Life can be a Piece of Cake!

December 10, 2011


With Husband gone for a week to the States, I’ve had ample opportunity to occupy the kitchen in his absence. Thanks to Robert Rose, the Canadian publisher of, can we  say, Capital A-mazing recipe books, I have once again astounded myself.

I am a culinary warrior now, thanks to Camilla V. Saulsbury’s Piece of Cake!  One-Bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes.  But before you shriek and hug your hips, she’s got healthy recipes in there too.

I opted for the hedonist Hot Fudge Brownie Cake first. My daughter had mentioned something in her all-too-quick-adolescent-speech-cadence that she needed brownies for English class. She bat her eyes at me and said: “So. I volunteered you.”

The very same day Piece of Cake! arrived in my mailbox and I knew we were destined to become fast friends. In a jiffy, I whipped out six brownie muffin creations that would have made Jesus genuflect. I’m not trying to be blasphemous here, people. But the amazing part was it was so easy I couldn’t believe what got created with my very own hands.

My daughter promptly criticized it, challenging that she could do better.

Okay, Missy. I whipped out the recipe book again today, and she tried her hand at the Chocolate Wacky Cake. Believe it or not, it’s under “Health-Conscious”. I think it’s because it calls for non-Dutch process cocoa powder. You know, the real kind. Daughter quickly handed the scepter spatula back to me when she realized she’d actually have to follow instructions to make the thing work. We team-tagged it thereafter and I must say, hers did turn out better.

There is room at the top, indeed.

Oh how I love this recipe book! It makes me feel smart. And, unlike many recipe books that I’ve received in the past, it actually uses both the English and metric systems. For an American expat as myself, I am grateful for that small gesture. It makes baking so much easier.

Another great aspect of the book is the great background information such as why baking soda is four times stronger than baking power and how baking is really a science (that pulled Daughter in. Like Husband, she’s into it), which was why we had to make three separate holes in the dry ingredient mix when adding the vinegar, vanilla extract and oil.

As I nudged today’s cake out of its mini-pans (I still need to get the size pans that the book often calls for), I felt my self-confidence bloom to the level of  kitchen goddess.

Thanks, Camilla. I owe you one for making baking a true piece of cake!

As we enter yet another holiday this week, remember that everyone has expectations; but that doesn’t mean you have to fulfil them! Enjoy the slow everywhere you go. You’ll get there faster. Trust me. You will!

Please share this wisdom with others. How will you say ‘no’ today?

My husband’s cooking is legendary. So whenever I get the chance to try out a new cookbook, I know he’ll start to pour over it before I can even crack the cover.

Last night he topped himself with a Chicken in Thai Green Curry that nearly made me weep. It was that good. Thanks to Wandee Young and Byron Ayanoglu’s Simply Thai Cooking cookbook, I will be able to repeat my husband’s laudable culinary finesse. Although I have a hard time following directions, this cookbook is so easy even I can do it!

If you’re looking for a different kind of Thanksgiving feast this week, consider delving into Moroccan cooking with Pat Crocker’s 150 Best Tagine Recipes. The cover alone will make your mouth water, not to mention the spice descriptions and helpful photos.

Take your Thanksgiving to the next level with one or two ‘exotic’ nontraditional dishes. Remember: diversity is the spice of life. If spice is what you need, you’ll get it with these two cookbooks!

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you may recall my post on Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that recounts the author’s year-long foray into the Slow Food movement with helpful recipes and daunting tales of raising heritage turkeys, making her own pasta and eating only food born, raised and slaughtered within a 50-mile radius of her house.

It promptly made me want to plant my own veggies, raise my own chickens and never, ever buy another loaf of bread again.

I lasted about a week, then reverted to most of my former buying habits: organic, store-bought with an occasional jaunt to the farmer’s market if I happened to be in the area.

Feeling like a complete failure, I was certain I could never measure up to the Kingsolver clan and was about to abandon all hope of ever feeding my children something that didn’t come from a box when Jennifer Reese came along.

Jennifer is my culinary hero.

Her cookbook, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of bed the first night I picked it up.  A cookbook that is funny? Let’s just say Jennifer is Barbara Kingsolver meets Erma Bombeck. She is seriously funny. Or funnily serious about food and what you can do to make your lives a little easier…and tastier!

For a delicious week, I savored every page as she unhooked me from my own First World guilt about Industrial Food and the harmful things we’re doing to the planet.

The book arose out of Jennifer’s own desperation. A victim of the 2008 recession, she suddenly found herself a formerly employed book critic for Entertainment Weekly. Watching the apple tree cast off its final fruit onto her Northern California lawn, Jennifer wondered if making apple sauce and living off the suburban land could save her. She set out to experiment with homemade food, starting her own silent from-scratch revolution.

But she is no proselytizer like some of her foodie contemporaries. Her side-splitting humor and distinct honesty about what is easier to make and what is easier to buy is extremely empowering and liberating.  For Jennifer, food is not political. Food is food.

Her expression about buying ducks, then selling them because of their gang-ish, bullying treatment of the other suburban-yard foul, reveals a truly authentic voice. Just listen to her description of the turkey farm where she bought what she called a Frankenbird with a bad boob job whom she didn’t have the heart to kill for her Thanksgiving meal:

“[The] farm was strewn with rusted car parts, overturned boxes of trash, empty,2-liter soda bottles, crushed cans, and downed trees, and through this WALL-E wasteland wandered dozens of chickens, cats, dogs, and three bloated, broad-breasted white turkeys – the standard factory-breed…the turkey may well have ingested STP,  Mountain Dew, and crystal meth, but I remained confident that she was never polluted by an antibiotic. We loved her instantly…”

She tried it. It failed. Onward!

Unlike Martha Stewart’s exotic list of ingredients for virtually every recipe she provides, Jennifer’s book is chock full of easy-to-make items whose components are in everyone’s kitchen. Flour, eggs, milk, salt, sugar. She brings food back to the basics. I will say, however, that some of the appliances may not be of your average variety. I, for one, don’t have, or plan on having, an ice cream maker. I did go out and buy a food processor/blender hybrid for the Nutella recipe. Yes! You can make Nutella from scratch. I still have to refine the amount of cocoa my kids can handle, but my daughter, the Nutella connoisseur, highly approved of the healthier version. No transfats. No aromas. Just plain and simple ingredients that came from the Earth.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is a doable look at how we can embrace slow food with humor, grace and a pinch of kosher salt. I bet even Barbara Kingsolver would approve.

Want to go to India, China or Italy without even stepping outside? Bring the flavors of the world to your stovetop with Judtih Finlayson’s unfathomably fabulous new cookbook, The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes. Believe me when I say you’ll be glad you took a peek.

Undeterred by the lack of slow cooking pots in Germany, we tackled a few recipes over the weekend. No matter which page I flung open, the bright, inviting images and easy-to-make recipes brought delight, not despair, as I made a note to upgrade my spice rack and delve into the mysteries of slow cooking. The red lentil dish I whipped up was refined by my husband’s mastery when it was time to eat it the next day. In fact, we completely forgot to make any main dish with it. It was that delicious!

The book is well-organized into your typical categories of appetizers, fondues, soups, meat, fish, poultry dishes and so on. The imagery makes your mouth water!

For those of you without a crockpot or some other slow cooking crockery, never fear! Most of the ingredients can be cooked at the regular temperature and speed by altering how high the heat is on your stove.

Slow cooking is a great way to prepare fresh meals without the haste or waste. With helpful sidebar tips for halving recipes

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Cool meals for hot days

August 10, 2011

Now I know it is not hot in my resident country (Germany) right now, but it is sweltering just about everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. For those of you looking for wholesome, no-oven meal choices, you must look to the August issue of DASH. They’ve got cool picks when it’s gotta go quick. And you can have slow food that goes fast if you think ahead. The ingredients are what matter. So give it a look. On stands or on their blog now!

Meditation is typically something you think of as a strategy for quieting the mind. But apparently, it can quiet your appetite, too.

According to recent research reported by the Harvard Health Letter, mindful eating can lead to weight loss and an increase in food enjoyment.

No kidding. Slurping in front of the tube isn’t the most mindful way to ingest your food (and I’m guilty of it sometimes, too). Apparently, there is indeed a mind-gut connection. It takes about twenty minutes for the gut to tell the mind it is full. So people who slow down their food ingestion actually eat less.

Like the fork method that I laid out in The Power of Slow (in which you actually use utensils to eat, placing your fork down between bites), the Harvard Health Letter suggests the following tips:

  •     Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.

 

  •     Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you’re a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.

 

  •     Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.

 

  •     Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.

 

  •     Take small bites and chew well.

 

  •     Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.

 

I would add thanking the Earth for producing the food before you even begin eating. It heightens your awareness about the food itself and places you in a space of gratitude, thereby heightening the experience and underscoring the truth that less truly is more!

 

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The Politics of Food

June 3, 2011

Organic cultivation of mixed vegetables on an ...

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My mama said “Whatever you do, don’t discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. It’s not good manners. Nor is it good for your digestion.”

I took her advice to heart. But these days, it’s hard not to think about the politics of the very food we’re trying to enjoy every evening at dinnertime.

The Cornucopia Institute sent me some information that I found rather disturbing. In the past, farmers have been sued by Monsanto, a Fortune 500 biotech firm specializing in genetically modified organisms, for intellectual property infringement. In essence, organic farmers and other conventional crop owners have been accused of stealing Monsanto’s proprietary seed rather than purchasing news seeds. It’s really a mess because cross-pollination could have been the reason it happened (although who can really tell). To get the story right, I’m copying part of the email I received:

Over the years Monsanto has sued farmers alleging they have stolen the corporation’s intellectual property by saving their proprietary seed rather than purchasing new seed each year that would include a “technology fee.” Because pollen, and genetics, can be spread through the wind, or by insects, farmers are vulnerable to having their crops contaminated and then subsequently being sued by Monsanto.

Soon after the March filing of the lawsuit, Monsanto issued a statement saying that they would not assert their patents against farmers who suffer “trace” amounts of transgenic contamination. In response, and in the hope that the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys wrote Monsanto’s attorneys asking the company to make its promise legally binding.

The biotechnology giant responded by hiring former solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of WilmerHale. Waxman completely rejected PUBPAT’s simple request and instead confirmed that Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers whose fields become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed. (Copies of both the letter written by PUBPAT to Monsanto and the response letter by Waxman can be found at: http://www.pubpat.org/assets/files/seed/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-Complaint.pdf).

“Monsanto has run roughshod over organic and conventional farmers who have chosen to be sensitive to consumers’ concerns, and marketplace demand, by shunning genetic engineering in their seed purchases and the crops they produce,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a co-plaintiff in the suit with over 4,000 members, most of whom are organic farmers. “Because of Monsanto’s massive investments in federal political campaigns, and in lobbying, it’s important that an independent judiciary protects citizen-farmers from intimidation.”

“Monsanto’s letter was a completely empty, indefensible, and self-evident evasion that shows they are only interested in trying to spin propaganda and do not want to take serious steps to resolve the problem they have created for organic and non-transgenic agriculture,” said one of the co-plaintiffs in the suit, Don Patterson of Virginia.

“The seriousness of the issues being engaged in this case requires a constructive and socially-acceptable response from the defendant in the public interest,” added Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, the lead plaintiff in the suit. “In the absence of that, we reassert the essential importance of the arguments stated in March and reinforced now by the additional evidence of Monsanto’s intransigence. Monsanto’s utter failure to act reasonably to address our concerns has only reaffirmed the need for our lawsuit.”

In addition to supplementing the complaint with Monsanto’s most recent actions, PUBPAT announced that a new group of 23 organizations, seed companies, and farms or individual farmers have joined the original plaintiffs in the suit bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 83, comprising 36 organizations, 14 seed companies, and 33 farms and farmers.

When discussing this with my biotech husband, we got into a bit of a pickle with each other. At the dinner table.

So yes, Mama, you’re right. Food and politics don’t mix. It’s a heady, heated subject that isn’t going away. When I buy organic food, I want to be sure it isn’t some mutant meal mixed with manipulated seed.

What do you think about genetically engineered food?

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Browsing the thickly laden shelves of a Northampton bookstore, I sucked in the aroma of freshly printed works by people who could be my friends. My pal Lara had shared one of her favorites with me the day before at her Lincoln, MA home. It was there that I recalled the treasured moments of sitting in the sun, reading, uninterrupted and carefree. Other than vacation, I rarely read a book just because. And I remembered how good it felt.

“There it is!” I nearly shouted, drawing my voice to a theaterical whisper. It was the same book my friend had loaned me for the day. I promptly bought it, then devoured its pages, morsel by morsel.

Barbara Kingsolver, best known for her novels, penned a book entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life in which she and her family took on a year-long experiment to eat only locally produced food products. Other than olive oil and a few select items, they lived off the land…and long enough to tell us about it.

I’m only part way through (life and its pressing demands have since taken over), but I wanted to share the importance of the Earth, its soil and the oil we use unwittingly, nay passively, when consuming goods grown halfway around the globe.

Barbara goes into a lot of detail in the beginning, capturing the reader’s interest with statistics and sustaining it with sultry writing. I can read anything, if written well.

Barbara’s is one for the bookshelves in my own home. It shares recipes anyone can try out (even for a disabled cook as myself!) as well as the trials and tribulations of an Appalachian family that embraced Slow food, one root, fruit and lettuce leaf at a time. I highly recommend it!

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The Nature Conservancy: Protecting nature. Pre...

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You are what you eat, and how you eat it. Locally grown produce, also known as Slow Food, is not only good for you, it’s good for the environment, too.

On this Earth Day, I pose the question about agriculture because the food industry is an enormous one with a huge lobby behind it. Reducing the need for food transport alone by shopping at our local farmer’s market instead of big chain food stores can have an impact on the Earth.

Nature Conservancy is working with various groups to ensure sustainable food for us all. Here are some of the top stories I’d like to share with you.

1.     Grass fed beef in Arizona

An Arizona beef cattle rancher saves millions of gallons of water by switching to native grasses. Something as seemingly simple as planting native grass is actually part of a paradigm shift for the Mercers. Not only is it a change in how they operate, but also who they work with. (TurfMutt would be so proud of this shift! His children’s plat science education program supports the notion of native plants over imports to sustain the natural habitat and surroundings.)

One change is the market for their beef. By feeding their cattle native grass, the Mercers are tapping into the grass-fed, locally grown beef market. The Mercers sell their beef—under the name Sombrero Butte Beef—at local farmers’ markets and at a gourmet Tucson restaurant.

2.     Sustainable Seafood in California

In Morro Bay, California, The Nature Conservancy worked with local fishermen to to establish 3.8 million acres of no-trawl zones off California’s Central Coast. Historically, groundfish — species that live close to the sea floor — have served as the backbone of fisheries in this region. But the overreliance of traditional bottom trawling — a fishing method that drags nets along the sea floor — led to habitat damage habitat, harm to other marine species and a decline in local fishing income.  The partnership is now pioneering innovative ways to catch fish, and this work has already improved the environmental and economic performances of the local fishery.

3.     Texas Rice Farmer

The Clive Runnells Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve is located near the midpoint of the Texas coast. For more than twenty years, the Franzen family has leased land on the preserve to grow rice, which creates feeding and roosting opportunities for native and migratory birds. The arrangement has benefited their family, the Conservancy and the human and wildlife communities of the Texas coast.

4.     Oysters in Massachusetts

Cape Cod’s Wellfleet, Massachusetts was literally built on shellfish. A century ago, wild reefs bustling with life were so huge ships had to navigate around them, but by the 1970s wild harvesting, pollution and disease had chiseled away the last wild reef.
Now, the Conservancy, Mass Audubon, NOAA and the Town of Wellfleet are experimenting with different structures on which oyster seed can stick, with the goal of rebuilding a reef that would bolster local populations of shellfish and provide benefits like clean water and defense against rising seas.

Happy Earth Day, Ya’ll! Now go hug a tree and bow to the Mother that holds us all!

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