Books

No Soggy Bottoms! One Perfect Pumpkin Pie with Meringue Topping for Thanksgiving

Who doesn't love pie? I do, and I have had to learn to make them at home since the advent of my dairy allergy. Impossible to eat one out. Pie without butter? Is it any good? Yes. Yes it is. This recipe represents the best of three different recipes and many years of hosting, preparing, feasting. I culled two techniques from the venerable Rose Levy Berenbaum, a crust I love from Amy Traverso and a meringue topping from David Leite. I'll share the full recipe below along with some other terrific tips I've picked up along the way. Won't you join me? Pull up a fork!

two apple pies
two apple pies

Apple Pies for a birthday girl

strawberry_rhubarb_pie
strawberry_rhubarb_pie

Strawberry Rhubarb 

sweet potato pie
sweet potato pie
pm pie
pm pie

One Pumpkin Pie to Rule Them All

Pie Nation, Pie Boxes and more

  • Crust Dust: If you're making a fruit pie, this tip from Pie it Forward is worth the book. Gesine Bullock-Prado makes beautiful pies and some of her best tips can be yours. A soggy bottom is not a good thing. Not in most situations and certainly not in pies.
  • If you're taking a pie to someone's house, the Pie Box is essential!
Pie box 2
Pie box 2

Large enough to accommodate an Emile Henry pie dish

Pie Rules

There are some rules I'd say are non-negotiable.

  1. Make sure the fats are cold, and stay cold.
  2. Work quickly, calmly and with authority. If the fats get warm then pop it back into the fridge
  3. Always let the dough rest before rolling it out. But wait - Dorie Greenspan doyenne of Parisienne food says maybe not? Leite's Culinaria's Renaee Schettler Rossi asks "WWDD"? What Would Dorie Do?

Hm. Seems we have been given permission to ignore some of the rules. I'M IN!

Unified Pie Theory

So here's my unified theory of pie. It's okay to break rules and pick the best parts of various recipes.

My favorite crust at the moment is from Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. The Double Crust pie is a winner. To that, I add Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible. I use the cooked custard technique as well as her terrific technique of crushed gingersnaps to line the bottom of the pie. It helps prevent the dreaded soggy bottom, much like the Crust Dust above for fruit pies. If you can enjoy nuts add pecans to the gingersnaps. 4 (2") gingersnaps and 1/4 C pecan halves. I just use 6 Snappy Gingersnaps.

Also, cooking the pumpkin puree and spices, blending in the food processor makes for a smooth, rich filling.

Finally, I loved the addition of a meringue topping and all who enjoyed it agreed. I have Leite's Culinaria to thank for that inspiration. Pumpkin Meringue Pie. And if you need some pie crimping ideas, say no more.

An Evening of Beer, History, and a Boatload of Oysters

  Well I'm on my way shortly here to a terrific event at Harpoon Brewery.

Imagine a giant Venn Diagram with Oysters, Beer, History, Culinary Geekdom all intersecting. THAT is where we'll be tonight!

 

CB

An Evening of Beer, History, and a Boatload of Oysters... Tickets, Boston - Eventbrite.

Could You Eat Well on $4 a Day? A Cookbook to Help Food Stamp Recipients Cook Cheaply Becomes a Massive Viral Hit

Four dollars a day. What could you do with four dollars a day that would feed your family? You might be surprised.  

four dollars

Maryn McKenna brings us this fantastic story of an upcoming cookbook (available now on PDF) that aims to fill in a critical gap between food assistance and eating well on a budget, even a food stamp budget.

Key ingredients missing? Recipes and skills.

This clever Canadian started out offering a free PDF on her site, that literally overwhelmed her site with 200K downloads more than once. She turned it into a Kickstarter (finally a Kickstarter we can get love!) and launched in May. You can buy it here still in PDF form and the book should be published by year's end.

Leanne's blurb says:

I'm a food-studies scholar and avid home cook in NYC, by way of Canada.

I think everyone should eat great food every day. Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill.

Cooking is easy — you just have to practice.

Recipes are simple, and include photographs of steps to show someone exactly how to to prepare the dishes. Honey and Chipotle Glazed Sweet Potato? Yes, please.

 

good-and-cheap-cover-1024x1024

Read more from the always excellent Maryn McKenna see the National Geographic series "The Plate".

A Cookbook to Help Food Stamp Recipients Cook Cheaply Becomes a Massive Viral Hit – The Plate: Maryn McKenna.

 Eating well on a little more

For another take on the eating well on less theme, I highly recommend Amy McCoy's Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy's book is filled with delicious foods anyone can make and she gives the budget breakdown of every dish. For example: her Height of Summer Blueberry Crumble (p. 164) serves 6 to 8 for $5 - $10 depending on whether you add ice cream. It works out without the ice cream to about $1.21 per person. Amy's Chicken in Cider Gravy is a favorite here, and her Cornmeal Crust Peach Crostata gets rave reviews every summer.

PGG_bookcover

Save the Date! September 9!

I got 99 reasons why you should save this date....9/9 get it? Can't wait to get my hands on this. Wonder what would go well with oysters? We'll have some excellent news in this regard very shortly. Stay tuned, bookmark this site and save September 9. In the meantime, allow me to whet your whistle..

 

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Crafty Bastards: Beer in New England from the Mayflower to Modern Day from Audissey Media on Vimeo.

Five Steps to Wok Star Status (and One Seriously Good Cookbook)

I have a confession to make. I had all but forgotten my wok skills. I lost my wok in one of many moves. I settled in to married life steps from Chinatown’s Paifang (gate) and it just always seemed easier to go to a restaurant than to get another wok, season it, then chop, prep, clean. It wasn’t until I began guiding tours through Chinatown and launched my own cooking instruction business that I realized I needed to get back to actually cooking with a wok and teaching others to do so as well. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be back at it.  I have Grace Young’s brilliant Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge to thank for it. Click book to buy.

Five Steps to Wok Star Status

Wok cooking can be one of the healthiest, and quickest, ways to bring a weeknight meal together. Yet many people shy away from cooking in a real wok and default to their favorite sauté pan, or worse take-out food. What are the advantages of cooking in a wok? It’s lightweight, naturally non-stick, and efficient. It’s also very healthy, relying on high heat, little oil, lots of vegetables

Step One – How/where to buy a wok. For anyone near a Chinatown, you’re in luck. Many large suburbs also now have H-Marts or large cooking supply stores. I favor the lightweight, flat-bottomed carbon steel style wok. It cost me a whopping $11.98 at Sun Sun Market on Oxford Street. You can get a similar one online via Amazon or other such mail order shops. Even at double the price, it remains a bargain as far as cookware goes. Don’t bother to buy a nonstick wok! You will develop a natural nonstick surface quickly.

Step Two – How to season your new wok.

You’ll begin by scouring the wok with steel wool and soap. This is the one and only time these two things will touch your wok! You dry it carefully then season it by rubbing and pressing chopped scallion or garlic chives, ginger and peanut oil into the sides and bottom of the wok. After about 20 minutes of stir-frying the vegetables will be darkened and so will the wok. The pores of the wok have been opened by the heat and the metal will begin to absorb the fragranced oil.

Step Three – Tips for excellent results. Throughout the book, you’ll learn tips and techniques like how to cut the garlic, scallion or ginger that make up Asian “mirepoix”. Helpful substitutions included for those not near a Chinatown. For example, dry sherry (or my mother-in-law’s favorite Amontillado) make good substitutes for Shao Hsing rice wine.

Step Four – How to clean it and store your wok. Similar to cast iron skillets, you simply rinse with hot water, dry it, then store it. As mine is new, I often take a folded paper towel and tiny bit of oil or bacon fat to lightly coat the surface.

Step Five – Unexpected wok fun. Did you know popping popcorn in a wok is one of the best ways to develop the patina? (See below.) With only 20 minutes, you can season a wok properly and then it’s DONE. Each subsequent use improves the quality of your wok.  According to Grace Young, "Wok hei, or the breath of a wok, is the flavor and aroma that's produced if a stir-fry has been correctly cooked with super fresh ingredients over high heat---and it only lasts for a fleeting few seconds or minutes after the food has come out of the wok." 

I’d like to say I’m introducing a new technique and tool can energize your weeknight kitchen routine and inspire you to try new recipes. But in truth, wok cooking is as old as it gets. It may be new to you, but not for long.

One Seriously Good Cookbook: Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge

There are some books that are simply recipe collections. Others are travelogues, picture books, nice for the coffee table. Then there are books you want to devour. With your eyes, your senses, your heart. This is one of those. Grace Young combines everything we’ve come to expect from the best of our cook books:

  • Pictures that document step-by-step the key techniques
  • Heartwarming stories that tie personal moments and dishes that represent them to historical events
  • Techniques that will enable home cooks to get terrific results
  • Recipes that are both pleasing and fun to make, as well as delicious.

Like all my favorite cookbooks, this one is already dog-eared, splattered and tabbed. I removed the dust jacket for this shot.

My Wok, My Self

A seasoned wok is a work in progress, just like me.

As I eagerly flipped through the first few pages of my then-new book with my then-new wok, imagine how my heart sank when I go to page 23 Patience to Wok. Patience? Me?!

Only two pages later, I learn that one of my favorite snacks, popcorn, is perfect for boosting the wok’s patina. Like many kitchen lessons, these wok lessons translate to life lessons. Once in awhile, especially when your wok is young, you may find some food stubbornly sticking here or there. No problem! Woks, like cast iron skillets are nearly impossible to ruin. Young’s book even shows you how to give your wok a “facial” to restore the surface.

Soon you’ll see beauty in your imperfectly mottled patina. You’ll appreciate the quick-to-heat and quick-to-cool surface and you’ll definitely appreciate the lightweight nature of most woks. I find myself reaching for the wok as much or more than the large cast iron skillet these days. Even eggs won’t stick now.

Lessons from a wok:

  1. Stubbornness of youth can be overcome with some seasoning.
  2. Be as quick to cool, as you are to heat.
  3. Appreciate your imperfection.
  4. A tiny bit of TLC goes a very long way.
  5. Be giving.

To learn more:

Recipes, Tips, and One Unique Turkey Roasting Technique - from Friends Old and New

Gathered from friends old and new, these recipes are going to make you and yours very happy. Promise. And having recipes borrowed from friends makes me feel connected, even while we're apart.

An Interesting Option

First I invite you to join me in one of my most precious holiday traditions: the reading of the turkey-in-a-hole pictorial essay. If you are not dying from laughter by the middle of this, there is no hope for you. Poor Girl Gourmet is written by my friend Amy who is a solid friend, talented and hysterical writer, producer, recipe developer and cookbook author. Several of her dishes are in our regular rotation.

While you're there, poke around Amy's site and you'll find much to inspire - and on a budget! Always good. Thanks Amy! (and if you're interested in travel, check out the Tiny Farmhouse Tours.)

 

Other Dishes to Try

Lots to like here: sides, rolls, desserts, vegetarian friendly dishes. We want everyone to feel welcomed, don't we?

Pumpkin rolls06Delicata Squash Boats Stuffed with Red Rice Pilaf - courtesy of my friend Kim O'Donnel. This recipe has become one of my all time favorites and has made me such a fan of Delicata squash. Can't get enough. I recently taught a Kitchen Confidence group how to make these.

I'm pretty sure when someone takes a bite, closes their eyes and says "I just need a moment..." You've got a winner. I have added a tiny bit of orange flower water, but it doesn't need it, we just had it on hand for some sweet potatoes. You'll get the same reaction with the straight ahead version.

delicata boats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latkes - In case you're not aware what this "Thanksgivvukah" holiday is all about, it so happens this year Thanksgiving falls on the first night of Hannukah. I think this is like a Haley's comet, once-in-a-lifetime situation.

I tested this Sweet Potato- Apple Latke recipe from the terrific Amy Traverso, author of The Apple Lover's Cookbook for all of us who may want a Thanksgivvukah option. I'd heard Amy on David Leite's Podcast "Talking with my Mouth Full" describing these and let's just say there was some swooning involved.

That was all the convincing I needed.

latkes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolls, Dessert

These gorgeous pumpkin "cozy" rolls (above) are indeed comforting. I had made these Golden Pumpkin Spice Dinner rolls the last year but really loved the look of these Pumpkin Cozy Rolls and my friend Carolyn Jung has never steered me wrong. Hers take a longer (overnight) rise (but no longer hands on time) and make a smaller batch. Mine take a couple hours and produce a larger batch. [Here I must share a reminder to read through your recipe before beginning or else you're leaving your husband notes that read "4 am take rolls out of fridge, 5 am when you're back from gym, please preheat oven. 6 am please put coffee on and try to wake me..."]

I love the texture and color of Carolyn's rolls, Adapted from “Choosing Sides” by Tara Mataraza Desmond, and especially if you want variety at the table, some gorgeous color and are hosting a smaller crowd, I'd go with that one. By the way, if you're a fan of San Francisco, and good food, check out Carolyn's debut book: The San Francisco Chef's Table. It would make a great hostess or holiday gift!

These Gluten-free (or not, your choice) Pecan Pie Bars look like the perfect solution for adding some variety without another pie. In years past I've had two or three pies, which is fine, (what's "too much" when it comes to pie?) but I'm going to have to try these soon. We're going light on dessert this Thanksgiving for us, but if you've got enough people, and/or a gluten-free guest, wouldn't it be lovely to have this easy to make ahead, gluten-free treat to share?

Jane Evans Bonacci, AKA The Heritage Cook is a new Facebook friend who's always ready with a supportive word and delicious often gluten-free recipe. I like that she gives you both the gf and regular option in the recipe. If you're cooking for someone with celiac or gluten intolerance please refresh your knowledge here with some tips on How to Host a Food-Allergic Guest (includes tips on GF).

 

Do Ahead Tips

It's not too soon to do some prep.

  1. If you're going to need/use linens iron them now while you're watching a show.
  2. Make some spiced nuts to have with cocktails.
  3. Finalize your grocery lists - what you'll need for baking, from the last Farmers' Market, from the liquor store.
  4. Stock up on garbage bags, zip top bags/containers.
  5. Make stock for gravy.

 

 

Be happy while you're living, for you're a long time dead.  Scottish Proverb

Some thoughts on the "Chinese Restaurant Manifesto" - A bowl half-empty or half-full?

My day began with an interesting read circulating on Facebook. An Eater's Manifesto For Chinese Restaurants | Florence Lin | Carolyn Phillips. I don't know Lin or Phillips but Phillips' self-described "rant" caused me to pause. She takes two experiences - one dining with a friend who ordered in Chinese, and one when she ordered presumably in English and different dishes - as her starting point for the rant. Phillips draws some dubious conclusions. Had she gone back and asked for the same dishes, by their Chinese names, I bet she'd have had a different experience. Chinese restaurants are not punishing you for being non-Chinese, after all. They are serving you what they (albeit often mistakenly) think you will prefer. It is our job to show them otherwise.

But first, a step back...

To understand what we wish to critique, it is helpful to know a little history. There are many reasons that Chinese restaurants and menus developed the way they did. At least for Boston's Chinatown a look at the these may be helpful in understanding how we got to where we are today.

Remember, it was not so long ago that all Italian restaurants were red sauce or pizza joints. Today authenticity and regional expressions rule the day, but this was not always the case. Few outside of Italy knew the difference between Tuscan and Sardinian ten or fifteen years ago. So it is with Chinatown and Chinese food. In its early days, the craze for this new exotic cuisine was driven by people with little knowledge of China, no appreciation for nuances of regional cuisines. I'm not a fan of the Food Network but one cannot deny its popularity and at least in earlier days it lead the way in terms of food education.

Back then, and to some extent even today, Chinese people and their food were treated with hostility or at best some curiosity. Early diners in Chinatown were not foodies. They were railroad, garment and laundry owners and managers. A little later, as The Chinese Exclusion Acts began to be repealed and our Chinese population grew, some enterprising Chinese capitalized on the growing American hunger for this new "exotic" cuisine. Neon dragons and phoenix festooned the growing number of restaurants catering to the adventurous. Ruby Foo's Den grew so popular the entrepreneur opened a second location in New York.

In the early days, when visiting dignitaries and entertainers would have their drivers bring them to Chinatown for this new and edgy experience, Chinese restaurants were happy to have them. In order to also feed their own authentic food, they began to use a yellow banner or flag hung in the window to signify that real Chinese food would be served, off menu. This was not conceived of as a way to hide these dishes from gwei lo; it was more likely that no white folks back then were interested in authentic expressions of regional dishes. They were happy to have their scorpion bowls and chop suey.

Chinese menus grew to cater to a broad variety of tastes as a matter of business survival. Here in Boston we have a regrettable habit of running lemming-like in packs to the newest, latest, he's doing what there? - restaurant. People are too quick to follow a trend, a crowd, a review. We are fortunate to have a thriving restaurant culture now. Restaurants outside of Chinatown, as well as in it, have to work hard to keep customers coming back when the sheen of being the hottest new spot has been eclipsed by the next hottest new spot.

I asked respected Boston restaurant critic "MC Slim JB" for his take on this topic and Phillips' post:

In my experience as a white man with no Mandarin or Cantonese, I have little difficulty getting access to the “good” menu, even as my countrymen are ordering General Gau’s and pork fried rice. Traditional regional Chinese vs. “debased” American-Chinese is not an either/or choice in Boston’s Chinatown restaurants, and it clearly is good business to serve an American-Chinese menu to the folks that don’t understand or appreciate traditional cooking. This inclusiveness has zero effect on the quality of my traditional Cantonese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Shandong, Sichuan, and other regional cuisines and specialties available in the neighborhood. I can get terrific dim sum, live-tank seafood, hotpot, BBQ, and so on, and servers don’t blink when a white patron orders them. 

I also think the author’s perspective lacks grounding in the realities of the restaurant business. Chinese restaurateurs are savvy businesspeople: does Phillips believe that they are simply naïve, blind to the gigantic opportunity she sees to educate consumers about more traditional regional cuisines? Or could it be possible that there’s still a huge portion of the American populace, that despite all our alleged food obsessiveness, just isn’t that adventurous?

I agree that better translations, better server language skills, and an aggressive approach to marketing the virtues of traditional cuisines would lure more non-Chinese patrons across the great divide. But it’s still a business, and most restaurateurs would like to make a buck at their trade – if they can educate the heathens and bring them to a new world of joy in the process, that is proverbial gravy, but it’s a fool’s errand if they lose money and go belly-up in the process.

If Phillips wants to see more restaurants doing traditional cuisines in a way that edifies and educates the poor ignorant Anglophone masses, I welcome her to try it: I suspect she may be in for a rude shock at how very difficult it is to pursue her grandiose vision and keep the doors open for six months. In the meantime, I will continue to eat quite well and traditionally in Chinese restaurants, and hope for the day that more of my countrymen will throw down their prejudices, ignorance and monolingualism, and start exploring a bit on their own. Sometimes, the problem of culinary authenticity is not in our restaurants, but ourselves.

My approach

Because I live so near Chinatown, and lead historically-driven culinary tours in Chinatown, and I eat in Chinatown regularly, I get to see first-hand a broad view of Chinese food lovers from those that order nothing but chow mein and crab rangoon, to those that are curious. A whole table orders three types of fried rice. Diners who wrinkle their noses and say "Eeuw" at food that is so fresh it's still alive when you've ordered it, or comes to the table with a face. Meat on the bone, heaven forbid.

I am also the first to complain that a menu is poorly translated, ("baked pork chop" which turns out to be beautiful, fall-off-the-bone, red-braised pork rib but goes unordered because of the bad translation). But let's remember, these folks conduct business in a second language. How's your Cantonese? Your Mandarin? Mine are non-existant.

So what is a well-intentioned, mono-linguistic adventurous diner to do?

Here's what I did long before I met my Cantonese-speaking husband, long before I was trained to conduct the Chinatown tours. Perhaps these tips will serve you well:

  1. Find something on a near-by table that intrigues you and ask for that dish.
  2. If kitchen staff are cleaning a box of produce that just came in that day at a back table, GET THAT. I've discovered more than one regular favorite by ordering this way.
  3. Ask the server for a dish that is typical of their region. Know what region you are talking about.
  4. Insist politely that you "don't want tourist food." I used to have a wallet card that had this phrase translated into several languages. It was always a good ice-breaker.

Here are some other tips, I've incorporated more recently:

  1. Pick up a book on Chinese food and learn what some key ingredients or iconic dishes are in the main regions. (Two current favorites: Grace Young's Stir-fry to the Sky's Edge, Pat Tanumihardja's Asian Grandmother's Cooking)
  2. Go to a restaurant that serves a particular regional cuisine. Get the dishes that represent that region.
  3. Take a Chinatown tour.
  4. Do not pour soy sauce, chili garlic sauce over your food as if it were mustard on a hot dog.
  5. Learn how to say please or thank you in the appropriate language - here, usually Cantonese or Mandarin.
  6. Ask the server to read the specials to you. This you may want to do this off-hours. You're not going to win any friends by stopping service at peak hours to read what is, after all, authentic dishes.
  7. If it's peak hours, simply ask "what is fresh, best today?" That will always get you some suggestions.

bowl chopsticks_OPT

A bowl half full

We could look at life as a bowl half empty or half-full. We could question whether a provocative rant is simply trying gain visibility for an upcoming cookbook release. But I prefer to look at the world as a bowl half full. We have a wonderful opportunity to explore the globe through television, the internet, through cookbooks and  most importantly through food. Thankfully we have more restaurants and better ones than ever. Why not take a positive approach?

Don't assume that Chinese restaurants are trying to dupe you or are interested in serving you bad food. In my experience, they are genuinely happy if someone is curious or adventurous about their cuisine and they're proud to share it.

Don't hold Chinese restaurants to a different standard than others. Do you call out Italian eateries for serving dishes from more than one region? Indian restaurants also often represent a variety of regions on their menus. I don't mind so much if more than one region is represented but ask which is their speciality.

I suspect much of the pro-rant tweets and posts are coming from a group of sophisticated food lovers who may be greatly over-estimating the general dining public's preferences. But the more sophisticated the ranter, the higher the bar I'm gonna hold you to. Meet them at least half way and you'll find a much improved experience.

  • What are your favorite tips for dining out in ethnic restaurants?

  • What are your favorite books about regional cuisines, Chinese or otherwise?

 

 

Harvest Moon - Rabbits, Mochi, Fragility, Abundance

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. The mournful notes of a cello, the desperate blaze of leaves' last color, the crisp bite in the air. I go to the endings. I go to the fallen leaves. To driftwood.

driftwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These move me more than the green shoots of hope, the spring.

These are the love poems of my ancestors:

What is the use of cherishing life in spring? Its flowers only shackle us to this world.

by Izumi Shibuku

 

This body grown fragile, floating, a reed cut from its roots . . . If a stream would ask me to follow, I'd go, I think.

by Ono no Komachi

The book, The Ink Dark Moon, is missing, again. I've bought and lent it several times...happy to share it with people. These poems are mournful and lusty, women articulating longing for lovers in a particular style of poetry in a sliver of life, high courts in ancient Japan, a context which is hard for us to appreciate today. What I love about the poems is how much can be conveyed in a just a few words. It seems impossible. With a bright harvest moon, and summer's end, my thoughts have turned toward harvest.

Harvest

My disparate and mindful friends offer provocative reflections on all kinds of things: random jackrabbits passing by a campsite, butchering of animals, eating of meat or opting not to, rants against excess, followed by reflections on severity and tenderness. Who else but Elissa Altman can make me cry while reading about brisket?

As it often happens, these threads catch each other, wind up together, and stick with me. Mental lint of the most valuable kind. E.M. Forster put it beautifully:

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

...and this is how these collected thoughts come together for me. This week it is harvest that keeps tumbling over in my writer's mind.

Thoughts keep beckoning in softer or louder voices, asking for some quiet time. I am just now longing for, craving, a few days or maybe just one with no other errands, tasks, pleas from those that need this or that from me now! Even as I begin to type, my mouse batteries are dying making things impossible and the next batteries are not yet charged and that perfect turn of phrase is escaping and I am chasing mercury again - and again.

Breathe. Focus.

Autumn is a time of gathering in, collecting, harvesting.

Harvest can mean so many things. We harvest food, we harvest organs, we harvest meat that was once walking, bounding across fields, or lazing in summer sun, we harvest and animals become meat. This is something many would rather ignore. Others ruminate on this in reflective or harsh ways. Some bring a silver-clear light to it and illuminate it beautifully.

This Harvest Moon has me reflecting on many of these percolating things.

We Japanese say we see rabbits, not a man, not bleu cheese, in the moon. At harvest moon, we make and eat mochi, honoring those mochi-pounding rabbits in the harvest moon. I've just reconnected to that imagery and at the same time recall the beauty of butchering my first rabbit. Jarring isn't it? Cute little bunnies and mochi, to denuded meat and bones.

whole rabbit

1har·vest

nounoften attributive \ˈhär-vəst\

: the season when crops are gathered from the fields or the activity of gathering crops

: the amount of crops that are gathered; also : the amount of a natural product gathered in a single season

tomatoes

2harvest

verb

: to gather (a crop)

: to gather or collect (something) for use

harvest

 

 

Itadakimasu

Giving thanks for the harvest. Around the 15th day of the 8th lunar month Asians celebrate the harvest moon. This year it fell on our Gregorian calendar on September 19th. I made mochi and began to write in anticipation of the holiday about these various harvest threads. It was meat, not mochi, that kept calling.

Itadakimasu means not "bon appetit!" or "tuck in!" as it is so often mistranslated. Instead it conveys a mindfulness and an appreciation of the thing that gave its life so that we may eat. I much prefer this reverence and mindfulness about the meal to the more familiar 'dig in' sentiment.

Appreciate the harvest you eat. Appreciate that thing that gave its life for your meal. Appreciate those that had a hand along the way, farmer, fishermen, butchers, cooks.

If you're enjoying heritage pig, even in excess, appreciate the biodiversity being sustained by farmers growing these pigs. Old breeds are often commercial nonsense, taking longer to grow to market weight, being trickier to have butchered and generally finding a much smaller market of buyers willing to pay the price. Elissa's Gloucestershire Old Spot is one of maybe 200 breeding animals in the US, making it one that is in "Critical" need of conservation. Yes - we have to eat it to save it. GOS are huge - some of the biggest. Other smaller breeds, and going in on a meat share with neighbors, can be a wise way to enjoy heritage breeds, to preserve them and to sustain community.

How an animal lives, what it's fed, is no less important than how it dies. My friend Tamar wrote so eloquently about it in the Washington Post. She's grown and harvested her own pigs. I have such a connection to animals, I find it difficult to imagine taking a life, but perhaps incongruously, less difficulty eating the harvest. I accept a charge of hypocrisy. I resolve it by buying meat less often, but buying better meat. We choose meat that has had a decent life and hopefully met a not-too-brutal end. (I exclude oysters from this, the occasional live spot prawn, and am marginally more comfortable with killing a lobster or crab.)

 

Fragility and Tomorrow

There are days when people abstain from eating flesh as a reminder of the precious fragility of life. Chinese abstain on New Year's Day, Catholics on Fridays or during Lent. Some folks are ravenous after funerals, some are sickened by their own excess after grief. Our appetites are intimately tied to the cycle of living and dying. The revulsion some feel when they are reminded that their dinner had a prior life are most likely repulsed not by the food with faces, but with facing their own mortality. When we're connected to the transition of another animal going from living-to dead-to dinner, we are facing the reality that we too will die.

The rituals of Halal butchery are particularly eloquent, but all butchery done well, takes on a reverance for life that we take and consume. It's often done with a certain hush. In the presence of butchers I often feel a weight in the air, the best of them stay connected to reality of what they are doing. Chef Josh Lewin approaches his lamb butchery with this sort of reverence and mindfulness.

I suppose some might approach a side of beef as a seamstress would a few yards of fabric, but the ones I've been in the presence of do not.

We have no certainty in tomorrow. Rituals in religions or at meal times can connect us to each other, to a renewed appreciation for life, for now, for community. Josh taught us:

Baynatha Khubz wa Milah - a Jordanian phrase, if memory serves, roughly translates to “now that we have shared a meal, we are connected.”

Our harvest can be more than the crops we gather at the end of a growing season. Our harvest can include joy in a shared meal and appreciation for that which gave its life to feed us.

I'm grateful for the harvest, for the abundance that allows me to use words like "starving" which only means I'm a few steps away from my next meal.

I'm grateful for friends who send me home with an embarrasssing amount of food from their garden, feeding me with their company, and feeding us with this bounty.

 

In this time of gathering in, I'm happy to share  friends who touch me deeply in our shared reflections on these things.

Elissa Altman - Poor Man's Feast

Hank Shaw - Honest Food

Tamar Haspel - Starving off the Land

 

mochi with respect for those rabbits: cocoa mochi for the harvest moon and all its reflections.

 

 

 

A Grand Giveaway to Celebrate Oysters

Grand Central Oyster  

This is a gorgeous book y'all.

Part history, part cookbook, part coffee table eye-candy.

This book covers the century of fresh-as-can-be seafood served in the landmark restaurant in the lower level of Grand Central Station. 100 years of oysters and more. Oh my.

The first time I opened it, I landed on Maryland Crabcakes. Next I landed on Oysters. This book is DESTINED to become a regular, dappled, and smudged kitchen companion.

From

But here's the good part. I got one for YOU!

Register for Shellshocked Event

So you may have heard I'm having a little event on Monday. Shellshocked: Saving Oysters to Save Ourselves.

Shellshocked

This powerful 40min documentary covers the oyster's heyday, through decline and ends with the coastal restoration work that is happening today. We've got terrific guest speakers, delicious oysters and a few surprises.

Please join us!

Register here.

Everyone who registers is automatically entered to win. We will hold a drawing on Monday night at the event.

Other ways to Win:

Now I know some of you are saying - hey, I don't live in Boston, I can't be there, but I really want that book.

      • Here's another way to enter to win. Join the Oyster Century Club© and tell two friends about Monday's event. (see sidebar for Paypal button)
      • Have a friend who loves oysters? Someone you know big on environmental issues? Maybe you know a documentary film buff? I can email you a press release you can send to them personally.

Here's a Tweet for you to share now:

"When enviro issues X dinner plate. Restore, recover, eat oysters! Powerful 40 min film, spec guests +You? http://bit.ly/1dbqJPR"

Now drop a comment and tell me about what you want to prepare from the book, raw bar? Appetizers? (Clams Casino?) Fried Seafood? (Fried Ipswich Clams? Guinness-battered Fish and Chips?) there's sides and desserts and specials they serve daily. It's gorgeous. You should have it. Really.

Act fast, drawing is Monday!

NB: Contest closed: Commenters below Susan, Rich, Janis, Vivian will be included in tonight's drawing. Good luck everyone!

CONTEST WINNER: Our youngest attendee, Isabelle helped me draw names from the attendees and commenters. Congratulations Janson Wu! Thanks Isabelle and thanks to all who entered, tweeted and shared the OCC love.

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Eat Your Vegetables - Adding to, not Subtracting from, Our Food Joy

The notion of plant-based food being meals-minus-meat always rubs me the wrong way. Call me a glass-half-full omnivore. I've had my vegetarian phase and am now happily an eater of most everything. But the resistance of some to "give up meat" strikes me as fundamentally the wrong way to approach it. As a friend once put it "when someone hears I'm a vegetarian, they always frown and think how sad, imagining that I am eating buns without burgers or something." Listening to my friend Joe Yonan read from his new book Eat Your Vegetables the other night at Trident, I was struck again by how charming and thoughtful and funny he is. "Is it time to stop mocking mock meats?" he asks. And while his book buying fans, vegetarians and veg-curious, (some of whom went home empty handed due to a sold out inventory!) munched on kimchi deviled eggs (p.146) and poblano tapenade (p. 151) and chips, the reading was classic Joe: I had to take notes, I had questions, I was curious, I laughed. And that tapenade, sweetie, is to die for.

Joe Yonan at Dewey Square Farmers' Market

Feeding Others, Feeding Ourselves

The past week has been a tough one for us here, work challenges for both of us, sinusitis and migraine for me, anniversary of my late Grandmother's birthday, etc. (you don't want to know about the etc., trust me.) So we're looking forward to the holiday weekend even though I'll have to work. Try taking a day off when you're a loft-dwelling freelancer. Let me know how that works out.

Yesterday evening was an example of why we, Me and Doc, work. How we work. In any relationship, clients, family, partners, you have moments when you are wise to hold your tongue and do the opposite of what you're feeling. Give rather than ask, compliment rather than criticize; after all this person at whom you may feel like lashing out against probably cares for you and probably is not intentionally being difficult.

On good days, we can take a deep breath, a step back, and remind ourselves of that. On days when we've had crushing pain in our head for nearly two weeks, we can find that reservoir of kindness dry. "We" have been having that sort of time lately. Of course, I mean me.

cookie jar

Digging deep, and feeling very sorry for Doc after a night of watching him clean up others' messes, all night, I decided to fill his cookie jar. This is a cookie jar I got for Doc for Christmas. Since I cannot afford the sorts of gifts he'd prefer (a new Land Rover, a Jaeger le Coultre watch) I have to go with more humble gifts. This is one of those. It reminds him that I love him. It reminds me that I don't have to do extravagant expensive things to make him happy. I can, in the simple gesture of filling a cookie jar, show him he is cared for.

Yesterday, I thought he needed that. I made these cookies from Joe's great book. Carl's Chocolate Chunk Cookies comes with a headnote about caring for his then new boyfriend who was under the weather, first by making him soup, then by making him cookies. Who wouldn't feel better after that?

Joe's lovely book is a reminder that food, whether it's meat centered or not, vegetable laden or not, free of mock meat or not, food is something we can use to comfort and value ourselves and others. As he reminds us, the seatbelt warnings on airplanes "place your own mask over your nose and mouth first..." we must care for ourselves first, then we're fortified and able to respond to the needs of others. Fill your own cookie jar!

Doc came home with a surprise for me, too. A giant ciabatta from Panzano's - I immediately tore into it, sliced up a Purple Cherokee tomato and was in heaven. We take care of each other in these small but important ways.

cookie trio

The Book Itself

Because Joe has written "for the single cook", one might think the recipes are only for single cooks. Let me assure you this book is perfect for a couple as well. As many of us have come to find out, at a certain point, our weight does not respond the way it once did to simple interventions. I once used to eat anything I liked, in any quantity I wanted, and never gained an ounce. I have never forgiven my body for the betrayal of losing that capacity.

As a cook, I find it hard to cook in smaller proportions and these recipes help. Make a couple of them for a small plates or tapas style dinner, or double one up for two, or add a salad or a grain.  Do we really need two dozen or four dozen cookies all the time? Not always. Here we have ten perfect, giant cookies. A healthy, portion-controlled indulgence.

More good news:

  • Recipes that are straightforward, use simple ingredients and they work. They are also delicious.
  • Headnotes and longer essays interspersed between recipes will have you nodding, laughing, and thinking.
  • Particularly useful are the notes about scaling recipes, about using up ingredients, storing things. His relaxed manner should set even novice cooks at ease.
  • Helpful sidebars throughout give even more advice to help you cook once, eat twice and so on.

So I do urge you to Serve Yourself and to Eat Your Vegetables and to remember, if you're single and you don't value yourself enough to feed yourself well, don't you think that others will take their cue from that? Whether you're single or not, pick up one or both of Joe's books and I promise you, your cosmic cookie jar will overflow. Now, go forth and cook!

 

It's a Summer Solstice Party - Homemade Summer Style

  As I began this, it was Monday June 24 and it was a true heat wave. While the mercury dropped some 30 degrees, it's inching back up again and we're looking for light and easy food for friends and family.

Welcome to our virtual potluck, a wrap up of a Homemade Summer Solstice posts from all over: Holland to Oakland to Atlanta to Boston - and Japan! We're cooking from Yvette Van Boven's lovely and inviting book: Homemade Summer. Nearly every page of this book entices and engages. We either feel that we are, or know that we should be, in THAT photo, at THAT table. Thanks to Oof Verschuren's photography, I'm pining daily for summer picnics in Provençe!

These are unfussy, easy recipes that deliver and beckon us to play, to relax, to eat and drink. We're not the only ones to take notice of this fine book. The New York Times, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Boston Globe, Providence Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Huffington Post - just to name a few.

Homemade Summer

I got the inspiration for a solstice-themed event from the indomitable Tammy Donroe author of Food on the Food. Tammy's blog is one I've read with both tears and laughter, always skewed more to the latter. Can't wait for her book this fall. (Winter desserts? Yes please!) Tammy hosted a giveaway of Homemade Summer and also made these lovely crab cakes to bring to our virtual potluck.

 

crab_OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since my good friend Denise lives on the other side of the country, our visits are too few and too far between. But we always seem to pick up as if we'd just had coffee the day before. I wish we lived closer but given her considerable talents in the kitchen, my hips are grateful for the distance. Still, I'd walk a few more miles if meant we could dine together more often.

For now, we will have to make do with occasional stolen moments during family visits and an online conversation that winds its way through the hills and valleys of our lives. She's one of those friends you can always count on and I think the first to say yes to this invitation, even though she was only hours back from vacation. Now that's a trouper!

Check out her award-winning blog. She cooks, shoots, writes and eats accompanied by that delicious character she shares her life with: Laudalino - they inspire us at ChezUs.com.

mint-lemon_OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know of my love for Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. I even started the hashtag #Grainiacs because we have some momentum going with this grain thing owing in large measure to Maria. Her book is selling like whole grain hotcakes, as we knew it would. And even though Maria is at work on book number 2 (YAY!) she took the time to join our picnic, too.

Let's celebrate her success with this lovely Cava Sangria, and let's toast her mother who taught her the value of delicious homemade food.

Cava OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lovely (and lately glowing even more than usual) Shelby shares a beautiful post on the Strawberry Shortcake. I'm dying to try it now. Shelby is a food blogger, lover of Boston and New England, and works for a small indie publisher, Union Park Press. She's a fan of wine, beer and cheese and shared a beautiful sneak preview of a soon-to-come book you'll definitely be hearing more about here.

Strawberry+Shortcake_Homemade+OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dutch cookbook reviewer and blogger joined us, too! I'm so glad to see this Carrot Pie with Apple and Goat Cheese. You can find her on Twitter @DutchCookery.

carrot pie OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peripatetic writer, travel host Gwen Pratesi (AKA Bunky) writes BunkyCooks and has transitioned from blogging to culinary travel and events. Alighting home in Atlanta between a Boston visit and her next trip, Gwen whipped up a lovely Mediterranean Salad with Spelt, Eggplant, Zucchini and Marinated Feta.

Spelt-Salad-2OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Jane Ward (Hunger, The Mosaic Artist) joins our virtual potluck with this beautiful Eggplant Tatin. Jane writes for Eagle-Tribune papers, is at work on her third novel and is a contributing writer for Local in Season. As well, you can now find Jane in videos for the AllFood.com

pie peek_OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I was intent on making these Fig Negroni Ice Pops from the moment I first laid eyes on this book. Negronis are one of my favorite drinks. This recipe is typical Yvette: familiar with an intriguing twist. I forgot about following directions and the importance of ratios of alcohol and freezing, but please do not let my refusal to follow instructions dissuade you from trying these. They are just delicious - promise.

plan b pop glass_3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here's a late entry from Japan - Thanks Tomomi! Or Domo Arigato Gozaimasu! Pink Grapefruit Tart.

Grapefruit OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penny Cherubino, publisher of BostonZest also loves Homemade Summer!

Negroni Fig Ice Pops - Homemade Summer Treats for Grown Ups

  There's a whole summer menu on Powells.com written, drawn, crafted by the multi-talented Yvette Van Boven. We begin with cocktails, here, an aperitif made with Aperol and bubbles..

spritzer_OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can create any menu you please, follow the one Yvette posted on Powell's or try ours here: It's a Summer Solstice Party - Homemade Summer Style.

I like a meal with bookends, so my contribution to this party is Negroni Fig Ice Pops.

Ice Pop Molds, Red White Blue

Plus I have these cool Ice Pop Molds I wanted to use!

 

Negronis are one of my favorite cocktails: gin, Campari, sweet vermouth - what's not to love? (try some Burlesque Bitters in your next one, or Orange Bitters, you'll thank me later). When I saw the recipe for popsicles that added figs to the mix, well, I was hooked. (just check the site header...) This is one of the hallmarks of Yvette's recipes, they're straightforward and yet always have a little surprise, a little something different. Figs complement the Negroni flavors beautifully.

2figs_opt Two figs ready for the party

 

 

 

 

 

 

Negroni Fig Ice Pops

Makes 4-6 pops

  • 1/2 C + 2 TBSP (150 ml) red (sweet) vermouth
  • 2 1/2 TBSP (40 ml) gin
  • 1/2 C (125 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 fresh figs
  • 1/3 C (75 ml) golden syrup or clover honey

 

Put everything in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Pour through sieve into a bowl with spout and then pour into molds.

Place in freezer and push wooden spoons in after two hours.

Freeze for at least another four hours, but ideally for 1 day.

Run the ice pops under hot running water for 3 seconds to unmold them.

 

While the ice pops were freezing, I set up the photo cube and shot, planning to have a nice ice pop with maybe a tiny pool of melty goodness for some 'action' in the photo.

Plan A_OPT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So -- we cannot take issue with the recipe when we didn't follow it, can we?

I used half a ruby red grapefruit (no oranges) and thought adding a couple dashes of orange bitters and a splash of orange flower water would add some orange notes to the pops. What I learned is the ratio of alcohol to juice is critical for proper freezing.

plan b pop glass_3Plan B

Ultimately we enjoyed these from flutes with iced tea spoons. They were delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fig Negroni sorbet_OPT Negroni Fig slush puppy...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'd make these again - and follow the recipe next time. The flavor was fantastic. This is the part of summer we love...you just look at the positive and roll with it. Now go enjoy!

Summer Solstice and Summer Love - a Homemade Summer Blog Party

You know me. I'm the one who has trouble letting go. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes a not so good thing. You're in luck, dear readers: this time it's good. Remember the wonderful Yvette Van Boven sweeping into Boston right around the Boston Marathon weekend? So many lovely events, like this one at Kitchenwares:

Julie Homemade Summer Kitchenwares

Oof Yvette Jacqueline

Inspired by Yvette's & Oof's gorgeous book Homemade Summer and Tammy Donroe's excellent suggestion, we've decided to do a Homemade Summer Solstice blog thing. I can't let go. I'm still getting books in bloggers' and food writers' hands - there's a small stack here with stickie notes indicating who I'm saving them for - you know who you are.

Homemade Summer Cover

Homemade Summer Solstice

We are inviting everyone who's got the book to prepare one of the lovely recipes (I'm thinking of the Fig Negroni Popsicles p. 99) and do a post. Send me the link on or before June 28 and I'll do a meta post (I know you're saying "that's just like her, she's so meta.") rolling up all the links to all your lovely posts in one.

But wait, you say, isn't Summer Solstice today - June 21? Yes, of course you are correct. But you know we're rather fond of doing things on our own timetable around here. We're making our Solstice thing next Friday!

Okay, but you're still so busy, you're wondering how you could possibly manage it? Let me tell you, I saw with my own eyes several of these recipes come together in 20 minutes, in one bowl, in one square foot of my kitchen island as I banged about testing the lamb, tenting it, carving it, dishing out sides, stacking pans...if you've seen me cook, you know what I'm talking about. I made us dinner while we prepped recipes for the various signings. Possibly there was wine involved, or whiskey, or both.

Really, you can do this. And just think of the fun seeing all the summer posts in one. It may end up looking like the whole summer party menu Yvette did for Powell's.

In fact, have a drink and relax. Why not a Pimm's Cup (p. 90)? Have a nibble on some crispy chickpeas (p. 111) or maybe shuck some oysters and enjoy with ginger lime dressing (p. 105).

We are in gorgeous and short berry heaven right now, maybe you'd like to do a berry thing - strawberry jam biscuits or coconut strawberry lassi? (Did you see the Providence Journal or Bon Appetit pieces?)

lemons lemonade

So that's it folks! Get your book, prepare something quick and delicious, post and send me the link by the 28th!

 

National Sushi Day - More Sushi Secrets

This book figured into an almost mystical, years-long unfolding story of sushi, secrets, family and friends. I learned after the fact that June 18 is National Sushi Day. Someone once said "if she didn't have bad timing, she'd have none at all." This may be the best timing I've ever had.

So let me take this timely opportunity to visit the book apart from my own story. First, let's address sustainability issues, after all part of how Marisa came to ask me for a jacket blurb was through my sustainable seafood writing.

Tuna or No Tuna or ???

I was contemplating a second post on the tuna we used for the dinner anyway, but I figure now that folks might be searching for sushi at home tips - may as well post it now.

If you love sushi, and whether or not you've tried to make it at home, I highly recommend this book. The author, Marisa Baggett is a pretty interesting character: an African American woman caterer from Mississippi who falls in love with sushi through a catering job, closes up shop, buys a one way ticket west to go to the California Sushi Academy and ends up publishing this book. I mean, who even ate sushi in Starkville, MS back then? On top of it, Marisa in true American fashion has taken sushi in slightly non-traditional directions. She not only encourages folks to riff on the classics, she gives great tips for incorporating local ingredients.

She also focuses on sustainability, bringing us around to the issue of tuna. I stopped eating bluefin a while back. The population is so depleted, the only hope for its survival is careful management and probably a moratorium on them altogether. That's not likely but I personally do not feel it's ethical to keep eating them in light of the overwhelming data about the pressures on the stock.

The good news is that you don't have to forego sushi. Bluefin was not always the most popular sushi choice, you know. In fact, Japanese used to bury it to lessen the bloody taste of it. Only now as demand for it worldwide has grown, and so the market opportunity in fishing it, have we seen such a crazy feeding frenzy for tuna. Read more about this once disparaged sushi choice by expert Trevor Corson. It's a fascinating bit of Sushi history that most people are largely unaware of.

As with most of our food choices, conscious carnivores know that every choice, like our choice of tuna, carries consequences. In addition to the numbers, there's also the ways that tuna are caught (methods typically used now include unconscionable by-catch). If that wasn't enough, there's mercury which accumulates in unsafe amounts in these top-line predators.

So what's the answer, no more tuna? I think there are some options. We found this frozen yellowfin

yellowfin tuna

under the brand "Sushi at Home" which lists it's country of origin at Korea (likely the processor only.) Anyway, it was an interesting option to incorporate and I was pleased with the texture and quality. I've written to the company to see if they will provide more information. Presumably Whole Foods Market has done their homework as well.

The other option now available here in Boston, is locally caught bluefin from Menemsha. I have mixed feelings about it, but I believe they're not using FADs and probably long lining or pole catching and limited in a way that's likely more regulated than the big international vessels. I'll drop an update here when I get more info on either the frozen or the fresh versions.

 

Sushi Secrets - the Book

Let's take a look at how the book is laid out, we'll use tuna as our example...and also highlight some Southern and some uniquely American items:

In the opening pages Baggett lays out what you need to know about making sushi at home, including a forward by Trevor Corson, Getting Started covers the 8 basic types of sushi. Planning, an overview of the basic types of sushi and tools - each of these include photographs and helpful tips. Buying sushi ingredients includes a suggestion toward local ingredients and a small note about why bluefin tuna is omitted. Great Sauces and Condiments for Sushi, is followed by the first Chapter: Appetizers. Included here are Japanese classics as you might find in a restaurant, Age Dashi Tofu, Chicken Gyoza, Soba Salad, Tempura.

Next is Sashimi including Poké, Oyster San Ten Mori, Tilapia, Tuna and Avocado tartar.

Pressed, Gunkan and Nigiri sushi - includes Tuna Tataki among many others. One I'm dying to try is Avocado and Pomegranate Nigiri. Buttery avo and tart pomegranate sounds fantastic to me.

Thin Rolls is next and includes some of the most interesting combos: Butternut squah rolls, Lamb rolls with mint, Roast Pork Rolls with Sweet Gingered Cherries.

Okra - and Crawfish - Southern staples - makes their appearance in the next chapter, Thick Rolls. (My Mom used to call all my attempts at thin rolls "futomaki" or thick rolls, not necessarily a compliment.)

Catfish and peanuts, two additional Southern favorites - appear in separate Inside Out Rolls.

The Sushi Bowls chapter includes: Egg, Goat Cheese and Green Bean Sushi bowl, Sesame Tuna, Ham and Peach as well as Ratatouille Sushi Bowls (where a tomato is the bowl!)

Next up: Te Maki or Hand Rolls - Crispy Chicken Skin Hand Roll, Glazed Bacon Hand Roll, Coconut Shrimp...Kimchee, Tomato, Anchovy Hand Roll. The Spicy Calamari Te Maki looks divine.

Desserts include plays on themes like chocolate Fudge Wontons and "Eggroll" Cherry Pies, cocktails and mocktails finish the book.

A helpful Resources guide is included as well.

 

This small book it packed with photos that enable even novice sushi fans to explore sushi at home, to get creative and to focus on local sustainable ingredients. Doing good tastes good.

Gochisosama, y'all!

 

Sushi Secrets is published by Tuttle Publishing. It is available by clicking on the cover above through Powell's or at your local independent bookstore. You can also order it through Amazon.

Get to know Marisa via her site: In the Kitchen with a Southern Sushi Chef.

Sushi Secrets - What's a Little Spam Musubi between Friends? Rings Lost and Found.

It all began with my Grandma. I went to visit her, in Hawaii the year before law school. She'd made a lunch of American cheese on white bread for her hapa granddaughter and I'd brought home a freshly grilled mackerel from the Japanese grocery. We had a good laugh and when she realized I loved Japanese food and flavors she asked me if I'd ever had sushi.

At that point, I really hadn't -- save for a late night party in restaurant after closing hours. A female chef told me hilarious stories of trying to learn how to make this new thing called sushi from Japanese sushi chefs she could not understand. She'd carefully dropped each nigiri rice bed into a pot of water because she misunderstood their accent thinking the master had said "put them in water". What he had actually said was to put them "in order" (which, in a Japanese accent would sound nearly like "in water").

Sushi eating, much less making well, it was all so mysterious back then. Sushi bars were not yet fixtures in every city, every grocery store. It's possible the story was a little funnier because of the after-hours drinks but ... suffice to say I didn't really feel like I knew my way around a sushi menu from that drunken walk-in cooler introduction.

Grandma took me to a local hotel sushi bar that happened to have an early bird special on sushi. I think it was some ridiculously good price for all you could eat sushi between certain hours. The sushi bar was tucked into an alley, between hotels and had all of five or so seats. In a city like Honolulu that caters to tourists, this was clearly a local hidden gem.

Grandma ordered a few pieces tentatively and watched for my reaction. I guess she thought if Ididn't care for it, it was not a waste of a ton of money. Then she ordered more, and more. She was so happy to see me enjoy it, and kind of in disbelief. She taught me to eat it with o-hashi/chopsticks. (I never told her what the Japanese businessman next to us explained to me: "In Tokyo we eat sushi with fingers." He implied that because she was from Hokkaido, she didn't know any better.)

She was delighted to watch as I ate my fill of this new treat. This was a fantastic visit and the only time she and I had had together, just the two of us. I will always remember how much I learned about her, and from her, during that week. We shared a love of travel and I admired her work part-time at a newspaper where the young staff valued her knowledge of kanji enabling her to typeset the printing plates with more accurate and nuanced vocabulary they did not possess.

Before my arrival, she had saved some money to buy me a gift. She explained that she was afraid she didn't know me well enough to be confident she could buy me an appropriate gift. It had been years since we'd lived near each other in Hawaii, after all. The distance between 8 years old (when she brought me my first camera) or even 12 years old (when we left Hawaii) and law school, was great. I expected no gift but her company and the time with her so I was surprised when she gave me some money, explaining I was to buy something that I wanted.

I'd noticed a small jewelers near the Japanese grocery where I picked that mackerel off the broiler/conveyer belt, still warm under its plastic. Something in the jewelry store window caught my eye. It seemed to me something solid would be a good way to mark this special week. I wanted to be able to look back and remember it with something tangible. I picked out a gold ring, easily the most valuable and extravagant thing I'd ever owned at that point. I thought about touching it in the future and remembering my grandmother and the special week we'd had - just the two of us - before I lost myself in law school, in practice, in life.

When I showed her my purchase and thanked her for it, she did the über-Japanese thing, a small polite smile and a nod. "Grandma, do you like it?" "If it pleases you, then I'm happy." Well it does please me, though I don't wear gold that often anymore, I do wear it to remember her and to mark special occasions.

Getting to the Sushi Secrets Part of the Story....

As I became more immersed in Japanese food, and learned more about sustainable seafood issues, I developed a different sort of relationship with sushi. When  Marisa Baggett asked me to provide a quote for her upcoming Sushi Secrets book, I was honored to do so. It was during this same trip to my grandmother's that I met Marisa's publisher Mr.Tuttle himself who would ultimately publish Marisa's book. Curious, yes? Here's his nephew who shared a snorkeling trip to Hanauma Bay with me, with Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle on the left. (She is from Hokkaido, just like my grandmother was!) They were very kind to me, inviting me to their hotel for an afternoon drink.

Tuttle Mori

Sustainable seafood and sushi are two passions Marisa and I share, in this book she skillfully combines them both. If you are aware of the growing scarcity of  many species of fish, you may be inclined to forego sushi. Outside of a handful of Eco-conscious restaurants like Tataki and Miya's, you'd be hard pressed to find sustainability on the menu at most sushi bars you'll find. You can learn to make wise choices with the help of pocket guides and smart phone apps, but once you open your eyes to the depletion of our oceans, it's tougher to enjoy any old sushi joint.

You can also learn to make sushi at home. If you don't think you can do it, I'm here to convince you otherwise. Marisa's book is a perfect guide. Just take a look at these kids making sushi in this video.

 

The Spam + Friends part of the story...

When I got the chance to assist Chef Nathan Fong at the British Columbia Sustainable Seafood booth at the International Boston Seafood Show, I quickly said yes. Of course we didn't have any spam on the menu there, but do feast your eyes on some of the phenomenal food we put out for the show. My job was to shop, prep, assist, clean, etc. and I had friends who helped me schlep the groceries, lent me their carts, a bin, and so on. After the show was over, I wanted to thank my friends with a "Gokurosama Sushi Secrets" dinner.

Gokurosama is the Japanese way of thanking someone for their effort.

On the menu for our Gokurosama Dinner:

  • Stir fry of sablefish with onion, black bean chili garlic sauce, cilantro
  • Cucumber radish salad
  • Gungkan Maki - uni
  • Gunkan Maki - ikura
  • Nigiri - tuna
  • Nigiri - tamago
  • Spam Musubi
  • Kappa Maki
  • Ume Shiso Maki
  • Negi - Avocado Maki
  • Takuan Maki

A funny thing happened while I was planning this dinner. A new couple moved in next door. I ran into them and invited them to come meet their neighbors and have some sushi, warning them that it was a bit of a crazy menu and crazier crew.

And that Band of Gold...

Turns out Cody and Carlos were engaged and we all fell in love with them. Cody had some hidden sushi ninja skills and brought the star power that only a former child TV star can bring. She also brought a charming Bolivian, now her husband, and a bottle of Prosecco. We were smitten. We made sushi together, using Marisa's excellent book.

Cody showing two Chinese girls rice

Here's Cody showing two Chinese girls, Lisa and Jesse, how to make rice for sushi - in the microwave. That's Carlos on the left checking out the recipe.

 

Spam Musubi

Here's our disappearing Spam Musubi. Cody's hidden talent, at least one of them, is making these.

 

Secrets Shared - One Ring Lost, Two Blessed

In just a few short months, we've become so close and shared (some might say overshared) so much. We even got invited to their wedding. I'll not steal their thunder but I will share one little secret. I wore my gold ring, purchased to commemorate my special week with Grandma, to this weekend wedding in the Berkshires. And promptly lost it.

I searched everywhere and could not find it. I kept it to myself, sharing the secret only with Doc, in case it might feel like a bad omen or something. I thought about my Grandma and that week and focused on the important things: one, the memory and not the ring is what's important; two, there was the most uplifting wedding going on where gold rings were being exchanged to signify Cody and Carlos' commitment. This was a joyous weekend and the only tears were happy tears. On checking out, I quietly left a request to the staff that if the ring should turn up, it be returned to me. I was pretty certain it was gone.

And during this weekend I had hoped to actually write about this first night we met Cody and Carlos over Sushi Secrets. I thought it would be a fun post for folks to see just after the wedding.

But it wasn't happening. There were drinks, and laughs, and friends. There were tears of joy, new friends, and more laughter. And there was this gorgeous wedding between two really sweet new friends going down. So the post, I decided, could wait. And in a moment in a hammock with my (city boy) husband, I remarked how things that seemed urgent before, suddenly felt less so now. Being in the moment is a lesson I seem to need to learn over and over again.

Cody and Carlos did exchange their rings, after a lovely "ring warming" where the rings are passed from guest to guest, during the ceremony imbuing them with all our best wishes for a lifetime of joy.

I was sad about the ring I lost, but so very happy for these wonderful people and their marriage, that the sting of my loss was diminished. Such is the power of love.

canopy

double hammock

 

Back to Secrets of the Edible Kind

Sushi is not a meal you would typically make at home, especially in the U.S. where we have a penchant for quick "3o minute meals" and we're mad for shortcuts. These notions are the opposite of how the Japanese approach, well, almost ANYTHING. However, Marisa does a great job of laying out step-by-step instructions, photos and recipes making the job of rolling or pressing sushi eminently doable.

As with any cooking, it pays to plan ahead and think about what you'll be preparing. In this case, I was celebrating my friends and showcasing fantastic seafood from British Columbia. So I had some prep to do: Dashi, tempura sauce, sweetened soy and spicy mayo, as well as rice soaking/steaming. All recipes are clearly laid out in simple instructions, and many have step-by-step pictures.

My plan was to have drinks, introduce the concept of the evening, and introduce friends to each other while we nibbled a bit of the sablefish stir-fry. Then, I figured we would not be starving and could begin trying our hand at making sushi, following the various recipes. We began with Spam Musubi partly because it was a quick one to put together. There's also nothing like sharing something as retro as Spam to break the ice.

I had the table set with Lisa's special sushi plates, dipping sauce dishes, new fancy chopsticks for everyone to take home, and of course, drinks!

plates, dishes

We prepped and cooked, and rolled, and pressed.

ikura, uni, tamago, caviar

Ikura, uni "gunkan" or battleship style sushi. Tamago in front, garnished with Northern Divine Caviar.

prep for maki

ume, shiso, kapa, takuan, negi, mushrooms all got rolled into ....

makizushi

sushi secrets

tuna, avocado, nori and my crazily tabbed book.

 

Full Circle - Rings and their Significance

I never planned on being married, myself. So I never had a fantasy about "the ring." Caleb changed that and showed me, shows me every day actually, the value of the commitment it symbolizes. Cody showed me her ring and how proud she is to have incorporated design elements from her beloved Mother's ring into her own. We held their rings and wished good things for them and were buoyed by the love that swirled around us all weekend.

We're so happy to have such great neighbors we can count as friends, like family really. We've already shared so much including this first raucous sushi feast.

As we unpacked from the weekend wedding and began to plan our week ahead and to think about the work to be completed Sunday night, I found in my suitcase the ring I was so sure I'd lost!

This whole story, my sushi discovery, meeting Mr. Tuttle, choosing a ring to mark my time with Grandma, developing an awareness of and appreciation for sustainable seafood, gaining such solid friends and sharing their wedding with them, losing and then ultimately finding my ring...rediscovering how joy supplants sadness...it all creates a perfect circle. I tend to learn in rather deliberate if not dramatic ways, don't you think?

My Grandma's presence is certainly here in this story.

So here's what I've learned from its unfolding:

Life can bring you friends and connections that might take years to mature, as with my Tuttle connection; or in the case of our friendships here, they might deepen very quickly. Joy shared openly can diminish loss. People who matter are with us in our hearts even if no tangible thing remains to remind us.

As always, there is joy in sharing a meal with friends and with some attention to what we eat, we can revel in food even while being mindful of our impact on the planet. With some thoughtful care for friends and partners, we can and will share many more meals together.

With Baggett's Sushi Secrets they might even be homemade, sustainable sushi.

Congratulations to Cody & Carlos on their marriage.

Congratulations to Marisa Baggett on this beautiful book.

May we all eat well and remember the words we Japanese say before consuming our meal: "Itadakimasu" which is to humbly receive the lives given so that we may eat. A fitting pause before a sushi meal.

 

 

Homemade Summer Solstice

With the summer solstice nearly upon us, it's time to get together and celebrate Homemade-style!

Come pick up your own copy of Yvette Van Boven's acclaimed book: Homemade Summer.

We'll have a glass of wine and catch up.

We'll plan our summer solstice blog party and we'll toast Tammy Donroe for the excellent inspiration!

Thanks to Les Zygomates for hosting and Kitchenwares for goodies!

WHEN: Monday June 17; 6-7 PM WHERE: Les Zygomates Wine Bar & Bistro; 129 South Street; Boston, MA 02111

RSVP to me here - just a few seats left.

Lemonade

Click on the image to see Yvette's Summer Menu and a yummy drink...

No Grill? No Problem. Great Ribs Anyone Can Make.

This is the time of year everyone is firing up their grill, buying a smoker, a big green egg (looking at you Dr Food), talking about ribs, kebabs, burgers. A city girl could get jealous. Without even the opportunity to fire up a little Smokey Joe - the mini-Weber - you might feel you’re missing out on one of the primary joys of summer. I used to. Of course rainy days can dampen grilling enthusiasm, too.

City Girl Ribs

Here’s a technique that will inspire you, no matter how urban or how small your kitchen is. If you have a grill, all the better. If not, don't worry - I got you covered.

First, the ribs.

All the best techniques, recipes and tips would be wasted if you start with factory-farmed, antibiotic-laden meat.

 

  • In one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 6, 2002, researchers found links that strongly suggested that the people who developed Cipro-resistant bacteria had acquired them by eating pork that were contaminated with salmonella. The report concluded that salmonella resistant to the antibiotic flouroquine can be spread from swine to humans, and, therefore, the use of flouroquinolones in food animals should be prohibited.
  • Another New England Journal of Medicine study from Oct. 18, 2001, found that 20 percent of ground meat obtained in supermarkets contained salmonella. Of that 20 percent that was contaminated with salmonella, 84 percent was resistant to at least one form of antibiotic.

Superbugs are not invited guests at my house. We buy from local farms or Whole Foods, and look for good animal welfare standards as well as little or no antibiotics use.

Start with the best meat you can afford. We’ve found that eating better meat, less often, is much more satisfying than eating cheap meat every night. (It’s only cheap if you ignore the health consequences to your self and your environment.) Now, about the ribs you want to eat.

Technique

As with many things in life, preparation and technique matter.

Strip.

Rub.

Steam.

Bite, lick, suck.

Hey, I’m still talking about ribs here - focus!

But seriously folks, ribs are sensuous food. They combine both salty and sweet flavors as well as spice and smoke. Don’t forget fat. They require fingers, paper napkins, and induce smiles, moans, grunts and usually some laughs.

 

Strip:

First, remove the meat from the wrapper and check to see if the butcher has removed the “silver skin” from the back of the ribs. Most likely, it’s still there. Rubs, steam, sauces will not permeate that membrane so your meat will be less flavorful. Remove it for better flavor and easier eating.

Rub:

Rub the ribs with a spice blend, I use an iteration of this one, though truthfully, it varies from batch to batch:

DIY Fajita Spice/Rib Rub

Ingredients

2 teaspoons each:

  • brown sugar or palm sugar
  • ground cumin
  • oregano *Seri if you can
  • ancho chile powder
  • pimentón (sweet)

1 teaspoon each:

  • ground coriander
  • ground black pepper
  • kosher salt* (you could also add a couple drops of liquid smoke to the beer in the pan for a smokier flavor)

Buzz these up in your spice grinder, blender or molcajete and store in a cute little jar. When you perfect your own blend, this makes a nice gift.

Rib Rub

Start several hours or the day before you plan to enjoy your ribs.

After removing the silver skin, rub ribs liberally with a shower of spice blend and some brown sugar. Place in zip top bag on a plate in the fridge overnight or at least a few hours.

Ribs rubbed, ready to steam

Steam:

You know that pan that comes with every oven -- speckled gray enamel, shallow bottomed with and a slotted tray on top? Some people wonder what the heck to do with it. THIS is what to do with it.

Preheat your oven to 350. (or start your grill, fire up your charcoal)

Get a six pack of beer you enjoy drinking. Pop one open and take a swig, just to be sure it’s good of course. If it's really good, enjoy the whole thing and pop open a second one for your ribs. Pour the beer into the bottom of this pan. Place the rack on top, take the ribs out of their bag and place on the rack, pour any accumulated juices in the bag over the ribs.

beer in bottom of roasting pan

Take two pieces of foil long enough to cover ribs and seal pan, fold two long edges together, fold that seam a couple times to seal. Place your foil blankie over your ribs and tuck, tuck, tuck. You’re creating an envelope to steam the ribs as the beer simmers in the heat of the oven.

This tenderizes the meat, helps the spices permeate it and if it makes you feel any better, probably steams off some fat.

Check the ribs after about an hour at 350. You may try a thermometer, but likely you’ll hit bone and get a very high reading. Use your eyes. Has the meat shrunk some exposing some bone? Use tongs to pull up gently on the bone and you should be able to tell that the meat has fully cooked. You don't want it falling off the bone just yet.

Remove the foil (careful there's that hot beer in the bottom tray!) and brush with your own barbecue sauce or a good bottled variety. Return to oven to glaze the ribs, slather, turn, maybe 15 minutes on each side, as you wish. The ribs will be fully cooked at this point, it's just about how saucy or crispy you like them to be finished.

* Try making your own smoked salt! Place a 1/2 or so of Kosher salt in a ramekin or saucer and place in one of those smoker bags, along with a saucer of ice cubes.  Bake in the oven for about half an hour or so. The ice melts, creating steam, the smoke infuses the salt.

Resources / Books:

These three excellent resources are on sale now on my Powell’s Bookshelf. I recommend them all for anyone interested in grilling. Click on the image to go right to my Powell's page. $14.48 (list $40) $9.95 (list $19.99) $9.95 (list $19.99)

 

Ribs

 

  • Should we fire up our "BBQ Bonanza" this year?
  • Who wants to do a guest post/recipe on the theme of Sustainability at the Grill?
  • Anyone want to sponsor...?

Summer of Love - Yvette Van Boven's Boston Tour Stops

In celebration of the warm weather (don't worry we're losing it soon enough) I decided to make a batch of Mint Lemmo. It's already gone. I want to make more and try it with elderflower liquor and a couple blueberries...and gin.

Today's was Lillet Blanc, splash and soda water.

Here's the recipe:

MINT LEMMO

 

As we round out Yvette's Boston tour, making lists of last minute logistics and details, we dip again and again into this beautiful book.

As do others --  like the Huffington Post Books writer Nicki Richesin:

  • "Her cookbooks give the reader a sense of a life well-lived and the abundant joy delicious meals offer when shared with friends and loved ones."

And Food & Wine who interviewed Yvette to get an insider's tour of Amsterdam, drawing on both her design background and her restaurant/catering/cookbook experience.

  • "...the cultural poverty it (simultaneous closing of top two museums) created stimulated an underground scene that was really approachable and fresh.” Read on to learn about this "punk food movement" in Amsterdam.

Home Made Summer Mint Lemmo Ah...

Schedule of Events

April 13 @ 12 -2 have lunch with Yvette at the ICA on Saturday - check with Eat Boutique here.

April 13 @ 4 - Brookline BookSmith - tasting and chat.

April 14 @ 2 - 5 - Stop by KitchenWares for a nibble and a book. (public, stop in, EventBrite info here.)

April 16 @ 12-2 - Media Luncheon - chefs at Les Zygomates will be cooking from the book!

April 16 @7 PM - Trident Bookstore on Newbury - tasting and chat. (public, stop in)

Bonus: her award-winning photographer and husband Oof Verschuren is coming, too!

Snow is Falling, but (Home Made) Summer is Here!

Home Made Summer

Agog really.

Open this beauty up and you are transported.

You can feel a warm breeze on your skin. You thirst for a cocktail, a salty little nibble, and you smile.

You squint just a bit from that sun.

That sun!

Soon, very soon, we will be sharing the warmth of Yvette's book and her smile, right here in Boston. Until then, why not use the last of your winter citrus in something delicious and sunny.

zest

Lemon Thins

From Home Made Summer, by Yvette Van Boven; Photographs by Oof Verschuren. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, April 2013.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 C plus 2 TBSP (125 g) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or 2 tsp vanilla sugar
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 6 TBSP (85 g) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 C (85 g) all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer for 5 minutes, until nice and foamy. Beat in lemon zest.
  3. In another bowl, beat the butter until light and airy. Alternately stir the butter and the flour in small batches into the egg mixture. Stir in a tiny pinch of salt.
  4. Using two teaspoons, arrange small mounds of batter on prepared baking sheet at least 2 inches apart (they'll spread).
  5. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.
  6. Let the cookies cool on the pans for a few minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

 

❧ ❧ ❧

Warmth from the oven will carry us through these last days of winter.

Close your eyes and nibble a taste of the sun.

Stack of Lemon Thins

 

Events

April 13, ICA Boston Eat Boutique Luncheon: Ticketed event. Info here.

April 13, 4pm Brookline BookSmith, Boston Booksigning + little presentation & tasting [free event, just walk in] 279 Harvard St., Coolidge Corner, Brookline 617.566.6660

April 14, 2-5pm  Kitchenwares event, Boston Book signing & tasting event [free event, just walk in] 215 Newbury St  Boston, MA 02116 617.366.4237

April 16, 7pm Trident Bookstore Café, Boston Little demo and tasting event [free event, just walk in] 338 Newbury St  Boston, MA 02115 617.267.8688

The Straight Poop on New Year's Resolutions to Eat Better

I'm often asked what foods one should avoid, whether carbs are evil, and people sometimes assume I eat gluten free (who knows where that came from?!) The simple truth is no true food is really evil and much of the "healthy" advice out there is pure poop. As many of us are thinking about resolutions, it's a good time to separate wheat from chaff. And poop. Speaking of poop, I have decided to make poop the theme of this year's "resolve to eat better" post. More on that in a minute. First, let's review what makes a resolution or any goal succeed or fail. Here's a mnemonic device to help you remember: SMART. How to make your goals and resolutions SMART:

  • S - Specific. Instead of "eat better" try a specific goal: "One meal a week will be whole grain based." It's not so hard. Make whole grain waffles one Sunday (you can freeze and toast for breakfasts later), a pumpkin brown rice risotto for dinner. Bake whole grain muffins on a weekend for grab and go breakfasts.
  • M - Measurable. "Eating better" isn't going to be something you can measure accurately. Make it something you can measure. For example, "eat one meatless meal per week." Easy, especially with the slew of good vegetarian cookbooks out.
  • A - Achievable. This is about setting yourself up to succeed. I could set a goal to exercise 6 days a week. If I were my husband, I might succeed. I am not. I would be more likely to achieve my goal if I said "I will walk three days per week." I could aim for 4-5 but set my lower limit of sloth at three.
  • R - Reasonable. If you grew up like most of us with meat-centric meals, it would be unreasonable to quit carnivorous ways cold turkey, so to speak. How about resolving to buy only pastured, grass-fed beef? Or cage free eggs? Sustainable seafood?
  • T - Time-bound. Goals that are time-bound are more likely to be met. Let's say you have a goal to "exercise more" - sounds nice, right? But isn't it more likely to be achieved if you say "I will walk at least 20 minutes each walk." Or "we will try one new veggie recipe each week."

The Straight Poop

First the bad news. Much of the advice flying around the internet is poop. "Avoid gluten and lose weight" a favorite canard. When people have gluten sensitivity or are Celiacs, of course they must avoid gluten. The rest of us really are better off with whole grains in our diets, and yes, that includes gluten. Those who have experienced weight loss eating gluten-free most likely have done so because they've largely eliminated processed crap from their diet. Do that and you're ahead of the game either way. In fact, most people find that eating whole grains help them maintain more steady blood sugar, a feeling of fullness and an enjoyment in the eating itself from added flavors and textures. All these benefits will help in anyone hoping to lose weight. This is why I don't like the "low carb" craze. It works for some (more for men than women) but I've seen precious few who can maintain it and if you're eliminating foods that could be helpful, which you could enjoy in healthy ways, you're depriving yourself of healthy and sensual dining experiences. Why?

Another pet peeve is the "juicing to remove toxins" craze. Now, fresh pressed juices from organic fruit and vegetables is good, don't get me wrong. Is it a cure for a season of overindulgence? No. Is it a replacement for well-balanced food? No. Read this excellent article  Why Juice 'Cleanses' Don't Deliver - Eat + Run (usnews.com) debunking the juice cleanse. Movement. Another word for poop, of course, but also a concept to strive for. Incorporate movement into your SMART goals. Move to music, walk through the city (see my friend Marc Hurwitz' AMC urban hikes, for some group walks).

Some of us have suffered losses in 2012 or setbacks in our work, stumbled in relationships. "Move through it, learn from it, get over it" is my motto. Obviously, grief takes time and is never a straight line. All of life's losses have something to teach us and movement can help us avoid getting stuck in a bad place. "Get over it", is not to be flip, but to remind myself to laugh. Spend time with a toddler or a baby and have some belly laughs. Watch how they laugh from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes. Go see a funny comedian or watch a favorite funny movie. So get up and MOVE your body.

  • Try standing instead of sitting at the computer. Try doing it one or two days a week to start. Sitting for long stretches, more than six hours a day, can make someone at least 18% more likely to die from diabetes, heart disease and obesity than those sitting less than three hours a day. (read more.)
  • Even getting up every 20 minutes or so can be beneficial. Make scheduled breaks for a walk to get a glass of water versus a break for social networking - seated, online - will be an improvement.

Moving toxins through our system. 

We'd like to eat bad food, drink like fish, and then do something simple like drink a smoothie and believe that will undo the harms. Me too! But it just isn't so. I'm not advocating a monastic lifestyle. Not the girl with the pound of foie in the fridge. Eating all sorts of things and drinking in moderation is okay in my book. Okay, as long as it doesn't become our norm and as long as we keep to the routine of moving, moving. I've over-indulged this holiday season but am trying to walk as often as I can. (doesn't sound like a specific, measurable goal does it? hm...) One of the best ways to move toxins -- or to be more accurate, waste -- through our system is to eat sufficient fiber. Fiber is what "grabs" waste and forms poop which we eliminate. Much good fiber comes from vegetables and grains. More of these are not only more satisfying to cook to eat, to chew, to enjoy; they are also far better at helping your process of elimination.

swirl
swirl
Wall_o_kimchi
Wall_o_kimchi

Another thing which can help is adding probiotic foods or supplements to your diet. Since much of our diet is further in time or geography from its source, we lose some nutrition even if we eat as locally as possible. Especially during the winter months in the Northeast. We also tend to eat less fermented foods here than in other countries. Fermented foods are a rich source of probiotics which are the good bacteria that support gut health. I've been adding Kombucha to my diet, thanks to my sister-in-law's recommendation. I love it and definitely feel it's helping keep the gut happy.  

gut health
gut health

And by "gut" I mean the poop shoot. This is a good scholarly paper on the emerging medical wisdom of the need to address gut health.

← Poop shoot!

Our intestines are where many things - good things -  happen. Absorption of nutrition we take in, regulation of immune function, etc. At the very least, it seems safe to say that eating a highly processed, low fiber diet, leading a sedentary lifestyle both contribute to less than healthy outcomes.

In the end

Here are a few SMART things you can do to improve your eating, your wellness, your enjoyment of life in 2013. These will also improve your "process of elimination" better than any products you might buy, and support all those good things that happen in your poop shoot. 1. Incorporate a whole grain based meal one day per week.

  • Culinate has a great grains guide. Their list includes TWENTY. Pick one for each month and find a recipe that intrigues you, try it out!
  • Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (link takes you to Mussels with Farro post and includes links to book, site) is inspirational. A beautiful cookbook bringing the sexy to whole grains.
  • Grain Mains is another great book for "grainiacs" - including this new staple of my pantry: Whole Grain Waffles. (favorite whole grain sourcing info included in that post.)

2. Make a movement goal. 

  • Try yoga in the privacy of your own home with a DVD like Rodney Yee's Yoga for Beginners. Just 20 minutes in the morning or afternoon or evening is all it takes.
  • Walk more. Try a goal of parking further from the grocery store. Taking two flights of stairs instead of an elevator you normally take for four. In just a week or so you will see improvement. Who can't do two flights of stairs? Okay, start with one.

3. Make it a goal to improve the quality and decrease the quantity of meats you consume.

  • Even if you cannot do it with every meat purchase, make a goal to do it some percentage of the time. Or choose some items that you'll buy organic and give yourself wiggle room on others. For example, these items carry the highest pesticide load: The Dirty Dozen.
  • Grass-fed meats have a lower carbon foot print and better nutritional profile. Choose pastured meats from local farms instead of "cheap" meats that contain antibiotics you don't need. Cows are ruminants and their stomachs are not designed to eat grains. Prophylactic antibiotics are used to keep them from getting sick on the unnatural, rapid-fattening diets they are fed. Don't get me started on horrible feed ingredients that sometimes include downer cows, and more.
  • Eat one meatless meal per week. Meatlovers' Meatless Celebrations is a great book for eating well, even at holiday and special meals. Recipes will satisfy carnivores and vegetarians alike. This is not about "giving up" it's about "adding to" your culinary repertoire.

[Shameless self-promotion warning]

4. Take a class with me to gain more kitchen confidence. Learn to shop, cook, eat, better with a trusted friend by your side in the comfort of your own kitchen.

  • Learn how to avoid marketing influences that lead you away from whole foods, true foods and toward processed. Take me shopping with you and we'll explore how to read labels and choose foods wisely. Which foods are more or less sustainable? Which veggies are loaded with pesticides?
  • Explore adding joy and chew and flavor to your diet through whole grains. We'll cook delicious whole grains you will be excited to incorporate into your regular rotation.
  • Tailor a class or a series to you and yours: cooking with kids; exploring flavors of North Africa; Japanese food you can make at home.
  • To learn more about the kinds of things I can teach you, click on over here.

If you'd like to customize a session, please call! Thanks for sharing this info with your foodie friends.