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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leftovers by Design: Ham

I am spending more time than usual in my kitchen nowadays, as much as 10 hours a week just canning, freezing, curing, and drying food destined for storage. Despite being in the kitchen so much, I don't have a lot time or energy to cook meals, so I do what I can to prepare large batches of basics that I can reuse in meals for days to come. This week, that's meant baking a 6 lb portion of ham, several squash, and a couple sweet potatoes plus a couple bunches of chard sauteed in bacon fat for Sunday dinner. Here's how I'll get at least three more meals out of the leftovers:
  • Leftover chard and some of the ham will go into Monday's no-crust quiche.
  • The ham bone went into a pot with some water, celery ends, and chicken broth leftover from that afternoon's canning to become make broth for of a slow cooker ham and bean soup that I'll start on Tuesday morning. Monday, I soaked a double batch of white beans, so I can make a big batch of soup and pressure-can half of it (it would freeze well, too) or cook half the beans in water and use them for a bean and marinated bell pepper salad (I haven't decided which I'll do yet).
  • The leftover squash and some more ham go into a stovetop mac-and-cheese on Wednesday.
All of those meals will in turn make good leftovers themselves for lunch the next day. In fact, we find that quiche, soup, and most casseroles improve overnight. None of these secondary meals takes more than 20 minutes of prep time, leaving me with more time to make pints and pints of pickled peppers and make a batch of Wimpy's Delight (the web site should credit Helen Witty, as the recipe is copied word-for-word from her book The Fancy Pantry).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Supper

Sometimes it takes a bit of desperation to try a food that you have convinced yourself that you don't like. For me, it was cooked bell peppers. Until almost four years ago, I couldn't stand them--even the smell of them cooking made me gag. Then, after our son Luc was born, my friend Katie brought over a dish that changed all that for me. Her recipe for Chicken Paprika came from The Big Book of Casseroles by Maryana Vollstedt, a Eugene cookbook author. Since that comforting postpartum supper, the dish has become a favorite of ours and one I look forward to making this time of year, when the local bell peppers finally, finally ripen before succombing to frost and rain. (What I finally realized is that it's cooked unripened peppers I can't stand.)

Here's my adaptation of her recipe. I made it last with a 7 pound chicken and simply doubled everything.

Chicken Paprika with Red Bell Pepper
Serves 4-6

1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons paprika, divided
1 chicken (3 to 3-1/2 pounds), cut into serving pieces (reserve back and neck for making stock)
4 tablespoons oil or fat appropriate for frying: sunflower oil, ghee, lard, schmaltz
1 medium onion, sliced
2 medium red bell peppers, cut into 1-2" squares
ground pepper to taste
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup sour cream, creme fraiche, or quark

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine flour, salt, and 1 teaspoon paprika in a wide, shallow bowl. Toss chicken pieces in mixture to coat and reserve excess flour. In a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan, melt oil or fat over medium high-heat. Brown chicken, 5 to 10 minutes per side. Remove to a plate. Reduce temperature to medium. Add onions and pepper and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add remaining paprika, pepper, and remaining flour and stir until the flour coats the vegetables. Add stock and stir until thickened. Return chicken to pan, cover and bake until chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 50 minutes. Blend in sour cream and bake, uncovered, 10 minutes longer. Serve with spaetzle, rice, or egg noodles.

Sweet corn fresh right from the cob has always been a summer favorite of mine, but I just tried Michael Ruhlman's recipe for Baked Butter Corn for the first time recently and loved how it makes the most of the starchier corn of fall. This is such an easy way to prepare corn, I now it will become a regular part of my fall cooking repertoire. I may try it with frozen sweet corn in the winter, too.

My son loves fruit sauces...apple sauce, pear sauce, peach sauce...as a baby he lurved stewed dried apricots mashed into a sauce. When I had a bunch of pears to process last week, I originally planned to follow this recipe for Pear Butter, but Luc so liked what we had by the end of Step 2 that I just stopped and canned it up. Later, if I decide I still want some pear butter, I can always open up a quart or two of sauce and cook it down. Or, I can keep doing what I did this morning and making pear sauce muffins.

Spiced Pear Sauce Muffins
Makes 24 mini muffins or 12 full size muffins

3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cups white pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup Rapadura or packed brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup unsweetened pear sauce
1 cup pecans or walnuts (3 1/2 ounces), coarsely chopped

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Grease muffin pan.

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugar in a large bowl until combined well, then add butter, a little at a time, whisking until mixture is creamy. Stir in pear sauce then fold in flour mixture until flour is just moistened. Stir in nuts and divide batter among muffin cups. Bake mini-muffins for 15 minutes, full-size muffins for 20 minutes. Cool on rack. Keeps for a day in an airtight container or freeze for a month.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Montavilla Food Co-op?

On Monday October 19th from 7-9 pm at the Montavilla Food Co-op Working Group will meet at at the Montavilla Methodish Church, 232 SE 80th Avenue, to discuss starting up a co-op in the neighborhood. They have already hooked up with some Olympia folks who help people start co-ops and Lori Burge the development person at Peoples Food Co-op will be there to give her input. They want to have a storefront co-op and that they figure it will take about three years to pull that together, so in the meantime they will have a buying club. If you're interested in helping with this effort but can't make the meeting, join the group's email list.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My mom used to make these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies when I was a kid and when I had a hankering for them years later, she sent me a scanned copy of the Libby* ad she clipped decades ago that included the recipe. A little heavy on the refined flour and sugar for my tastes these days, I set to making some of my usual changes: substituted whole wheat flour for some of the white, Rapadura for the refined sugars, and coconut oil for half the butter (the last change I make primarily for flavor). I don't remember if the original recipe included oats or not. Today, we were out of rolled oats and I used barley flakes instead, which worked just fine. Dried cranberries and chopped roasted hazelnuts make tasty additions. That's my boy, "sneaking" a dollop of cookie dough. Freshly canned tomato juice on the right.

1 cup white pastry flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 cups Rapadura (or 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup white sugar)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cooked and pureed pumpkin or 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
2 cups chocolate chips (I prefer bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 375F. Sift together flours, baking soda, spices, and salt, then mix in oats and set aside. Cream butter, coconut oil, and sugar in a large mixer bowl until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and pumpkin and mix until well incorporated. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture with mixer set on low, then add chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

* Libby is owned by Nestle and does not make an organic canned pumpkin. I have been super pleased with the Farmer's Market brand of canned organic pumpkin puree.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ode to the Tomato

After last year's dismal tomato harvest, I went all out this year to ensure that we would have lots of tomatoes and I'm so pleased to find my efforts paying off now. I started plants from seed indoors late last winter, growing them up under lights in our basement. In April, I moved them outside, snugged up next to the house under an eave to harden off. By the time I planted them into the garden under hoop houses in mid-May, they were robust, thick-stemmed beauties. My son discovered our first ripe tomato on July 9th--a full month earlier than we've had ripe tomatoes here in previous years. And now?

August 18th tomato harvest...more to come.

That's about 30 pounds I picked Tuesday morning. The yellow ones are my favorite slicing tomato, Persimmon, which I've grown for nine years. They will be part of my entry into Michael Ruhlman's BLT From Scratch Challenge, but they're so good I am perfectly happy with plain tomato sandwiches for lunch most days. The small round ones are Stupice, an early variety that I haven't grow for a while because they don't have tremendous flavor. I found though, that they're great for drying and roasting, both techniques that intensify flavor. The elongated tomatoes are San Marzano, the classic Neopolitan plum tomato, a meaty, nearly seedless variety, with a fantastically pure tomato flavor, sweet yet astringent. Summer on the tongue. Those will go into sauce I'll be making in small batches in my slow cooker, following my friend Melisa's lead, and on top of a margherita pizza or two. This is my first year growing them and I'm amazed with their productivity, their vines covered with these heavy gems.

My obsession with growing tomatoes is thanks to the special relationship and role they've played in my development as a lover of real food. As a girl, I watched my parents grow seedlings in our suburban greenhouse, which I helped them market at the garden club sale every spring. Later in the summer, my brother and I would pull a wagon full of tomatoes and cucumbers around the neighborhood, knocking on doors offering them for sale for ten cents a piece. What we didn't sell, my mom turned into sauce, which would bubble and sputter on the stove for days before she canned enough jars to provide us with spaghetti sauce for a year. I can remember waking up many a morning during tomato season to the appetite-stimulating aroma of tomatoes, garlic, and onions that had been simmering away all night on the stove and making myself a slice of bread with tomato sauce for breakfast.

At the same time, sliced tomatoes made a daily appearance on the dinner table, sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper. This was long before I'd ever heard of a caprese salad and I was then and am now perfectly content to eat fresh tomatoes this way. They were one of the few vegetables I really liked growing up and one winter, when I was about seven or eight years old, I spied some "fresh" tomatoes at the grocery store and asked my mom to buy some. I thought she would be pleased that I was asking her to buy a vegetable, but she said no, explaining that the only fresh tomatoes worth eating are the ones we grew ourselves or bought at a farm stand, that tomatoes from the grocery store taste like "soggy pink cardboard" because they are bred to withstand being trucked long distances, not for flavor. That was an important early lesson in real food, which gave me an appreciation for how fortunate I was to have a family that knew how to grow and find things like good tomatoes. I also learned how deceiving looks can be in the grocery store and was inspired to learn more about the differences between foods bred and grown for flavor and food grown for other reasons.

When I was in my 20s, my father began canning tomato juice, and I spent many hours helping run tomatoes through his hand-cranked juicer. The mindless repetitive nature of the work made for the perfect backdrop to lengthy conversations on all manner of topics. For me, juicing tomatoes with my dad as a college student was a time of reconnecting with the man I'd lost touch with as a teen.

With so many fond memories associated with this jewel of the home garden, it perhaps should come as no surprise that later in life, a flat of tomato seedlings would bring me back from the brink during a bout of severe depression and help me resurrect my true self, that had been buried underneath years of unbearable sadness.

Today, growing and canning tomatoes still gives me an excuse to call my mom and dad with questions and reminds me of spending cold spring mornings in the warmth of our tomato-scented greenhouse and hot summer afternoons harvesting tomatoes with my brother. Tomatoes have given me so much over the years, I am grateful for this wonderful plant, with its unmistakable scent that sticks to my fingers whenever I prune or harvest, and its marvelously versatile, delicious fruit. So, I hope you'll forgive me for bragging about my tomato harvest and understand that for me, that overflowing basket represents far more than a few jars of sauce.

This is my Real Food Wednesday post. Be sure to find out what other Real Food bloggers are saying today.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cheese Should Not Be Licensed

I just returned from hearing Joel Salatin speak here in Portland about how food safety regulations burden small farmers and producers to the detriment of local food systems and the consumers who would be healthier and happier eating real food produced by people they know. I was prepared for Salatin's firebrand speaking style, overloaded with lengthy descriptions, such as "a disconnected, Greco-Roman, Western, egocentric, compartmentalized, reductionist, fragmented, linear thought process," "irradiated, amalgamated, prostituted, reconstituted, adulterated, modified, and artificially-flavored, extruded, bar-coded, un-pronounceable things," and "mob-stocking hervbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization." I didn't expect to hear him speak about food safety, though I know that railing against those who proclaim to keep our food "safe" is a favorite topic of his. After the way my week started, getting the chance to hear this vocal advocate of local food systems speak and to talk briefly with him while he signed my copy of his book Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, connected my problems, as a home cooking instructor wanting to introduce people to the tastes and textures of real food and a home food producer wishing I could sell what I make to my friends and neighbors, to the catastrophe that is our modern food system.

A couple months ago, the manager of my favorite farmers market asked me if I would do a cooking demonstration at the market. Delighted and honored, I happily agreed to do several demonstration over the coming months. The manager mentioned that many people she talks with at the market don't even know how to make salad dressings, so for my first demo, I showed market visitors not only how to make salad dressings at home, but mayonnaise and ketchup as well and discussed how to use those as foundations for other condiments, like tartar sauce, barbeque sauce, and sweet and sour sauce. People sampled my creations and told me how inspired they were by the demonstration and to see how simple it can be to make these tasty accompaniments at home. Pat myself on the back for a job well done--inspiring and empowering people to cook at home is what this is all about for me.

For my second demonstration, I decided to show folks how to make soft dairy products at home, like yogurt, ricotta, chevre, buttermilk, sour cream, and creme fraiche. These are all dead-easy to make and they taste so much better than what's available in plastic tubs at the grocery store. While they are easy to make, culturing dairy does take time. Yogurt takes eight or more hours to set up once it's been cultured. Chevre must be cultured for several hours, then drained for a couple more. Sour cream and creme fraiche can take up to 24 hours to achieve their proper consistency. Since I know that tasting the real deal is a big part of convincing people that making these foods is worth the little bit of effort, I made batches of everything ahead of time so that I could offer samples. As I set up in the demonstration booth, a certain busybody market vendor, who shall remain anonymous, came up and told me that Oregon Department of Agriculture regulations prohibit anyone from offering samples of food prepared in a non-licensed kitchen. "As a market member, I'm concerned about the market's liability," she said. In preparation for starting up my business teaching cooking classes, I had looked into the state regulations and from my research, my understanding was that as long as I was just giving away samples, I didn't have to prepare them in a licensed kitchen. The busybody insisted that I was incorrect, adding, "Cheese should be licensed." Seriously. Those are the words that came out of her mouth. Cheese should be licensed. Had I not been so upset by the situation, I would have laughed at the absurdity of her statement. Then she mentioned that what I was doing, teaching people to make dairy products at home, was in competition with her own business. Ah-ha, now we get to the heart of the matter. Empowering people to prepare food with their own hands might get in the way of commerce.

The market manager saw us talking and approached to find out what was going on. Not knowing herself whether offering homemade samples was in compliance with ODA regulations or not, she quickly convened the market's board and it was decided that no, I could not allow anyone to taste the food that I had made in my unlicensed home kitchen. I fully understand their decision and the last thing I would want to do is create a situation that would harm the market, so I agreed to go ahead with the demo, but not offer samples of my homemade delectables. Fortunately, the demo went well and afterward a number of people told me they felt inspired to start making their own cheese and such at home. Mission accomplished. Nevertheless situation pained me because it seemed to call into question of my integrity and my ability to produce safe, wholesome food. This food I made at home, that I feed to my own children, was apparently unfit for public consumption, according to the ODA and others who feel that "cheese should be licensed."

In his talk, Salatin mentioned that during a recent conversation with Michaal Pollan, they discussed how it would be possible to find a compromise between what Salatin described as liberal democrats, who feel that food safety regulations are necessary, and libertarians, who find such regulations an infringement upon their freedom. They came up with a scale, with a McDonald's meal at one end, and a meal consisting of of backyard-raised chicken and homegrown veggies at the other. Which meal should receive the most regulatory scrutiny, he asked. I hope, Dear Reader, that you would agree with Joel, Michael, and me, that the McDonald's meal, which travels across hundreds of miles and though dozens of hands, requires the greatest level of regulatory scrutiny, while regulators would leave dinner from "Aunt Mabel's backyard," as Salatin put it, alone. And while you may agree that a system that doesn't burden small producers, who are directly accountable to their customers, with costly regulations that stymy innovation and local food systems, surprisingly, many people in power feel that the opposite is true. Salatin said that he recently asked Virginia Senator Jim Webb what he thought about whether the McDonald's or Aunt Mabel's meal should be more regulated, and Webb responded that the backyard producer should undergo greater scrutiny.

And the sad fact is, there may be some of you out there reading this who are still convinced that the edible foodlike substances that the industrial food system belches out are somehow safer, thanks to USDA regulations and the like, than food grown and prepared by your neighbor. Many have become so fearful of food, real food, that is, that we ignore all the warnings about what's wrong with the system. Swine flu, BCE, salmonella, algal bloom, diabetes, obesity, heart disease...the list of signs that all is not well with our industrial food system goes on and on. Yet, we fear that canning our own food at home will put us at risk for botulism, when in fact, since the 1970s, there have been on average only about 24 cases of foodborne botulism per year and a large percentage of those cases involve food prepared in factories and restaurants. Thanks to a time in US history when urban dairy cows being fed an unhealthy diet of distillery waste produced milk that was unfit for human consumption in its raw state, many people, disconnected from farms producing clean, wholesome milk from pastured cows, came to accept that the only safe milk is pasteurized milk. Yet people have consumed raw milk and made all sorts of products from milk at home for thousands of years. How did we, in a historical blink of an eye, forget that? How have we come to the point at which someone could say with a straight face that cheese should be licensed?

I could just go on and on (obviously), but it's time I get to bed so I can get up early and can some food in my unlicensed kitchen. Don't worry, I won't sell any to my neighbors. I just have one last thing to say: Cheese should not be licensed. Make it yourselves. If not cheese, try canning, drying, freezing, or fermenting some of the summer's bounty. In his talk tonight, Salatin challenged us to develop the skills we need to fill our pantries with more food without barcodes than with them. What a great notion.

This is my first Fight Back Friday post. Be sure to check out what other Real Food bloggers have to say today. Thank you Kristin for hosting and for your terrific post about how rampant imitation foods are in our culture.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Best Mayonnaise...

I've been making mayonnaise at home for a while now. Twenty years ago, when I first began exploring French cuisine, trying recipe after recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking a decade before Julie Powell began her own quest, I made mayonnaise for the first time while working my way through Chapter Two: Sauces.

In my first attempt, I nervously whisked store-bought eggs by hand, wondering if it was worth the effort and risks, and what in the world I would do with a cup-and-a-half of mayonnaise in the couple days before it would spoil. Except for special occasions when I knew I would use it all quickly, I found homemade mayonnaise not worthwhile. Years later, I hit the trifecta when I discovered how easy it is to make mayo with a food processor, learned the technique of fermenting mayonnaise that keeps it from spoiling for several weeks, and had a lovely friend willing to share eggs from her backyard chickens. I've been making homemade mayo ever since. For the last year or so, I've been using my own chicken's eggs and making mayonnaise every couple weeks during the summer high-season of mayo use, when cold foods seem to just call out for this luscious, simple sauce.

Of course, having excellent eggs helps this mayo tremendously. My truly free-ranging hens live on a diet of worms, grubs, and backyard vegetation, plus a homemade supplemental mix of whole grains, fish meal, flax seeds, and kelp, sunflower seeds from our garden, and kitchen scraps. They lay eggs with bright, orange-yellow yolks and egg-errific flavor. Since you are not only using raw eggs for this recipe, but leaving the finished product out at room temperature for several hours to ferment, it's essential to use the highest quality eggs you can find. Seek out a backyard chicken keeper (check craigslist) whose chickens spend at least part of their day outdoors, with access to green plants and bugs. Chickens raised in confinement are understandably stressed and crowded conditions are ideal for spreading disease. Free-range chickens have stronger immune systems and are therefore less likely to be overwhelmed with salmonnella bacteria. Plus, their eggs will be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and D.

The real beauty of this mayo, however, is not its health benefits, but its flavor and how it contributes marvelously to just about anything it accompanies. Perfect all-American coleslaw, lip-smacking tartar sauce (culinary surprise of the year for me was discovering how much I like tartar sauce when I make it myself with my mayo), Green Goddess dressing, Thousand Island dressing, dips galore, amazing egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, deviled eggs...

Besides good eggs, you need good oil, and unless you want a mayonnaise that has a strong taste of olive oil, use mostly a neutral flavored oil, sunflower and safflower being the best in terms of nutritional profiles amongst the neutral oils. Use more assertively flavored oils sparingly. There is nothing to hide any off-notes, so use the very best you can find and afford.

If you don't make cheese at home and need a bit of whey for making this fermented mayo, buy a high quality plain, whole milk yogurt with live cultures (Nancy's is a great local brand here in Oregon), scoop out a bit of the yogurt, then wait a few hours or overnight. The liquid that pools in the spot where you scooped is whey, which you can use for this recipe.

Cuisinart owners: Examine the pusher for your machine, that plastic cup-like do-dad that helps you push food down the tube. Notice the little hole in the bottom? The folks at Cuisinart put that there to help you slowly drizzle oil for mayonnaise. Wasn't that thoughtful of them? You can literally pour all the oil in there, turn on the machine, and walk away while it makes mayo for you.

Lost Arts Kitchen Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 pint

3 egg yolks
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon whey
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground white pepper (black is fine, too, but the mayo will have black flecks in it)
1-1/4 cups sunflower oil, safflower or other neutral oil
1/2 cup olive oil, or if you prefer a different flavor, try walnut, hazelnut, or sesame oil

Start with all ingredients at room temperature...or at least the eggs and oil. Process the eggs yolks in a food processor for 30 seconds, then add the mustard, lemon juice, whey, salt, and pepper and process again for another minute or two, until slightly thickened.* With the processor running, slowly add oil in a very thin stream--practically drop-by-drop at first. You can begin pouring the oil a little more quickly after adding about half of it, though I just add all the oil via the pusher. Once you have added all the oil, taste the mayonnaise, you may want to add a little more lemon, mustard, or salt. Let sit out at room temperature for 7-8 hours, then refrigerate. Keeps for about four weeks.

* You can of course do this by hand, using a whisk, or, if you have a helpful assistant, an egg beater. It's a good shoulder work out, if you're into that sort of thing.

This is my Real Food Wednesday post. Please have a look at what other Real Food bloggers have to say today.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Beat the Heat with Leg of Lamb

As much as I enjoy working in my kitchen, when the dog days of summer hit, I can't stand the heat and I become obsessed with avoiding it as much as possible. I'm also always looking for ways to get more than one meal out of anything I cook. I have never been keen on what most of us think of when we hear the word "leftovers," you know, the sad, soggy repeat of last night's supper, warmed over with the Reheat button on the microwave. Yuck. Then, a few years ago, as an exhausted, pregnant, soon-to-be mother of two, I began to develop a sort of mad genius for creating what I called "leftovers by design." These days, I almost never cook just for one meal. I'm always scheming for ways I can take a little extra leftover this or that and turn it into something new. Kinda like those crafty folks who turn old wool sweaters into felt handbags.

So, here's what heat intolerance and an obsession with leftovers look like at our house. When we fire up the grill, we cook enough meat and vegetables for that evening's dinner plus sandwiches and salads later in the week. Also, I can frequently be found in the cool of the morning cooking a big batch of potatoes, grains, or legumes to use as a base for salads that we'll dip into for several days. Because they generate heat and humidity, my crockpot, steamer, and dehydrator all go to work outside during the summer, on a table set up temporarily under the eaves behind our house. The food processor is one appliance that keeps its place indoors and I use it almost daily to julienne vegetables for salad, make up a batch of cold soup, or whip up mayonnaise that makes ordinary canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs, and garden tomatoes so finger-lickin' good.

Recently, Mike butterflied a leg of grassfed lamb (from our homesteading friend Mary), rubbed it with a mix of Indian-inspired spices, then marinated it in homemade yogurt over night. He grilled it, along with several zucchini, over a low fire until the meat was cooked rare, while a pot of basmati rice cooked in the steamer outside and I put together a quick raita with cucumbers and mint inside.

A couple mornings later, I prepared fava beans (making a couple extra pounds for a half-batch of Alice Waters' Fava Bean Puree) and stored them in the fridge until it dinner time. I sliced the leftover lamb into bite-size pieces, seeded and sliced a cucumber, and tossed the lamb, cucs, and favas with a couple shakes of curry powder, juice from half a lime, and enough yogurt to cover, and announced that dinner was ready. Fava beans are a bit of trouble to prepare, but I find their fresh pea flavor and creamy texture worth the effort. If you have young kids, get them into the act of popping the blanched beans out of their jackets. Just make sure you prepare some extra to make up for what your little laborers eat in the process!

The leftover zucchini made their way into my standby grain salad, the Lemon-Garlic Quinoa Salad from Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family or I could have easily tossed them into a Wheat Berry Salad or this lovely French Barley Salad. Grain salads are filling, pack easily, and keep well in the fridge for a couple days.

Mike's a great cook; he learned from his mom and French grandma what flavor combinations work, but he doesn't work from recipes--it's all improv--and with his ADD, there's no remembering just what he did. Drives me just a little nuts, but I'm used to it by now. I'm not so good at the keeping-track-of-what-I-done-in-the-kitchen thing either, so I really have no business complaining. Anyway. I have adapted a recipe I found online that looks like it will give your similar results.

Grilled Leg of Lamb Marinated in Yogurt with Indian Spices (adapted from Basic Recipes)

2 cups of plain yogurt
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
2 teaspoons of garam masala
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of ground fenugreek
6 pounds leg of lamb, butterflied

Mix yogurt and spices. In a shallow glass baking dish pour yogurt marinade over lamb and turn several times to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 48 hours. Light a charcoal grill or preheat a stovetop grill until very hot. Add lamb and grill, 25 to 30 minutes, or until an instant-reading thermometer registers 130 to 135ºF for rare meat, 140 to 145ºF for medium. Remove to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let meat rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice thinly to serve.

This is my Real Food Wednesday post. Read what other real food bloggers have to say today!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

BLT from Scratch Challenge

Well, I bake my own bread, grow my own tomatoes and lettuce, make the best mayonnaise, ever, and have been talking with Mike about doing our own bacon when we get our side of pork this fall (we were disappointed with the bacon from the butcher that processed our meat last year). One of my favorite authors and bloggers, Michael Ruhlman, issued a challenge to readers to make their own BLT from scratch: that is homegrown veggies, homemade bread and mayo (ours with backyard eggs, natch), and home cured bacon. I'm so excited! I'll look for pork bellies at the Hillsdale farmers' market today, where I'm going to pick up fresh chevre culture and rennet from Chrisssie of Kookoolan Farm. If I don't find pork belly there, Laurelhurst Market has bellies and is open today. The race is on...hope our lettuce doesn't bolt this week!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Have a Couple Cold Ones on Me...

Sometimes, even I, Ms. Homemade-and-Farm-Direct, find myself at Trader Joe's with my kids, throwing a bunch of convenience foods into my cart. Yesterday was such a day. I blame the abscessed tooth and low-grade infection I've been dealing with for weeks that's left me super tired (sleeping as much as 11-12 hours a day when I can), with little time or energy for baking or preparing our usual snacks and fixings for on-the-go meals.

So, there we were, two hungry kids and a hungry mom, aimlessly wandering through the prepared food bonanza that is TJs. We headed for the tasting station at the back of the store; the offering of the day was a tomato and tsatsiki soup. Cool and refreshing, Annabel and I both liked it, Luc, not so much. Trader Joe's "recipe" combined one quart package of Trader Joe tomato soup with one pint of Trader Joe tsatsiki. While I could make my own tomato soup, I knew that with how I've been feeling, that wasn't going to happen soon. I also immediately recognized that after I have my tooth removed Wednesday morning, I'd be glad for nourishing, liquid sustenance, so I grapped one of the aseptic packages of tomato soup. I had my own yogurt, cucumbers, and everything else I need to make tsatsiki at home.

As I reviewed a couple tsatsiki recipes, I was reminded of another cold, yogurt-based soup that I love this time of year. Since I'm on antibiotics for this infection, I've been making sure I eat lots of yogurt, sauerkraut, and other probiotic-rich foods to keep my gut flora happy, but I'd enjoy these for their cool, refreshing flavor whether they were good for my gut bugs or not!

When I have a bit more energy, I'm making Elise's gazpacho soup on Simply Recipes, using roasted tomatoes and red peppers.

Refreshing Tomato & Tsatsiki Soup
About six one cup servings

1 quart tomato soup
1 pint yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
salt, pepper

Combine ingredients in a large, flat-bottom bowl or pan. Use an immerson blender to liquify cucumber.* Season with salt and pepper to taste (I used 1 generous teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper).

*If you don't have an immersion blender, use a regular blender or food processor to liquify the cucs, then combine with remaining ingredients.

Cucumber and Wasabi Soup (adapted from Epicurious)
Six one cup servings

3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 pint yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

Use a blender or food processor to liquify cucumbers with all but the last two ingredients. Whisk cucumbers with yogurt and chives in a bowl. Can be made up to one day ahead of serving.

Visit Kelly the Kitchen Kop for more Real Food Wednesday posts!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Southern Potato Salad with Sunchoke Relish

Last Sunday I stopped at the Sassafras Kitchen stand at the Montavilla Farmers Market, intrigued to find Southern food amongst the Sol Pops and Thai-2-Go, and drawn by the half-pint jars of something stacked on the table. Drawing near, I learned that there was Sunchoke Relish in those jars and eagerly accepted an invitation to try some on a chip. Like all good relishes, this one had a perfect balance of sour and sweet, with a nice mustard tang and crisp, thin slices of sunchokes. Longing for more, I was delighted to see the offering of Potato Salad with Sunchoke Relish on the stand's menu. Along with a plate of potato salad, I bought a jar of relish, looking forward using it in potato salad with my homemade mayonnaise later in the week. I typically make a more German-inspired potato salad, with a sour cream-based dressing, dill pickles, and Westphalia ham, but this tangy Southern version was the perfect complement to my Maryland Fried Chicken.

Southern Potato Salad with Sunchoke Relish

If you can't pick up a jar of Sassafras Kitchen's Sunchoke Relish yourself, try this recipe from Lemonbasil, which looks to me like it would make a very reasonable facisimile.

2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sunchoke relish
salt, pepper to taste

In a large pot containing enough water to cover by a couple inches, bring potatoes to a boil and cook for 15-20 minutes. Mix mayonnaise and relish. Drain potatos in a colander. When they are just cool enough to handle, slice potatoes into bite-size pieces and return to cooking pot. Toss sliced potatoes with mayonnaise and relish while potatoes are still warm, which helps them absorb the flavor of the dressing better. Add salt and pepper if desired. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oregon-Raised Maryland Fried Chicken

Warning: This post contains descriptions of slaughtering and butchering chickens.

For many reasons, I have long been interested in raising chickens for meat, but until recently, the only meat (as opposed to egg-laying) breed I knew of was the Cornish Cross. This is the white chicken raised by commercial growers, but I was reluctant to raise them myself as they have many health problems due to their extremely rapid growth.
Cornish crosses tend to have weak legs, heart attacks, congestive heart failure. They don't forage well or tolerate heat, because they tend to just sit around the feed trough and won't cross a yard to get water. Not the bird for me to include in my free-ranging backyard flock!

This spring, I learned about the availability of chicks derived from American and European heritage breeds that were developed to meet the standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range program. The "Le Poulet" breed retains the chicken's natural instinct for foraging outdoors and because they are slower growing, do not have the health problems associated with the Cornish Cross. I knew I had found my bird.

So, in late April, we picked up five Le Poulet chicks and three layer chicks and kept them inside under a warming light. A few weeks later, we moved them outside and by the 4th of July, the broilers, now pullets, were nearly the same size as our hens and twice as big as the layer pullets that had hatched the same week. Independence Day morning, Mike, the kids, and I loaded our meat birds into our car and took them to a friends for butchering. Her family had raised 35 of the same chickens and had rented equipment to ease slaughtering and feather removal. Another family, along with a couple other women who were interested in learning about the butchering process, were already working when we arrived.

The gendered division of labor reminded me of when I helped butcher on my uncle's farm as a girl: the men dispatched the animals, while the women took care of most of the remaining details. Honestly, I preferred my jobs to theirs, though I watched Mike put a chicken in the killing cone and slit its throat. If I didn't have him around for such a task, I'm sure I'd find the mettle to do it myself, but I was glad not to.

When I arrived, Tiffany, who has been helping raise and butcher chickens for three years now, showed me how to remove a chicken's oil gland, feet, head, neck, and organs. The work was fascinating and gruesome at the same time. We worked outside, shaded from the hot summer sun by a canopy set up on the deck over an old kitchen counter top. Doing productive work in convivial, supportive company made the morning go by quickly. (I don't have pictures, but Matron of Husbandry, one of my favorite bloggers, has a post about butchering chickens that depicts a process much like the one we used, though we were working on a much smaller scale.)

Our kids wandered in and out of the house, occasionally asking the moms questions about chicken entrails or watching the dads do their work. My kids (3 and 6) had known from when we first got the chicks that some were going to become meat for us, and while both of them had expressed some sadness that morning about butchering them, in the end, they were excited about the opportunity to complete the circle and eat meat from these animals they had helped raise.

A few nights ago, we finally did just that. I love fried chicken in the summer, and especially like cold leftovers, so I thawed the two smallest birds, both just over two pounds (the others had been between 3.8 and 4.0 pounds), and cut them into pieces, which I soaked in buttermilk for 24 hours, dredged in seasoned breadcrumbs, then fried in beef tallow. Frying chicken is messy work--the stovetop was covered with grease afterward--but this was well worth the clean up required. Crisp skin enveloped tender, moist meat. After giving thanks to the chickens whose meat we were about to eat, we enjoyed our first bites in silence puntuated by an occasional, "Mmmm..." That was the best ever. Thanks again, chickens.

Southern Potato Salad with Sunchoke Relish is the perfect accompaniment.

Maryland Fried Chicken (adapted from Alton Brown's Fried Chicken)
Old Bay is a classic spice combination that Marylanders like myself usually associate with eating Chesapeake Bay blue crab in the summer. You can find Old Bay at some retailers or make your own blend. Beef tallow is an excellent frying fat, with its high smoking point and savory flavor, but sunflower seed oil is a good substitute. Maintaining the correct temperature is key when frying. Too high, and the skin will burn before the meat is cooked. Too low, and the chicken will be greasy. If you don't have a thermometer, monitor the chicken closely. You want it to develop a crisp skin quickly, but brown slowly: note that it must cook on each side for 10-12 minutes. With practice, you'll learn what setting on your stove gives you the correct temperature.

Serves 8

2 2-3 pound fryer chickens, cut into eight pieces
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning or similar homemade blend
about 1 cup beef tallow or sunflower seed oil

Place chicken pieces in a non-reactive bowl or pan and cover with buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.

Melt enough beef tallow (over low heat) to come just 1/8-inch up the side of a 12-inch cast iron skillet or heavy fry pan. Once the fat liquefies raise heat to 325 degrees F. Do not allow fat or oil to go over 325 degrees F.

Drain chicken in a colander. Combine bread crumbs, flour, and Old Bay in a shallow bowl. Dredge chicken in the bread crumbs and shake off excess.

Place chicken skin side down into the pan. Put thighs in the center, and breast and legs around the edge of the pan. Cook chicken until golden brown on each side, approximately 10 to 12 minutes per side. The internal temperature should be right around 170 degrees. (Be careful to monitor fat/oil temperature every few minutes.)

Drain chicken on a cooling rack set over a sheet pan, which drains better than paper towels or bags.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Strawberry Meditations

Recently, I had a rare afternoon at home alone while my husband took the kids fishing. I still had most of a flat of strawberries leftover that I had bought early in the morning for making a small batch of jam for a canning class. Sitting in the quiet house, I sat myself in front of the flat and slowly hulled and carefully sorted the berries, enjoying the buzz from their intoxicating aroma. The smallest, most perfect specimens went into a bowl for no-pectin preserves. Larger perfect ones I sliced in half for the dehydrator. The slightly mushy, slightly underripe, or otherwise imperfect but edible went into another bowl for sorbet, cheesecake, and syrup.

It was the first time in a while that I've had some quiet time to myself and I relished every slowed down minute of it. I wouldn't trade being a parent for anything, but I do miss meditative moments spent doing mundane, yet enjoyable tasks like hulling and sorting strawberries. It seems to me my grandmothers and aunts had more time for these things. As I worked, memories from when I was a girl, shelling beans for my Aunt Helen under the shade of a giant oak in front of the Pennsylvania farmhouse where my dad grew up flitted through my mind. I could feel the gentle afternoon breeze, hear the leaves rustle and the 'plunk plunk plunk' of beans in the enamelware bowl. I often find myself transported across tens of years and thousands of miles when I'm working with food, whether in the kitchen or the garden.

I sometimes wonder why I spend the time that I do preparing food. Sure, we save some money, my homemade food tastes better and is more nutritious that store-bought, but I do worry if I'm using my time as wisely as I should. Could I make more money than I save if, for example, if I spent my baking day doing something to generate income? Perhaps. That's the rationale many people use to explain why they don't prepare food at home and I understand it. The truth is, I enjoy the craft of preparing food, how it engages all my senses, evokes deep seated memories, and helps create what I hope will be fond memories for my own children. I feel connected to my faraway family and to those who have passed away, to the earth and its amazing abundance, and to people everywhere, who are, at that very same moment, sorting strawberries or shelling beans.

What is it that you enjoy most about preparing food at home?

This is my first Real Food Wednesday post! Visit Cheeseslave to read posts from other Real Food bloggers!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Persian Love Cake, Modified

That was my birthday cake! The dairy connection to this cake is the saffron-infused buttercream frosting. I made several modifications to this recipe for Persian Love Cake.

Per the recommendations from several reviewers, I added 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to the egg whites, to prevent the cooked cake from falling. Instead of buying powdered sugar, I whirred some Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Fair Trade Cane Sugar in my blender for a minute. Since I rarely use powdered sugar, it makes sense to just powder what I needed rather than buy a whole pound of it. I also used slightly less sugar than called for--only about 12 tablespoons. I used twice as much cardamom as the recipe suggested, but wish I had used more. I ground the cardamom seeds--whole seeds sounded unappetizing to me. I love the combination of pistachios and saffron, so I added crushed ones between the cake layers, as well as on top for decoration. Yum!


Sirkand offers a perfect finish to an Indian inspired meal. Here's a recipe that a student sent to me.

20 ounces yogurt
1 cup sugar
pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon rose water
¼ teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon chopped almond
1 tablespoon chopped pistachio

Hang yogurt over night in cheese cloth to drain whey and form curd. Add saffron to rose water and let sit for 10 minutes. Mix yogurt curd with sugar, cardamom, and rose water with saffron. Place into small serving cups and top with chopped nuts.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rethinking Conventional Thinking: Every Day Is Egg Day

One of the challenges I have found in my classes is with helping people overcome their intellectual and emotional obstacles to eating real foods, especially in their full fat, cholesterol-laden glory. For decades, researchers, nutritionists, media, our mothers, and friends have repeated the conventional dietary mantra that fat and cholesterol are baaaad. Unfortunately, much conventional thinking about what we should eat is not based on sound research. There are many reasons why different nutrients and even whole foods become lionized or demonized and it's easy to fall into conspiracy theories, placing blame on Big Food, Big Pharma, or Big Guv'ment, but there is more to it than the big guys. There is also our own desire to find simple answers to complex questions about nutrition, health, and sustainability and a loss of traditional knowledge about growing, preparing, and eating food.

In the coming months, I will address different demonized foods and what new (and old) thinking has to say about why we might reconsider including them in our diets. As I upset the apple cart, I don't expect you accept what I have to say without question. Quite the contrary, while I hope to give you some food for thought, I encourage you to do your own research and spend some time thinking for yourself.

This month, between our six hens all laying for us everyday, taking a Ukrainian egg decorating class at Gossamer, and teaching an egg cookery class at Friendly Haven Farm, I have eggs on the brain. So for my first installment of Rethinking Conventional Thinking, the eggs have it...let's learn more about the egg's most misunderstood and maligned nutrient, cholesterol.

Growing up in the 1970s, the first time I heard the term “cholesterol” was in news stories reporting that eggs, especially egg yolks, were dangerously high in this supposedly artery-clogging substance. I remember seeing egg-white omelets appear on menus and egg replacements next to the real eggs in grocery stores. I never gave up on real eggs and continued to enjoy them scrambled, fried, hard-boiled, in omelets, quiches, and custards. For me, this was the beginning of a lifelong practice of questioning and eschewing conventional dietary “wisdom” whenever it suggested that people should quit eating foods that humans around the world have enjoyed for millennia. As a child and a teenager, I didn’t have any good reasons for ignoring such warnings, except my gut telling me that that foods my grandparents (who all lived into their 80s and 90s) enjoyed regularly couldn’t be all that bad. Despite decades of throwing caution to the wind, I have always had relatively low cholesterol levels. Well, it as it turns out eating real eggs has nothing to do with cholesterol levels, but the thinking that lead to warnings about eggs and cholesterol has everything to do with bad science and political expedience.

In the 1960s, researchers were using powdered eggs in their studies, but the process of turning an egg into powder—liquifying, pasteurizing, and spray-drying—oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg. Dr. Kilmer McCully, an expert on cholesterol metabolism, says that scientists have known since the 1950s that
oxidized cholesterol causing atherosclerosis, but natural cholesterol does not. The animals used in these studies, rabbits, are herbivores that do not have the capacity to metabolize cholesterol. What these studies found is that force-feeding creatures a substance that isn't naturally part of their diet causes them to develop arterial cholesterol deposits. The basic science behind these studies was fundamentally flawed. Researchers around the world agree that natural, non-oxidized dietary cholesterol does not cause heart disease. Rather, our modern Western diet full of processed foods and deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, vitamins B, C, and E and other nutrients cause heart disease (which did not exist before 1900).

And why did eggs in particular become so maligned? In 1968, food scientists met to discuss dietary cholesterol and determined that people should consume no more than 300 mg cholesterol a day. They came to that number not by observing the reversal of heart disease in people who limited their average daily dietary cholesterol to less than 300 mg, but by simply halving the average daily consumption of 568 mg. With over 200 mg of cholesterol in the yolk of a large egg, an inexpensive, traditional food became a guilty pleasure for some and an excuse for Big Food to come up with new, cholesterol-free products.

What are we missing out on when we give up eggs? Fresh, real eggs are an excellent source of protein, with a ratio of amino acids very close to the ideal for human nutrition. Egg yolks contain lecithin, which helps the body digest fat and cholesterol. Lecithin is the source of choline, a B vitamin-like agent vital to the fetal brain. Eggs contain many antioxidants, including gluathione, which helps other antioxidants fight cancer and prevents oxidation of LDL. Yolks are rich in the antioxidant lutein, which is more readily absorbed than the lutein found in spinach. Yolks have the highest concentrations of biotin—a B vitamin essential for healthy hair, skins, and nerves and the digestion of fat and protein—of any food.

Eggs from pastured birds are superior to those from hens raised indoors. Pastured yolks are rich in betacarotene from the green plants that truly free-ranging hens eat in abundance. The eggs from my own chickens, who are outside all day, every day, are unquestionably orange. They also contain more vitamins A and E, folic acid, lutein, and beta-carotene. Pastured eggs are dramatically richer in omega-3 fats, which prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in pastured eggs in ideal (about 1:1), while an indoor egg has almost 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats.

Some eggs are advertised as vegetarians, but as any keeper of free-range chickens knows, chickens delight in eating worms, grubs, insects and kitchen scraps that contain meat, cheese, or sour milk. The “vegetarian” label came about in the late 1990s after Mad Cow disease scares spurred a demand for eggs and meat from animals that had not been fed protein from ground-up pigs, cows, and chickens. While it’s laudable to keep such feed out of the diet of livestock, what all these animals need is their natural diet, found on pasture, and a life in the open air. For your health and the welfare of animals, look for eggs, meat, and dairy products from pastured animals and don't be afraid of real food!

To learn more about cholesterol, read any of the numerous articles at The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics web site, Real Food by Nina Planck, Ending the Cholesterol-Heart Disease Myth by Andreas Moritz, or The Benefits of High Cholesterol by Dr. Uffa Ravnskov.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Managing the Asparagus Harvest

Seven years ago, I planted 25 asparagus root crowns in deep trenches in a bed running the length of my garden. The first couple years, we let the plants develop and harvested nary a spear, but a few years ago, we started getting so much asparagus that we would give it away to anyone who expressed the mildest interest. While we still give a lot away, we've developed a system for preparing and preserving this spring bounty so that we can enjoy it year round. You can use this method with your own garden's bounty or what you pick up at farmers' markets.

Start by setting a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove and filling another pot or kitchen sink with ice-cold water. While the water heats up, cut the tips off the spears (the top 2-3 inches) and set them aside. Cut the stems into 1- to 2-inch long pieces. Place the stem pieces in boiling water for a minute or so, just until they turn bright green. Remove from the water using a slotted spoon and immediately transfer to the cold water. Stir to cool the stems completely, then spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place baking sheet in freezer for four hours, then transfer frozen asparagus to zip-top freezer bags or freezer boxes. Cooking food in boiling water briefly is called blanching and cooling it in cold water is called shocking and I find the combination of techniques useful for preparing many spring and summer vegetables either for freezing or fresh eating.

You can prepare the tips the same way, especially if you want to include them in a salad, or you could just blanch, roast, stir-fry, grill or prepare them however you wish. The incomparable taste and texture of asparagus tips are best appreciated when fresh, but the frozen stems make fine additions to soups (especially pureed potato-leek soup), twice-baked potatoes, stir-fries, casseroles, and quiche.

If you like pickled asparagus, try putting up some yourself.
I'm currently experimenting with lacto-fermenting asparagus and will share my results!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gingered Rhubarb and Pear Crisp

Oh how I love this dessert! Ginger and rhubarb are an amazing combination! Hooray for spring! Serve this with a dollop of farm-fresh vanilla whipped cream.

Serves 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
1½ pounds rhubarb (trimmed weight)
1½ pounds peeled and chopped pears
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons crystallized ginger
½-¾ cup Rapadura or sugar (depending on how sweet you like your dessert)
2 tablespoons flour

For topping:
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup hazelnut meal
½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
½ cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350ºF and lightly grease eight 6-ounce ramekins. Cut rhubarb into 1” lengths and place in saucepan with pears, fresh and crystallized ginger, Rapadura and flour. Cover and cook gently over low heat for 6 to 10 minutes until rhubarb is just softened, but still holding its shape. Transfer to prepared ramekins.

Place oats, hazelnut meal, hazelnuts, flour, and ground ginger in bowl and stir well until combined. Mix in maple syrup, then add butter and rub into mixture to form a rough crumbly mixture. Spoon over rhubarb in ramekins and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until bubbling and golden. Serve while still warm.

Asparagus, Pea, Radish, and Scallion Salad with Ginger-Miso Dressing

I rinse off the peas, but don't cut off the tips or cut them into the size until after I blanch and shock them. I have found that if I remove the tips first, that the pods fill with water while they’re blanch, making the salad watery. Be sure to have a pot or sink full of cold water before you start blanching--you want to stop the cooking immediately or you'll wind up with mushy peas. (And nobody wants mushy peas in salad!)

The secret to this dressing is the orange marmalade. Many ginger-miso salad dressing recipes call for sugar and I wanted to try making it without the sugar. It’s a divine marriage of flavors.

Serves 4

2 cups (8 ounces) snow peas or sugar snap peas or a mix, trimmed
1 cup asparagus tips
2 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
4 radishes, trimmed and cut into thin strips (about 1/2 cup)
¼ cup black sesame seeds

For dressing:
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoon sesame seed oil
3 tablespoons white miso
1 teaspoon tamari
1-2 teaspoon ginger
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons water

Bring two quarts water to boil. Blanch peas for 1 minute, submerge in cold water to stop cooking, and drain. Cut the snow peas on the diagonal into ½-inch diamond shapes, discarding the end pieces. In a medium serving bowl, combine the peas, scallions, radishes, and sesame seeds. Put all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Pour dressing and sesame seeds over the salad. Toss and serve immediately.

No-Crust Quiche with Wild Mushrooms & Nettles

This is an easy and versatile egg dish that my family enjoys throughout the year. As the seasons change, I use different green vegetables, cheeses, and meats (or no meat). Kale, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, and green beans all work well. Depending on the vegetable, I use cheddar, chevre, parmesan, or mozzarella with bacon, prosciutto, or corned beef. My favorite combination is with my husband's smoked salmon, my homemade cream cheese, and fresh asparagus from our garden. The first asparagus tips have began to emerge this week, so it won't be long 'til we're enjoying that one again!

Serves 8

1 pound waxy potatoes, such German Butterball or Yukon Gold
¼ pound thinly sliced ham
9 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped wild mushrooms
½ pound stinging nettles
3-4 ounces fontina cheese, cubed

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter 10” quiche pan. Blanch nettles in pot of boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes, until bright green and softened. Drain in colander and let cool. Slice potatoes into thin rounds and layer rounds in the bottom of pan. Lay ham on top of potatoes. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together. Squeeze excess liquid from nettles, remove any woody stems, and then roughly chop. Mix chopped nettles into eggs, then pour egg mixture into quiche pan. Drop of cubes of cheese on top of eggs. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until eggs are set.

Olive Oil Crackers

I adapted this from a recipe at one of my favorite blogs, Super Natural Cooking author Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. If you try her original recipe note the teaspoon of salt really ought to be a tablespoon (believe me, we tried it with just a teaspoon and they were not good). The semolina flour gives these crackers a somewhat gritty texture that you may like. If you don't, try using another flour, like amaranth, which would add a nice nutty flavor.

Makes 60 or so 2" square crackers

1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 tablespoon fine-grain sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, mixer with a dough hook, or bowl, mix together the flours and salt. Add the water and olive oil. Process or mix until the dough comes to together in a ball--just a minute or two in the food processor, or 3 to 5 minutes in a mixer, and a little longer by hand. The dough should be just a bit tacky - but not stick to your hands when you work with it. If you need to add a bit more water (or flour) do so.

When you are done mixing, shape the dough into a large ball. Cover with a clean dishtowel or put in a covered bowl and let rest at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes.

While the dough is resting, preheat your oven to 450F degrees. Insert a pizza stone if you have one.

Cut the dough ball in half. Using a rolling pin, shape into a roughly rectangular piece of dough a scant 1/8" thick--the thinner dough, the crisper the cracker. Move dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cut it into cracker-size squares (or whatever shapes you desire!) using a pizza cutter. Poke each cracker with the tines of a fork to prevent puffing, add any extra toppings, and slide into the oven. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Bake until deeply golden--they will taste like raw flour if undercooked. They will become more crisp as they cool. Repeat the process for the remaining dough. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container for a couple days.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lacto-fermented Russian Dressing

1/3 cup lacto-fermented mayonnaise
1-1/2 tablespoons lacto-fermented ketchup
1-1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon tamari
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients. Enjoy!

What Cheap, Industrial Food Let Us Forget

On Thursday last week, I attended the Food Alliance Sustainable Food Industry Forum and Gala along with a few hundred other regional food producers, processors, and others passionate about making sustainable eating a way of life accessible to all. After an afternoon of hearing what the general public thinks about the term “sustainable” and discussing sustainable sushi with the founders of Bamboo Sushi here in Portland, I sat at a table of Country Natural Beef ranchers from eastern Oregon and southern Idaho for a delicious dinner highlighting seasonal foods from our region. After dinner, Paul Roberts author of The End of Oil and more recently, The End of Food, started out his keynote address by asking, “How self-sufficient should we be?”

He went on to briefly outline the now well-known history of the rise of industrial agriculture, but in a twist not often mentioned, he cited the farming know-how that was lost with the rise of monoculture. One hundred years ago, farms is Iowa and Oregon looked much the same, with a mix of row crops, field crops, and livestock. Farmers were “integrated systems specialists,” who knew how to conduct the orchestra of plants, animals, soil, water, and sunlight that made up the 19th century family farm. Today, farmers in Iowa specialize in growing corn, soybeans, and little else. While many of us know of many farms in Oregon full of variety, here too we have vast grass farms, single-fruit orchards, and feedlots. With that specialization and dependence on cheap oil for machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, and transport, farmers have lost the knowledge necessary to manage the diversity essential to maintaining truly healthy, vibrant farms.

According to Roberts, ordinary citizens (aka consumers) have also lost once knowledge thanks to their dependence on processed foods made possible by cheap, abundant oil. As an answer to his question about how self-sufficient we should be, he argued that along with supporting smaller scale, diversified farms, he said, we all need to learn how to prepare food at home again. Know anyone who’s helping people with that? As he spoke, the group of ranchers I’d gotten to know over dinner all turned to me and smiled. Validation is a wonderful sensation!

Harvesting Sunlight Organic Gardening Classes

I’m excited to announce that Nita Wilton, of Graf Century Farm and one of my favorite bloggers, has offered to come to Portland to teach gardening classes. This is a great opportunity to learn from someone with decades of experience growing food. She will be teaching two classes in the next few weeks, one for spring and summer garden prep, another for harvesting and winter garden planning. Sign up soon as space is limited!

Harvesting Sunlight I, March 28 at 3pm
Find out which varieties of vegetables and small fruits to plant to round out your CSA share and where to buy the best seeds and plants. Observe how to start your own transplants and direct sow in the garden. Discuss soil preparation and compost, avoiding common garden pests by changing your eating habits, and controlling pests organically.

Harvesting Sunlight II, April 11 at 3pm
Learn how to fit the winter garden fit in with your spring and summer garden plans. Understand which varieties work well in our climate and why. Discuss of age-old gardening methods that reduce the need for watering and fertilizing. Learn how to rotate crops, save seeds, then harvest and store your crops.

About Nita
Nita Wilton farms and gardens on her family’s Century Farm which is nestled in the Cascade foothills near the Columbia River Gorge. A desire to preserve the history of her local foodshed has led her to devise ways to avoid the supermarket by growing almost all her family’s food, using a blend of old and new techniques. Read more about her farming and gardening efforts at her personal blog Throwback at Trapper Creek, or where she writes collaboratively at Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op or Not Dabbling in Normal.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lost Arts Kitchen Hits the Road

So, I have a few classes and demonstrations coming up in town and in the country. Have a look-see:
  • Cooking demonstration and talk on eating local for the residents of South Waterfront on Thursday, March 26 at 6pm.
  • Lacto-fermentation class at TrackersNW, our family's favorite outdoor ed organization and school of real life, on Saturday, March 28 at 10am.
  • Eggs? Eggs! Eggs!?! class at beautiful, biodynamic Friendly Haven Rise Farm on Saturday, April 4 at 3pm.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oregonian Features Lost Arts Kitchen!

Just a quick note and link to Thursday's article in The Oregonian about Lost Arts Kitchen. Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of my new business and thank you to Emily Puro for writing such a terrific article!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Art and Science of Lacto-fermentation: An Ancient Process Reborn

Lacto-fermentation is an ancient food preservation technique that both enhances the flavor and nutrition of food. Many foods that we consume everyday have undergone fermentation, including beer, bread, cheese, miso, salami, tempeh, wine, and yogurt. Many more, such as pickles, sauerkraut, ketchup, mayonnaise, sushi, and chutneys, were commonly fermented before the rise of commercial canning. For those interested in preserving food at home, who favor taste over transportability and nutrition over years of shelf stability, lacto-fermentation is a technique well worth exploring. Fermentation enthusiast Sandor Katz, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movement (Chelsea Green, 2006), notes, "It's only in the past century that fermentation disappeared behind factory doors. Reviving those practices is a way of reclaiming control of your food."

Lactobacillus is the name of a family of bacteria naturally found in all living things (including humans) that convert carbohydrates into lactic acid. These bacteria, when present in the digestive tract, create an environment inhospitable to unhealthy organisms, improving digestion and boosting the immune system. Some of us are familiar with L. acidopholus, which is one of several bacteria used to turn milk into yogurt and is sold in a pill form to counter the side effects of antibiotics. L. sanfranciscensis gives sourdough bread its characteristic taste. Guess what L. kimchi does?

The lactic acid produced by lactobacilli during fermentation preserves vegetables. While modern preservation methods such as canning and freezing destroy nutrients, lacto-fermentation enhances food's nutritional value. Indeed, this ancient method creates new nutrients, such as the B vitamins folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for cell membrane and immune system function. Some ferments have been shown to act as antioxidants, removing cancer precursors--free radicals--from the cells of the body.

So, with all those big Latin names and nutritional factoids, there's obviously a lot of science behind lacto-fermentation. The art is in making these fermented foods so delicious we don't eat them out of obligation to our health, but because of the pleasure we experience in the process. Humans have been fermenting foods for millenia because they taste so good, not because they are full of omega-3 fatty acids and riboflavin. Lacto-fermented foods are more complex and tangy than commercially processed foods. If you're accustomed to the flavors conventional sauerkraut, pickles, or even ketchup, you may be pleasantly surprised at how different and delicious these foods can be when preserved with this ancient method.

But What Do I Do with It? Using Up All That Kraut and Beyond

Before deciding to buy, preserve, and store any new food, it is essential to have some ideas about how you'll use it someday. This month, I'll share a few ways I've been using my fermented foods at home to improve everyday meals.

Lacto-fermented foods are good in small quantities on their own, but where they really stand out is as condiments or accompaniments to other foods. The tang and crunch of many lacto-fermented veggies make them a perfect compliment for savory foods, especially anything that's heavy or bland, like sausages or beans. Lacto-fermented condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup are so superior to what you can buy in the store that once you've tried them (and seen how easy they are to make at home), you'll never go back.

You have heard it from me before. I love sauerkraut. I eat it plain, sometimes for a mid-morning snack. I add it to all sorts of soups--lentil soup, pork and bean soup, split pea soup. I always add the kraut just before serving, so that it stays crunchy. I also make borscht with lacto-fermented beets, cabbage, and turnips and a dollop of yogurt (which is another lacto-fermented food) that's the best I have ever had.

Lacto-Fermented Borscht
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1-1/2 quarts beef stock
3 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into bite-size cubes
2 cups lacto-fermented beets
2 cups lacto-fermented sauerkraut
1/2 cup lacto-fermented turnips
salt and pepper
fresh dill, finely chopped

Heat olive oil in stock pot over medium heat. Once hot, saute onion and caraway seeds until onions are soft. Add beef stock and potatoes, and turn heat to high until broth begins to boil. Gently boil on medium-high heat for 15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Turn heat to low, add beets, sauerkraut, and turnips. Cook for a couple minutes, until just warmed through. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. Serve with dill and yogurt.

My husband loves tartar sauce, though I have always found commercial versions of it insipid--not unlike most commercial ketchups. While I was making some pan-fried halibut a few weeks ago, I got inspired to make my own.

Tartar Sauce with Lacto-fermented Mayonnaise and Pickles
Doesn't make enough, apparently. This was devoured seconds after dinner started.

½ cup lacto-fermented mayonnaise
2 tablespoons diced lacto-fermented pickles
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers
1 tablespoon raw cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse-grained mustard

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

Sweet & Sour Pork with Lacto-Fermented Ketchup
Serves 4-6

Coconut oil, for frying
1 pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots sliced 1/4-inch thick, on a bias
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon Chinese mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2/3 cup tamari
1 cup lacto-fermented ketchup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup raw cider vinegar
1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds or peanuts
1 tablespoon sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat about 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute pork loin cubes until cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove pork from skillet, add another tablespoon or so oil, then saute onion over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, then add carrots and celery and continue cooking another 3 minutes, covered. Scrap any browned bits off of the bottom of the pan. Add garlic, ginger, mustard powder and red pepper flakes, cook for 1 minute. Return pork to pan. Mix tamari, ketchup, and vinegar in a separate bowl and add to pan, along with pineapple and nuts. Cook for just a couple minutes, remove from heat and add sesame oil. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper if needed.

Fermented Chocolate Cake?

What does chocolate cake have to do with fermentation? Did you know that chocolate is a fermented food? Without fermentation, cacao beans yield little or no chocolate flavor.

While that's interesting about chocolate being a fermented food, few of us will ever get the opportunity to ferment cacao at home. What you can do is make a chocolate cake that is moist and rich, yet not cloying or heavy. For Christmas, I received a copy of The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, by Alice Waters. The more I cook at home, the more I appreciate simple recipes that highlight the natural flavors of real food, so I have really been enjoying this new book. When my son asked for a chocolate cake for his birthday, I turned to Simple Food for inspiration and was not disappointed.

I did make a few adjustments to ingredients, based on what I had on hand. She called for unsweetened chocolate, but I had a 74% cacao bittersweet chocolate, so I used that and reduced the kind and amount of sugar, from 2 ½ cups brown sugar to 2 cups of Rapadura. Her recipe called for 2 cups of cake flour, but not only do I not buy cake flour as it is bleached to weaken its proteins, I really don't think such a delicate flour is appropriate for this cake. Instead, I use a combination of unbleached white pastry flour and whole wheat pastry flour (both from Bob's Red Mill). Finally, I didn't have buttermilk, but I almost always have some soured raw milk in my fridge, which I frequently use in place of buttermilk. Sour milk provides the acid necessary to react with baking soda and create the gas bubbles that make baked goods rise. I have only tried this with raw milk, I don't know if pasteurized milk would work.

4 ounces bittersweet (about 75% cacao) chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup unbleached white pastry flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups Rapadura
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs, at room temperature
½ cup buttermilk or soured raw milk, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour or cocoa, shaking out the excess.

Put the chocolate into a heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water (The water should not touch the bowl. Turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate from time to time until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from over the pan.

Sift together cake flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.

In a large bowl or a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat (cream) until light and fluffy. Beat eggs into mixture one at a time.

When egg are fully incorporated, stir in the melted chocolate. Add half the dry ingredients to this mixture and combine. Then stir in milk. Stir in the rest of the dry ingredients.

Gradually pour in 1 ¼ cups boiling water, mixing just until incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow cake to cool completely.

Run knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. If not using the same day, store the fully cooled cake in the pan, tightly covered.


For a sheet pan, prepared a half-sheet pan as above. Pour in batter, smooth the top and bake for about 20 minutes.

Or, bake in two 9-inch cake pans for a two-layer cake.

For 24 individual cupcakes, bake for about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January Newsletter

Happy New Year from Lost Arts Kitchen!
However you celebrate, I hope you and yours enjoyed a wondrous Season of Light and also found time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. A lengthy bout of illness delayed this month's newsletter, but I'm glad to get a small collection of news, recipes, kitchen tips, and class updates out to you now. Dig around amongst the Roots & Tubers and you'll even find a story about my brush with Presidential Greatness...

Stocks, Soups, and Stews Class Rescheduled
In the last month everyone in my family was hit by a nasty bug. The kids got it first, just before Christmas, then Mike and I succumbed after the New Year. I developed bronchitis and felt worse than I have in years. With the Stocks, Soups, and Stews class just days away and my husband and I still battling fevers and coughs, I decided it would be best to postpone the class until we regained our health. If you are interested in learning how to prepare delicious, mineral-rich stock at home and new ways to use it, the class will now be held on Saturday, January 24th at 10am. Thanks again to those of you already signed up who were so gracious about the schedule change.

Share the Love with Chocolate
Join me at Friendly Haven Rise Farm on Saturday, February 7th at 6pm, as we make a trio of chocolate delights in preparation for Valentine's Day. We'll start with a Chocolate Pavé, or flourless cake, made with chocolate sourced from small farms in Ecuador by Oregon chocolate maker Dagoba, local eggs and butter, and topped with rosewater cream for a special treat for that special someone. Then we'll make our own chocolate and flavor it as we wish, for amazing cocoa or just eating with a spoon. Finally, we'll make bite-size vegan chocolate fruit & nut balls, perfect for snacking or sharing the love at your next potluck. To enroll, email or call Friendly Haven Rise Farm (360)687-8384.

Dark Days Challenge: Eating Local in Winter
Eating from our regional foodshed during the dark days of winter can challenge the heartiest locavore, but we're fortunate to have a variety of fresh foods available in Portland even now. When using foods in season, try simple preparations that highlight natural flavors. Get to know overlooked veggies by cooking them without complicated sauces or hiding them amongst a dozen other ingredients; you will save yourself time and effort in the kitchen while coming to appreciate why people have cultivated them for millennia. Read more...

Banner Week for a Real Food Foodie: Michael Pollan AND Mark Bittman
So, while I was still recovering from bronchitis and super busy preparing for my first official class, I put everything aside to see two of my favorite food writers last week. Michael Pollan spoke at a sold out Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series on Tuesday evening and Matt Bittman spoke to an SRO crowd at Powell's on Thursday. Both writers had lots to say about what's wrong with how most Americans are eating today and suggestions about changes we could make that would benefit our health, our communities, our planet, and palates. Read more...

Survey Says...
If you haven't already done so, please take a couple minutes to fill out this survey so I can schedule the classes you are most interested in taking. I appreciate your input.

Sign Up Now for Winter Classes or Arrange a Class with Friends
As I mentioned previously, the Stocks, Soups, and Stews class has been rescheduled to January 24th. Due to popular request, I added the Baking Basics class on February 7th. In March, I am offering Dairy Magic, Baking Basics, Italian Family Favorites (Abbondanza! This one's going to be fun!), and So Long Supermarket, Hello Pantry. Visit the Lost Arts Kitchen web site to learn more about class offerings and to register. Also, if you are interested in taking a class that's not currently scheduled, please don't hesitate to ask about it. Arrange to take a class with a group of six and everyone gets a 20% discount--we can schedule a date and time that works for your group and I will come to your kitchen if you prefer.

Thanks to all of you who have been so amazingly supportive of my new business, who have signed up for classes, bought gift certificates, told your friends and co-workers about Lost Arts Kitchen, mentioned it on your blogs, or asked me to teach at your schools, shops, and farms. I am truly humbled and honored.

Wishing You Peace and Abundance,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Banner Week for a Real Food Foodie: Pollan and Bittman Come to Portland

So, while I was still recovering from bronchitis and super busy preparing for my first official class, I put everything aside to see two of my favorite food writers last week. Michael Pollan spoke at a sold out Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series on Tuesday evening and Matt Bittman spoke to an SRO crowd at Powell's on Thursday. Both writers had lots to say about what's wrong with how most Americans are eating today and suggestions about changes we could make that would benefit our health, our communities, our planet, and palates.

Pollan started off by explaining the concept of nutritionism. He argues that because people in the United States have become so disconnected from the sources of their food, they no longer heed their natural instincts or cultural precepts that previously guided our decisions about what, when, where, why, and how to eat. Instead, we have come to rely on nutritionism, an ideology that assumes that it is the scientifically identified nutrients in foods that determine their value in the diet. Pollan identified the following premises of nutritionism:
  • Food is primarily a conveyance for nutrients.
  • We need experts to help us understand nutrients, for they are impossible for us to see and understand.
  • We eat for health, not for enjoyment, companionship, etc.
  • There are good nutrients and bad nutrients, though the definition of which is what is constantly shifting.
Nutritionism arose in the late 19th Century to solve the problem of heart disease. Scientists and others attempted to desconstruct foods to determine their health-giving nutrients. But, as Pollan notes, the healthful essence of a carrot isn't its beta carotene, as that nutrient alone doesn't have the same benefits of the carrot. Despite a hundred years of nutritionism, we still have heart disease, plus diabetes, obesity, and a host of other diet-related issues. The elephant in the room, Pollan noted, is the Western diet. It's been shown over and over again that when people forgo their traditional diet in favor of the Western diet of processed food, they developed our modern, Western diseases.

So, what's the solution? Can we get off the Western diet without abandoning Western civilization? If we can’t count on scientists to tell us what to eat, who can we count on? Pollan reminds us that there are other systems of knowledge besides science, culture being one. If we apply cultural rules to eating, rather than nutritional ones, perhaps we can find ways to eat that not only improve our health, but bring us pleasure and connection with others. Here are some of the cultural rules for eating that Pollan suggested:
  • Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • It’s not food if it has ingredients you don’t recognize or have in your own pantry.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Foods that spoil are kept in those easy to access areas.
  • Don’t eat food that won’t eventually rot. If microbes won't eat it, neither should you.
  • Use small plates, don’t snack, don’t eat in your car or buy fuel for your body at the same place you buy fuel for your car.
  • Don’t eat alone or in front of the TV. Eat at tables.
  • Food you cook is better than food that’s cooked for you (you don’t add HFCS to food you cook).
  • Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself.
Want to hear Pollan yourself? Here's his TED talk. And here he is on Portland's own Cooking Up a Story, parts one, two, three, and four.

People are calling Mark Bittman's new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating With More Than 75 Recipes, "applied Pollan." Like Pollan, Bittman has some rules about eating that can help us improve our health, though, being The Minimalist, his rules are even simpler: "Eat less of certain foods, specifically animal products, refined carbs, and junk food; and more of others, specifically plants, in close to their natural state."

In his talk, Bittman related his personal reasons for following such a prescription. A few years ago, with knee-surgery looming, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and 50 pounds overweight, his doctor advised him to "go vegan." While Bittman couldn't bring himself to making such a radical change to his diet, he struck upon a simple rule that helped him lose weight and improve his overall health. He became, "vegan before six," eschewing all animal products before dinner (except, he admitted later, cream in his morning coffee). One tip he shared for sticking to a vegetarian regiment at restaurants is asking if there are any side vegetables leftover from the previous evening's dinner menu.

One statistic that I found most striking is that of the approximately three pounds of food the average American eats per day, a half-pound is meat and another one-and-a-half pounds are other animal products. The other pound? That's plant foods, primarily in the form of potatoes, corn, and wheat. Bittman doesn't argue that we need to become vegetarians, but "less-meatarians" and that our current meat-centric diet is not only bad for our health, but unsustainable, especially as more and more people around the world emulate the American diet.

Cooking Up a Story interviewed Bittman during his visit, so if you missed him at Powell's, you can hear what he has to say here and here.

Having read Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food and spent much of my life studying the intersection of farming, the environment, health and culture, there wasn't much new to me in either Pollan's or Bittman's talks. Nevertheless, I found them both inspiring and enjoyed seeing so many other people who care deeply about food.