Sunday, October 26, 2008

LandPaths Bayer Farm Harvest Festival

Sometimes I like to volunteer in my spare time, especially if I am asked and if it's something fun. I could not turn down the opportunity to cook at a Harvest Festival right here in Santa Rosa. It's in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood on a beautiful site that was an old farm which now sits right in the middle of lots of apartments, located across from a school. The site was purchased by the city of Santa Rosa with Landpaths as the non-partner partner. I worked on a project through the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy that involved the school, the community and the farm so it holds a special place in my heart.

It also is pretty wonderful that 16 families got to have their gardens there this year, plus a community area which yielded produce to sell two days a week. All around this farm is a win-win situation.

As I drove up to the festival I saw so many people walking in, it was quite amazing. It was estimated that 500 hundred people attended.

I cooked a vegetable dish that we named something exotic for the population -- Vegetable Melange du Jour. We could have named it Vegetales del Dia but that wouldn't have seemed so good. I used produce picked from the garden a couple of hours before. It included peppers, squash, eggplant (berenjena), tomatoes, kale, collards and chard, onions and garlic (the latter 2 I brought with me but they were locally grown). I added some Bragg's liquid amino acids to the dish and it was really good. I made a number of fast batches in the pressure cooker that we served on small pieces of bread.

There were kids who came back and asked if they could have more. There were grown women who asked how to cook eggplant. A woman asked the name of the green that I was using which was kale. She said that she'd seen it growing but didn't know what it was.

It was a beautiful warm, Indian summer Northern California day with people enjoying themselves outdoors. And I got to do some awesome education there. I keep gaining clarity that once people try new vegetables and realize that they taste OK, that they are more likely to buy them, especially if they have some idea how to cook them. And that's where I come in, having fun doing it.
Photo by LandPaths -- Craig Anderson.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Did You Say that the Figs are Ripe?

Some people attract money but I attract fruit and vegetables. This arrangement seems just fine to me since you can't eat money but you can eat produce.

Today I got my first dehydrator, used from ebay, and it works just fine. Not a top of the line Excalibur but it has an adjustable thermostat. I am currently drying persimmons.

My neighbor has a persimmon tree and one of the branches broke so I ended up with a huge bag of still kind of green persimmons. Since you can dry not quite ripe persimmons and get good results, I cut these and put them in to dry.

Today another neighbor said the magic words: the figs are ripe. That is music to my ears. It didn't send me running to get them as I had a 2 deadlines to meet but shortly thereafter I went to pick. The fig tree is huge and because of how it's been pruned I don't need a ladder to reach the lower part of the tree.

I have been picking figs for years and consider myself an expert. The funny thing about picking figs is that it's hard to see them when you are in the tree, maybe more so for figs than for other fruit which proves the "forest for the trees" theory. And I am very particular about how ripe my figs are except now that I have a dehydrator I may pick some that are not quite as ripe as I usually want them.

I just had a chance to try one of the best figs ever -- desert king. It is light green outside and bright red inside. If I had a place for it, I'd plant one of these in my yard. But for now, I am content to buy these occasionally and to pick my neighbor's black mission figs when they are ripe. I will surely enjoy them dried and canned this winter. I am going back for more as they ripen, and before the winter rains arrive. Oh, let's see -- what can I do with figs? Figgy pudding, fig bars, fig chutney, hmmm? Any good fig ideas? Just let me know

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Japanese Food Week with Natto and Shoyu

As if using fresh yuba (the soybean skin) in my cooking wasn't exciting enough for me, I got an invitation from one of my former students who is Japanese to try natto, a traditionally fermented soybean product. I have mentioned before, or at least I think that I have, that eating fermented foods is a good thing.

And I may have even possibly posted about trying natto once before. I said that it was right up there with one of the 10 most disgusting foods that I have ever had. Well, I need to rescind my comment on natto. I tried frozen natto and it was beyond gross and smelly.

The natto that I tried today, produced here in the United States, just 10 minutes from where I live, in Sonoma County, is a very different food product. It doesn't have a ton of flavor and certainly not one that I would consider disgusting. I must point out that the texture is certainly not something most Americans are used to, as it is a bit gummy. I was told that the stickiness contains that nattokinase which is the beneficial part of the natto. The soybeans used in this natto are non-GMO beans from North Dakota that are not like any soybean that I have ever seen or used, they are much smaller.

Traditionally natto is eaten daily on top of rice with shoyu and mustard or wasabi, often for breakfast. I tried my natto with some shoyu and ate it on a lettuce leaf. It was delicious and a most interesting appetizer -- very fresh.

This brings me to shoyu -- I happened to be at when there were some Japanese visitors who own a shoyu plant in Japan. I left with a small bottle of 2 year old shoyu, made without water. This is not what we usually see here in the US, unless you spend more money on your soy sauce, which I occasionally do. I actually use tamari, not soy sauce, since I know that it's usually a higher quality than the brown stuff in bottles.

I met with Minami and Shun and it was a great pleasure. I learned more about Japanese foods in one short visit with them than I had anticipated. I cannot wait to have my students try natto to see what they think. And I may have to take a trip to San Francisco to get some special Japanese products. Minami told me that he knows one of the best tofu makers in Japan. Perhaps I should just resurrect my idea of the Tofu Tour to Japan. Are you interested? Let me know by posting a comment here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Japanese Food Week with Yuba

Last week I did a cooking demonstration at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. Thank you to all who attended. It was great fun, especially because I got to make Eggplant with Yuba, Ginger and Garlic. I added colored sweet peppers to it and green onions. It was easy, delicious and beautiful and went perfectly with the Massa's brown rice.

Yuba, for those who don't know, which is likely most of you, is tofu skin. I know that this sounds strange. But the good folks at Hodosoy make tofu (and many tofu products which always makes me want to stop in SF at the Saturday market or in San Rafael at the Sunday market to pick them up). They skim off the top layer of tofu to make large, thin sheets of the skin which are about 10 by 15 inches (although I could be way off). I cut them up in strips and put them in with the eggplant but also used one to make a roll with the rice and eggplant dish inside. It tasted very good and looked quite beautiful on the plate, garnished with peppers and green onions.

Tofu skin makes a great topping when making a loaf at Thanksgiving which was in my original cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Volume 1 (way before Deborah Madison wrote her book). But back then I had to use dried, rehydrated yuba sheets. The fresh product beats the other hands down. I don't necessarily expect that you'll find it in your neighborhood store but if you happen to be in the San Francisco area, you now know about another wonderful traditional, i.e., not processed, soy product.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Veggie Queen Loves Beans

It is likely no surprise that I love to eat beans. I don't care if they're the green, yellow or purple bean type, fresh shelling beans or dried beans, regular or heirloom. They are all wonderful in my opinion.

My friends, Jill and David, at Crescent Moon Farm did me a huge, big deal favor a while back and picked and labeled about 10 kinds of shelling beans for me that I used for one of my show, tell and taste demonstrations. I had Cherokee Trail of Tears, Painted Pony, 2 types of Cranberry -- one almost white and the other dark red, and a number more. I shelled them and added them to dishes but with only a few pods of each, it didn't add up to a meal. But soon there will be dried beans for sale and I can stock up, if I can afford it.

Yesterday I bought cranberry beans from Tierra Vegetables and enjoyed shelling them to teach a cooking class at The McDougall Program today. I made my soup for a Chilly Fall Night, even though it was the day time. Still yummy with winter squash, peppers, cumin, tomatoes, corn, and cilantro for a garnish. But back to the beans...

I realize that growing, picking and threshing beans is a labor intensive, labor of love type process which justifies the high price but there is a limit to my purchasing power. I consider the heirloom beans equivalent to eating a gourmet meal out in the world. Truth is that I much prefer my special beans to most meals that I can get.

Although yesterday fellow Registered Dietitian Jeff Novick and I ate at Peter Lowell's in Sebastopol where they offer a darned good (but possibly overpriced) macro bowl, with brown rice, beans, vegetables and your choice of tempeh, seitan or tofu. I got a really good ginger-something dressing with it that was really fresh. Jeff didn't say it but I know that he liked my tempeh better than his tofu so next time maybe he'll order that. Jeff liked the dish and the place is the "greenest" restaurant in Sonoma County.

And this brings me back to the expensive beans. If I cook my own rice (not in a nice oven proof crock) and serve it with the beans, vegetables and I'd add some of my very tasty sauerkraut, it would cost me far less than $9.50, even with my $8 per pound beans. Generally a pound of beans will yield from 5 to 7 cups, at a cost of more or less a dollar at the high prices. Add in my rice and veggies and I can have a darned good "gourmet" meal at home for a few dollars. The heck with eating out, except that what happens to the rice and other ingredients in that wood-fired oven is rather magical. And I've got to learn how to make the ginger dressing. And then I'm there.

For now, I wait for heirloom beans to be dry and ready to buy.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Today a Rainbow, Yesterday a Sun Shower, What's Next?

I know that this post might not seem like it has anything to do with food or eating but it, of course, does. I love rainbows. Seeing them seems almost like a miracle to me. They are always there but don't often show themselves. Well, vegetables seem to me to be another type of miracle. You can take one seed and produce an entire plant, that yields multiple fruit, grains, nuts, beans -- whatever happens to be growing. Now, this is obviously an entirely different animal than a cow, goat, pig, chicken or even a human being. How on earth can one seed carry so much potential?

It boggles my mind. And that's what rainbows do for me -- give me a new perspective. And yesterday when there was a brief sun shower but not a cloud in the sky that was interesting. Thankfully I was in Petaluma, a small city, and there were other people who were also looking skyward to see where the water was coming from, otherwise I might have been completely baffled.

And my rainbow today occurred when there is no rain, just a large cloud and then sun's rays from which it could reflect. All this as our harvest season winds down, and I have tomatoes, figs and peaches drying in the dehydrator. I'm savoring the last of the green beans, summer squash and eggplant. The wonders of nature are inspiring but especially the vegetables.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why Sauerkraut? And other probiotic questions.

I read an article yesterday that in a poll of 1000 people in the US only 15% had any idea of what probiotics are, and my guess is that many have heard the word but are still unsure of what these living marvels do.

This means that there are far too many people who just don't know that eating live food can make a difference in their life. (But that's because so many Americans eat food that's way beyond dead -- processed beyond recognition.)

Probiotics help populate your gut with beneficial bacteria -- the stuff that's supposed to be there, that sometimes gets wiped out by antibiotics or GI disturbances. Also, there are prebiotics, which help keep your system healthy, in beans, whole grains and other vegetarian foods.

The other day I made sauerkraut. It is incredibly easy to do. And today I am eating some delicious pink kraut, that didn't cost me $10 per pint, which I just verified at the store today. Mine cost me $2.50 for the cabbage and I ended up with 2 pints, which is quite a savings. And where shall I spend what I've saved, I keep asking myself.

But back to the kraut. I did not grow up eating this stuff. And, in fact, since I don't eat hot dogs or sausages, which is what I think most people do with sauerkraut, I have to find other ways to use it.

One of the best, to my taste, is to mix it with cooked brown rice and vegetables. It's best if there's ginger or hot peppers in the mix. The cool and sour of the kraut, is a great complement in this simple-foods dish. I must admit that I first had something similar at Cafe Gratitude which was called The Macro Bowl (but of course, it had a name something like I AM LOVED or GRATEFUL).

A daily dose of sauerkraut will likely help keep your system populated with the good guy bacteria. And it will keep you healthier. If you want to know more about making sauerkraut and other fermented foods, check out Sandorkraut tells all.

Here's to your health and the health of your gut. Isn't that where your intuition lies?