Sunday, August 27, 2006

No Mac n Cheese Growing Up

OK. So I had a kind of strange childhood but I thought that everyone did. Didn't you?

I just heard two friends talking about what they ate for dinner when growing up -- casseroles, ground beef and tomato sauce, possibly macaroni and cheese. I never had macaroni and cheese as a kid. I am sure that the reason for most of this was that my father didn't like it, or never ate it. He hated casseroles and most mixed food although I do remember tuna casserole once in a while. But what I remember most was being served steak or roast beef (or as I called it, roast beast). I couldn't stand the stuff and I am sure that it inspired me to become a vegetarian. And for that I am thankful.

Some people see me and remark about how clear my skin is, and it must be because I don't eat meat. I'd like to think that years of eating lots of veggies has given me an antioxidant advantage that shows in my complexion and overall health. I suspect that gentics plays a big role, too.

Or maybe it's just that I didn't eat macaroni and cheese while I was growing up and instead I ate my veggies. So, tell me what do you think has changed since then? Mac and cheese still isn't so good for you and the veggies are. Eat extra veggies today to make up for your mac and cheese childhood, if you had one.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sizzling Tandoor - Santa Rosa

Sizzling Tandoor has been on Mendocino Avenue in downtown Santa Rosa for many years. I read that recently someone new began running it and that on Wednesday and Saturday they offered South Indian cuisine. It has been many years since I have eaten there since we've had other Indian restaurants pop up in town -- one being a fast food type place right near the junior college that is much more convenient and doesn't require service and waiting for food (which doesn't work well with our son). But Shane was out so we headed to Sizzling Tandoor on the spur of the moment on an early Saturday evening.

There were only a few occupied tables. It was quiet unlike so many restaurants these days. There are Indian artifacts hung on the walls. The lights are a bit bright but environmentally correct flourescent bulbs.

The menu is extensive. My husband asked if I'd like samosas or pakora for an appetizer. And since I know that the pakora is usually deep fried, I picked samosa. And yummy samosa they were with a delicious potato and pea filling. A small dish with three chutneys (a sweet dark one, green cilantro and then a yellow lentil) arrived with the samosa. I only ate half of mine, anticipating other delicious food to come.

I ordered Masala Dosa which is like a big crispy crepe filled with potatoes and onions. It came with a coconut chutney and a bowl of lentil and vegetable soup (which seemed to be prepared in the pressure cooker because it was so hot that it took more than 10 minutes before the temperature was tolerable for my mouth). The dosa was delicious and filling. It had some tantalizing spices and also little bits of something that I thought were possibly lentils. I had to ask and a man who seemed like the owner and/or chef told me that they are roasted split dahl or lentils. He also showed me some tiny black mustard seeds. I ended up taking about half my dish home, even though my husband Rick ate some, and wanted more.

He ordered Chicken Vindaloo and a dish of rice. He said that his dish was very spicy and there wasn't enough chicken but it was really tasty. He also brought food home.

We were both too stuffed to eat dessert. I couldn't even think about it. The meal cost about $40 (including tip) but we used our Sonoma Express so it was less. On a scale of 1 to 10 forks, Sizzling Tandoor rates at least an 8. I will definitely go back -- soon, I hope.

Willow Wood Restaurant -- Graton, CA

This past winter I went to Willow Wood's upscale sister, Underwood Restaurant, directly across the street in downtown Graton. My late friend Jon really wanted to go to Willow Wood but it was closed for remodeling so... Underwood's food was tasty and well presented but also expensive, with entrees in the $20 plus range.

To do something special for Jon's parents we took them out to Willow Wood which has been open for a few months now. I'd been there for a breakfast meeting but didn't eat or really look at the menu but had an idea that things had changed. The interior of the once mildly funky place had been opened up. The tables now match, as do the chairs. The interesting items for sale are relegated to a small, unobtrusive wall. Local art hangs on brightened up walls. And the menu has also changed.

They still offer their wonderful black bean soup by the cup or the bowl. But I guess that somehow they needed to pay for the fancy upgrade and the prices have gone up. And alas, to my husband's dismay, the hamburger is not on the dinner menu.

There were 5 of us for dinner and the tab was $125 and my husband anad I ordered sandwiches. Our son ate the black bean soup and Ceasar salad. Jon's mom ate lemon crab risotto (which they need a good cooking lesson about) and Jon's dad had a half roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed greens. We also shared an antipasto plate which was an ample appetizer (filled with cheese and meat).

I had visions of an opulent eggplant sandwich but that's not what I got for $10+. A small piece of artisan bread had been cut in half. Inside was one small slice of eggplant, a few crumbles of goat cheese, a nice slice of freshly roasted red pepper and that was it because I requested the very fatty aioli be put on the side. With my sandwich was an ample amount of very, tasty red potato salad with a viniagrette dressing. There were a couple of cornichons on the plate which were a nice accompaniment.

I cannot speak much about my husband's turkey and Swiss sandwich but he was also disappointed in the size of it. Shane had so much Ceasar salad that he needed more dressing and could not finish all the greens. It was huge and very pretty with the whole inner leaves of romaine lettuce.

The risotto didn't look very good at first glance with the rice grains not looking very congealed. First I thought that they mistakenly used long grain rice but it must have been the crab that I saw. Jackie said that she really didn't like it so I tasted it and the risotto was flat and without body (which is to me a crime at almost $20).

The desserts fared much better with a fruit and pastry dessert in a small dish topped with vanilla ice cream (and 4 spoons) and a coconut creme brulee, definitely disappearing. I tasted one bite of the fruit which was fresh and delicious but cannot directly comment on the creme brulee which Shane easily and happily ate.

This visit to Willow Wood was disappointing and we won't be back any time soon. On a scale of 1 to 10 forks, Willow Wood gets a 6.

Fresh China -- Santa Rosa

It's unusual for me to eat in restaurants often but when I do, it seems to happen in threes. My first local visit was to Fresh China restaurant at Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa. I met my veg friend Barbara there since they have a special vegetarian menu (which you won't get unless you ask for it). There wasn't much veg on the regular menu but the veg menu had so many choices that it took us a while to decide what to eat.

Barbara doesn't like spicy food so that ruled out many dishes that I would have usually ordered since we like to share, especially when eating Chinese food. We finally settled on Shiitake Mushrooms and Tofu in ginger sauce and Seasonal Vegetables with Coconut Curry Sauce and a bowl of brown and wild rice.

Having just made a pot of brown and wild rice earlier in the week I realized that many restaurants make a lot of money on selling rice at $2.50 a bowl but we wanted some anyway.

The dishes arrived at our table quickly, served in rather odd plates which were deep dish pyrex pie plates (the one that I use most at home when making fruit crisp or baked tofu). Everything seemed fresh except the rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms and there were lots of them. The portions were large. We ate as much as we could and still had about half of each dish left over.

Something didn't seem right about the food and it took me a while to figure it out. The presentation was sorely lacking -- not only in the dish department but in the lack of color and shape in entrees themselves. The shiitakes were served whole which not only made them difficult to eat but they didn't look at all interesting. There wasn't one bit of green in that dish. It was brown and white. Imagine what a strip or two of green onion would have accomplished. The seaonal veggies were not especially seasonal since they included both asparagus and winter squash. There was far too much sauce on that for it to be attractive as it was bright yellow and gloppy. And again, there wasn't any color. I mean since it is summer a few slices of red pepper could have added both color, taste and some seasonality. On a scale of 1 to 10 forks, I'd give Fresh China a 7. I might try it again but it will be a while.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Vegetable Commuinity - Your Local Farmer's Market

I spent a couple of hours this past Monday morning cooking for a friend who is grieving over the loss of her sister. She said that no one brought her food so I thought that maybe it would be good for me, and for her and her children, to cook. I made brown and wild rice (it comes that way) in the pressure cooker and it took less than 30 minutes. While that was cooking, I prepped the veggies for the Summer Veggie and Quinoa Soup, and got my food processor and the ingredients together for Spiced Gravenstein Appple Slaw. When the rice was done, I cooked the soup which takes less than 10 minutes to cook and finish, using the pressure cooker. When I washed up from the 2 quarts of soup, I made Sweet and Sour Tofu with Summer Squash and Pineapple. It seemed like enough food to keep them eating well for at least a few days.

I was told by an acquaintance that the reason that no food appeared for my friend Marilyn is because we just don't have community the way that we used to. And while I agree that is true, I find that shopping at the farmer's markets gives me a connection to people that would not likely occur at the supermarket.

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the market later than usual and the last bag of onion sprouts had been sold, to the woman standing in front of the booth. Not only did she sell me her bag but she also gave me a jar of Meyer Lemons with xylitol (which I have not yet had a chance to try). Candie told me about her Mexican restaruant and gave me her phone number. I'd never met her before.

Just last week another woman (whose name I do not yet know), saw me buying cabbage to make the appple slaw and shared her recipe for fresh sauerkraut, which is basically finely cut cabbage with salt, weighted with a plate and left on your countertop for 5 days. I guess that you pour off the juice and drink it, and then eat the sauerkraut. For those of you who don't know it, fermented foods are good for your internal flora. My next book, co-authored with my sister, will have information on this. Check out the preliminary website at

Anyway, back to the farmer's market. I spent the next 40 minutes shopping with the unknown woman at various stalls. She is selling her house and moving to Australia soon. But while she is waiting she will eat well -- making dishes from locally grown food. And I encourage you to do the same.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My First Cucumber

This past week has been difficult. Our family lost a very close friend. He was only 44 years old. Oh, right, I am going to write about my cucumber plant. And plants remind me of life and there we go - Jon is gone. But my cucumber arrived.

My poor Amira cucumber plant has had come problems this year. The Master Gardeners that I spoke with attribute it to the lack of bees for pollination. My plant looked very good to start. There were lots of little cucumbers. But each one got yellow and then shriveled. I had almost given up hope of having cucumbers although I noticed that a few of the most recent ones had finally grown a bit larger. For that, I am thankful. While examining the plant (you can tell that I am a small scale gardener not a farmer), I felt under one of the leaves and there was a perfect 8-inch cucumber. It became part of my husband's lunch.

I am so glad that I continued to water, feed and talk to my plant even when things were looking bad. Now I am anticipating more cucumbers in the future.

I also picked my first Copia tomato. It is an orange and yellow striped medium-sized (at least for me) variety. I had to verify the color with Cliff, the farmer that sold me that plant. The tomato didn't look like it would turn red but I just didn't know. Copia was tasty but not the best tomato that I've had. This year the black Brandywines seem best but the season is still young. And there are many more tomatoes on the way.

We are at the height of the season for fruit and veggies here in Sonoma County. My friend Cynthia saw me at the farmer's market and asked what I am into these days. And I answered, "Melons." "Not veggies?", she inquired. Of course, those, too, it goes without saying.

Last year at the market I introduced Cynthia to Romano beans - the flat Italian green beans. Now she eats them and has also bought the yellow ones and likes those, too.

A big part of my enjoyment comes from introducing people to new foods, especially new vegetables. Try them all, I say. And remember to enjoy life; you never know how long you have.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Barilla Plus Pasta - Plus What?

I don't know why but it amazes me that I must (and I stress must) read almost every package label. I bought some Barilla Plus pasta which seems innocent enough, touting "more nutritious, naturally delicious" on the front, a good source of fiber and protein, contains ALA Omega-3. Well, all that sounded great.

The pasta tasted pretty good, too, for one that's partially whole grain. While the pasta water was boiling I noticed the side panel listed the amounts of protein in various products such as chicken, beef, salmon, shrimp and more. It wasn't until after I ate the pasta that I started wondering why it was so high in protein.

Well, to start, they were comparing 1 cup of UNCOOKED pasta with cooked animal proteins. But I thought it best to read the label to see the pasta ingredients. In addition to semolina, it contains a grain and legume flour blend that has lentils, chick peas, oats, spelt, barley, egg whites, ground flax seed and wheat fiber. I read it again to be sure that it really said EGGS. And under the ingredients, it is repeated: Contains: Wheat and Egg Ingredients.

Usually pasta that contains eggs says something to that effect but not this kind. I just wanted to remind you to read labels if you want to be sure of what IS or ISN"T in your food.

The good and bad part is that this pasta tasted way better than many other whole grain pastas that I have tried. One of my other favorite kinds is the Trader Joe's whole wheat pasta with no added eggs. It is lighter and flavorful and makes a great accompaniment to my Oil-Free Pesto or Un-Meatballs.