Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Think about Resolutions, Set Goals

This post is NOT about food so you can stop reading now if that's all you came for.

My yoga teacher always has a well thought out "word of the week." This week it is resolution. For me sitting with nothing to think about except my breath and getting my spine to extend provides an opportunity to tune in to Clare's words and absorb their meaning; not always profound but often food for thought.

Did you ever realize that the world resolution has the word SOLUTION in it? I never gave it a thought. But now I will. Clare says that we already have the solutions but need to put them into practice. And that's what yoga and life are all about - practice without having to be perfect.

Many of you know that I prefer to set goals rather than make resolutions, which might change now that I realize the solution in resolutions. Rather than toss them to the wayside, perhaps making only one resolution and a good plan for following it would suffice for most of us.

At this time of year, I like to look back on the past year and see what happened, absorb it, spit out what I don't need to hang on to and move on. The present is a gift that you give to yourself so stay focused on now and make a plan for the future.

Here's a link to a piece that I wrote on setting goals. I am still formulating what I have in mind for my personal goals for 2010. Since I am a work in progress (and hope that we all are), I don't have to have these done by January 1st but I do recommend writing down your goals and looking at them periodically. Once a month works for me.

I hope that your goals will include taking care of yourself because money can't buy health. If you need help doing it, check in with me. My goal is to inspire you so that you can inspire other people.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

If It's Winter, it Means Squash

I recently reported that I bought a new-to-me squash. That doesn't happen that often. And I couldn't remember the name so I had to write it down. It's called Aunt Thelma's Sweet Potato Pie squash. I still must do some research and find out more about it (it's in the photo and is the largest squash in the back with a butternut-type color, wedged between 2 delicatas). Nathan Boone of First Light Farm and now Oh Tommy Boy's potatoes sold me the squash and told me that there really is an Aunt Thelma.

I cooked the squash and here is my report. The squash was easy enough to cut and the color was a lot like a butternut. I couldn't tell much about its texture until it was thoroughly cooked. And when it was, it was soft and perfect for soup. It did not have the intense sweetness or dense texture of my favorite squash which is the delicata. I am sure that I prefer a number of other squash over Aunt Thelma's Sweet Potato Pie squash. And when I make Sweet Potato pie, I prefer having sweet potatoes in it. It's one of two dessert recipes in my cookbook, The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment.

Since I also really like squash soup, this squash was just fine. I liked the size of it but I'm not likely to buy one again. Good thing that I have a few delicata squash put away for future use.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Veggie Queen Brings Color to Thanksgiving Table

I should have gotten a hint about my husband's eating habits when the first salad that he made me contained iceberg lettuce, a rock hard tomato, cucumber and green pepper. He probably thought that he'd done fine but not in my world. Over the years, I've helped my husband upgrade what's in the salad bowl (see What's Up Doc, a sidebar story in my cookbook, The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment). Rick still avoids "the weeds" (all the bitter things that I really like) but will eat almost any dark green lettuce put in front of him, in copious quantities now, even asking for salad nightly.

While I've done wonders with Rick, of his own volition, of course, the same is not true for the family wherein he grew up. My mother-in-law, whom I love dearly, informed me that everything was OK for Thanksgiving because she got the rolls that everyone loves (store bought white, bake and serve dinner rolls), the boiling onions and the celery and radishes. I've come to learn that my husband's family is all about the "white stuff": white bread, mashed potatoes, stuffing and turkey. I am, of course, all about the vegetables, especially since I am a vegetarian.

My incredibly sweet MIL told me that she bought me some (frozen, I am sure) fettuccine Alfredo to eat for Thanksgiving. She somehow cannot grasp the concept that I am vegan. She used to buy me frozen lasagna but I told her that I didn't like it. She also does not understand that while I am not specifically gluten-free, I eat few gluten-containing foods because I feel better eating this way.

Since I joined the family, I have been infiltrating Thanksgiving with color. I am not sure which is harder for them to take: the actual colorful vegetables or me and how I am "different". I've been trying for years to get my niece and nephew to eat my roasted root vegetables, which often contain pink and purple potatoes. They think that I am a bit odd. And while that may be true, I am not going to give up on offering them vegetables.

I made my usual Curried Squash and Pear Soup, roasted root vegetables and Fruited Wild Rice, all of which are in my cookbook, The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment.

This year I also included a Match Meat vegan holiday roast that I made with the "chicken" flavor stuffed with cooked wild rice and "sausage" Match, made almost according to the recipe with some tweaking. Tasted good but not a preferred every day food for me.

I was able to get Brussels sprouts on the stalk so roasted a nice batch of those. Luckily my son also likes them, which drives Rick, my husband, crazy as he likes to say that he "hates" them.
I've turned more than one B.s. hater into a tolerater but...
I don't have high vegetable hopes for my husband's family but I am still going to bring the color to Thanksgiving. I just can't help myself.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rooting Around For Mushrooms and More

Last night I went to a SOMA meeting and listened to David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified (which is still a big mystery to me) and All that the Rain Promises and More..., and William Rubel, friends and myco-cohorts discuss the Aminita Muscaria mushroom and its edibility. Now, if this isn't the black hole of mycological geek-dom, I am not sure what is. No PowerPoint presentation or photos, one little aminita-like prop and lots of talk about history and then reality. Bottom line: they say that you can eat the poisonous aminita muscaria if it is boiled for 15 minutes in a large amount of water and then cooked another way. First, though, you have to find said mushroom.

A sad day for me, as today was the SOMA foray at the coast of Northern California. And my day just did not allow for me to make the trip. So, I went to a local park which was supposed to be a potential mushroom spot. I once found a Boletus Edulus (porcini) there and have been looking for another ever since. That was years ago. But sometimes the fun is in the hunt, not in the finding -- RIGHT! While that sounds nice, the truth is that the thrill is in finding the mushrooms, especially choice edibles. That will have to wait until later this week when I hope to get a coastal trip in and get moving in the woods with eyes on the ground.

On another note, today was a beautiful day at the farmer's market, with people gearing up for Thanksgiving. I bought a new-to-me squash, the name of which I have already forgotten, and some horseradish root, which I love as something to grate onto my baked potatoes. Twin Peaks Ranch had a new Algerian tangerine, which I declared is tastier than the Satsuma Mandarin. This was confirmed by Ted Richardson of Bella Ride Orchard (or farm), a guy who knows his fruit. I stopped by too late to get any apples or pears from Ted but he's the guy who grows the incredible Warren pears, also sold out for the year. Jim and Dave from Cazadero were there with chanterelle mushrooms (see photo for a holey one), chestnuts and quince.
Friday I spoke to the Valley of the Moon Rotary on The Veggie Queen's Health Care Solution and tomorrow I speak to the UU Forum in San Francisco about Surviving the Holidays as a vegetarian (so easy to do in my opinion but I have years of experience). Both talks involve vegetables, which ought to be clear by now. I have an agenda. I'm a mom so I say, "Eat your vegetables, please."
Just so you know, I've still got mushrooms on my mind, and they aren't vegetables but are well worth eating, if you can find them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Veggie Queen is Baaaack...From Denver and Elsewhere

I know that I have been remiss in writing here. I have been really busy for the past 6 weeks, teaching and traveling and have lots of excuses. But when I get notes from people asking if I am OK? I realize that I must take at least a few minutes to write.

I just returned from attending the American Dietetic Association (ADA) conference in Denver, referred to as FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo). I hadn't attended in 15 years. But I am now the secretary of the Vegetarian Practice Group of the ADA, and that means that I take minutes at board meetings, in person and on the phone. The funniest part is that sometimes I have a hard time reading my own notes. But it all works out.

The highlight of the conference was hearing and meeting Dr. Michael Roizen, who has co-authored the YOU books with Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Oprah doctor. I am not someone awed by celebrity, it doesn't do much for me and I've met enough of them to realize that they are "real" people, just like we are. But I am wowed by brilliance. And I rate Dr. Roizen near the top of my list (which includes Paul Stamets and Paul Simon among others) as a particularly brilliant guy.

His talk was brought to us by the Walnut people and I thank them, not only because I like walnuts but because Dr. Roizen was inspiring and believes with all his heart and mind that changing your eating can change your life. Amen. (Featured in this photo with me is Martha DeCampos, of the Vegetarian Practice Group, and lots of onlookers.)

Additionally, in the 15 years since I last attended this conference, a number of organic companies have begun attending including Amy's Kitchen, Numi Tea, Alvarado Street Bakery, Sunshine Burger, Mary's Gone Crackers, Dr. Kracker and more. I applaud them all for showing up and sharing what they do to educate dietitians. (If you're reading this and your company attended please let me know.)

I also went to a great talk on why the Registered Dietitian (RD) ought to be promoting organic foods. WOW. It's about time.

My previous trips included a jaunt to San Diego where I did cooking demonstrations for 2 different WIC (Women, Infants and Children) offices about eating deliciously by cooking whole foods in a pressure cooker.

And right before that, I was in San Francisco attending BlogHer Food with 300 other food bloggers, too many to mention here, except for my wonderful roommate Cheryl Sternman Rule of 5 Second Rule. who is an all around top-notch person and great writer. Read one of her recent posts, Regret ,and you'll see why I love her writing, wit, humor and photography skills. She bakes a bit too much for me but thankfully I live far enough away that I am not taunted and tormented by her baking projects. She also includes some healthier recipes for balance. Thanks Cheryl.

Watch for an upcoming post on making tofu at home with Rachael of La Fuji Mama. I have already started so you'll see it sometime soon, as well as an update and highlights of my travels.

My travels are over, unless, of course, you invite me to come visit you somewhere, although I much prefer the time and space of writing at home. But if you've got an empty beach house in Mexico with an internet connection, let's talk.

And for those of you wondering, I am obviously alive and doing well. I always love to hear your comments.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Squash Love and Alchemy

I now recall why I love summer squash: you can basically eat as much as you want and not gain weight. It's a class of vegetables, like greens of all types, that lends itself to eating massive amounts. And I am sure that's why one squash plant produces so much. It's a reminder that in the summer, it's a good idea to eat lots of higher water vegetables.

I don't need research to tell me that there's something good for me in summer squash, as my intuition does that. In fact, I don't eat food because it's healthy, I eat it because it fuels me and I feel best when I have the energy to go fast and far.

You wouldn't try to run your car on water would you? Well, your body is more forgiving than any car and will let you run it on all kinds of (pardon the vernacular here) crap for quite a long time. But eventually, you need the high-octane fuel to get, and keep you, running at top speed.

All this leads to a simple recipe that I had for breakfast (you can call me odd, that's OK) but most people would eat for lunch or dinner. It amazes me how so few ingredients can turn into something so wonderfully delicious. I say that it serves 3-4 but it only made 2 servings for me.

Simple Summer Squash
Serves 3-4

Fresh ingredients are a must for this dish because they're the star. Best to grow them yourself, get them from a neighbor or go to the farmer's market or local farmstand.

2 teaspoons olive oil (optional)
1/2 cup sliced onion
3/4 cup chopped red, orange or yellow pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 teaspoons Bragg's liquid amino acids, tamari or soy sauce
8 ounces firm tofu or tempeh (optional), or 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
3 cups chopped summer squash (I used Bianco de Siciliana and Costata Romanesco)
2 teaspoons Organic Vegetable Rub , Italian seasoning or other herb blend
Chopped fresh basil, if you have it

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and then the onion. Saute the onion for about 2 minutes and add the pepper and garlic. Saute another minute or two. Add the tofu and Bragg's, cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so tofu doesn't stick. Add the summer squash and vegetable rub and cook for 2-4 minutes, until the squash is cooked through, but still firm (this depends upon the type and age of your squash). Garnish with basil, if desired.

Pressure Cooker directions:

Heat the pressure cooker over medium heat. Add the oil,if using, and onion. Saute for a minute. Add the peppers and garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tofu and Bragg's and cook 1 more minute. Add the squash and vegetable rub, plus 2-3 tablespoons water. Lock on the lid and bring to high pressure. Lower the heat to maintain high pressure for 1 minute, 30 seconds (for regular zucchni, crookneck or yellow squash, only cook for 45 seconds to 1 minute). Quick release pressure and serve right away. Garnish with basil, if desired.

This dish will last a few days in the refrigerator. It does not freeze well. You can adjust this recipe anyway that you want and make it your own. It's a starting point.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Graffiti in Petaluma Has Winning Accessory Menu

I've never heard of a restaurant serving accessories but I'm glad that Graffiti in Petaluma does. My mother-in-law took me there and I ordered Beet Kim Chee ~ Red and Gold Beet Kim Chee with Japanese Cucumbers ($3).

In my younger years, an accessory would have been a pair of red high heels. These days, I am thrilled when it includes fresh and delicious vegetables.
I can honestly say that this may be one of the best salads that I have ever had in a restaurant -- filling, fresh, lively, zesty, perky, colorful. I could have stopped eating after that dish and been quite satisfied. But I ordered soup and cornbread.
The roasted artichoke and mushroom soup was very tasty but didn't wow me the way that the Kim Chee (I spell it Chi) did. The grilled jalapeno cornbread, another accessory which I'd liken to a too-large purse, was big enough but lacked any jalapeno kick. It would have been better off left on the plate.

Eating outdoors, facing the Petaluma River, was relaxing but the weather got quite warm despite the much-needed shade. Cherry sorbet was the perfect end to the meal but not quite as satisfying as the beginning.

I would go back to Graffiti again at lunch time and see what's on the Graffiti Tapas part of the menu. My mother-in-law who took me for a belated birthday lunch had scallops served with an artichoke heart. She thoroughly enjoyed it but it's certainly not my cup of tea (or small plate).

My recommendation is to check out the accessories (I guess that these are sides) when you visit and think of them as possibilities for a meal -- so it may be best to wear your little black dress, as it goes with everything.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Veggie Queen is Still Nuts

I think that nuts must be attracted to me, or vice versa. This past weekend, I came across organic, Hawaiian macadamia nuts from Lovejoy Nut Farm of Hawaii at the Sebastopol farmer's market, here in California. Leana and I chatted briefly. I had never seen mac nuts in their shells. And she had the special little nut cracker that could make it possible to easily extricate the nuts from their incredibly tough shells.

When I tasted a sample of these nuts, I knew that I had to have a bag of them. I asked if I could write a check (I remembered my checkbook but not my camera. Darn it.) and Leana said, "Yes." Then the guy with Leana said, "You're The Veggie Queen, aren't you?" And Leana got excited and said that she'd trade me the nuts and cracker ($10) for my book. That was music to my ears. I ran to get a copy of my book and left with a sack of nuts and a cracker.

My son cracked some nuts for me on the way home from the market, and I've been satisfied ever since, and that's because I am still nuts over nuts. Read my last post.

I also found out from one of my Facebook friends that macadamia nuts are also grown in California. (You've got to love social networking for making the world so accessible.) I will likely order some and do a comparison test. My "friend" told me that I had to get the really good nutcracker ($82) but I said that once I did that, I'd have no money left for the nuts. Either way, I'm still nutty.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Nuts over Nuts and Trail Mix

People who know me don't hesitate to call me nuts. In fact, my father lovingly called me a "nut job", one of the last things he said on my last visit before he passed away. So I take the term as one of endearment.

I'll admit that I can be a bit nutty and over exuberant about things, especially if they involve "real" food.

I had the immense pleasure of receiving some Braga Farms raw trail mix, roasted, salted pistachios and roasted salted almonds with garlic, all of which are certified organic and come from a small, family farm in California.

The good thing is that I love nuts, and eat them almost every day. The other good thing is that gift or not, I am likely to tell you what I really think because I am a bit of a "nut job."

So, here is my critique of Braga farms organic raw trail mix. It may be one of the best trail mix blends that I've ever had, not mucked up with lots of seeds (like those, too but often they compose the bulk of the mix because they are less expensive) and containing large firm, fresh nuts. It tastes clean, containing walnuts, almonds, pistachios, dried cranberries and large plump raisins (which I believe may be coated with sunflower oil because it's listed on the label but I'm not sure). This stuff is so much better than any other trail mix that I've had which says a lot. It's also a lot more expensive at $8.86 per 8 ounce bag, but in my case, that's a good thing because even when not on the trail, I don't seem to have a limit to how much I can, and do, eat of this stuff. Rating: 5 out of 5 for freshness, taste and overall palatability.

The salted pistachios are good, as good as any that I buy but discernibly better than my usual organic purchases. I am sure, though, that buying the already shelled organic ones is a treat because it makes it easy to add them to dishes, such as my Quinoa with Currants and Pistachios. For just eating, though, I'll stick to those in-the-shell as it slows me down so I don't eat the whole darned bag. Fresh and flavorful but not likely to make the switch to these, mostly due to price. Rating: 4 out of 5. $7.86 per 8 ounces

I hesitated to try the salted garlic almonds, thinking that they'd be very garlicky or have some "fake" taste. But I was wrong. They are addictively delicious, and once again incredibly fresh. When buying nuts, freshness really counts, which is why supporting small farms makes a huge difference. Heck, I ought to know since I live in California, known for its nuts (and kooks). The garlic almonds are lightly flavored and oh-so tasty.

Rating: 5 out of 5. $8.86 per 8 ounces. I've not had flavored almonds with such real flavor.

These products, and much more, are all available from Gourmet Shopping Network .

If I didn't live in such a nutty place and wanted to be sure that I had great products, I would order often from Braga Farms, supporting a small organic farm that has high standards. If you are in the market for great tasting nuts and some dried fruit, check them out.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Please Pop Over the Pears, Drop off the Apples, Leave me Persimmons

In addition to picking produce, which I am happy to do almost any time, I love it when I open my front door to find bags of it. It's often a surprise -- yesterday, my friend Anet dropped off a bag of large Bartlett pears. Hopefully later today someone will show up with some Gravenstein apples.

I had the good fortune of picking figs a couple of weeks ago but didn't realize that their end was so near. (Thank you Carl for your generosity.)
When I went to get a few more baskets the other day, I had to work hard to discover 9 large figs tucked under the leaves of the tree. I traded some of them for other produce and have been eating the rest of them. I never met a fig that I didn't like. Good thing that they are loaded with potassium, fiber and calcium. Unfortunately, they also have plenty of sugar so best to be careful when eating them, or the tummy lets you know.

I do not turn down homegrown produce when someone asks since I am often sure that I can put it to good use. I do request, though, that you don't leave me the not-so-good stuff, such as baseball bat sized zucchini or other summer squash. I will accept smaller squash and with them I will make a batch of my Grilled Asian Squash Salad. My assistant, and friend, Ellen just made these on her George Forman grill and said that they were very good. They also received rave reviews from Jenna of Kid Appeal who wrote a wonderful post about my cookbook and will be giving a copy away (so click on the link). When squash are in season, it's best to cook them up as fast and as often as you can.
Grilled Asian Squash Salad
Serves 4
When the squash is prolific, you always need another way to serve it. This dish is especially easy and delicious. Even people who say they don’t like squash usually find it irresistible.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon reduced sodium tamari
4 summer squash of any kind, cut lengthwise into quarters
1 large onion, cut into rings
3 tablespoons chopped herbs, such as cilantro, Thai basil or parsley
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
Chopped cilantro or other herb, for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine olive oil, sesame oil, vinegar, tamari and half the garlic and ginger in a bowl or zippered bag. Mix in squash, onion and herbs. Let marinate at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Place veggies on a screen on your grill over hot coals or gas or inside on a grill pan. Grill for 3-4 minutes on each side. Turn carefully and grill for another 3-4 minutes on the other side. Reserve the marinade. Once the squash is grilled, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Mix with cooked onion rings, reserved marinade and remaining ginger and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve as is, or cool to room temperature.

If you want to do any produce drops, just let me know. I'll even meet you at the farmer's market in any Sonoma County town or city, or I'll do the picking. Produce is my game, The Veggie Queen is my name. Actually, my name is Jill but I do answer to Veggie Queen, with or without the The.

I hope that you are enjoying your summer produce as much as I am.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ubuntu in Napa: When the Timing is Right

Sometimes there are evenings that have a touch of magic. I think that my dinner with my friend Fran Costigan, the alternative dessert diva, was one of them.
Fran and I both presented at the McDougall Celebrity Chef weekend, and we were tired. It had been very warm outdoors and for that I am thankful. Due to the heat, we decided to get a patio seat at Ubuntu, a "community-focused, vegetable-inspired" restaurant in downtown Napa, the next county inland from the Sonoma County paradise in which I live.

The hour's drive to the restaurant was about all that I could handle with my degree of dragging. But sitting outdoors, surrounded by flowery landscaping and candlelight, changed my mood. And, spending time with Fran was great.

We perused the menu, and as we did so, I saw the waiter sashay by with a flowery salad. I asked what it was, and was told that it was the Carta da Musica. I knew that shortly we'd be eating that gorgeous creation, described as a salad from "snout to tail." The delicate flowers and creative greens which include a French ice plant with a snappy, salty bite (name now forgotten), herbs and arugula was as tasty as it was delicious. It's served on a Sardinian flatbread, with or without truffled pecorino, and the most incredible Trumpet Royale "pancetta", which was incorrectly described as black trumpet mushrooms by both the waiter and chef. But the lightly fried, paper-thin slices of mushrooms that had been smoked had both the mouthfeel and flavor of bacon. Hmmm, may I have a plate of those non-McDougall mushrooms please? (After all they are plant-foods, aren't they?) The pig was surrounded by "dirt" made of dehydrated beets and hazelnuts. I can almost guarantee that you've not had anything like this before.

Along with our salad we had a couple of "tastes" of wine, which are 2 ounce pours for a reasonable, by Napa standards, price of $4 to $6. Perfect amount of wine, especially for the driver.

After the salad we looked at the menu again and ordered the pizzetta. This one had borage (a cucumber-tasting blue flower) tapenade and vegan cheese, for us.

While we waited for our pizzetta, we were served a highly artistic beet dish, compliments of the house, that was incredibly tasty, albeit a bit too precious for my taste. The cubes of gold and red beet with flowers, beet chips and a rhubarb relish made for tasty bites but just bites they were. It may have been an amuse bouche but wasn't presented as such.

And then our pizzetta arrived. It was perfectly cooked and the flavors were bright, with the borage topping made from local Sevillano olives a perfect foil for the perfectly cooked crust. The vegan cheese was a did not distract from, or overwhelm, the wonderful flavors of the fresh summer vegetables. It is just how I like my pizza, crisp crust, light topping and vegetables plus herbs.

The end of the meal was as much a highlight as the beginning. I believe that the dessert that we had was called a "creamsicle" but it's not like any that I've ever had. I never cared for creamsicles so was reluctant to order this one. But I am glad that we did. My description (no photo, sorry, my camera battery died and Fran shot photos. It was too dark by dessert.) will not do it justice.

On the bottom of the glass were beet tapioca pearls, with an intense red color. They were topped with orange sorbet. Mineral (or other fizzy) water was poured over those 2 elements, creating a textured, cold, creamy and spritzy dessert. You have to experience it to get what it's all about. I can just say, that as a mostly non-citified woman at this point, I don't often order $9, non-baked desserts, but I'd get this one again. It was light and delicious and thank goodness, it's nothing like a "creamsicle" except for the orange flavor.

The food and atmosphere of Ubuntu are top notch although the service left me flat, despite our perfectly sweet waiter, named Jeremy, same as the chef, who has a lot to learn about ingredients and wine. Total tab, without tip, for 2 tastes of wine plus a glass, one salad, pizza and dessert was $60, which may fly in Napa or NYC but it's a bit rich for my Sonoma County blood.

I will be going back and we'll see what kind of vegetable treats and tricks Chef Jeremy Fox has up his sleeve in the deep of summer, with all manner of vegetables at his disposal.

If you're going to be in Napa be sure to make reservations and check out their vegetable-inspired cuisine.

Ubuntu also has a yoga studio upstairs. I think that a perfect day for me would be staying at the eco-friendly Gaia Hotel and Spa in American Canyon, taking a yoga class and eating lunch at Ubuntu, and sometime later getting a spa treatment. Something to consider.

BTW, within a day or two, the hot weather vanished and a night on the patio without a jacket would have just been impossibly chilly. So, timing is indeed everything.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Veggie Queen has Salad Days in Glen Ellen

I am not even sure what that term "Salad Days" means but I just had a chance to spend time with my friend Katie of North Coast Holistics (MI) while she housesits here in Sonoma County. She is staying at a beautiful home in Glen Ellen, where she lived with her ex- years ago. He and his current partner have turned the place into a lush oasis, especially for two salad eaters.

Katie and I picked lettuce and Katie made a salad for us, which is a real treat for me since I am usually the salad-maker.

I learned from Katie that the best way to have the freshest tasting salad is to pick the lettuce leaves and put them into a bowl of cool water. Then you rinse them a few more times and dry them off with a salad spinner, although some people have other methods that involve towels or swinging pillowcases.

We picked so much lettuce, yet hardly made a dent in what was growing (they must be supplying the entire neighborhood with greens as there were more than 20 heads fully fruited), that it created a salad for lunch and another for dinner.

While someone making salad for me was a high point of the day, it was nothing compared to spending a good chunk of a day with a close friend who I don't get to see often enough. When we see one another the time is often too short. I don't regret not spending more time and feel lucky that Katie set aside a day for me. She is well loved here in Sonoma County and many people want to see her. She mentioned that she might come back and housesit somewhere else, and I truly hope that happens.

Now, I long for more lettuce and for more "Salad Days" with Katie.
(PS. I looked up what Salad Days means, and it's a time of innocence. While Katie and I are long past that, I still like the phrase.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Family Foodies CBC Final Answer

Here is the final installment of the CBC, cross blog conversation, with Family Foodies.

FF: I would love some suggestions for “fake meat” products as an foray into vegetarian eating. What are some of your recommendations?

TheVQ: Having just been on Culinate, at the Table Talk Meatless chat with @Kimodonnel from The Washington Post's A Mighty Appetite, here are some suggestions that we discussed: Boca Burgers (my meat-eating husband likes these), Field Roast sausages and roast, Tofurky brats and Italian sausages, as well as Gimme Lean and Lightlife products.

Many people like using the Morningstar Farms products but they seem overly processed to me. I try to stay away from eating soy protein isolate, and prefer items based on beans and grains. But many people new to the veg world go for the meatier tasting items which often contain more processed soy. There are also all the soy hot dog products that kids often like. And once you get them in the bun with stuff on them, it's hard to tell they are not meat (but what do I know about that?).

My husband used to like Yves Veggie Pepperoni so much that he called it turkey pepperoni. As an aside, I will tell you that on his own my husband decided that pepperoni is gross and no longer eats it. I consider that progress.

FF: I see you have a cookbook devoted to pressure cooking, and your blog bio says you are a pressure cooking advocate. Can you talk about your passion about pressure cooking and what you recommend for someone who has never used a pressure cooker?

The VQ: First, let me clarify that my cookbook The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment is about vegetables throughout the year, and has a chapter on pressure cooking. I have a DVD on pressure cooking, Pressure Cooking: A Fresh Look, Delicious Dishes in Minutes that comes with a recipe booklet. What follows is my pressure cooking story.

I fell in love with pressure cooking when my son was about 2 or 3. I didn’t have a lot of time yet I wanted to feed him nutritious foods. He was a vegetarian, mostly vegan, from birth. He loved lentils, especially as soup. The first item that I perfected in the pressure cooker was Shane’s Fabulous Lentil Soup which has both red and green lentils. It takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, including prepping the ingredients. Using my pressure cooker made me feel like a great mother. So I learned to cook other things in it. Shane also loved beans, especially black and garbanzo beans. They take 6 and 12 minutes, respectively, after they’ve been presoaked. I would always make extra and freeze them.

If you are new to pressure cooking, or just want to see it, take a look at my pressure cooking website to see my video clip from my DVD. You’ll see how easy it is to use. Did I also mention that using a pressure cooker helps preserve some nutrients, and that the food looks and tastes great? You can also read my pressure cooking blog or see me on You Tube at TheVQ.

I think that using a pressure cooker is perfect for a family to make cooking fast, easy and delicious. Food tastes and looks better than in a crock pot, and you can wait until late in the afternoon and decide what to have for dinner on a whim, and actually get it on the table on time. I highly recommend it.
I hope that I’ve answered your questions. If anyone has questions, please feel free to comment here and I will get back to you.

Thanks for this great conversation.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Family Foodies CBC (Cross Blog Conversation) Answer Number 2

Debbie, although you only posed one real question about how I manage to incorporate and maintain yummy meals during winter when “fresh” items are scarce or really expensive, I also see that you asked about vegetarian proteins.

I will start with the protein and give you a list of possible vegetarian protein sources which include tofu (here's my Tofu Italiano), tempeh (not well loved by many non-vegetarians but can work crumbled in foods), seitan, which is wheat gluten and all about the texture, not the taste because it has very little, if any, and beans. Then there are, of course, all the other legumes which include peas, split peas and lentils. There is obviously a large number of food items to choose from. You can also include nuts and seeds as a complement but not as the main protein source as they have a lot of fat.

If you like grains, you can cook some possibly new-to-you grains such as quinoa and then combine them with seasonings (or herbs) and beans in the food processor and turn them into burgers. I brush mine with oil and bake them until done.

Now, on to your question about the winter and vegetables. You are correct that there are fewer vegetables in winter, which is why it’s great that you asked this question now. Summer’s abundance is a great time to stock up for winter. For most vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or peas, blanching the vegetables (giving them a quick dunk in boiling water) and then patting them dry, and packing them in usable amounts in freezer bags works great. You can also freeze the on cookie sheets so that the vegetables are individual and freeze them in the bags. You can then pull out what you need.

Even though I live in Northern California, which is close to a winter vegetable paradise, I rely on a lot of root crops and cabbage then. It’s what you are supposed to eat, according to nature. The cooking is about learning how to be creative with rutabaga, sweet potatoes, celery root, turnips, potatoes, and how to combine them with seasonings in unique ways that make them taste great.

My friend Katie, who lives on the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, has a greenhouse and manages to keep kale going in there all winter. I suspect that you may have local or semi-local farmers who have managed to do the same. Kale, collards and Swiss chard often can make it in the mild parts of winter, if there are any.

BTW, you can tell that I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with frozen vegetables. I buy as much in season as I can but there are times when that becomes far too challenging and that’s when I turn to my freezer or use my canned tomatoes.

Here’s how I describe the seasons: Winter is roots, spring is shoots and summer and early fall are fruits. Greens exist all year in various forms. Eating food that’s local and in-season helps us attune to the local climate and generally what our bodies need.

What kind of questions do you have about products? I didn't mention any "fake meat" products and sometimes these make for a helpful transition from meat eating.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cross Blog Conversation (CBC) with Family Foodies

I've never done this kind of thing before but when asked if I would have a CBC, cross blog conversation with Debbie at Family Foodies, I said, "Yes." Those of you who know me, know that my motto is, "I'll try anything once (but not animal products in my mouth, thank you)."

Debbie asks me how I suggest that a typical steak-loving, non-vegetarian transition to a more healthful way of eating?

Debbie, I consider this one of my specialties because I recommend that you include more vegetables every day. Then along with that, more other healthful plant foods that might be out of the realm of "normal" such as substituting quinoa or brown rice for white rice or potatoes.

Let me share the story about my husband who wasn't a huge meat-and-potatoes guy but he's also no vegetarian. I started giving him better salads, switching from iceberg lettuce to romaine. Then I included a mix of darker lettuces. I didn't do this all at once but over a month or so. He now loves the salad mix (minus the weeds, as he still doesn't like the bitter stuff such as arugula or dandelionand eats at least 3 to 4 cups of it each night. On his own, he asked me to pack him a container of fruit at lunch and a container of vegetables. So, he makes sure that he gets the recommended 9 servings each day, at least during the week. Once you're eating all that produce, and make sure that it's as fresh and local as you can get it, so it tastes best, you are likely to eat less of the other things. Or at least that's the hope.

You can also go the Meatless Mondays route, making sure that at least one day a week you skip the meat. Once you get a few good recipes under your belt, it may be easier to incorporate more vegetarian meals.

Confirmed meat-eaters often like dishes such as chili, which you can make in many meatless variations with a variety of different beans.

When I attend potlucks or other functions, I bring a dish that I want to eat which is often colorful and filled with vegetables. It might be something like a quinoa salad, sweet and sour summer squash or hummus and vegetables, soup or stew, depending upon the event and the meal. Fresh and vibrant vegetables are almost always a hit.

Unless there is meat in every dish, I find things to eat. But nothing bugs a vegetarian more than people hiding meat in dishes that could easily be meat-free such as a vegetable-based soup made with chicken or beef broth.

Some of my family's staples at holiday meals such as Curried Squash Soup, Roasted Root Vegetables and Fruited Wild Rice started out as what I made for me but now everyone eats them.

I think that you mentioned the key word: transition. Most people need to make changes over time to be most successful, especially with a big dietary change such as eliminating meat and other animal products. Get a few good cookbooks (guess this is when I plug The Veggie Queen cookbook) or look online at my website or other blog posts. I also have have colleagues and fellow bloggers who do great work. See my list on the sidebar here.

And, Debbie, keep making those salads but see how you might make them interesting without the cheese by adding little tidbits such as dried fruit, nuts, olives, capers or avocado. It's all a process and I encourage you to give it a try especially because it's good for the whole family. Children mimic what you do and if you want your kids to have a great start on health, it's through what they eat.

Now, my questions for you: what do you think really stops you from eating or trying more vegetarian foods? Is it the perceived time that it takes, or buying the stuff? Or maybe you think that your husband won't like it. I'd love to hear.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life is for the Living and You'll Be A Long Time Dead

I know that this blog is about food but it's also about life and living it well. And despite the fact that I am a Registered Dietitian, writer and a host of other things (some of which I will not discuss), I may have missed my calling in the philosophy department. In all my years of school I did not take one philosophy class but somehow I manage to espouse my ideas almost daily.

The title of this post however is dedicated to my father who just passed away last week. Those were his words, and with that in mind, I'd like to share a little bit about my Dad, Bernie.

Bernie loved to eat, and when you look at photos of him over the years, you can tell when he really liked to eat food that was not very good for him, as he looked heavy. When he was in his 50s, he likely had a silent heart attack, confirmed later by doctors. He wanted to know what to do so my sister sent him Dr. Dean Ornish's first book on reversing heart disease.

My father was a voracious reader and a bit of a fanatic, so he followed Ornish's advice for quite some time. After doing so when he went back to the doctor, he'd managed to regrow capillaries to his heart. My Dad was also into exercise and used the Nordic Track like a madman for many years.

He'd often ask me for advice regarding what to eat and saw how I followed a vegetarian diet and leaned in that direction.

Luckily as he got older, he slowed down just a bit on the exercise and got a dog, a Boston terrier named Sweetie, that he walked daily until just a few months ago. He also mowed the lawn often, which was a lot of work on more than an acre of property.

After the Ornish plan, my Dad ate pretty well, including lots of fresh food, made by my mother who likes to cook and has a garden. A few years ago, I sent my father a copy of The China Study by Colin Campbell. He then adopted a vegan diet, and said that he felt better than ever. And that might have been true for awhile.

Last year he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. If his doctors had been paying attention, they would have likely caught the cancer earlier as my Dad's PSA level was elevated. He also had GI problems, caused by a hospital stay, and likely needed Vitamin B12 shots but didn't receive those either.

The moral of this story is as Sandy Lewis, MD, the cardiologist from Portland, who shared the Super Shuttle to the Denver airport as I left to go to the funeral, said, "No one gets out alive."

So, I encourage you to treat each day as if it could be your last. Find something to be grateful for, appreciate the people around you, and enjoy fresh food, clean air (if you've got it), nature, your pets, your work, and life in general. There are no bad days, just some are better than others. They all give perspective and a frame of reference.

When I'd ask my Dad how things were going, he'd usually say, "It's better than the alternative." When he stopped saying anything like that, I knew what was in store. The end isn't usually easy, so in the words of Jennifer Stone of KPFA radio, "Go easy. And if you can't go easy, go as easy as you can."

Bernie reminded his 3 daughters that life is not a popularity contest but that kindness, generosity and sharing wisdom all count. And I hope that what I've shared with you today has an impact in some way.

Smile, enjoy, live well -- it's the best revenge.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Veggie Queen Hears Jonah Raskin Speak on Farmers

For many years, I have wanted to meet Jonah Raskin who is a Sonoma County writer and professor at Sonoma State University. When I read that he would have a booksigning last night at a local Copperfield's bookstore, I knew that I had to go. Raskin has lived in Sonoma County for many years and he grew up near my hometown on Long Island. It turns out that his father, like mine, was an attorney. Unlike my parents, his moved to Occidental, here in Sonoma County, and started farming in retirement.
Raskin and I have a similar love of the land and writing but he took his passion and went out into the fields as fodder for his new book Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in California published by University of California Press.

I cannot tell you exactly why I didn't buy the book but I didn't so I will have to give you highlights of what Raskin had to say instead.

He made his war cry, Follow the vegetables. He worked at Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen, in Sonoma Valley for a year. He then followed chef John McReynolds' formerly of Cafe La Haye in Sonoma to see what he did with the vegetables. Raskin says that McReynolds is a spontaneous cook, which his editor did not believe. If you've seen me at work in person, you can likely tell that McReynold's and I have something in common in the spontaneity department. I often can't follow the recipe that I have right in front of me. That's not what cooking is about -- especially not with fresh vegetables.

Raskin implored everyone to grow, and buy, their vegetables organically even if they aren't certified.

While working at Oak Hill Farm where you'll find the Red Barn store, on spectacular piece of land, Raskin mentioned to owner Anne Teller that everything is connected. That's when he was told about "The Web of Life." I hope that you know about this concept and take it to heart. Everything you do has an effect on the world.

Raskin talked about his toiling in the field with the other farm workers and how he felt initiated into a tribe as they planted 6000 leeks in a day. He said that even though the work was physically hard, that it's harder to sit at a computer and work.

For you writers, rather than write the proposal for the book, Raskin wrote the entire book. He said that it would be easier. But he has quite a few other books under his belt and an editor who must like him. You likely know that I am into self-publishing so the proposal stage is something that I also skip.

The book contains a chapter on older farmers, one of whom is an amazing person that I see from time to time: Chester Aaron, author and garlic farmer. Chester is upwards of 85 and incredibly sharp. He's still farming and writing. I'd love to get my hands on some of Chester's amazing garlic -- he grows about 90 different kinds. Older farmers love what they do, maybe because they are in touch with the earth. Raskin says that they work until the end. What a nice thought.

If you are interested in farming, farmers, eating, drinking, and living, you might find this book a good read. With piles of books awaiting my attention, I couldn't bring myself to get one more on a subject about which I know a lot, and places that I have been for years. I applaud Raskin for taking on the subject and finding that it filled him up in a way that other things might not have.

Please, once again I implore you to pay homage to farmers. We need them for our sustenance.
The greens in the photo above (amazing Dinosaur or Lacinata kale) were grown by Raskin's friend Tom Pringle, who says that he's transforming from gardener to sharecropping farmer. I'll update you on that when I can.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Spring Farmer's Markets in Sonoma County

This weekend I went to 2 farmer's markets: one in Santa Rosa on Saturday, the other in Sebastopol on Sunday. I don't often do this but on Saturday I led a group of 4 through the market to buy ingredients for their private cooking class. I was happy to do this, which turned to thrilled when J. one of the tour group said that he's lived in the area for 40 years but had never been to the market. That's a symphony to my ears.

It was luckily a slow market day due to overcast weather, which made it easier to peruse the stalls and traverse the aisles. We have reached spring abundance and I was able to get everything on my list and more. (I did this by showing up about a half hour before our 9 am meeting just to be on the safe side and snagging some locally grown organic strawberries and asparagus.) I didn't have garlic scapes (the curly part of green garlic that will eventually form a flower), baby artichokes or squash blossoms on the list but we had those. And in addition to a bunch of spring kale (a different variety than the regular curly-type), we were also able to get broccoli rabe for our greens sauteed with garlic. The Spring Surprise Saute had a great mix of spring onions, leeks, asparagus, sugar snap peas and a variety of summer squash, which just appeared in the past week. I would have added cilantro to the mix but didn't want to get into who loves and who hates cilantro.

The menu for the day included Creamy Asparagus Soup (which in my book is Creamy Spinach Soup but I say that you can use the formula for almost any vegetable and asparagus is a favorite), Salad with Balsamic Strawberry Dressing (this is a take off of my Sweet Summer Super Salad), Marinated and Baked Tempeh, Quinoa Pilaf with Mushrooms, and the previously mentioned Greens with Garlic and Spring Surprise Saute. I had so much fun leading the group through the cooking. Miraculously, as we were finishing up the dishes and plating, the sun came out and the group headed outside for an amazing lunch. J. loved the tempeh which was a big surprise and S. loved the quinoa, as she'd never had it before.

Taking a group to the market meant that I couldn't really shop for myself so yesterday I went to Sebastopol ready for my weekly vegetable foray. When I saw the Laguna Vegetable stand with their amazingly sweet carrots, I knew that it was going to be an amazing day there. They also had sugar snap peas and young white Tokyo turnips, with great looking tops which I had the young man remove immediately and put into the bag. BIG TIP HERE: You want to remove the tops of all root vegetables right away as they breathe through the tops. Both roots and leaves will stay fresher this way. Everything else looked great, too, but I was moving on.

I stopped to speak to Paul of Paul's Smoked Salmon for a bit. He's a great guy and we have some good laughs together even about serious subjects such as his mother's recent passing. I love people who have a sense of humor, and he's one of them.

As I walked through the market, I got to say hello to people I know and chat with people that I've never met. It's a warm and friendly place. I guess that it's because everyone is happy to be outside, even if it's not sunny, buying produce, flowers and local goods. This is a huge departure from what it must feel like to buy vegetables at the local supermarket, which I try to avoid.

I ended up buying beautiful long beets (about which they didn't know the variety) but didn't want the greens and asked them to give them to pass them along to someone who wants them. I hadn't even left the stand when a woman walked up and asked how much for beet greens. She was handed the bag of my greens. FREE. Now, that is sheer joy, in my book.

I had more than one conversation with a farmer about stores that carry local produce and the small degree to which it really happens. I said that we need to rethink the system and figure out something that works better for all. (I still love my idea of teaching gardening and cooking to all, for FREE. If you know of any companies who might want to throw money at this, just let me know.) Regional food supplies are a good way to start changing things. Maybe each neighborhood has a community garden or group of growers or who knows what?

Dan Kahane (of Graton Greens, or at least that's what I think that his farm is called) and I were about talking about the motto, "reduce, reuse and recycle", and how we might want to add rethink. I told him that means that we have to get more people thinking in the first place. I know you are, and hope that you will work on continuing the conversation with those that you know. Each one of us has the ability to influence change.

I am now going to cook something for a block party this afternoon. Still wondering which of these vegetables I want to use: beets, asparagus, turnips, English peas, sugar snap peas, torpedo onions, garlic scapes, green garlic, summer squash, red romaine lettuce, salad mix and cilantro. I also have organic strawberries, cherries, peaches and nectarines. It may just turn out to be Spring Surprise Salad today. Only time will tell.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Where Have I Been? Let's See...

I have been busy. Took 2 trips to New York to see my Dad who isn't doing well at all. He was incredibly productive until a few months ago and then things started to go wrong -- very wrong. I won't go into details but suffice it to say that I will repeat what my mom says, "We are often kinder to our animals at the end of life, than we are to people." So, while we are living, let's live well. That means staying healthy. And the best way to do that is to eat your vegetables -- lots of them everyday.

I'll take this post to report about some interesting eating spots while away. Next post will be about this weekend and my farmer's market trips so stay tuned for that. (I assure you that it won't take as long to appear as this one did.)

Traveling is always interesting for me because I never know what's going to happen in terms of eating. As you know,
I often bring my own food (read my earlier blog post), but sometimes life is too busy to arrange much of anything. That happened this most recent trip. And much to my surprise and delight, at the international terminal of SFO there are 17 Bay Area restaurants, that were chosen from more than 200, that offer their food at their restaurant (versus inflated airport) prices. And at least 3 of them have healthier vegan fare: Harbor Village (Chinese) and Osho (Japanese) which are before you go through security and another one whose name I have forgotten but that has Middle Eastern fare including hummus and dolmas. I'd already eaten my seaweed salad and miso soup from Osho by then so I wasn't interested in more food.

When we arrived on Long Island, after our trip from JFK, we headed straight to Bagelmaster bagels in Syosset, which has been there for longer than I can remember (which means a long time). It's changed hands over the years but still has great NY bagels.

Most of you probably know that I rarely eat white flour products but I am sure that a bagel now and then won't kill me, even if they are twice the size that they were when I was growing up. But now they have something better than a bagel -- it's called something like a Flatzl -- a whole wheat or maybe multigrain flat bagel with sunflower seeds on it or with everything on it. Yummy and delicious eaten plain. Unfortunately, I did not get to go back to take some home with me.

Luckily, while we were in Woodbury, we got to stop by Gabby's Bagelatessen and meet owner Larry Ross. Either he was bored or we were very different from his regular customers because he engaged with us right away and made me an incredible chopped salad from his salad bar. You choose your ingredients and Larry chops it and mixes it up for you with your choice of dressing. The small salad he made for me was actually too much for me to eat in one sitting -- now, that is amazing. as I can really pack away the salad. The place is a typical NY bagel deli, with good coffee, according to my husband, and Larry has quite the story -- self-made man who started out as a butcher while a teen. He now owns the shopping center in Woodbury, NY. Amazing. He seemed like a super nice guy.

From the days of my youth, is On Parade diner where we had a completely unnecessary dessert one night as something to do to get out of the house. My husband said that he had the worse ice cream sundae ever. Everything seemed pricey and not especially great. I don't recommend it. It may be nostalgic for me but not enough to make it worth going.

My husband is a pizza lover and I think that maybe he had his fill but I'm not sure. He had pizza from Umberto's in Huntington and from Frank's in Woodbury. I liked Frank's because they had a deep dish roasted vegetable pizza without cheese, in slices and ready to go. Vegans, don't you wish that your local pizza place had this? I certainly do. And to sweeten the deal, the slice cost about $2.50. Where I live, this same slice would have been $4. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a light, not too doughy, whole grain crust. But it was more than satisfactory.

The best meal of all was for my mother's BD. I'd post photos but I forgot my camera and one of my sisters didn't bother to take hers out of her purse. We should have at least photographed the food at Honu Kitchen in Huntington. It is an eclectic and nice decorated, small plate restaurant but I have to say that their small plates aren't that small. We were a party of 7 and they recommend that you order 3 plates per person. We tried but couldn't achieve that.

There were enough vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu to satisfy everyone. The ones that I liked best were the mostly the sides: artichokes with garlic and garlic edamame (the waiter described them as taking a healthy food and making it not-so-good for you, and he was correct but OMG, so tasty). the salad with candied walnuts and goat cheese, I just tasted the salad part, was wonderful. My salad with greens, asparagus and sunflower seeds left me cold. The wild mushroom gnocchi didn't thrill me nor did the creamed spinach. But sipping on my Besito Margarita made everything look rosier.

The upholstered black and white curved banquette, brick walls, crystal chandeliers and large art on the bar walls which accounts for one-third of the restaurant space made it feel upscale but comfortable. The seating allowed us all to see and speak to one another. We went early so it wasn't crowded but I imagine that it can get crowded and potentially noisy.

I would go back there anytime for a plate of edamame, a cocktail and another side or two, such as sweet potato hash or fire roasted corn, and I'd be happy as a clam, well make that a carrot.

I am thrilled to be back in California where it's spring and with it are all the spring vegetables that I so enjoy: asparagus, artichokes, peas of all types and more types of tender lettuce than I can list here. My favorite cooking is often my own.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Without Mom Where Would I Be? With Food and Vegetables

Family meals growing up were always interesting, and they happened almost every night. My mother made dinner. With a meat and potatoes husband, most of the time, and 3 particular daughters, I am sure that it wasn't easy to make something that everyone liked. This is still the daily dilemma for many Moms today. Although now, if your child doesn't like something, you can open the freezer and hand them something to pop into the microwave. But not then.

My mother never forced me to finish a meal or clean my plate. When I was a very young, and naturally too-skinny, girl she would tell people, "She eats just fine and when she wants to." Mom was responsible for most of my good eating habits, and a few of the not-so-good ones, too. She used to take me to the bakery for a treat (remember those black and white cookies?) at least once a month as I recall. She let me walk to the candy store and buy whatever I could afford, which usually wasn't much. She never made much of a big deal about either activity.

But what my mom really did for me was just let me be the eater that I was, and offered meals with vegetables daily. My best meal memories actually have to do with another Mom, and that was my grandmother, my mother's Mom.

My Nana, as she was affectionately called, was an excellent cook. She loved cooking and really knew how. My grandfather had a heart attack in his mid-40s (he lived until he was 78) so she had him on a special diet based on the Kempner rice diet. She cooked "special" things for him. It was those “special” things that I looked forward to tasting when she'd come to visit us for dinner. I am sure that my Mom could have made the same food as my Nana but it was Nana's domain and she wouldn't let anyone else do it. She carried a little cooler filled with what I deemed “the good stuff.”

My grandfather’s food was perfect for me -- baked potatoes, special tomato sauce, vegetables and usually chicken or fish, which I didn’t ask to eat. It was only recently that I realized that I ate all the vegetables that Nana brought with her whether it was eggplant , broccoli or green beans. I ate plenty of vegetables at home, too, but Nana's always tasted better. Maybe it was the special love that she put in for my grandfather that made the food taste so good.

My very special memory of my Mom, who is alive and doing well, is in the summer when I was 4 years old. She bought, or maybe grew, English pod peas. I don't remember eating them before but when I tasted them, I loved them. I recall her giving me an entire bag to shell. I went to a neighbor’s house and while sitting on a swing, I was shelling peas and eating almost as many of the small, sweet rounds as made it into the bowl for my mother. She would add them to macaroni salad. (Yes, this was pre "pasta salad" days). I am sure that I ate macaroni salad because of the peas, and not the other way around.

After I left for college my mother tended a garden. One winter I came home and my mother cooked kale. I didn’t recall ever eating it before – maybe they didn’t sell it in the supermarket. The flavor of those sweet greens still lingers in my mind today ---one of the best vegetable eating experiences I’ve had, and lead to me eating kale and other greens often.

Food issues with my mother didn’t exist since she let me eat what I wanted when I wanted without ever thinking that it was strange. When I left home and packed on some extra pounds more than once, my mother didn’t say a word, likely knowing that I had the inner wisdom to eat what I liked, and regain equilibrium and return to my natural weight.

I find it fascinating that I have turned into the quintessential mother in my professional life as The Veggie Queen™. I repeat the Mother’s war cry: “Eat your vegetables every day” although I don’t say it quite that way.

So, I have my mother to thank for good eating habits: eating when I am hungry, never feeling as if I need to finish the food on my plate with a strong desire to eat my vegetables. And when I see my mother we can share a piece of pastry or chocolate, and that also feels like a natural part of healthy eating.

Note: After writing this post I took my dog for a walk, and realized that there is indeed another Mother to which I owe complete gratitude, and that is Mother Earth. For no matter how we treat her, she still continues to provide nourishment to millions of people. She knows how to nurture each plant to provide for each person, and it’s our job to listen and learn. For without Mother Earth, we and bounty wouldn't be here.

If you want to learn more about healthy living healthy weight at Green Mountain at Fox Run click here.

If you like this post or have any comments about it, please enter them in the comments section below. I want to hear what you've got to say about your Mom, or other, experiences that have influenced your eating.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Coconut in Cooking - Vegan Dishes Get the Yum Factor

I wish that I lived in the tropics. The closest that I've come to that was the 7 years that I spent living in Florida, which is semi-tropical, while going to college and graduate school. My backyard contained a number of tropical trees: mango , star fruit, orange (which turned out to be sour oranges much to my disgust) and papaya, but no coconut.Friends grew sapote (of which there are many varieties), kumquat, grapefruit, lemons and limes but still no coconut.

I am sure that coconut has sustained people in tropical climates for thousands of years, if not longer. There is great debate about whether coconut oil or coconut, in general, is helpful or harmful when it comes to fat intake. Rather than enter that fray, I'd just like to say that I love the way that coconut tastes and the flavor that it adds to vegan dishes, especially the Thai and Indian types.

The good news for coconut lovers, like me, is that there are now many different forms in which you can buy your coconut from coconut milk beverage and yogurt by So Delicious, coconut cream, coconut milk -- lite and regular and coconut water. The latter is best if you are following a low- or fat-free diet.

If you do use the regular or lite coconut milk, here is tip that I want to share, after my sister discovered an unusable can of leftover coconut milk in my Mom's refrigerator -- if you do not use all your coconut milk, freeze what's left in ice cube trays or small containers in amounts from 2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup, which are amounts that you might use in a recipe.

I rarely use an entire can unless I am making a dish that serves at least 8 people. My choice most of the time these days is coconut water which provides coconut flavor and no fat. The dishes are not as rich but that's fine with me -- I am usually going for flavor, and that's what I call the "yum factor."

If you want more great info on freezing food, visit Mark Bittman's column in the New York Times.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Organic Vegetables Help You Avoid Pesticide Residues

I don't spend a lot of time writing about buying organic but I honestly think that organic is better, especially if it means that you will be exposed to fewer, and less, pesticides. I believe that pesticides are at least incidentally responsible for the huge rise in all types of cancer in the U.S., and likely the world.

Anyone born before World War II did not suffer the pesticide exposure in their youth the way that any post-War babies (now grown-up people) did. The group most likely affected by pesticides are the "baby boomers" as pesticide use was in full swing by the time that they were born.

The 1960s counter-culture wanted a return to more natural processes and it was the rebirth of organic (which it hadn't really been called before because most things were grown naturally). Babies born after that time to highly conscious mothers had the chance for less pesticide exposure but the truth is that we've all been poisoned by pesticides (and let's not forget herbicides, fungicides, and all other cides -- destined to kill something) in the air and water, if not in your food.

But it's not all doom and gloom. You can find out which foods are highest in pesticide residue and avoid them whenever possible. Read this article by The Organic Center to learn which vegetables to avoid.

Here's the list of domestic vegetables with the highest pesticide residues:
  1. Green beans
  2. sweet bell peppers
  3. celery
  4. cucumbers
  5. potatoes

If you want to learn more you can also take a look at The Environmental Working Group's recently released guide to pesticides and download it to your phone or print it out. It contains the Dirty Dozen (includes many fruits, too, just in time for stone fruit season, so pay attention) and the Clean Fifteen.

I urge you to buy more organic foods when possible but especially the vegetables that eat regularly. What you do most often will have the largest impact on your health.

Happy shopping. And whenever possible support your local farmers, they need it, and you need them. Without farmers, we wouldn't need farms. And then what would we eat?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oh, A Sprouting We Will Go -- Beans, Grains and Seeds

I have been sprouting beans, seeds, nuts and grains on and off for years. But only recently have I been talking about it with the people that I teach. I thought that it might have been too hippie-like but with the advent of the raw foods movement, along with food safety concerns, sprouting at home seems to be the "right thing to do" right now. There's a chapter on sprouting in RJ Ruppenthal's wonderful book Fresh Food from Small Spaces -- worth getting if you want to grow things.

Here's one of my earlier posts on sprouting.

Well, I am not the only veg RD who thinks that. In fact, Dina Aronson, RD, of the
Vegan RD blog has a number of posts about sprouting, with photos. I just wrote about this in my most recent email newsletter. And I have my own photos but I will only post one here.

Until I was teaching yesterday, I hadn't realized that doctors were telling their patients to avoid eating and buying sprouts because they are dangerous. I'm surprised that they remembered that there were food safety outbreaks involving sprouts.

I do not believe that there is anything inherently wrong with sprouting or the seeds. I think that you have to use clean water and maintain hygiene. It's kind of like home canning. Most people get botulism from what they've canned themselves. But that's another story. For now, I'll stick to sprouts. To get the cute sprouter (the Sproutmaster Mini) that you see here, check out The Sprout House online.

Let me know how your sprouting is going by emailing me jill@theveggiequeen.com or leaving a comment below.