Archive for the ‘comfort food’ Category

A Shout Out for the Eat Real Food Festival

August 29, 2009

A roasty toasty day by the bay and foodie folk swarmed Jack London Square in Oakland to sample cheap-yet-chic street eats dished out of food trucks and pedal carts at the Eat Real Festival, an outdoor event where small bites sell for five bucks or less. Thanks, in part, to Twitter, grabbing good food on the go that won’t blow the budget is all the rage in the streets of San Francisco and beyond.

Last week, SF held its own street eats event. This weekend, it’s Oaktown’s turn, led by Anya Fernald, who headed up last year’s Slow Food Nation soiree. In the mix: Farmers, foragers, canners, cooks, chefs, and civilians, who stood in line to sample some of the best of the Bay Area’s mobile food. The mood on the street wasn’t preachy or political but more like a party, with wee ones running through a water fountain, grown ups lounging on the lawn listening to hot licks or, later, watching foodie flicks. And lots of adults sipping local brews out of jam jars as an antidote to the blazing sun.

What’s not to like?

It was a tad too hot for moi to queue for tacos, pizza, or even the Sexy Soup Cart Lady. On a friend’s recommendation, I made a beeline for the sweet treats at Aisu Pop, where handcrafted popsicles in flavors such as kaffir limeade & avocado and honeydew wasabi were moving like hot cakes. Too late: Sold out! Not to worry, I moseyed down to the next ice- cream peddler, where I tasted the subtle charms of sweet corn ice cream before settling on a scoop of Mexican chocolate from the good people at Pepito. Delish. Also refreshing, a Latina pushcart vendor’s watermelon spears doused with lemon juice, salt, and a few shakes of chili for a little kick along with the cool.

Cardum Harmon and Cid Williams made a picnic in the shade as they noshed on sustainable barbecue and burgers. Their take: Why not bring the street eats back every week?


Live locally? Swing by Sunday from 10-5. Go hungry. Bring cash. Eat real.

Photos: Sarah Henry

Eat Food, Cook Food, and Don’t Forget the Salt

July 29, 2009

Perhaps the best thing about Cook Food: a manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating is that it’s a slim little volume.

That’s not some snarky reviewer comment. Writer Lisa Jervis aims to demystify how to eat well and cook simple food by keeping her book brief. She includes 20 recipes of the beans, greens, grains, tofu, and tempeh variety. Well seasoned, as Jervis advocates, these ingredients can form the basis of a decent recipe repertoire for the eco-conscious (both environmental and financial).

This guide may hit a chord with people interested in food politics who don’t have a clue about what to cook in the kitchen and don’t need pretty pictures to motivate them to make a meal. (This is not your typical photo-driven cookbook.)

Folks inspired by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Stuffed & Starved author Raj Patel, whose book blurb adorns the back cover, come to mind. And Cook Food might also serve as a handy reference for college students, making the switch from dorm life to truly independent living, who need assistance figuring out essential equipment, pantry basics, and practical tips and techniques (note to self: ditch the lame-o rice cooker and get a jelly roll pan for roasting veggies to perfection.)

Regardless, if Jervis, who sports a cool beet tattoo, happens to be reading in your neighborhood do stop by. At The Green Arcade bookstore in San Francisco last Friday, it feels like I’ve entered the kitchen of a friend who could use a little help getting the dinner on.

More group discussion and less book reading, Jervis distractedly composes a farmers’ market salad for her audience to sample to support her thesis that preparing satisfying food is within everyone’s reach.

She fields questions while she chops. We learn she’s politically aware (conscious of her carbon footprint, locavore advocate, mostly vegan), and a bit of a renegade (a liberal user of oil and salt, she signs her book, salt early, salt often). She also confesses during her cooking demo that she’s confused an Asian melon for a lemon cucumber. It doesn’t seem to faze her. There’s nothing slick going on here, which leaves you feeling comfortable that you, too, can cook food.

In this era of celebrity chefs and network cooking shows, it’s easy to feel intimidated by food.

Jervis serves as a reminder that we don’t need to be.

What Do You Eat When You Eat Alone?

June 13, 2009

True confession: When I’m home alone at night sometimes I forget to make dinner. Ten o’clock rolls around, the kitchen is closed, and so I grab a bowl of cereal and call it a night. Terrible habit I know. At least it’s whole grain cereal. It turns out, I’m in good company.

Here’s another cereal-for-solo suppers supporter:

Flickr photo by Brian Auer used under the Creative Commons license

How about you? What do you eat for dinner when nobody is looking? I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular pastime since my domestic situation shifted about 18 months ago. Half the week my kid and I eat dinner every night, mostly at home, no exceptions. The other half of the week he’s dining with his dad, leaving me free to whip up something fabulously indulgent for myself, right?

Not likely. I typically take the opportunity to eat out with friends. That’s sort of cheating. And expensive. And on a week when my son is doing a five-night stint at his father’s I rarely eat out every single one of those evenings. So, then, what’s for dinner at my house?

Initially, I had grand visions of simmering batches of soup on the stove on solo supper nights. Somehow I don’t seem to find — or make — the time to prepare these meals. So I’ve been conducting an informal survey, asking folks who find themselves making dinner for one on a regular basis what they eat. The 81-year-old widow whose memoir I’m editing tells me she cooks herself a meal chock full of vegetables. A male friend’s frequent solo feast of choice is a stir-fry. A galpal swears that Trader Joes frozen shrimp and mango cubes can be called into service to make a delicious meal. And a chef friend recalls that during her single days she delighted in buying the best cuts of meat or priciest seafood justifying the cost because she only needed small portions of each.

I’m suitably impressed. All these people take their meal at the table, with napkins and place mats, and maybe candles and a glass of wine as well. Truly, eye-opening. Clearly, eating well on your own is a learned skill.

Now, thanks to Deborah Madison, of Greens restaurant fame and the author of the wildly popular cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, we’ve got some more insights into what people chew on when no one else is watching.

Her new book, What We Eat When We Eat Alone, is a departure from her usual fare (and not just because meat features prominently). It’s written with and inspired by her hubbie, Patrick McFarlin, who got in the habit of asking this very question as an icebreaker on food trips the couple took with the Oldways Preservation Trust.  McFarlin’s whimsical illustrations accompany the stories. The book includes some 100 recipes, tweaked a tad for your solitary pleasure.

Check out the funny video found here for a flavor of what folks told the couple about eating alone. And read an excerpt, on the universal appeal of leftovers, over at Culinate.

The results of the authors’ unscientific research may surprise you. At a recent reading at Mrs. Dalloway’s book store, the couple drew laughter when they acknowledged that there appears to be something of a gender divide surrounding solo dinners.  Men frequently eat meat when on their own and their cooking often involves “sticking something into something,” like the flank steak stuffed with bacon, cheese, and mushrooms featured in the book. Women often opt for good carbs with salt or something like a salad that involves chopping and dicing. What people do when supping solo is also interesting. Some eat while watching TV, with their animals, while reading — or even in bed. Others (again, often men) pace, eat while surveying the contents of the fridge, or even wolf dinner down while leaning over the sink.

This respectful yet voyeuristic read gives a glimpse into the secret life of those of us seeking solitary sustenance, whether we’re eating alone as an aberration or on a regular basis. The book reveals that people tend to cook simple, satisfying meals that they know and love or opt to make something their partners don’t like, such as okra or sardines, when on their own.  There’s also some weird stuff like margarita mix poured over white bread — yikes — though not as many strange food choices as you might imagine in such a book.

What do this duo eat on their ownsome? Madison says she’d choose pie if it was available, though that’s usually not an option. She’s fond of braised vegetables. McFarlin’s a fan of panini.

My personal favorite food for a satisfying solo supper? Scrambled eggs. I know many Americans couldn’t imagine eating this so-called breakfast staple for dinner but, heck, throw caution to the wind and give it a whirl.  The secret ingredient for lovely, moist scramble? Cream, glorious, cream. Thank you Bill Granger of the much-lauded bills restaurants in Sydney for this ingredient insight. For scrambled eggs for one use 2 eggs and about a third a cup of cream. Find the full recipe here. I look in my veggie crisper and dice up nice and fine anything fresh and colorful and whack that in as well. Often orange pepper, baby spinach, and red onion find their way into the mix. Goat cheese is a nice addition too. Bill scrambled egg purists may sniff at such suggestions. So be it.

Now it’s your turn. Do tell: What kind of grub goes down your gullet at nighttime when no one’s looking? Feel no fear, guilt, or shame. Judging by Madison’s and McFarlin’s account, it appears that there are many culinary commonalities among solitary eaters, revealing that we’re never really alone even when we’re dining at a table for one.

Flickr photo by avlxyz used under the Creative Commons license

The Comfort of Food

May 27, 2009

It turns out it is impossible to write a food blog when one is struck by a violent stomach bug. Have no fear dear reader, no graphic details follow.

Down for the count for most of last week, I lost six pounds (we’ll see how long that lasts) and am only now, gingerly, making my way back into the land of food. No recipes today. I think most folks know how to make white rice, apple sauce, and black tea, which is pretty much all I had.

But now that I’m on the mend, I’ve been thinking about how much joy gets sucked out of your world when you can’t break bread with people.


Last week I canceled two cooking classes. Gone, too, was the spanakopita I intended to serve at the annual staff appreciation lunch at my kid’s school. Ditto the chocolate-mint frosted cupcakes for the spring fair bake sale. And the lemon blueberry bundt cake my son and I wanted to make to thank our neighbor Lance for his many kindnesses, like mowing our “lawn” and sharing baseball tickets. When you’re unable to eat you also miss out on all those lunches, dinners, tea breaks, and quick drinks with friends that get penciled onto the calendar before illness comes calling.

Life sans sustenance, and the social interaction that goes with it, is a bit grim. And yet in the middle of the worst of it, my ten-year-old was delighted to have a go at making his own dinner. And he took on the task of ferrying glasses of water from the kitchen to the couch with great diligence. When I was able to keep a modest bowl of plain white rice on board I was both happy and humbled. Friends rallied by offering to feed and entertain the offspring —  or simply showed up with ginger ale, diluted broth, or whatever else they thought might ease my suffering.

When I started penning these posts a couple of months ago, my intention was to focus on eating lots of leafy vegetables and whole grains. You know, the sort of food that is supposed to keep you healthy.  Funny how unappealing all that wholesome stuff sounds when you’re sick. I have a pantry packed with brown food and a fridge full of green veggies that I literally can’t stomach. And when I think of my last pre-sickness supper — a quick pasta fix with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts, blue cheese, and cream — I still wince. I don’t think I’ll be able to face this former favorite for quite some time.

Enough with all this illness, it’s time to return to the world of wellness, eating, and a regular routine.  But before I do, I’m curious to hear from others about what kinds of food they turn to when they’re under the weather. Growing up, we used to get dry toast with just the thinnest coating of Vegemite, that dark, pungent, yeasty spread that Australian kids consume with abundance and many Americans would likely feel sick at the sight — and smell — of. These days, it’s not what I’d seek out for comfort when I’m feeling crook (that’s Aussie slang for sick).

Everyone seemed to have a cure for what ailed me. Haiga rice said one. Some kind of fermented Japanese food I didn’t quite get the name of said another. The ubiquitous chicken soup added a veritable army.

So what soothes your stomach when it’s out of sorts? Chime in with your tried-and-true health tonic. In the meantime, keep well.


Lentil Soup: An Antidote to Swine Flu Fever

May 8, 2009

I knew trouble was brewing. The ol’ scratchy throat, lethargy, and pounding headache were all clues. So I started sipping lemon-honey-herbal tea, downed Airborne, Emergen-C, and some Chinese immune-boosting pills a pal slipped in my purse, wrapped my neck in a warm scarf, and tried to rest. I was determined to ward off whatever dreaded lurgy was lurking.

Alas, the germs won, despite my best efforts. I came down with every “itis” under the sun — laryngitis, conjunctivitis, cold-itis, fatigue-itis. No fever-itis, though, just a garden-variety virus-itis. Still, for about a week I was sick.

So I did what President Obama advises, and my kid’s school superintendent urges — and, um, common sense would dictate — I canceled all my commitments and stayed home in the hope that I would 1. get better and 2. not spread the misery.

Aside from work (home office), picking up and dropping off my kid (the pink eye, a really wicked case, kept me off school grounds), and caring for my son, I basically quarantined myself. No yoga, dance class, hiking, or sailing (not that I felt like doing anything so active). No in-person work meetings or interviews. No school volunteering. No teaching a parent nutrition class.

Amazingly, I got better, only to reenter the real world and the paranoia over piggy or  H1N1 flu.  (An aside for other immigrants: doesn’t that name bring to mind all those visa classifications we have to wade through?)  The whole hog brouhaha hit home in a major way. Yes, I am a proud parent of a child whose school was closed during the swine flu scare. Where’s my bumper sticker?

Happened to have a house full of ten-year-old boys when the news hit, so I calmly explained what was going on and why, stressing for this somewhat anxious and analytical crew that there was nothing to be alarmed about.  The health officials responsible for the decision were simply being very conservative and cautious in their approach to handling the contagion.

I needn’t have worried.  The four boys did a little dance of glee, started making plans for playdates and sleepovers, and then went back to the serious business of beating each other with boffers (not as bad as it sounds).

Meanwhile, the less-than-impressed parents began shooting off emails in an effort to figure out childcare swaps for the workweek ahead.  Then we started to get a barrage of information in the inbox about whether or not we should, ah, come together. Stuff like: “Students should stay home and away from other people and groups.” One family decided to follow these instructions to the letter and dropped out of the makeshift co-op. Fair enough. I wondered whether we’d be treated like pariahs if we showed up for regularly scheduled programming.

As the week progressed, complications developed. Would we care for a child with a cough and cold? Hmmm. I’m a little tired of sickness setting up shop in my family. A month or so ago my son was felled by the worst flu he’d ever had (I suspect it could have been the oink-oink variety, but I have no proof.) He ran fevers of 103-105 for three days, was delirious one night, begging me to “turn down the microphones.”

By day, my normally busy, active boy lay listless on the couch, in the dark, not even interested in reading, one of his greatest pleasures. When I attempted to read to him he said softly, ” Please stop, Mama. It’s hurting my head.” Unheard of. A big believer in just letting an illness run its course, I was concerned enough to call the pediatrician who suggested we come in to rule out anything truly terrible. He was impressed that a kid who showed up with a fever of 102.5 was still standing and coherent. So was I being overprotective — or simply following routine public health protocols — when I balked at the idea of my kid spending the day in close quarters with a buddy with a minor malady?

Before things got tricky, the district reversed itself. School was now open for business again. Everyone’s childcare crisis averted, kids trundled back to class Wednesday in various stages of good and not-so-good health. My son wasn’t one of them. He woke up that morning complaining of a sore throat.

Here in Northern California we’re having wacky spring weather — a crazy hot beach week followed by rainy, cold, curl-up-with-soup days. I hear the East Coast has been dealing with similar temperature swings. This weekend, we’re back to balmy temps and blue skies.  Sickness always seems to come calling during such wild seasonal shifts. That’s when a bowl of soup can be your best friend.

Lentil Soup

(This recipe is probably adapted from somewhere, just honestly can’t recall where. Update: Works especially well with the addition of a teaspoon or so of caraway seeds for some extra zip.)

It’s easily tweaked to accommodate the ingredients you have on hand (or not). Season to taste; some folks prefer more heat than others. Comfort food for cold days, when you’re under the weather or not. I’ve even dished this up for Thanskgiving dinner.

1013229679_aa04e7f201_b Flickr photo by photobunny used under the Creative Commons license

You Need:

3 cups of red or green lentils or yellow split peas
4 carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale (stems removed) or spinach, roughly chopped
6-8 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
salt & pepper to taste
cilantro or parsley (minced, for garnish)
non-fat, plain yogurt (optional)


1. Saute onion and garlic for a few minutes in a large soup pot. Add spices.

2. Add celery and carrots and cook for 5 minutes or so.

3. Mix in lentils and enough stock or water to cover ingredients. Cover with pot and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes, until all ingredients are tender.

4. Add kale or spinach to soup and mix over low-medium heat until greens are wilted (stir occasionally). Cook for another 20 minutes or so. Lentils should be soft when cooked.

5. Garnish with herbs, add a swirl of yogurt, if desired.

6. Soup should be quite thick in consistency. Serve as is or ladle over brown rice or quinoa for a meal in a bowl.