Archive for the ‘food books’ 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

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A Culinary Confession

March 23, 2010

I blame Bakesale Betty.  If the blue-haired Aussie-American Alison hadn’t lured me into her store with lamingtons and sticky date pudding I would never have succumbed to the charms of her legendary fried chicken sandwiches, which cause perfectly sane people to line up on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland. For a sandwich. I kid you not.

It also doesn’t help that Bakesale Betty is on my way home from my editing gig and I’m often ravenous as I drive by, doing a quick scan to see if there’s 1. a line snaking down the street or 2. any parking.

If the parking gods and queue karma are on my side, I’m in and out with one of her sandwiches before you can say hello hypocrite.

Let me explain. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 17, when I gave up meat in what my mum, a good cook, viewed as just another one of my rebellious teenage acts. Despite growing up in a meat-loving land, where the backyard barbie rules, I became a greens and legumes kinda gal.

For more than a quarter of a century, I lived the veg life. To be precise, I guess I’m technically a pescatarian, as I sometimes eat seafood. Especially in my hometown, Sydney, because — news flash — fabo fish to be had Down Under peeps.

So how to explain the recent chicken sandwich obsession? What can I say? I think I’m having a middle-aged meat crisis. Some 20 years ago I introduced the man who would become the father of my child to the virtues of a vegetarian diet. Hell, I married him at Greens. My 11-year-old kid has never, ever eaten an ounce of animal flesh.  (His choice. I’m no zealot.)  My blog is called — duh — Lettuce Eat Kale. I’ve watched Food, Inc. I frequent farmers’ markets. You get the idea.

I should be a poster girl for a pro-produce life.

And yet…a couple of years ago around a certain time in my cycle I began craving protein. No worries, fish usually did the trick. Then I started to slip a bit when sharing food at ethnic restaurants around town. Chicken raised with love, care, good feed, and bucolic views began to find its way into my mouth. What the heck was happening?

I wasn’t sure, but I suspected hormones played a role. I also knew I wasn’t dealing with this particular omnivore’s dilemma on my own.  My friend Connie was a vegetarian — until she got pregnant with her first kid 16 years ago. Then it was off to the steak house for her and she’s never looked back.  My dance instructor, Amara Tabor-Smith, eschewed animal protein for decades — she didn’t like the texture — and is now tentatively getting reacquainted with meat.

I’d always assumed, along with many others I suspect, that vegetarian cookbook superstars Deborah Madison and Mollie Katzen didn’t eat meat. Not so, I discovered in the past year during chats with both chefs. Mollie describes herself as a “meat nibbler,” and Deborah’s not opposed to the occasional piece of grass-fed, local beef.

Their most recent books, Get Cooking by Mollie, and What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah, include meat recipes. Still, both women favor a diet where greens, grains, and legumes dominate the dinner plate.  Mollie supports the Meatless Monday campaign and both believe most meat eaters would do well to eat less animal and more plant foods.

Eating meat after years — or even a lifetime — of a solely plant-based diet seems to be something of a trend. For people who chose vegetarianism for ethical or environmental reasons, sourcing meat sustainably is now often a viable alternative to factory-farmed animals, and so some have decided to include it sparingly in their diet.

(Bucking this seemingly female shift, is wonder boy writer Jonathan Safran Foer, who dabbled with vegetarianism for years but fully committed after he became a pet owner. He will probably convert masses to the cause with his description of chicken fecal soup and other horrors of industrial animal slaughter in his recent book, Eating Animals.)

In this confusing time, I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit in Tara Austen Weaver, the warm and witty writer who blogs about meat and many other food matters at Tea & Cookies.  I can so relate to the mental tug-of-war that underlies her recent book The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One Woman’s Romp through a World of Men, Meat, and Moral Crisis.  Tara didn’t have a choice in her vegetarian childhood — she was raised that way by a Northern California hippie mama.

Several years ago, she started exploring eating meat for health reasons.  Her descriptions of buying, prepping, and cooking meat resonate with me because I haven’t actually ever gone and purchased a chicken or, um, chicken bits and made dinner. That notion makes me feel nauseous, to be honest. I don’t even like looking at raw meat.

I know, I know, I’m the worst kind of turncoat. I leave the house to get a bit of hot flesh on the side. When my son stopped by home unexpectedly the other afternoon, I found myself hiding aforementioned cluck, cluck sandwich before opening the door. Clearly, I have some conflicted feelings about my dietary changes.

So what to call myself: A lapsed vegetarian?  A vegetarian who cheats?

I thank the funny Adair Seldon of Lentil Breakdown for introducing me to the term flexitarian, which seems to fit for now, loathe as I am to saddle myself or anyone else with a label.

For the record, I seem to have no desire to move on to “harder” meats, like beef, pork, or lamb.  (An aside: Why isn’t it cow, pig, and sheep? I suspect it’s a way for many of us to remain in denial about where meat actually comes from.) Speaking of denial: No pics of meat in this post! The hypocrisy continues.

And I’ve never had any interest in eating creatures I see on hiking trails such as ducks, rabbits, quail, deer, elk, and the like. But since chicken is becoming a somewhat regular fix (once or twice a month), I’ve learned never to say never.

My vegetarianism stemmed in part, from my inability to kill an animal, hence my healthy respect for folks like Novella Carpenter, who don’t flinch at taking responsibility for ending the life of an animal they’ve raised for food. I feel cowardly in the carnivore arena by comparison.

Penning this post has probably blown my chances of ever writing for Vegetarian Times or VegNews (though I do think this topic is one such mags would do well to cover.)

But you won’t find meat recipes on this blog, although I’m sure some veggies will unsubscribe in disgust at my wishy-washy vegetarianism.

That would be a shame. Because I am still the girl who obsesses about eating greens. Nothing makes me happier than a meal packed with produce. I am, to borrow a term Mollie Katzen used in a recent Civil Eats story, very much a pro-vegetable person, a vegetabilist.

And I view healthy eating in much the same way I see sexuality.  In my mind, most humans are basically bisexual, it just depends where on the spectrum you fall in terms of how you define your sexual orientation.

Similarly, we’re probably all on an omnivore continuum, with some of us falling firmly on the carnivorous end and others of us way down on the other end of the line very much in vegetarian or even vegan territory.

In the end, come dinner time, it’s a personal choice what we put on our plate and the justifications we make with ourselves and our sometimes contradictory culinary choices are our own to live with as we figure out our place on the food chain and what our bodies need to stay well.

I welcome your thoughts below.

Mollie Katzen: Get Cooking Author Dishes

March 4, 2010

Mollie Katzen is perhaps best known for her whimsically-illustrated, hand-lettered vegetarian classics Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

The author of a trio of popular children’s cookbooks, Pretend Soup, Honest Pretzels, and Salad People, Mollie played a major role in mainstreaming a plant-based diet in modern American kitchens.

Inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2007, Mollie’s most recent book, Get Cooking, was recently nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals Award.

I’ve interviewed Mollie for articles about feeding children, where her trademark warm and wise approach to cooking comes through.

She hopes her latest book will encourage eaters everywhere to fall in love with the fine art of making a home-cooked meal.

To enter the Get Cooking giveaway leave a comment here.

1. What inspired you to write a cookbook for beginners?

Lots of people asked for it and I like to write books people need.  My son, who is 25, had just moved to his own small apartment in New York City and he and his friends wanted to know how to make simple but satisfying dishes.

So I wanted to do a book that would appeal to young adults who are just setting up their own homes and older adults who hadn’t learned to cook but wanted to now. This book has also found an audience with both the newly married and the freshly divorced. Sometimes you fill a need you weren’t expecting to find.

Learning to cook is key to many human needs: nourishment, health, economic and environmental sustainability, and a quality social life.

A lot of people simple can’t afford to eat out but they want to enjoy the pleasures of the table with a delicious home-cooked meal, a good bottle of wine, and great company. I wanted to help make that happen.

2. This is your first solo cookbook with meat dishes. Why that departure for you?

I include beef, chicken, and fish recipes in Get Cooking because people asked how to cook some classic meat recipes. Beginning cooks often want to know how to roast a chicken, make hamburgers, or pan-fry fish.

I’m not an ethical vegetarian or a crusader for a no-meat diet. I have eaten small portions of animal protein for quite some time. I’ve never prescribed a vegetarian-only diet or spoken out against eating animals.

I do eat a mostly vegetarian diet and I do think most Americans need to learn how to eat less meat in their diet. But I’m not dogmatic about it.

3. I’ve noticed you’ve recently embraced social media. What do you think of Twitter?

My book publisher wanted me to tweet, to reach a younger, wider audience. I resisted it for a long time and then I grumpily, reluctantly started to do it.

It took me a while to find my voice but now I tweet about five times a day. I see it as a way to be of service to my readers. I like to offer useful information, cooking encouragement, and share recipes.

I see my role as a kind of cheering squad for home cooks everywhere. I don’t write tweets telling people I just made a cup of coffee.

And I’ve found Twitter a very supportive community. In January I was featured in a Newsweek story about people who betrayed their vegetarian base. But I was never interviewed for the story and there were a lot of mistakes and misconceptions about my beliefs in the piece.

I received a bunch of hate mail following its publication. The Twitter community provided a lot of support and understanding during a very difficult time for me.

4. What’s next?

I’d like to do a Meatless Monday cookbook. Most Americans do need to find ways to reduce the amount of animal protein in their diets.

I’d also like to do another cookbook illustrated with my graphics or drawings.  For me, the visuals are as much a part of the recipe as the words. My son tells me, rather bluntly, that today’s generation of cooks don’t want to see hand-lettering like in the Moosewood Cookbook.

But I think there’s still room for me to express myself in my preferred visual mediums. I’m working on an idea for a book with recipes that have just five ingredients. There are similar books out there, but I’d put my own spin on it. It would feature a lot of vegetables and it might be the perfect forum for my art.

5. What motivates you, after almost 35 years of publishing cookbooks, to keep writing them?

I really care about people being able to cook. It’s so important to have those skills.

That’s why I like the work I do at Harvard University with young students as part of the Food Literacy Project.

Part of the thinking behind the project is that the university wants to turn out bright, well-rounded, citizens who have cooking skills and know how to be at a table.  A lot of what happens in the world happens at the table, whether it’s business, or the sharing of ideas, beliefs, and values, or simple social interaction.

It’s really important to me that we keep the table as part of home life.

Photo: Lisa Keating

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.

Cool Cuisine Author Advocates Green Grub to Save Globe

January 14, 2010

Laura Stec combines her passion for the planet with a love of food in her efforts to promote green cuisine — eating healthily and well while treading lightly on Mother Earth.

And she’s got the cred to back up her good intentions.  Laura trained at the Culinary Institute of America, School of Natural Cookery, and (now closed) Vega Macrobiotic Study Center, and did stints at several restaurants before launching her own Bay Area-based personal chef/catering business.

Her green-cuisine clients include Google, Harvard University, Ralph Nader, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Kaiser Permanente Medical Group hired Laura as a culinary health instructor and she’s worked for more than a dozen years with Acterra, a local environmental organization.

Laura believes that we can help our fragile planet by paying attention to what’s on our dinner plates. In classrooms and corporations she educates eaters of all ages on how to make eco-friendly food choices.

Last month’s book giveaway Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming generated lots of entries; I thought readers might like to learn more about the author’s philosophy and how to limit their carbon footprint in the kitchen.

1. What exactly is a cool cuisine?

Cool cuisine reduces your overall impact on the earth’s ecology by using less animal products, processed foods, bottled water, and food and packaging waste, and using more fresh, organic, seasonal, and locally grown foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

2. What prompted you to pen Cool Cuisine?

I had an “NPR driveway moment” in 2006, when I heard about a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, called Livestock’s Long Shadow. I learned that conventionally raised cattle are responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making livestock a substantial part of the global-warming problem. I couldn’t get out of my car until I heard the whole report.

Then the words, “Global Warming Diet” popped into my head. I ran into the house to Google the term and found only one reference.

3. Many readers already take environmentally-conscious measures on the food front — buying from farmers’ markets, growing their own, composting, recycling, carrying a reusable tote, and eschewing bottled water. What can people do to step it up a notch?

A lot of people are over-educated about this issue and undernourished. By that I mean most people’s culinary knowledge is limited, so I recommend that they focus on learning more about what and how TO eat, such as how to cook different whole grains, instead of getting caught up on what NOT to eat, like eliminating meat from their diet.

Learning techniques such as how to cook vegetables correctly to maximize taste and nutrients, which means keeping water far away from vegetables, so roast, grill, or saute rather than boil or steam, can help increase motivation, satisfaction, health, and culinary joy.

It’s also important to learn how to flavor foods with herbs, spices, artisanal salts, and other seasonings in place of animal fat. And experiment with less common whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, or millet and different cooking methods for these grains, such as baking, toasting, or pressure-cooking.

Stock a condiment plate with seasonings such as toasted sesame oil, nori shakes, nutritional yeast, green Tabasco Sauce–whatever you like. I call a condiment plate salt and pepper with a college education.

4. What’s your biggest eco-unfriendly guilty pleasure?

Travel by airplane.

5. Can you care about the future of the planet and still eat meat?

Absolutely. Hooved animals have a vital role in the health of the environment. I was a vegetarian for 17 years and I basically still am for environmental reasons. I rarely eat meat but I don’t judge others’ choices. I do recommend people cut their meat consumption and buy local, grass-fed, pasture-raised meats and dairy products for their health and the health of the planet.

6. Where do you see hope that we may actually be able to, as you say, take the bite out of global warming?

The average eater is motivated by pleasure. As unfortunate as it is, many of us don’t like being involved in environmental or political issues, but ALL of us like food. Not everyone votes, but everyone eats.

By choosing cool cuisine, people are getting better tasting, more nutrient-dense food, with a side dish of environmental caretaking. Food is a powerful tool. Having said that, people do feel a broader connection to the earth and their role in protecting it these days. Both these things give me hope for our future.

7. Any final advice for folks interested in adopting a cool cuisine approach to eating?

Don’t guilt trip yourself — or anyone else — out of doing things; instead explore cooking and eating in new ways. And “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” wise words from French philosopher Voltaire.

Take small steps when making changes in your diet as you learn what foods you enjoy eating and cooking, two of our most primal human pleasures. Along the way, you’ll get even more satisfaction knowing it’s good for the earth as well. Have fun with it.

Readers: Would you agree?

Book Giveaway: My Nepenthe

November 13, 2009

It’s always tricky to write about a pal’s book, you don’t want to come off sounding like a fawning friend, frankly.

So, in the case of My Nepenthe by Romney “Nani” Steele, I’m going to let others hand out the praise. Sunset describes Nani’s cookbook-cum-memoir as “a valentine to one of the most beautiful places to eat in the world.” Michael Pollan calls it “a very special book about a very special place.” And epicurious just named it the best American regional cookbook of 2009.

If you know Big Sur, home to the iconic Nepenthe restaurant, the area and the eatery need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with this small, rural California Central Coast enclave perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean then you should add it to your list of places to visit before you die. Really.

For 60 years Nepenthe has served comfort food with a view to locals, travelers, and tourists. And so much more: for the artists, nature lovers, spiritual seekers, writers, and wanderers who stop by, this magical spot transcends what comes out of the kitchen.

In My Nepenthe Nani, 44, a writer, chef, and food stylist, reveals the colorful back story to this family restaurant, founded by her grandparents Bill and Lolly Fassett, including the unorthodox life they lived, the eclectic boho community they cultivated, and Nani’s own foray into running Cafe Kevah as a European-style eatery with slow food sensibilities located on the same site as the “House of No Sorrow.”

romney.steele.2If you’re curious to find out more, read my Q&A with the author over at the hyper-local site Berkeleyside.

To win a copy of this visually lush book, filled with 85 restaurant recipes tweaked for the tastes of today’s home cooks, leave a comment about a special place  — and a local eatery that adds to the area’s charm. Submit your entry by 10 p.m. PST on Friday, November 20 and I’ll pick a winner from the suggestions shared below.

Update: Thanks to all who entered — you guys made me hungry for places both near and far. So many great suggestions I couldn’t decide, so I put your names into a pot (my desk is next to my kitchen) and the winner, chosen at random is: Christine, for her suggestion of the worldly Vagabond in San Diego. Congrats. an autographed copy of My Nepenthe is on its way to you. Look for another book giveaway in December.

To whet your appetite, a few recipes from the pages of My Nepenthe follow.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles

Serves 4

½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
²⁄³ cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 ounces dried pappardelle pasta or other wide pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing

Considered gold by the culinary world, found chanterelles were a regular part of my grandmother’s Sunday night dinners and were
often featured in the Thanksgiving meal.

Gently clean the mushrooms with a dry brush. Avoid soaking in water. Trim any dry stems. Slice the mushrooms into ½-inch pieces.

Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta in a colander.

Add the pasta to the mushrooms in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Cook over moderately high heat, tossing the pasta to coat and adding pasta water to moisten if needed, until thoroughly coated.

Stir in the parsley and lemon zest.

Divide the pasta among 4 warm plates and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Pass additional Parmesan separately.

Chopped Salad with Roquefort Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

Roquefort Dressing

2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried mustard
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 ounces Roquefort cheese
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup canola or safflower oil

Chopped Salad

2 heads romaine lettuce
1 head green leaf lettuce
4 to 6 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

Combine the garlic, basil, oregano, mustard, pepper, sugar, and salt in a clean glass jar.

Crumble the cheese and add to the jar. Add the vinegar and oils.

Cover and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

You will have more than enough dressing; refrigerate any extra.

For the salad:

Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuces, trimming the ends and discarding any bruised leaves.

Tear into bite-size pieces and place in individual chilled bowls. Top with the desired amount of dressing, making sure each salad has
plenty of blue cheese chunks. Add the cherry tomatoes and grind black pepper over the tops.

nepenthe.fabric.slice

Pumpkin Spice Cake (Bohemian Wedding Cake)

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake, serving 10 to 12

1 cup whole-wheat flour (not pastry flour)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 1¾ cups)
¼ cup molasses
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Sour Cream Frosting:

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, knocking out any excess flour.

For the cake:

Combine the whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl: stir together the oil and brown sugar, mixing well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin puree and then the molasses.

Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted  in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert and cool completely.

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and mix well. It should be thinner than a typical cream cheese frosting.

Place the cake on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and all over the side. Freeze any leftover frosting, or reserve for muffins or cupcakes.

— All Recipes From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Photo of Romney Steele by Doug McKechnie

Cookbook Giveaway: The Gastrokid Cookbook

October 29, 2009

This month’s book giveaway, The Gastrokid Cookbook: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-Food World, comes to us from two dedicated foodie fathers who are determined to keep things interesting in the kitchen after children enter the dining picture.

Hugh Garvey, features editor at Bon Appetit, and Matthew Yeomans, who writes about eating for a slew of major magazines, have kids who eat blue cheese, grilled octopus, bibimbap, and anchovy-stuffed olives.

But don’t let that scare you away, Garvey’s son is a choosy chowhound and the recipes in these pages are simple, wholesome fare you could imagine getting on the table after a day’s work. Check out this Chicago Tribune review for more details.

I can vouch for Roasted Chickpea Bruschetta, Ravioli with Brown Butter, Sage & Parmesan, Green Beans & Cherry Tomatoes, and Violet’s Crumble. And the line notes will put you at ease, like this one accompanying the Parsley and Pine Nut Pasta Sauce recipe: “Here’s a quick sauce that came, as many of our recipes do, from necessity and an understocked pantry.” Can you relate?

The book includes 10 rules for reclaiming the family dinner table, including this one: Never call a kid a picky eater. If I had a quibble, it’s the name of the book that’s a tad off-putting to me, but that may be cultural. The dads coined the expression, which also graces their Web site, as a way to describe a child with gastronomy (the study of food) awareness, who is sometimes the offspring of foodie parents.

Where I grew up, “gastro” describes a stomach ailment (short for gastroenteritis), so a Gastrokid sounds to me like a child who has diarrhea. Sorry, guys, I don’t think I’m alone in this association.

But that’s a minor point. To win a copy of this otherwise appealing book submit your favorite, quick, easy-to-prepare, kid-approved, adult-friendly, delicious dinner dish by 10 p.m. PST on Thursday November 5 and I’ll choose an inspiring example as the prize winner. So start sifting through your best recipes.

Update: Thanks to all for sharing their go-to recipes for simple, satisfying suppers. Some great suggestions to add to your repertoire. The copy of Gastrokid goes to Cee for her Chickpea Curry (scroll the comment section for details), which sounds like a one-pot wonder. Cee: Send me your contact details and I’ll ship the book off to you.

Thanks to everyone for entering this contest and check back later this month to win a copy of the beautiful new cookbook My Nepenthe.

Reassurance for Parents of Picky Eaters

September 25, 2009

Time to debunk a few myths for those of us raising choosy chowhounds.  It’s not your fault. Except when it is. I’ll explain below.  Also, it’s not a problem. Unless, of course, you decide it is. More on that later too.

I don’t mean to be cryptic or glib about something that many parents — including moi — have grappled with over the years. If you’re concerned that your kid’s food fussiness is affecting his growth and development, then of course consult his pediatrician.

And believe me, I do understand just how challenging it is to feed a child who has, ah, definite ideas about what he’s going to eat. And, yes, those stories about smug celebrity chefs whose offspring eat oysters and offal make me want to tear my hair out too.

It’s just my boy is 11 now, I can see the light at the end of the “plain tofu please, Mummy” tunnel, and he’s a healthy, strapping lad who loves wholesome food, even though he is still particular about what and how he eats. (Strictly veg. Mostly raw. Preferably not touching. About five regular protein sources.) So be it.

But don’t just take my word for it. What follows, sound advice about raising a fussy eater  — all gleaned from foodie fathers. I don’t know what to make of that, if anything, other than to say: Thanks, Dads.

Ethical epicurean Michael Pollan‘s teenage son Isaac is mostly over the selective slurping stage — which tends to peak in the toddler and preschool period — but he would only eat white food for many years, according to an intriguing recent interview with writer David Beers.

We’re talking bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. (Interestingly, Isaac would only wear black clothes back then as well, his dad reports.) That’s right: Ate white, and dressed black. Pollan, puzzled by his son’s behavior, finally figured out that in both cases his boy was trying to reduce sensory input. The kid clearly had some trouble processing stuff, including the sight, taste, feel, and smell of food, so he tried to make it as bland and inoffensive as possible.

I could prattle on about my own experience with a son who has super sensitive sensory receptors but let me just add: This makes total sense to me. Trying to manage sensory stimulation when you’re an overly sensitive soul is simply a survival skill.

Pollan’s son seems to have found a way to handle sensory input and enjoys cooking. He’s even a bit of  of a food snob (those sensitive sensory organs at work, no doubt). My son’s the same: He’ll taste a sauce and is usually spot on in his assessment of whether it needs a drizzle of lemon juice, a splash of sesame oil, or a tad more garlic.

Chances are then, if your wee one seems sensory sensitive, he may actually outgrow his food finickiness as he becomes more adept at managing sensory input.

What to do in the meantime? As nutritionist Ellyn Satter has wisely advised for years: A parent’s job is to put the food on the table — period. It’s the kid’s job whether and how much to eat. End of story. Now, if we parents could all just follow that sage advice…

Pollan isn’t the only papa with a particular eater. Seattle food writer Matthew Amster-Burton devotes an entire chapter to the phenomenon in his recent book Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.  Early on his daughter Iris packed away pad Thai and spicy enchiladas, spinach and Brussels sprouts and Amster-Burton amusingly figured it was because of his impeccable culinary skills and no-compromise approach to child feeding.

Well, every seasoned parent knows how that one turned out. Iris developed strong opinions about what she’d eat, her dad’s preference for spicy food, be damned.

Amster-Burton didn’t freak out about his daughter’s about face. But he was curious to find out what it might mean for her health. Not much, it turns out.

Here’s what he discovered in the course of working on his book: Researchers at the University of Tennessee reviewed the eating habits of 70 kids from ages two to seven, who were divided into two groups: picky and non-picky.  They found, as their parents indicated, that finicky eaters ate a smaller variety of food and were afraid to try new foods (called food neophobia in the scientific lingo) than the children who’d chow down on anything. No surprises so far.

But here’s the kicker: A nutritional analysis revealed that the selective slurpers got just as many nutrients as the kids who gobbled everything put in front of them and there was no difference in height and weight between the two groups, according to the study findings reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

So, then, picky eating may be frustrating but it’s not a medical problem, in the vast majority of cases. Amster-Burton checked with another source — his mom — and discovered that for, oh, about seven years all he’d eat was Cheerios, mac & cheese, pizza, white chicken meat if it didn’t touch anything else, and PB&Js.

Amster-Burton isn’t the first parent to pass on his picky palate. Yes, folks, that’s right: Your child may well inherit his food fussiness and fear of new food from you. A 2007 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a child’s aversion to unfamiliar foods has a compelling genetic component. Investigators analyzed the eating habits of 5, 390 pairs of twins between 8 and 11 years old and found that in 78 percent of cases the picky palates were inherited. Guilty as charged in this corner. My son’s selective ways are probably some cosmic payback for all those Sundays when I boiled an egg while the rest of my clan tucked into burgers.

Amster-Burton acknowledges that having a finicky eater on board can be tiresome when you’re trying to put a meal on the table that everyone in the family wants to eat. Rather than “hide” unfavorite foods (a controversial practice that’s received a lot of attention of late), make two meals, or sign up for a nightly food fight, he looks for way to satisfy his taste buds and his kid’s. Hot sauce helps.

I learned with my raw food aficionado to simply, duh, set aside some uncooked veggies I was chopping up anyway for a stir-fry or pasta dish. In addition, the adults of a picky eater need to become more adventurous themselves, Amster-Burton suggests, and in doing so may stumble on something new their child likes to eat.  He discovered his daughter loves sukiyaki, a Japanese beef-noodle-and vegetable dish, so that’s now part of his family’s dinner-time repertoire.

Hugh Garvey, an editor at Bon Appetit magazine, has a son Desmond, 5, who is primarily a brownivore and nearly a full-time greenophobe, says the co-author of the just published Gastrokid: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-Food World. Garvey’s family serves as something of a petri dish: His daughter Violet, 8, eats it all, thus debunking the myth that “bad” parenting produces picky eaters. In fairness to Garvey’s little guy, he currently consumes anchovies, octopus, and bison; in many circles that would earn him adventurous eater cred right there.

Not surprisingly, Garvey’s all for doing away with the picky eater label. And he’s pretty philosophical about the situation with his son. “We don’t cater to his druthers as much as we used to and we keep trying,” he writes.  Seasoning can work wonders — Garvey’s book features several recipes with smoked Spanish paprika — and he recommends that an ingredient shouldn’t be placed on the no-go list (and then only temporarily) until it’s been offered in a variety of ways, whether steamed, pureed, roasted, sauteed, or julienned — or, might I suggest, completely raw and unadorned.

Garvey offers this succinct assessment of eating with kids: “The only inevitable at the family table is surprise.” That strikes me as a pretty healthy attitude to this whole predicament. What say you?

Recipe Guide Giveaway: My Lunch Box

September 21, 2009

my.lunch.boxIf you’re like many parents, a few weeks into the new school year you’re probably desperate to come up with some different lunch ideas that your kid will eat, don’t take too long to make, and cover the nutritional bases.

Help is on its way. Check out my recent blog post which includes suggestions and links for spicing things up on the school lunch front. Since I penned that post, I’ve discovered a couple of other resources you may want to look at. Eating Well put together a big back-to-school recipe guide, including creative ways to add brain-fueling foods such as oatmeal, yogurt, and beans. And in partnership with Whole Foods, school lunch reform advocate Ann Cooper launched thelunchbox.org, an online toolbox for improving lunches served up by school districts across the country.

If you’re after more lunch box recipes then this contest is for you. Share your most successful school lunch idea in the comment space below and you’ll be in the running to win a free My Lunch Box: 50 Recipes for Kids to Take to School by Hilary Shevlin Karmilowicz, a former chef, and current cooking teacher and mom, with illustrations by Rebecca Bradley.

Like a lot of products marketed by Chronicle Books, My Lunch Box comes in a clever (or gimmicky, depending on your perspective) package.  (Full disclosure here: I’m the author of City Walks: Sydney, one of Chronicle’s guides in the popular travel deck series.) In this instance, the material is presented in the form of a recipe card box, not a traditional cookbook. It’s the sort of thing that could easily fit on a kitchen counter for when you or your child need a little lunchtime inspiration.

Inside you’ll find new spins on old standbys like Swirlin’ Twirlin’ Pinwheels (think PB&Js in easy-to-eat shapes) and Fruity Cheese Kabobs, along with some unexpected offerings such as Fill-‘Er-Up Frittata, which calls for asparagus,  and Zucchini Cupcakes (with avocado, which apparently keeps these wholesome treats ultra-moist).

One quibble: There’s an emphasis on short-cuts — canned beans, store-bought salad dressings, hummus, and salsa — but there’s nothing to stop you or your kid from making these items from scratch, if you have the time and desire.  The kit also comes with 15 blank recipe cards for family favorites and a bunch of stickers that say things like “Delish” and “I made this on ______,” which may help keep kids engaged in the lunch-packing process. Read a review on Epicurious.

Feeling lucky? Submit your lunch tip below by 10 p.m. PST on Monday September 28 and I’ll choose an innovative offering as the prize winner. Just think, only nine more months of making school lunches to go!

Update: Thanks everyone for chiming in with lunch box tips — including notes, cutting food into appealing shapes, and finding ways to keep lunch food cool dominated the suggestions, see below for details. The My Lunch Box guide goes to Karen, who weighed in with the idea of packing couscous in her kid’s lunch. I’m curious if Karen’s daughter eats it unadorned or if she has a recipe for this wholesome grain she’d like to share with us.

Karen, send your contact details to me at: sarahhenry0509 [at] gmail.com so I can ship out the lunch guide to you.

Thanks again to everyone for entering this contest and check back during October for another cookbook giveaway.

Beating the Brown Bag Blues a.k.a. Taking the Stress Out of School Lunch

September 10, 2009

laptop.lunch

The new school year brings earlier mornings for some, the transition to different teachers, curriculum, or kids for most, and — the bane of many parents’ existence — packing a lunch every day.

For those of you whose child’s school cranks out edible fare — and your kid willingly eats it — good luck to you. For the rest of us, September rolls around and a collective groan can be heard across the country. One wag, 5 second rule food blogger Cheryl Sternman Rule, tweeted recently that she’d rather stick a hot poker in her eye than think about making school lunch.

Sing it sister. Do you need help figuring out what to pack for your precious offspring so he has the fuel he needs to fire on all cylinders during the school day? Looking for some fresh options to add to the old standbys? Does your child routinely trash, trade, or trek home the school lunch you spent time and money putting together?

Have no fear, help is on the way. What follows, ten tips to take the tedium out of school lunch.  If you have your own tricks, do share, we can all use novel ideas to spice things up on the school food front. Here’s to a lunch beyond soggy PB&J sammies.

1.  Keep it simple No need to whip yourself into a foodie frenzy first thing in the morning — or late at night. Wholegrain bread or crackers, chunks of cheddar, grapes, and celery strips make a perfectly respectable lunch. Ditto hummus, pita wedges, and carrot and cuc sticks. Sliced apples (tossed in lime juice to retain their color) and a scoop of peanut or other nut butter is another easy option, as are lettuce wraps (baby gem or romaine lettuce leaves filled with a favorite filling such as cottage cheese or guacamole). Nothing wrong with wholegrain bagels, cream cheese, and tomato wedges either. Nori (dried seaweed) squares, tofu cubes, and rice balls can also do the job.

2. Think it through Some foods, no matter how much your kid loves ’em, don’t survive until lunchtime. Few kids fancy limp salad (but keeping the dressing in a separate container can eliminate this problem). Boiled eggs may work well for some, others may be overpowered by their odor, but a slice of frittata could suffice. Cheese that starts to melt when it isn’t meant to isn’t too appetizing either. If a food is supposed to be cold, include an ice pack. If you’re sending a dish that needs to be heated, such as bean soup or a veggie stew, invest in a thermos that holds the heat.

3. Make it visually appealing Appearances do matter when it comes to food, and some kids (and adults) simply won’t eat stuff that isn’t presented in an attractive manner. The bento box is a big hit with the junior set. My child loves his Laptop Lunchbox, in part, because the food comes in neat little packages in portions that whet, rather than overwhelm, the appetite. I’m no fan of fashioning food into fun shapes or cutesy animal characters, but it can help if lunch looks easy on the eye. A fruit kebab may be more enticing than a plain, whole apple.

4. Look to leftovers Your child chowed down last night’s pesto pasta, dug into the Asian noodle salad, or slurped up lots of tomato soup. Chances are that delicious dish can do double duty for lunch the next day. Bonus points if the meal includes protein, whole grains, and veg. That’s not much of an ask: It’s simple to slip, say, some grated carrot or frozen peas into that mac & cheese.

5. Mix it up The same sandwiches every day can get old, even for the most rigid eaters. Likewise, a week’s worth of leftovers. Try something new — or a different spin on an old standard — to keep everyone interested in eating. Make breakfast for lunch every once in a while for fun. Pack separate containers with granola, yogurt, and berries and let your kid stir the trio together at lunchtime. If your child usually has cold cuts for lunch, send a thermos of soup or noodles on a chilly day for a change. Or just skip the sandwich bread and substitute a wholewheat wrap or tortilla for a twist.

6. Get your kid involved Newsflash, folks, I made my own lunch starting in kindergarten and still bear the scars — from kids laughing at my inexpertly cut sandwiches —  to prove it (cue violin). Honestly, though, those of us with picky eaters in particular really need to bring ’em on board at every step of the lunch-making process, we’re talking planning, prepping, and packing.  My boy and I do this and it’s a bonding experience (don’t gag), gives me insights into what he’s into eating at any given time, and helps take some of the angst out of the whole exercise. Ups your chances of the chow actually getting eaten as well. I’d have never known that quinoa salad would be such a hit at lunch if my son hadn’t suggested it one morning.

7. Choose familiar foods School lunch is not the time to introduce new foods, bring back previously rejected produce, or make the case for your kid to expand his palate. You just want him to get the nutrients he needs to succeed at school. That means some protein to keep the brain sharp, complex carbs for energy, and fruit & veg for all the health benefits vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-loaded produce offers.  Maybe you’ll learn, say, that salad is more likely to get consumed if you mix some walnuts, cranberries, and mandarin segments with those greens.

8. Cut yourself some slack Let’s face it, we’ve all packed a loser lunch at one time or another. Don’t beat yourself up about it if your child brings it back or complains. Or — perhaps worse — loves that a treat filled in for some real food. No matter. As in other areas of life, there’s always tomorrow to make amends. Onward. (And, yes, yes, the occasional treat is cool but cookies every day is certainly not.)

9. Find ideas among friends Plagiarism is allowed on the playground. Ask parents what they pack for their kid. Check out what you child’s friends have in their lunchbox. Scope out snack options in popular rotation. You’re bound to uncover a few new items to add to your repertoire. I picked up popcorn from one peer, trail mix from another.

10. Search for school lunch resources There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, clip and save ideas and leave them in a handy place, when you — or your finicky foodie — need some inspiration.

Here’s a few to get you started:

my.lunch.boxCheck back later this month for a contest giveaway for My Lunch Box: 50 Recipes For Kids to Take to School