Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

After taking Dobson next door in costume to give treats to the neighbor children, I returned to spend an evening finishing Matthew's quilt... I'm so close!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rum Raisin Fudge Brownies

I volunteered to test recipes for Hannah over at Bittersweet Blog - the first recipe came in today and promptly set my spirits in motion. I've been feeling evil and craving chocolate -- this recipe was short and sweet and easy to make. After my rum raisin apple pie experiment, I was happy to give this a whirl.

Rum Raisin Fudge Brownie

I can't share the recipe with you folks - but I plan to remake this recipe and test out a few things on it, so if you are between home and work for me, I might could find my way to share...

I did get a picture up of my Fig Tart and edited the posting to include the result (it was totally eaten up!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

REVIEW: "Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved" & "Real Food: What to Eat & Why"

Lately, I have been in the habit of reading books that pair together - either by the same author or books that seem to treat the same topic. The two most recent books -- on the heels of the two Michael Pollan books I finished a few weeks ago, are "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved" by Sandor Katz, the author of "Wild Fermentation" and "Real Food: What to Eat & Why" by Nina Planck. Since the Planck book is the least useful and most controversial, I'll start there - hoping to make this quick and painless.

"Real Food: What to Eat & Why" by Nina Planck has a beguiling cover that seems to offer promises of quality guidelines and content. While Planck writes with great passion in an accessible, chatty style, I found much of her book to be pompous, arrogant and repetitive. Although she does use footnotes in the first part of the book and lists a bibliography, her academic rigor is not nearly on the same level as "Omnivore's Dilemma."

In fact, there were several long sections that seem to be lifted right from Michael Pollan's book -- making "Real Food" seem more to me like a "Cliff Notes" version of "Omnivore's Dilemma" but tainted with a very subjected, personal angle that implies there is only one "right" diet and everyone else is an idiot. While Planck and Pollan are both journalists and food writers, it is clear that Planck's skill is not in writing -- her book seems like a very long blog article or diatribe. She relies heavily on secondary and tertiary sources, fails to properly substantiate many of her arguments except by anecdote -- you can hardly tear down the China Study, for example, by your own personal experience.

She also seems to be taking format cues from Sandor Katz's "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved" -- both in terms of the structure of her book and the individual chapters. Her weak attempts at describing food preparation and providing resources don't hold water next to Katz's superior book which describes the experiences and experiments of him and his friends and is very strongly supportive of readers exploring and finding what works best for them.

Reading the reviews for Planck's book on Amazon and other places on the internet was highly entertaining -- she has a very vocal following who will defend to the death her assertions -- afterall, Planck's book validates their current diets making very few recommendations aside from staying away from packaged, processed food. It's still basically the Standard American Diet - lots of animal products, eat as much as you want. The redeeming factor is that she encourages people to strongly consider the source of their foods -- staying away from big corporate farm produced foods.

Her argument boils down to something pulled right from Pollan's writings: anything your grandmother made is 'real food. However, that was what Pollan offered as a guideline for selecting better prepared foods -- not as a pretext to eat whatever the hell you want. Planck maintains that you should eat as much as you want of anything that's not packaged or processed crap -- somehow, your body will know when to stop because those foods are more satisfying. This leaves out the obvious -- calories are calories and must be burned. People eat for many reasons -- hunger, boredom, happiness, sadness -- and satiety isn't always a cue for ending a meal.

Planck is vehemently (and obnoxiously) anti vegetarian, particularly anti-vegan, and there is not a lot of material provided to encourage independent, critical thought or to make space for other people's experiences or conclusions. She puts little value on moderation or exercise, and doesn't allow for differences in individual body chemistry.

Pollan, on the other hand, goes to Polyface farm and works on the farm, he goes hunting, he goes foraging -- he talks to real people, he dives in and describes his experiences. All Planck does is to read Pollan and a few other books and write an over-long newspaper column that incorporates some of their key ideas with her own strong opinions. Her shameless theft of concepts from Pollan's books -- twisted to her own means -- lead me to make only one recommendation: Read Omnivore's Dilemma. It's a far superior book when compared to Planck's book or any others on the shelf.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved" by Sandor Katz is created to be used by its readers, not merely consumed. He has clearly laid out as comprehensive and inclusive an agenda as any I have seen, covering industrial food production, dumpster diving, fermenting, foraging, vegetarianism and many other topics. His writing style is humble, clear and flows well -- while he incorporates plenty of information about his and his own experiences, the first person narrative is neatly integrated into the overall message. Each chapter is written as a standalone article and ends with recipes and resources for futher research.

Katz's approach is truly one of conservation and relativity -- he constantly notes that each individual's particular body chemistry, culture and food preferences mean that a diet that works for him (now) may not work for you. He encourages exploration, examination and critical thought.

Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the negative reviews of his books on Amazon are largely from homophobes. While he mentions he's fighting AIDS with diet and medication, and that he lives in a queer community - he's not hamfisted about his sexual orientation or lifestyle. He's clear and up front about it but in no sense does he ever offer judgement about the relative merits of his orientation to the mainstream (nor is the book in anyway about sex). Katz provides details about his life as they are relevant to his experiences and experiments with food -- but he's clearly not out to recruit people to the "Gay Nation" nor to challenge their assumptions on homosexuality.

It's very clear that his mission is to provide a catalyst for his readers (whom he assumes are intelligent, inquisitive folks) to scrutinize their diets and food sources and to arm them with tools for making the best choices based on their own particular situations.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tomates a la Provencale

Tomates a la Provencale turned out so well on Saturday that I think I am about to experience a slight addiction similar to the bruschetta addiction that ran from 2000-2002. Except, less bread, more tomatoes. This preparation is something I have done in the past - but for some reason, it went into a black hole in my brain and most of my tomatoes this season have been eaten raw or made into sauces.

No longer - I am going to be binging on garlic, fresh herbs and tomatoes from my garden, all baked up with a spritz of olive oil and panko until the juices are bubbly and the bread crumbs are crispy. Game on!

I swear - pictures are coming - I totally failed to take pictures of all the delicious food on Saturday and have not managed to actually get pictures of any of my roasted tomatoes in the last three days. Mmmm... tomatoes.

  1. Desired quantity of fresh tomatoes halved across the middle (if large) or stem end sliced (if small or mushy). You can use ripe tomatoes or tomatoes that are semi-ripe or green.
  2. Place tomatoes into a baking dish or bread pan -- something with sides.
  3. Mound tomatoes with fresh (more) or dried herbs (less) - my favorites are thyme and oregano, though I mix it up a bit and add lavender, rosemary or basil.
  4. Mound each tomato half with pressed garlic - as much as you have in the fridge or desire. Mound it, baby. Don't skimp!
  5. Sprinkle the top of the tomatoes with panko or fine bread crumbs (you can make it with stale bread ends or toast the bread in the oven while it preheats).
  6. Sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper and coarse Celtic sea salt.
  7. Drizzle with olive oil.
  8. Drizzle with olive oil.
  9. Drizzle with ... oh. Nevermind. Just make sure it's really good olive oil.
  10. Bake in oven at 350-400 F depending on how much your oven wildly fluctuates until there are bubbling hot juices in the bottom of the pan but before the tomatoes are completely falling apart. You want to have something yummy to sop up with a piece of bread but you also want to be able to eat the tomato with a fork.
Don't forget the garlic. Lots of it. Yum.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fig Tart


I just pulled the fig tart out of the oven - I didn't find a good vegan recipe with the prettiest vegan fig tart I found online, so made my own. I used the pistachio tart shell recipe from Artful Vegan as a starting point, modifying it a bit, and made the tart custard similar to the Joy of Baking lemon bar recipe.

3/4 c unbleached white flour
1/3 c semolina flour
1/8 t salt
1/8 t baking soda
1/2 c raw unsalted pistachios, finely ground (heaping 1/2 c)
1 T (heaping) dried lavender, powdered in food mill
2 T rosewater
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c pure maple syrup
1/2 t vanilla extract

3/4 c silken tofu
1 c sugar
3 T rosewater
1 t vanilla

Fresh figs cut into quarters, sixths or eigths depending on size - I used bright green skinned figs foraged by Asiya

Sift dry ingredients for tart shell. Whisk wet ingredients add and mix. Spread into a tart pan with removable bottom - oiled and lined with parchment paper sprinkled with ground pistachio. Use your fingers (Artful Vegan recommends plastic wrap but I did fine with fingers) to press into place. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 until it puffs up and starts to brown. Remove from oven. Whir tart custard ingredients thoroughly and pour into shell. Place the figs into the custard neat, messy - whatever - and bake for about 20 minutes or until it seems set. Remove and cool.

NOTES (10/11): After keeping for a day and a half, the crust got a bit soggy. I would definitely cut down on the tofu next time, and might also cut down on the liquid in the crust or cook it longer to crisp it up more... I will update the recipe next time I make it!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Chocolate Treats & Menu Planning

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS: I promised chocolate peanut butter cups for this weekend's brunch - so I threw a bunch of confectioner's sugar in the Kitchen Aid and then realized I should have measured -- I ended up adding nearly 2 cups (a whole jar!) of peanut butter and then scooped out 105 centers. Yikes. I ran out of chocolate (yes - really! I know! Isn't it shocking!).

This time, however, I modified my Peanut Butter Cup recipe a bit - instead of crushed graham crackers, I used ground raw flax seeds. It works quite well - it gives a little nutty crunch, blends in with the peanut butter and the chunks of pink Hawaiian salt and makes the candy gluten free and wheat free.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED CANDIED APRICOTS: I pulled out the candied apricot halves from the fridge. They rattled in the container. I let them warm up but they were still quite firm - a bit over candied but I thought they would soften up after being dipped in chocolate. The result were delicious, very chewy and possibly dangerous treats. Tonight I sliced up the chocolate dipped halves into strips and am redipping and melting the chocolate from them -- they are much more manageable as small strips and will definitely go farther for brunch on Saturday.

BRUNCH & RUMBA-POTLUCK: Yes. Food. I have planned some treats including:
  • Chocolate dipped candied apricot spears
  • Chocolate peanut butter cups
  • Rhurbarb crisp
  • Fig tart with semolina-lavender crust
  • Breakfast potatoes
  • Tomatoes "a la Provencale" (because it's easy and I have all the ingredients in my garden!)
  • DIY waffles with "Joy of Vegan Baking" recipe
  • Roederer champagne mimosas (if I can find fresh fruit at a farmer's market for juice)
If that isn't enough, I have also planned to host a rumba jam starting after 4pm. The foods for that will include several fillo based dishes because I am lazy:
  • Onion-olive pie (with fillo instead of bread dough because it will be easier)
  • Spanakopita with Spinach & Dill (sheet this time instead of hand pies)
  • Zucchini & mushroom tart (more fillo!)
  • Sliced fresh tomatoes
  • Pasta salad with fresh tomatoes, arugula & basil pesto
Onion-olive pie:
I found some darling small yellow onions about the size of my Moscovich Extra Early tomatoes -- those will be sliced up into rings for the onion pie (all 5#) and caramelized in a dutch oven on the stove with olive oil, then tossed with fresh thyme, oregano and black olives and sealed up in fillo and baked until the fillo is crispy.

Spanakopita: basically the same recipe as "Vegan With A Vengeance"

Zucchini & Mushroom tart: I think tofu is going to be involved here, but haven't decided quite on the recipe yet.

POTLUCK: Everything is a potluck at my house. Bring food. Bring drinks. Bring napkins, plates, cups. Pitch in, eat up, enjoy. I have several RSVPs and some promises of delicious contributions. James' conga friends Sam and Richard are coming - Sam always brings two armfuls of pain d'epi from Acme Bakery - it's fresh, delicious and the epi style makes it easy to tear off a single serving piece without a knife. I imagine Richard will bring his popular Chinese Chicken Salad. Chef Eric tantalized me with the idea of some kind of tempeh enchilada, "but you never know what will happen."

I promise photos! Really!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Problem of Peat Moss

I thought that gardening was basically safe -- growing my own seeds and planting them in the yard was just about the greenest thing a person could do, right?

After my tomato seedlings grew too fast and got too leggy, I looked for pots that were a bit deeper to repot them. At the Orchard Hardware & Supply, I noticed that they had "fiber" pots instead of peat pots. I read the label and was shocked to discover that peat pots are not at all good for the environment!

The fiber pots I purchased are made out of Coir -- the outer husks of coconuts -- a totally renewable resource. Coconuts grow 4x/year vs peat bog which grows at a rate of 1 mm/year. Harvesting coir does not harm the tree or the surrounding area -- the rest of the coconut is used (mostly for food). Coir is organic plant material and will biodegrade over time and does not result in mold and other problems inherent in peat moss pots and soil additives.

- 10% of all the world's fresh water is in peat bogs
- Amateur gardeners account for approximately 70% of the peat used in horticulture.
- Peat extraction requires draining an entire bog, irreversibly damaging a delicate ecosystem.
- Once dried, peat extractors remove up to 22cm of peat/year - the bog increases in depth only 1mm/year. It will take 220 years for the peat bog to renew itself, and the ecosystem that once supported wildlife and plant life is likely to never return
- Peat bogs act as a carbon sink, absorb 10-20% of the 7 gigatons of carbon produced by humans/year.
- Peatlands hold around 1/4 to 1/3 of the total carbon dioxide in the world, released very slowly through anaerobic decomposition. Harvesting results in the release of thousands of years of carbon held in peatlands into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Coir as a replacement for peat moss
Sierra in News

Sunday, October 05, 2008


It's all about tomatoes this week. Friday, I cleaned the tomato seeds that I had been fermenting since Sunday and put them in the Excalibur on the lowest setting to dry them up.

Both James & I picked as many ripe tomatoes as we could from our gardens at the end of the week. I even pulled up four tomato plants that were done (three were volunteer cherries).

Saturday, I spent the day doing housework and cleaning. I even had a pair of housekeepers come in to help out while I labeled, inventoried and organized all my jars of preserves and boxes of wine from Dry Creek & Anderson Valley.

Saturday night, James and I set 9 trays of tomatoes to dry in the Excalibur. For those of you who dehydrate, that results in about 3 half pint jars of dried cherry tomatoes (ha!). We dried some bigger tomatoes but I need to cut those into strips and dry them a bit more. We also got started with the yellow tomato sauce and then put it away to finish on Sunday.

Today, we dilly-dallied a bit, had chai & backgammon, went to his house, then to brunch and on errands. We had a nap and then finally started on making the tomato sauce around 6pm. James worked his buns off with me for 4 hours. I have been waiting for the sauce to cook down and processing the jars for the last two hours. Here's the result:


Dried tomatoes:
3 - 8 oz jars of dried cherry tomatoes from Jenn's garden

Yellow tomato sauce:
2 - 16 oz jars (both gardens, more Jenn's due to Wonderlights)

Orange tomato sauce:
9 - 12 oz jars (both gardens, mostly James due to enormous Hawaiian Pineapples)

Red tomato sauce:
12 - 16 oz jars (both gardens)

This probably isn't the last batch of sauce for us. There are still a lot of tomatoes on both our plants. I cut down dead parts and removed branches from a few plants that had no more fruit or flowers -- I need to do that again on Tuesday or Wednesday this week to help the plants mature the rest of the fruit.

I do want to make more dried tomatoes, too. We both have a lot of basil that is about to flower, so we need to make up more batches of pesto. I think I may just make oregano-thyme-basil-garlic-oil pesto to freeze -- no pine nuts -- so that I can use it to season my tomato sauce when I open it this winter.

FIGS: Asiya from Forage Oakland brought me a couple dozen figs - so I am going to make another small batch of fig preserves.

RHUBARB & RASPBERRIES: Probably the last of the season. I bought these at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Tuesday and intended to make a big crisp but was totally off track. I may just freeze up the raspberries on a cookie sheet and make rhubarb pie or crisp later this week.