I read the article post event). Still, it was a fascinating peek into the French food world’s psyche nonetheless.

Also a nod to Corby Kummer’s story in The Atlantic, The Great Grocery Smackdown, which asks whether — gasp! — Walmart and not Whole Foods can save the small farm and make Americans healthy. Can you guess what conclusions he comes to?

Quite a lot to digest during a scant two hours, over lunch, no less.

I left the event with a full belly and brain, grateful to live in this Gown Town, and thankful to Goldstein for taking me on an international, educational, epicurean tour, just five minutes from home.

Photo of Darra Goldstein by Kevin Kennefick

A Taste of Justice

February 22, 2010

Think of agents for change in American eating habits, and Berkeley’s Alice Waters and Michael Pollan come immediately to mind.

Indeed, eat-more-greens advocates can appear as white as Wonder Bread.

On the menu at the local La Pena Cultural Center last night: some much-needed color in the conversation about good food matters.

Read my entire post on the foodcentric performance piece Visceral Feast over at Berkeleyside.

I first learned about the evening from accomplished choreographer Amara Tabor-Smith. (Full disclosure: I’ve taken Amara’s Rhythm & Motion dance class for almost two decades. The girl knows how to inspire joy and shake her booty like nobody’s business. Believe me when I say she raises the roof. There’s a reason I think of dance class as my church.)

Well, turns out, Amara, artistic director of  the Oakland-based Deep Waters Dance Theater, has been investigating edible issues, such as where food comes from and its impact on the community and the environment, in performance pieces that address the soul and spiritual connections to eating and cooking.

Last year she showcased a work in progress, “Our Daily Bread,” as part of an artist in residency at CounterPULSE, a non-profit theater in San Francisco.

Amara describes herself as “mostly vegan” not initially for political reasons but because she doesn’t care for the taste of meat. But she cooks meat for others and acknowledges her roots as a child growing up eating her mother’s gumbo.

She’s planning several food parties as part of her exploration of eating this year. One she’s dubbing Raw Meat, where she hopes raw food folk will dialogue with confirmed carnivores.

Find Amara’s Recession Root Stew recipe, inspired by the times and in the spirit of African American food traditions, right here.

It’s vegan, can feed lots of folks, and includes dinosaur kale, cilantro, and coconut milk. Sounds just the dish for a cold winter’s night.

At last night’s performance the audience was asked to share a favorite food memory.

I listed my sister’s pavlova and family barbecues with the proverbial “shrimp on the barbie” (Aussies call them prawns). And Vegemite on white toast, comfort food when you’re sick. All of these foods remind me of home.

The man seated next to me wrote simply, “I miss my mom’s chai.”

Now it’s your turn.

Photo credit: Alan Kimara Dixon

Sprouts Cooking Club: Growing the Next Generation of Chefs

February 1, 2010

It took a teenager from Wyomissing, PA who had never heard of Alice Waters to figure out what was missing on the culinary scene in Berkeley.

When Karen Rogers landed at UC Berkeley in 2005 she couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a cooking club on campus.  So she started one.

But the Cal Cooking Club wasn’t just about student potlucks, recipe exchanges, and cook outs. Drawing on her success in high school with a similar program she spearheaded, Karen made it her mission to forge relationships with local chefs. (Presumably she learned who Alice was pretty quickly.)  She invited culinary professionals on campus to teach cooking classes and took club members into local kitchen restaurants.

She even arranged a “Big Cook-off” between Cal and Stanford, tapping into the simmering rivalry between the schools. (Cal prevailed at the pots.)

Today, the culinary arts club has some 600 members, making it one of the largest clubs on campus, according to Karen, who graduated last year and resigned from presiding over the group in 2007 to focus on launching a local food-oriented business.

And what a thriving biz it is. While still in school, the international business major kicked off Culinary Kids (which has since morphed into Sprouts Cooking Club) for the next generation of chefs in Berkeley and beyond.

The organization allows Karen, 23, to pursue her passion for good food and fills another void in the Gourmet Ghetto’s food chain by offering young children the opportunity to cook real food with real chefs in real kitchens. “I enjoy working with kids because of their raw enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and fascination with food,” she says.

Not surprisingly, her classes fill quickly. For the past three summers, Karen has corralled young campers, ages 7 to 13, in and out of some of the fanciest restaurant kitchens in the Bay Area, including Chez Panisse, Boulevard, and Slanted Door. And these kids aren’t just baking cookies. They’ve made butternut squash ravioli with chef Cindy Deetz at Venezia, whipped up hummus at La Mediterranee, and learned how to “cook” raw at Cafe Gratitude, where they made an unbaked avocado chocolate cake.

You can read about the culinary adventures of one of her students, Sam Siegel, in an earlier post.

Prior to graduation, Karen spent time abroad, living in France and Japan; she also found time to squeeze in an internship at Chez Panisse.  In all three locations she worked in restaurant kitchens where the emphasis was on eating locally-sourced food cooked from scratch. She’s also volunteered on a farm in Ecuador, taken cooking classes in Peru, and toured coffee farms in Costa Rica to learn about fair trade and organic farming. These experiences, coupled with her family background — at one time her mom ground her own wheat and made bread for the family of 9 — informs the slow-food, sustainable, authentic cooking sensibilities she hopes to pass on to her young charges.

Sprouts receives sponsorship from Whole Foods, Strauss Creamery, and Alter Eco Fair Trade.  The group also partners with Kaiser Permanente, offering healthy meals cooking series targeting employees and their families. As a non-profit, Karen reaches out to a diverse group of kids in the community; she offers scholarships to families in need for camps and series classes, teaches cooking in Oakland schools and at the Senaca Center, a live-in treatment facility for emotionally-challenged children in Concord.

This spring, Sprouts will take its first international culinary tour, to Parisian Cyril Guignard’s country estate and historic chateau for seven days of cooking classes, authentic French cuisine, and provincial living. (Um, can I come?)

The trip to France is intended to give children and their parents first-hand experience in the culinary and cultural mores of another corner of the globe. “People in France don’t have big refrigerators or large supermarkets,” Karen notes. “Instead, they regularly visit their patisserie, charcuterie, and market and have relationships with the people who grow or make their food. It’s a completely different approach to the culinary arts that I want to expose the kids to.”

Accompanying her on this culinary tour is Jed Cote, sous chef of Pizzaiolo, and former line cook at Chez Panisse, who is very familiar with Provencale French cooking and rustic Italian fare but has never left the country. Armed with his recently acquired passport, Jed, 32, is keen to convey to the kids the pleasure of cooking, along with teaching them knife skills and how to make the perfect crepe.

Jed, who has a degree in criminology, planned on becoming an FBI agent, until every single person he interviewed who chose that line of work told him they regretted their decision. “So many people hate what they do. I think it’s important for children to see an adult who loves what he does,” he says. “I get up every day and go to a job that I love. I think that’s a really important message for children to learn.”

At a benefit brunch for Sprouts’ scholarship fund yesterday at Pizzaiolo, parent Czarina Good explained why she was taking her three children to France. “I see it as part of their education,” says Czarina, originally from the Philippines, whose children attend Chinese school. “I want my children to grow up knowing about all the different people and places of the world and food is a wonderful way to do that.”

For upcoming class series and information on summer camps (heads up: these fill fast), visit the Sprouts Cooking Club website.

Photo of Karen Rogers: Graham Bradley

Photo of Karen with kids: Courtesy Karen Rogers

Rice-A-Roni Co-creator Judges Ultimate Chef America, Shares Granola Recipe

January 28, 2010

Lois De Domenico knows a thing or two about food.

Lois is the co-creator of Rice-A-Roni, the iconic convenience food remembered around the country as The San Francisco Treat.

That’s why the folks at Brookdale Senior Living, one of the nation’s largest operators of senior living communities in the U.S., asked her to act as a judge for  Ultimate Chef America, a series of cook offs showcasing Brookdale chefs in several retirement facilities around the country this year.

The focus: Healthy cooking for elders. Think Iron Chef for the senior set.

The first event is today in Phoenix and you can watch the competition, which kicks off at 4:30 P.M. MST, right here.

I know Lois will return from Arizona full of stories. She’s a natural storyteller. I know this because for the past year I’ve spent most Thursday mornings interviewing her for a memoir she’s writing for her four children, five grandchildren, and great-grandchild.

It was during one of these sessions that she recounted the story behind the birth of Rice-A-Roni. She first learned the recipe for this pilaf dish (rice, vermicelli pasta, butter, and chicken stock) in 1946.

Then a 19-year-old Canadian immigrant, she had recently married Tommy De Domenico, who hailed from an Italian pasta-making family. The couple rented a large room in a San Francisco apartment from an elderly Armenian, Pailadzo Captanian, who years earlier fled the genocide in her country in search of a better life. They shared a tiny kitchen.

Mrs. Captanian made yogurt, baklava, and chicken soup. And Armenian rice pilaf. Lois learned how to make the pilaf and, to this day, still makes it from scratch. She served up the side dish to the De Domenico brothers of the Golden Grain Macaroni Company, who put it into a box and, with hard work and the help of some pretty savvy marketing, well…the rest is food history.

To hear more about the back story behind the Armenian-Canadian-Italian Treat, listen to an interview with Lois by the Kitchen Sisters as part of their wonderful Hidden Kitchen series for NPR.

A major Bay Area philanthropist, Lois is also an avid yoga practitioner and instructor. Every Monday she teaches a group of women at her home and, later the same day, she holds a class for middle school students at Northern Light School in Oakland, in what she refers to, glowingly, as hands-on philanthropy.

How many other octogenarians can claim such impressive physical feats and second acts?

She credits yoga and a nutritious diet to her continued good health.

And part of her healthy eating regimen involves starting the day with a bowl of homemade granola. Since this is Lois we’re talking about, there’s a story to go with this dish.

I’ll let her tell you the tale in her own words:

“About 40 years ago I was going on a hiking trip and I needed some hiking boots. I went to a store in Berkeley and I sat next to a young girl. Today you’d call her a hippie. Somehow we started talking about food and she gave me her recipe for granola. Well, I’ve been making it ever since and I think it’s about the best granola in the world. It has five kinds of grains and three kinds of nuts, as well as sesame and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, sesame oil, and honey. It’s just delicious.

In 1965 or so I approached Tommy and his brothers with the idea of making this granola at the plant and packaging it as Golden Granola. They said no. They didn’t think it would be a big seller. Well, look how popular granola is now. It wasn’t so well known back then. But I couldn’t convince them to try. I’m not so sure they were right.”

Golden Grain’s loss is our gain. Lois shares her granola recipe below.

What do you think: Did the De Domenico brothers pass up another surefire supermarket success?

Lois De Domenico’s Crunchy Granola

(Note: This recipe reflects revised measurements, updated on January 29, 2010. Lois says she mixes the dry ingredients and stores half in the refrigerator, unbaked, for future use.)

Ingredients:

1 pound rolled oats
1 pound rye flakes
1 pound wheat flakes
1 pound barley flakes

1/2 pound bran flakes
1/2 pound wheat germ

1 pound chopped almonds
1 pound chopped cashews
1 pound chopped walnuts

1 pound sesame seeds
1 pound sunflower seeds

1 cup sesame oil

2 cups honey

Method:

1. Mix grains, seeds, and nuts altogether.

2. Bake in two pans at 300 degrees F for at least one hour, while slowly adding sesame oil and heated honey.

3. Bake until golden brown.

Haiti Bakesale Benefit Update

January 25, 2010

Kudos to Samin Nosrat and her crew for raising $22,421.09 at a bakesale for Haiti in the Bay Area last Saturday.

An outpouring of cupcakes and cash came from professional chefs and home cooks in events held at three community-minded food venues: Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Gioia Pizzeria in North Berkeley, and Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District.

On offer: Sweet treats from current and former chefs of local eateries, including Chez Panisse, Pizzaiolo, Dopo, Oliveto, Lalime’s, Cafe Fanny, Bar Jules, Bacar, and Boot & Shoe Service. Their cakes and cookies got snapped up by folks eager to find a way to help Haitian relief efforts in the aftermath of the recent devastating earthquake.

My son and I stopped by Pizzaiolo.

We said hello to familiar faces, met Samin, and did a little sugar shopping for a good cause.

We chose these saffron cardamom beauties by anand confections. Divine.

Also Ici chocolate chip meringues, Tartine Bakery shortbread, and Bakesale Betty cookies.

And (we shared, honestly) brownies with mint-chocolate chips of unknown origin, and vanilla bean creme brulee baked by Kafe Kevo. Allegedly all good, not that I tasted everything, just reporting back, you understand.

In a quick phone chat today, Samin, who had just picked up a check for Partners in Health, a nonprofit medical aid organization long active in Haiti, expressed gratitude for folks’ contributions, both big and small. She made mention of chef-owner Charlie Hallowell at Pizzaiolo, who kicked in $5,000, which included donated tips from restaurant staff. Samin’s Anusara yoga teacher, John Friend, contributed another $5,000.

Buddy Jennie Schacht mobilized a bunch of Bay Area pastry chefs through the group The Bakers Dozen, and cookbook author Romney (Nani) Steele added her trademark granola to the mix.

At the amateur end, the girls JV Soccer Team at Sacred Heart Preparatory School in San Francisco made dozens of cookies, rice crispies, brownies, and cupcakes “all beautifully wrapped,” Samin says, “with lovely little notes that read: ‘made with love.'”

Samin is not new to cooking or fundraising bakesales. She’s held similar events outside Eccolo, a favorite Berkeley restaurant (now closed) where she worked, and netted about $2,000 to help victims of both Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Asia. “I thought they were pretty good takings for a morning’s work,” she says,  “but I’ve been overwhelmed with the display of generosity for the people of Haiti.”

And for Samin, linking fundraising to food is key. “It’s my experience that people really want to help but a lot of people are stuck. They literally don’t know what to do or how to take action,” Samin explains.

“What better way to bring people together than food?  It’s such a natural community builder.”

Do you know of other similar edible fundraisers to help Haiti? Please share your stories below.

Michael Pollan Talks Food Rules in San Francisco

January 23, 2010

Find out what the affable, ethical epicurean had to say today in my post on Michael Pollan for Berkeleyside.

And check back here next week for this month’s book giveaway, a signed copy of Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Fancy Food Show Winter 2010 San Francisco

January 22, 2010

I was a Fancy Food Show virgin. And I wasn’t well prepared. Had only a couple of hours on the last day to do a quick spin through the halls, with a vague notion of sampling whatever took my fancy and then diligently reporting back from the field about hot, new finds.

I failed miserably, mostly due to information and food overload. A few themes emerged. Natural, gluten-free goods out in force. Cheese and chocolate rule. Gussied up, grown-up snacks all the rage.

Sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, a non-profit trade association, the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco’s Moscone Center is a massive marketplace showcasing niche food products. And, yes, we’re talking processed food here, folks.

And large as in 184,00 square feet, 1,300 exhibitors, and 17,000 attendees from 30 countries.  It’s like throwing a Specialty Foods Olympics.

My far-from-thorough list of intriguing offerings, not necessarily hot or new.  Blue cheese from Rogue Creamery, including the rugged sounding Rogue River and Cave Man, Pan Forte Crostini from Rustic Bakery (good with all that cheese), and Secret Stash Sea Salts, with flavors like Almond Cardamon and Bloody Mary.

On the sweet side: Granola from The Bunnery made by a French family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Happy Goat caramels, made locally with, yep, goat milk, and handmade Belgian chocolates by Rogue Confections (These vintage inspired rounds are almost too beautiful to eat, don’t you think? Almost.)

And to drink: Belvoir‘s elegant, English, elderflower presse.

Some people love trade shows. Me, not so much. What won me over at this event? The international array of people along with their international array of products.

The Italian cheesemakers were adorable with their divine cheeses wrapped exquisitely in grape leaves.

The down-to-earth Aussies gave me good-natured grief, including one who sells quite lovely lemony, gluten-free cookies for the Byron Bay Cookie Company, and another from The Tasmanian Honey Company, who imports honey that tastes and smells like home.

No surprise, the Peruvians serving pisco sours from La Mar knew how to throw a party. And the European women exhibited European chic.

Here’s what else I learned on my maiden voyage:

1. It’s way more fun and educational to attend such events with fellow food folk. Thanks Nani and Dianne for leading the way.

2. You can, indeed, eat too much cheese and chocolate. (Brought to mind that Monty Python skit: ‘Where’s my bucket?”)

3. It’s a trip to go beyond the Berkeley locavore bubble and explore a whole wide world of wonderful food out there, even if we mostly source it close to home.

4. In the end, it’s the people and their pride and passion for what they produce or peddle that you remember, as much as their product.

5. Next year: Be prepared. Have a game plan. Don’t try to taste it all at once — or at least not in two hours.

Serving People, Serving Food, Days of Service: Help Haiti

January 20, 2010

Seem to have a food-related volunteer theme emerging this week. Not my intention but just going to run with it.

If ever there was a time to ignore the imperative Think Global, Act Local, this is it. Don’t you agree?

As I explained to my son on this week’s MLK Day of Service, we’re thinking and acting globally and locally. How can you not help Haiti?

For ideas with a food focus, check out my friend Nani Steele’s blog here or Kim Severson at the New York Times. Or learn more below.

But first, some background. Not a fan of government-initiated calls to duty. It’s my rebellious spirit. Still, the Day of Service I can get behind.

Last year, the event got a huge, historic turnout, fueled by almost-Prez Obama. But we arrived home from a trip Down Under that day, jet-lagged, discombobulated, and, basically, no use to anyone.

This year, I vowed, things would be different. We’d step up and do good.

I’m not new to volunteering. I used to read to kids in hospital when I first landed here. One child, David, was in a coma following a car accident.

Notes above his bed instructed his “book buddies” to read Dr. Seuss, his favorite author. At first it felt odd reading to a kid who couldn’t respond or move. But nonetheless every Monday night I read to that beautiful little boy, even though I doubted he would get better.

Well, of course, he did. I got to enjoy his sweet smile when I tickled him, by request, with a peacock feather. And I was, frankly, a teensy bit devastated when he was moved to a rehab hospital. I never knew what happened to him. He’d be 24 now.

Years later, following another major life change, this time back across the pond to my homeland, I took on another volunteer gig.

I lived in Sydney and taught English to a new mom, who happened to be a former art critic for a Korean daily paper.

I don’t know if her English improved but I know she appreciated contact with a local, chats about journalism, cultural differences, and where to find food from home.

Upon our return to the States I began volunteering in Berkeley public schools, including, as noted previously, at the Edible Schoolyard.

For the record: I’m not some charity groupie with too much time on my hands and no need to, you know, earn a living. On the contrary.

I’m a self-employed writer; code for often anxious, underemployed and underpaid. Major plus: flexible schedule. Mostly works. Except the anxious part, due to under bits.

And honestly folks, it’s not a huge time investment. Less time than most people watch TV in one day. Ninety minutes at Edible; two hours tops if I stay to help with clean up.

This may be my last year in my child’s classroom. What middle school kid wants his parent hanging around? SO EMBARRASSING. And so I am savoring the task assigned by his teacher, a departure from previous years, when I’ve helped small groups of kids with the 3 Rs.

I’m working one-on-one with a child to help improve her comprehension and reading and raise her confidence so she believes she can do both these things. Small success last week had us both jazzed. When it works well, giving feels good on both sides of the equation.

While I know I’m modeling worthwhile values that I hope my son will pursue, I also want him to directly participate in charitable acts.

Back to: What to do on this year’s Day of Service? I got inspiration from an unlikely source, none other than George Bush Jr. Finally heard something come out of his mouth I could agree with: “Lots of people want to send supplies to Haiti. They need money. Just send money.”

So we did. We did the text thing. Took barely a minute, hurt a little (there goes the allowance), and that was our global contribution.

Then we bagged up pantry goods to take to a local food bank, along with a bag of Meyer lemons from our abundant tree. You know that many food banks will take fresh produce, right?

This Saturday, we’ll combine global & local at a bakesale benefit for Haiti, organized by chef Samin Nosrat and hosted at Oakland restaurant Pizzaiolo, which, as you might imagine, makes a mean pizza but also divine donuts. (Two other participating Bay Area locations: Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco and Gioia Pizzeria in North Berkeley. All $$$ goes to Partners in Health.)

Because when all is said and done, it is money that matters most to the people of Haiti right now. Much of that for critical medical care to stave off death. But, equally important, for sustenance to live.

So what better way to funnel money where it’s so urgently needed than connecting cash to another basic human need. To eat. Food.

What say you?

Menu for Hope

December 16, 2009

Here’s a shout out for a worthy cause sponsored by food bloggers around the globe during this season of giving, getting, and overeating.

Menu for Hope is an annual, above board, fair dinkum, fundraising campaign to help feed hungry people worldwide. The devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia provided inspiration for the first campaign, which raises funds for the UN World Food Programme.

In the past three years alone the event has collected nearly a cool quarter of a million. This year the money goes to help local farmers in countries of need through a program called Purchase for Progress.

What is Menu for Hope? It’s essentially a virtual raffle. You plonk down 10 bucks a bid on a delicious donated item, or two or three. Could make a great holiday gift for family, friends, or, you know, maybe even your good self. Just purchase tickets by December 25. That’s next Friday.

Browse the array of prizes on the award-winning blog Chez Pim.  And kudos to Pim Techamuanvivit for kicking off this campaign six years ago.

I’m eyeing a bunch of tempting prizes up for grabs on the West Coast including foraging excursions, photography workshops, artisanal goodies and cookbooks signed by celeb chefs. Hmmm…what to choose?

Scroll below for a list of prizes in your neck of the woods hosted by five fab food bloggers & an in-the-know wine guy (high fives to you folks):

US: West Coast: Shauna Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl.

US: East Coast:  Helen Dujardin of Tartelette

Europe *and* the UK: David Lebovitz

Canada: Tara of Seven Spoons

Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand: Ed Charles of Tomato

Wine Blog Host: Alder Yarrow of Vinography

You might get lucky.  You’ll definitely do good. And feel good.

Winners announced January 18 on Chez Pim.

Let the bidding begin.

Gobble, Gobble & Gratitude

November 24, 2009

Hello peeps.  I know many of you are busy prepping for the annual American food fest, so I won’t keep you long.

First, full disclosure: I do not (heart) the holidays. And nothing announces the official start of the festive season than Thanksgiving. Well, I guess there’s also Halloween, the end of daylight savings, the beginning of cold & wet weather, but I digress.

Here’s my beef with end of year celebrations: Too much expectation and anticipation followed usually by, let’s be real here, disappointment. Throw in some cultural disconnect, a bit of family drama, a smidgen of self-diagnosed seasonal adjustment disorder, and meat-centric meals and, well, me and the holidays aren’t a good match.

But — wait — don’t go, this isn’t going to be a bummer blog post, promise.  When you have a kid in the picture you just have to get over yourself and any party pooper tendencies that set up shop in your psyche this time of year. I’ve learned ways to navigate this potentially challenging period (nothing like practice) and I’ll share some of them with you all. And recipes too! So stick around.

Think different. Who says you have to eat turkey and that weird Jell-O-canned-fruit-Cool-Whip concoction your relative brings every year?

The last TG I hosted I fed a hearty batch of Lentil Soup to six vegetarians on a cold winter’s night. An unconventional but popular choice.

Find more veggie fare for Thursday’s table at NPR’s Kitchen Window from San Francisco food blogger Nicole Spiridakis, along with gluten-free recipes for the big day by another local scribe Stephanie Stiavetti.

Pecan pie or pumpkin cheesecake not your kind of sweet note? I hear you, so try starting a new tradition for the end of the meal. This year, thanks to a prolific tree, I’m going to make the Meyer Lemon Tart  from the new My Nepenthe cookbook. (Recipe follows.)

Keep cool. If you suffer from last minuteitis, you’re likely scrambling to come up with a menu right now. Relax, you’ll find a great little guide over at Food News Journal, complete with hand-picked recipes for every course that should serve you well. I especially like the look of Brussels sprouts with buttered pecans courtesy of Gourmet (R.I.P).

Practice gratitude. Last year, my first solo TG in two decades, I received more than a dozen invites for dinner. A dozen. Now I know how the homeless feel: Everyone wants to feed you on Thanksgiving.  I attended three fun soirees — flirted with trouble at one, observed the raw anger of a recently divorced dad at a second (note to self: bitterness may be a key flavor but it does not make for good company at the dinner table), and plopped down for dessert & dish at a third. All that and dance class with my galpals, added up to a pretty stellar day in my mind. And while the food was good everywhere I went, it was the connection with friends that sustained me that day.

This year, my boy and I will visit with two families he’s known since birth.  We’ll take a hike and picnic with one, and then have a low-key meal and play highly-competitive games with the other. (Heard of the card game Spit? More fun than the name suggests and super addictive.)

The food will be good at both venues, natch; we all like to eat around here. But what’s likely to nourish me most on the day is the generosity, kindness, and friendship of the posse who have served as my surrogate family in the more than 20 years I’ve called this country home.

And that, from where I sit, makes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Flickr photo by Road Fun used under the Creative Commons license.

Meyer Lemon Tart

—From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele

Serves 8 to 10.

Sweet Dough:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour

Lemon Curd:
5 or 6 Meyer lemons (1 cup juice)
3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
7/8 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons butter

1. Beat the butter with the sugar, salt, and flour until just combined.

2. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan.

3. Freeze the prepared tart shell for at least 30 minutes before baking.

4. Zest half the lemons (setting the zest aside), then extract the juice from all the lemons to make about 1 cup.

5. Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined in a medium nonreactive, heatproof bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice.

6. Place the bowl over a gently simmering pot of water and whisk continuously until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

7. Whisk in the butter in pieces.

8. Cook, stirring frequently, until the curd coats the back of the spoon, another 5 minutes or so.

9. Taste and adjust the sweetness, as needed.

10. Strain the curd into a separate bowl, then whisk in the zest.

11. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface while cooling.

12. Bake the tart shell for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown in an oven preheated to 375°F.

13. Cool slightly, then spoon the lemon curd into the shell, spreading evenly with a spatula.

14. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until just set but still slightly jiggly in the middle.

15. Serve chilled with a dollop of lightly whipped cream or fresh berries.

Photo Meyer Lemon Tart: Sara Remington


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