Cook The Books Club Winner!

Cook The Books Club Winner!

Last week Deb from Kahakai Kitchen contacted me asking if I’d guest judge their Cook The Books Club contest for the book “Baking Cakes in Kigali.” Well – yes! The Cook The Books Club is a bimonthly book club and blog event in which the hosts, along with any other interested person, reads a predetermined food-related book, blogs her thoughts, and prepares a dish inspired by the book. Fun! Here are my responses to the thoughtful and inspiring blog posts that were submitted, and congratulations to the winner Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla. Thank you for inviting me to play! I plan to join you next time for Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens....
First fish

First fish

A quick stop at Day’s Market for a bag of ice was the daily de rigueur in the sailboat days of our early marriage. No refrigerator on the Ericson 30 we called home, just a deep insulated box under the speck of formica counter that needed constant replenishment to keep our chardonnay chilled and sundries shivery. It had been a long time since I’d even glanced at that sign – a grow-the-baby-to-the-cusp-of-his-twenties length of time, and stopping there again that Saturday morning for a bag of ice made those memories misty and my nostalgia shivery. It wasn’t the time or place to reminisce, though; I had a date with a salmon. This email, from Fisherman Frank of the Gayle R, came late one Friday, 4 or 5 days after the opening of commercial salmon season: Dear Salmon Fans, Plenty of fish, but the early bird always gets the worm!  (No earlier than 10 o’clock though, please). The cost is $10/lb for the whole fish.  Frank will filet and/or steak the fish for you.  Please remember to bring an ice chest. Cash is preferred, but local checks are OK.  If you don’t think you want a whole fish (average is 11-12 lbs), find a friend to split one with you.  Can’t beat the price!! Thanks ~ see you at E-dock! I was a newbie on his list, the one he sends when he’s on his way back to the harbor with a fresh load of live Dungeness crab, so didn’t realize his repertoire included salmon. Who could resist the lure of the freshest, local-est, line caught fish around? Not me. I was there by 10am after a stop at the bank, the...

Tom Colicchio’s movie about hunger: A Place at the Table

James Beard award-winning celebrity chef, cookbook author, Top Chef executive producer and judge, the brains and talent behind the Craft and ‘wichcraft restaurant empire, bald salad ruiner, and lifesaving party guest Tom Colicchio has just spread his Renaissance Man wings a little farther. He is the executive producer of a A Place at the Table, a documentary that examines the issue of food insecurity. In a San Francisco Chronicle interview, Colicchio explains how this topic of food insecurity organically came to him and his wife, filmmaker Lori Siverbush: “My wife was mentoring a young girl and she realized that she was often hungry,” Colicchio says. “In fact, we got her into a school that we thought would better suit her, but it didn’t have a breakfast program – breakfast and lunch were the only two meals she was having all day. One day she got a call from the principal, who said, ‘She’s always looking for food. She’s always hungry.’ We didn’t realize how bad it was at home, and so that got Lori thinking, ‘Is there a film here? Is there something we can do?’ “Read more People who are food-insecure don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. Statistically, 1 in 6 Americans don’t have access to enough food to sustain a healthy life. This includes children. Senior citizens. Working parents. In fact, 36% of clients served by the organization Feeding America have at least one working parent in the household, and toss those misconceptions aside . . . only 10% are homeless. In a 2010 Newsweek article, Claudia Kalb defines food insecurity as not having enough...
Fiction for foodies: Baking Cakes in Kigali

Fiction for foodies: Baking Cakes in Kigali

Every now and then I read a book that just perfectly illustrates how food as a theme unites all the people of the world. Baking Cakes in Kigali is one of those books. It’s most likely not a novel you’ve heard of; at least I hadn’t, although author Gaile Parkin made Oprah’s poll of favorite contemporary women writers the year after it was published. My newest sister-in-law – the one on our family who ALWAYS  knows what’s going on – gave me this copy on one of my trips back to St. Louis. Once I dove into the story. I was completely enthralled – read it straight through the day and into the night. The protagonist is Angel Tungaraza, a married mother raising her four grandchildren while running a cake-baking business. I love her character; she’s wise, insightful, and empathetic, the type of person to whom others confide their problems. With flour, sugar, eggs, and food coloring, she sets the wheels in motion to solve any tricky situation or problem that arises with a light heart and a perfectly decorated cake. This isn’t magical realism, though. Here’s the deal – the best part of the novel is the contrast of Angel’s baking business against the setting, her middle-class household in post-genocide Rwanda. The only thing I knew about the country was locked in my memories of horrific reports that I honestly tried to block, and Parkin, who lived in Rwanda for a time, created a sweet story of people who live normal lives – working, schooling, traveling, and marrying – against a devastated past. Cake and joy are the ties...
The edible cell

The edible cell

With only one or two exceptions, I love every single one of the teachers my kids have had. They’ve embraced experiential learning, largely abandoning lectures and rote memorization in favor of group projects, individual presentations, skits, and songs. It works. I have two boys who love to learn and who have excellent communication skills as a result; by junior high, they’d logged more time speaking in front of a group than I had by college. The Edible Cell is my favorite of their hands-on learning projects so far. Why hand a kid a plant cell drawing and ask him to label all the parts for 100 points when you can send him home and ask him to construct a plant cell with edible items from your kitchen? Sending kids home to do kitchen things requires a small budget and a large amount of parental cooperation. Because I’m a stay-at-home mom, I’m by default a cooperative parent, so the afternoon of the assignment I shepherded three boys to our corner market, gave them each a couple of dollars, and let them go crazy picking out candy. Sadly no one else was in our aisle to overhear them discussing what would make the best endoplasmic reticulum; I would have loved to see the questioning eyebrows. What I loved even more, though, was watching the kids as they made a big batch of brownies from scratch: reading the recipe, searching for ingredients, carefully (sort of) measuring them out, setting the oven temperature, discussing the different parts of a cell and how best to arrange the candy – observing that process of actively...
Pike Market, Seattle

Pike Market, Seattle

Soulard Market in St. Louis was my first farmer’s market experience, and as a girl I thought the whole experience quite alien – instead of linoleum floors and neat aisles, we’d walk the chilly concrete open-air hallway past stalls heaped with produce, whole fish piled on ice, beef tongue behind scratched glass cases and packets of novelty chocolate-covered insects to tempt. The bustle continued inside, with fresh cut flowers and kittens for sale and real fountain sodas against the far wall. Those memories popped into my mind after stumbling across Seattle’s Pike Place Market one Thursday evening. I’d flown into Seattle for BlogHer Food ’12 and was wandering along, getting my bearings, and there it was – a super-sized Soulard chock full of fish, flowers, and a multinational array of food. There was chocolate pasta and fresh garlic scapes, a Polish Pottery stall, one selling Middle Eastern spices, a woman selling ocarinas. It was marvelous. I didn’t take anywhere near enough pictures, but here you go – a few of the sights....
Retro gourmet at Craft & Commerce

Retro gourmet at Craft & Commerce

Imagine the nerdy-cool kid from high school: the quiet and deliberately unfashionable one, the one who chose to wear horn-rimmed glasses and ride his bike to school every single day, the one who actually understood all the cultural references, and who surprised everyone by nonchalantly unveiling an enormous Calvin & Hobbes tattoo on his back one day toward the end of senior year. Imagine he went on to graduate studies in Twentieth-Century American Literature and spent the requisite semester at Oxford where he fell in love with pub life, rough-hewn wood, and full-bodied beer. Then he spent a summer on his uncle’s farm, where he fell in love with state fairs and home-cooked meals and classic rock, spending pleasantly stoned evenings absorbing The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Welcome to the Machine and Court of the Crimson King through oversized headphones. Then, with newly acquired grown-up tastebuds and the deepened courage of his convictions, he made a life-changing leap to culinary school. And he was good. And so he opened a Restaurant. Imagine he approached the task philosophically, defining the vision of simplicity, value, and quality he’d experienced in his life thus far, and he used that vision to define his design, decor, and menu – inadvertently inventing a nouveau nostalgia along the way. And the rest of the world gets it because they’ve jumped on that early wave of hipster-dom he rode in his youth. Thus he created a Destination. That’s my vision, anyway, of how Craft & Commerce came to be. Call it fan fiction, foodie-style. My fantasy is based in delicious truth, though – here’s the evidence: He...

Dorito loco taco, or taco asqueroso

How many kinds of wrong is this? Mythical Doritos taco shells surface in Fresno – latimes.com. According to yesterday’s LA Times, Taco Bell started selling Doritos Locos Tacos, a taco made with shell of nacho-cheese-flavored Dorito shell.  Mythic? Legendary? A beautiful thing? Sounds like a nightmare to me. Time to pull my zucchini-stuffed head out of the sand for a bit here and step up to protest. Start with health wrong-ness. A Livestrong analysis weighs a 4.5 oz (127.6 grams) Taco Bell taco shell in at 150 calories 6g from fat (of which 3g are saturated) 21g from carbs (of which 2g is dietary fiber) 2g from protein 5mg sodium. Got it? Not too bad, really. Ok. Now compare to a 4.5 oz serving of Nacho Cheese Doritos. Livestrong’s nutritional analysis lists serving size as 1 bag weighing 49.6 grams. Assuming the new Taco Bell Nacho Cheese Doritos shell is the same serving size as the original and the same recipe as the chips, it takes 2.6 servings to make a 4.5 oz taco shell. Multiply the nutrition facts for 1 serving by 2.6 and you get a taco shell that contains 650 calories 33.8 grams of fat (of which 7.8 are saturated) 78g carbs (of which 5.2 is dietary fiber and 5.2 is sugars) 10.4g protein 806mg sodium Given my assumptions and calculations are correct, the new shell provides 500 calories more than their standard taco. This lady has eaten one every day for a week; she’ll be surprised next time she steps on a scale. That extra 500 calories per day equals about a pound of weight gain per...
Hoffsicle or Hasselpop?

Hoffsicle or Hasselpop?

In addition to bragging righs as actor/producer/singer/reality television star, David Hasselhoff now can say he’s got the ability to help strangers bond on Sunday morning in Santa Cruz. Here’s how:

Maker Faire 2011: a field trip

Maker Faire 2011: a field trip

Seen Saturday at Maker Faire 2011: kids licking 9-volt batteries and setting tissue paper on fire with magnifying glasses. A bicycle-powered string band on one stage and an electronic digideroo on another. Guitar amps made from trash. A mechanical giraffe wandering the grounds proclaiming my star sign is Virgo: Robots of assorted sizes and shapes: Firefighters, of sorts: Fire flowers, of sorts: Bubbles: Vikings: Eco-friendly vehicles: And would you know – the Muffin Man! The food, as befitting a feel-good gathering celebrating curiosity and experimentation, was decidedly un-Boardwalk like. The Kids hit the churros and garlic fries pretty hard, but there was something for everyone: But the CRAZIEST invention I saw all day – the biggest revelation – had nothing to do with 3-D printers or Arduino controllers. Drum roll, please . . . here it is: Can you imagine?! Garlic fries topped with Dungeness crab and aioli?! No, I know you can’t because I’m still having trouble with the idea. Here’s what it looks like: I wish I could say I had some and it was delicious, but none of us were brave enough to go there. The boys ate their garlic fries straight, no...

Urban farming

Novella Carpenter is my newest heroine. I’ve just finished reading her book Farm City: Confessions of an Urban Farmer, in which she moves into a ramshackle apartment on a dead-end street in a dead-end Oakland, CA neighborhood and hesitantly plants a garden in the empty lot next door. This quickly grows to a full-scale, tenth of an acre, urban farm, complete with beehive, egg-laying chickens, “meat birds” (ducks, turkeys, and more chickens) and rabbits, all successful experiments is loony locavorism that leads to, by the book’s close, her careful cultivation of two Red Duroc pigs for future meals. Carpenter lives the intersections of food with community and environment in a high crime, low income, politically weak area, and her observations become the backdrop to her story. She does such an excellent job at demonstrating a way of life instead of evangelizing it, and made me think about abundance and waste in different terms. She’s also a completely engaging writer, open and funny in telling her story. I laughed out loud several times, especially when she describes feeding her pigs their first meal scavenged from a Chinatown dumpster. The key to Farm City, however, is that although its premise of two white kids growing vegetables and butchering rabbits in the inner city sounds like it could be the teaser of a doomed Hollywood movie, she is genuinely honest and passionate about her avocation; there is nothing precious, pretentious, self-righteous, or gimmicky in her tale. This book came along at a perfect time for me. We took down the play structure just as winter started and have been thinking about how best...
A Big Sur Thanksgiving, 1939

A Big Sur Thanksgiving, 1939

Knowing how to brine a perfect turkey is not as important as the ability to remember what, exactly, to give thanks for. Here is novelist Lillian Bos Ross’ description of her 1939 Big Sur Thanksgiving meal. Lillian Bos is one of my heroes; read on to find out more about her.