Sunday, August 31, 2008

Victory Garden Means Something Different to Me

Those of you who read this blog probably know that I walk my dog Bear every day, along a creek trail that backs up to homes. I see many backyards along the way. What I most notice is what's growing: who has a pear tree, where the figs hang over the fence, where to find the most succulent (and clean, if you know what I mean) blackberries and who has a nice garden.

This year I noticed a few gardens in particular. One of them used to be spectacular in its bounty but that was a few years ago. This year I saw just one squash plant, and it seemed to take over. I now see that it is a giant pumpkin-like squash possibly growing as a Harvest Fair entry.

A couple of yards down they plant a garden yearly. Usually there are a couple of tomato plants that shrouded by a PVC cage and plastic early in the season. These plants grow quickly as their home obviously traps heat and keeps them from the frost. This year I saw that the garden also has a summer squash, a number of flowers such as dianthus and a peach tree bearing fruit.

In the yard directly adjacent to the small garden, there was a lot of activity early on with raised beds, large pots, drip irrigation pieces and more. The garden got all set up, the plants looked great and I was certain that this garden was going to thrive, as it was so much lusher than the neighbor’s was. (BTW, I don't think that they actually see each other or their yards due to a large fence between them. This is California where this is common.)

I had tomato envy as I watched daily as their plants grew large, green and strong. However, sometime in the summer, when I saw large red tomatoes in the small garden I saw plants in the other garden start to die back. Now, the raised bed garden is in shambles and seems quite disregarded.

And all of this brings me to my little raised bed garden -- hardly a Victory Garden (which is more of what my mother has) except for me. I’m thrilled to harvest the fruits of my labor. This year it's strictly tomatoes as my two cucumber plants died, and I had to pull out the nasturtium that adopted aphids that hopped onto my tomatoes.

My tomatoes seem to be doing fine except for some attacks by critters who want to claim them as their own. It will be the battle of the wills and wits to see who ends up with more fruit. I am still waiting patiently for the first ripe tomatoes to arrive and it seems as if they will this week. I always hope to have them by the end of August but not this year.

If you live east of the Rocky Mountains, you are lucky, as your summer garden doesn't need watering but mine does almost daily, especially if it is hot, as we don't get summer rain. Despite that, I like to grow what little I can, and just participating in the process is the victory for me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seasonal Recipes -- Sometimes Just Talk

Eating in season is an art and science that is easy to adopt if you shop locally, or grow your own food. So it irks me when chefs, cooks and recipe developers say that they do seasonal recipes yet it's obvious to me that they don't.

I realize that different vegetables grow in various places at different times but if I am not mistaken, it's still summer and it's the season of tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, summer squash and corn, just to name a few. Why push the fall vegetables such as winter squash or sweet potatoes on us now? We can wait, and so can our bodies.

When it's still hot out, we need lighter foods than when the weather turns cooler. For now, let's enjoy the fresh-dug, new potatoes to get our earthy starch.

Sticking to what's in season is a practice that I take seriously, just like daily exercise or a yoga routine. It's not for show or fluff, it's real. When you eat closer to what nature offers, you might find that you feel better.

I think that people are looking for more energy, hence the proliferation of energy drinks and coffee houses. Heck, it really comes from your food and lifestyle. But that's enough talk, I'm off to make some fresh salsa with tomatoes from my garden, along with locally grown onions, garlic, hot peppers and cilantro. Next to gazpacho, it's the essence of the season for me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Santa Rosa Farmer's Market Cooking Demonstration

I spent Saturday morning doing a cooking demonstration of tomato and eggplant sauce which I called Salsa di Pomodoro e Melazane as it would be in Italian. It was great fun and I got to speak to a lot of people. It was the annual tomato festival at the market where people get to taste a host of heirloom tomatoes. The dish takes only 3 minutes at pressure in the pressure cooker, tastes fresh and delicious, and all the ingredients came from Santa Rosa.

A woman named Ann from Pasadena found me on the Relish Culinary website and wanted to come see me. Her friend in Santa Rosa has lived there for 22 years and never made it to the market until she urged him to go. I cannot imagine not going to the market for 2 weeks, let alone years.

Later in the day I attended a LIFEE ( picnic. A colleague who is in this year's class said that when she first moved to Santa Rosa she went to the farmer's market because it gave her a place to feel connected.

With Slow Food Nation almost upon San Francisco, I am sure that there are many people who are thinking about their connection to their community and the food associated with it.

As I've said before, food is the language common in all cultures. When you break bread (or other food) with people it changes your relationship. This is likely why people like to socialize at events that involve food.

And the summer is a great time for it. Then again so is the rest of the year. You can still catch me doing cooking demonstrations and classes this year at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's market and other locations. Check my website for more details as they become available or sign up for my email newsletter on my site.

Here's to great cooking.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bread -- The Staff of Life

I don't often have to look too long or far to find something to blog about. Today, it's bread and the cost of food.

I ran into my favorite Alvarado Street Bakery delivery guy this morning at my favorite local market Community Market, and we had a discussion about the cost of food, as I stood in front of the organic pasta which suddenly shot up to more than $3 per pound.

Jerry said that many years ago he used to cringe when he compared the cost of Alvarado Street's all natural, sprouted wheat breads to other brands but now, Alvarado Street is at the lower end of bread prices.

We went on to discuss the mark up that some big stores (think regular supermarkets) are making on their bread sales. While the bread was $3.99 a loaf at Community Market, it is often found in the higher $4 range at the supermarkets. The difference goes into the coffers of the market and that higher price often helps offset the loss leaders such as the buy 10 for $10 and the buy one, get one free deals. Think about that.

We also talked about the fact that some white, and not very good for you breads, are around $4 a loaf. What has the world come to?

Those who have read my posts know that I am not hot on bread but when I do eat, I want to choose a brand such as Alvarado Street for a number of reasons -- their bread is made from organic sprouted wheat which is better for you than just whole wheat flour, and they are local, at least to me.

Next time you buy bread, think about who and what you are supporting. Maybe it's time to make a big pot of brown rice, quinoa or some other whole grain.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Global Flavor Market Worth 7 Billion Dollars

According to Cargill, one the big villainous multinational corporations (do you hear my cynicism?) the global flavor market is worth $7 billion. I was a bit overwhelmed when reading this factoid, which was associated with an article about how some researchers in Italy discovered a flavor compound that somehow simulates mushroom in another plant.

I honestly had no idea about how a researcher goes about identifying a flavoring component in a flower or plant but obviously it is worth the search if you find a good one -- it's a big score.

The following was reported in the Food Navigator:

Distilling the aerial parts of Melittis melissophyllum subsp. melissophyllum (Lamiaceae), a member of the mint family, yielded “extremely high amoun[s]t of the mushroom-like aroma component 1-octen-3-ol (43.6-54.2 per cent)”, according to findings published online ahead of print in the journal Food Chemistry.

Now, I am quite thankful that the Food Navigator delivers such news because I don't often read the journal of Food Chemistry although I am sure that I would find it a good nap- or bed-time read. Although, I can get a bit geeky about the scientific side of food and perhaps I'd really get into it.

In any case, I think that I shall stick with the natural flavors in food by eating them just the way that they are. One more reason to stick with food as it exists in nature. I don't have to be part of the economic incentive for scientists to track down "natural" flavoring agents. I often wondered where they came from and I now I know at least for one of them. Don't you wonder why can't we just use mushrooms to get a mushroom flavor? I do.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Beef Recall: Whole Foods is NOT exempt

I wonder how many beef recalls need to happen before people realize that eating conventionally raised beef is a bad idea. It's a bad idea, in the same way that eating mass packaged produce is -- there is just too much risk. And somehow the idea that if you bought the stuff at Whole Foods it was going to be pure, is now turned on its ear (or somewhere else).

The latest recall is for 1.2 million pounds of beef that came from Coleman's Natural which had assured Whole Foods that its product was just fine. It turns out that they processed their beef at Nebraska Beef Ltd. which had a recall of 5.3 billion pounds just over a month ago. The reality is that considering the amount of beef eaten, very few people were affected by the E. coli. But truth is, you don't want to be one of them. Either give up beef or buy it locally, from people you know.

I make this point repeatedly -- know where your food comes from, and know the people that grow it or raise it. Doing that will keep you much safer from the danger that exists in the world on a daily basis, especially with something as sensitive as food and your body.

Food safety is a serious matter, and you have the power to do something about it. Buy local, buy organic and make friends with your farmers.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cucumber Show and Tell

It's so much fun to do show and tell with adults. I just had the chance to do that with 7 kinds of cucumbers that I brought just for that purpose. Let's see if I can name them here:

  1. Armenian

  2. Striped Armenian or painted serpent

  3. Suyo long (Japanese)

  4. lemon

  5. New Zealand (whitish yellow)

  6. Pearl (white)

  7. pickling

I, of course, could have also included an English cuke and a regular supermarket type, or a Greek if I had been at the previous Saturday market to buy one. So I guess that I could have gone as high as 10 different cucumbers. And if I had my Amira growing this year, or the Indian type that I grew last year, it could have been even more. Amazing, I think.

After the cucumber show and tell, I got people to taste a delicious purple kohlrabi. One of the people told me that she'd seen the kohlrabi before but thought that it looked weird so didn't want to buy it. Now, she'd changed her mind.

I so enjoy having people try a new-to-them vegetable, turning them into converts. Those are wonderful a-ha moments. And I am sure to have many more in the future. I hope that you will, too.