Thursday, March 31, 2011

The things we carry

At Earth Hour dinner the other night, my hostess Holly sent us all home with slices of chocolate chip date cake. I didn't realize how deeply I had internalized the idea of avoiding one-use plastic until I felt myself cringe as she casually pulled out a ziplock bag to wrap it in. I didn't say anything, but that ziplock bag is sitting on my counter still, several days later, like Banquo's ghost.

Holly is about as green as they come--active on the American Institute of Architect green design committees, spearheads construction debris reuse for a department of the city of Chicago, an avid cook. But she didn't think twice about pulling out that ziplock bag.

We pack a lot of things in throwaway wrappers that we ought to be reusing. How many times have you gone to the grocery store and left your 14 canvas bags in the car? And you get to the check out, and just say, oh they're in the car I'll just use plastic today. But why not go back out to the car and get the bags? Or put the groceries back into the cart and bag them when you get to the car. I shake my head in wonder every time I see some young mother, of a generation who should know better, and in affluent areas of the city where one assumes a degree of awareness and buy-in, leaving the grocery store with groceries stuffed into 20 or 30 petroleum-based plastic bags. What will it take to create awareness and a willingness to act when mothers like that don't even understand that what they're doing is wrong.

Doggie bags made of styrofoam. Lunchboxes made of plastic. When will we learn that avoiding these things is easy, cheap and necessary. We simply cannot keep casually wrapping in plastic a piece of cake that's going to be consumed 10 minutes later.

We need to teach our children to be thoughtful and planning-oriented. We need to train ourselves to stewardship; to bring the bags in from the car, or go back out for them if we forget. We need to pack our fruit in paper bags, and never buy another ziplock again. Or at the very least, to wash them.

Green isn't just reading the proper blogs and donating to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Green is getting to the point where you cannot bring yourself to use plastic when there's an alternative, and to have the courage to tell your friend, "just wrap it in wax paper."

Another risotto
1 cup Arborio rice
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup raisins (they can be crusty old dry ones, which is what actually inspired this)
1 medium onion, diced
1 eggplant, roasted (or from frozen preserved)
2-3 cups broth
salt and pepper to taste
grated hard cheese

Remember, you cannot leave risotto for even a minute--keep stirring or you'll be scrubbing a burnt pot later.

Heat the broth to a simmer, and keep it there. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the raisins and saute about a minute, add the onions and saute until they just start to go transparent. Add the rice and saute about 5 minutes, until they start to look a little toasted (not burnt).

Start adding the simmering broth 1/2 cup at a time. It's important to add the broth in small amount and allow it to absorb into the rice completely before you add more. When the first 1/2 cup is absorbed, add another, and allow it to be absorbed. When you've used half the broth, add the eggplant, stirring thoroughly. The eggplant adds a lot of moisture, so allow that moisture to be absorbed as well.

Continue to add the simmering broth 1/2 cup at a time, until the dish is sticky but not glutinous. I've never used all the broth, the one I made last night used only 2 cups because of all the moisture in the eggplant.

Serve hot, sprinkle with grated cheese. This dish does not keep well.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How did Earth Hour go untweeted?

or How I almost missed Earth Hour and made friends with a scary dog

Holly, owner of Skye the Corn Dog called me last week to come over for an Earth Hour meal. Right. Earth Hour, whatever happened to that?

I believe this happens the last Saturday of March each year, and was started in 2007 in Australia. Last year there were ads on buses, and blogs and billboards. This year, nothing. If Holly hadn't called I'd never have even noticed.

Then on the day, Saturday the 26th, here's what happened:
I borrowed Bill's car, only to discover that the clutch is a mess. I couldn't put it into reverse. Unfortunately, I did not discover this until I needed to get out of a parallel parking place (it hadn't been parallel when I parked there-- I just pulled up to the curb. Then a car parked in front and another behind me.) Had to reverse by taking it out of gear and rolling it with one foot sticking out the driver's side door.

Once I did manage to get home, I wrote one of those wonderful blog posts which apparently had some hinky code in it, because when I hit "publish," instead it "wiped out entire post."

Since taking the bus seemed in keeping with the spirit of the day anyway, at the appointed time I walked the 5 blocks to the nearest bus stop, only to discover that I didn't have enough money on my bus card. You can't use cash on the bus, so I thought, okay, I'll just turn around and walk to the train. It'll mean a transfer, but her house is only 2 blocks from the station at the other end.

I didn't make it to the train, stopping off at home first, which was good because I discovered that I didn't have any cash anyway, and you can't use plastic to fill the public transit card in Chicago (not kidding).

Since I also had had a rather awful week at work I almost pooped on Earth Hour. Fortunately, I came to my senses, Holly came and picked me up, and Skye the Corn Dog was so excited to see me that she pee'd. Since we had anticipated this, we had the greeting take place outside.

I met Holly's delightful tenant. We cooked shrimp creole with cornbread, which we ate with steamed green beans and the following salad.

And I put Earth Hour in my calendar tickler for next year.

Spicy salad with early greens and late apples
any early greens
small endive
onions, cut in rings
2 T sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
1-2 apples , peeled and sliced thin
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 cup frozen peas, uncooked (just let them thaw)
optional: wasabi peas, crushed

Juice of 1 1/2 limes
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sesame oil
1 T wasabi paste

Toss the apples in lime juice, add the endive (slightly crushed, so it doesn't "spoon" together). Caramelize the onions in sesame oil and honey (cook about 10 minutes over low heat, until onions are very limp and golden in color). Toss all with the greens and frozen peas. Don't forget to zest the limes and reserve the zest for the larder (dry it in the microwave- place on paper towel and zap on high in 30 second bursts until dry).

For dressing, add all ingredients and emulsify in a blender, or with a hand-held blender. Dribble a couple of tablespoons over the greens mix and let sit a couple of hours. Add the crushed wasabi peas and additional dressing (if desired) just before serving.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Changing the value equation

I heard the phrase "changing the value equation" last week at the Family Farmed Expo, a local food and sustainable agriculture event. I'm apparently the last person in America to hear this phrase, as it pops up on Google in all sorts of contexts (I'm just not up on my jargon), but I think it's particularly apt when it comes to our food choices. Is it really cheaper, in dollars and time, to purchase packaged, processed poison compared to what we lose?

Cost + Convenience ≠ Health + Heritage + Hospitality.

In fact, Cost + Convenience < Health + Heritage + Hospitality.

Our myths of origin are full of parables about food. Philemon and Baucis achieve immortality because they feed the disguised god Zeus. Jason learns the route to the golden fleece because he saves blind Phineaus from the monsters who are stealing his food. Hospitality centered on food rituals is part of every culture. Do we really want a culture whose food rituals are invented by a creative team at an ad agency?

The mythos of food preceeds the meal itself. Preparation is a powerful binder of souls--setting small fingers to shelling peas, or measuring ingredients, or mixing batter not only puts families in community with each other, it's how we pass the heritage of our food traditions. How many of us have strong, fond memories of cooking with a mother or grandmother? I can't imagine that it's the same to remember your mother pulling a frozen entree out of the fridge and plunking it into the microwave. Children shouldn't to learn to cook by reading the edge of the box.

The idea that our time and our intellect is too valuable to "waste" on cooking is presumptuous, misogynist, and anti-historical. It's also wrong. It is not less time consuming to drive through MacDonald's than it is to cook the recipe below from scratch.

Many creative pursuits have been described as the "first art"; I've heard both dance and communal singing (Glee for Ug The Cavedweller, anyone?) referred to this way. But I would suggest that our earliest rituals and arts centered around food--identifying it, following it, gathering it, preparing it. We're replacing a rich heritage with a pursuit of perpetual toddlerdom--want it NOW. YOU fix it.

Much has been written, better, elsewhere on the health costs we are paying for our processed diet. But it's not just about how it's affecting the health of our individual bodies. Replacing humanity's rich and millennially ancient food cultures with the simplistic ideas of "cheaper" and "more convenient" is costing us in the health of our cultures and our relationships.

Spicy dirty rice
1 cup butternut squash, cubed
1 red onion, sliced
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
2-3 chorizo links
Any green vegetable like peas, green beans, snow peas, broccoli, or chard
1 cup white or brown rice

Cook the rice according to package instructions. In a large frying pan, caramelize the squash and onion in the butter and honey. Remove the chorizo from the casing, break into small chunks and sautee with the caramelized vegetables. Cook til the chorizo is thoroughly done. When rice is cooked, add it to the meat mixture. Stir thoroughly, then add the green vegetables (these can be frozen or fresh, no need to pre-cook them).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Please listen

I always find it interesting when the two seemingly completely different parts of my life converge. Wearing my other hat, I'm a figure skating coach, and I blog at Xanboni about being not being insane (unfortunately endemic with skating parents).

Seems like gardeners can be pretty insane, too, and, unlike skating moms, not afraid to call each other names right to your face, or to question, variously, your sanity, knowledge, antecedents, and intelligence based on the proximity of your home to a Big Box store.

I write lots of posts on Xanboni about how to talk to skating coaches, skating directors, skating parents and skaters. And it always starts with Respect. Assume that the tweeter, blogger, or commenter could be you and analyze how you would feel if you were the target of these comments.

Here's the drill:

Don't say anything at all
If you read something you disagree with, look it up through other reliable sources. This was my mistake. I heard something I disagreed with and jumped in with both feet.

Ask to be sure that you heard what you thought you heard (see "Active Listening" steps, below).

Know what you're talking about
Nothing disappears on the web. It's ridiculously easy to find the information you're commenting on. Don't accept just one version of it, and don't assume that the haterz are right. Do the research. Don't make a comment that you wouldn't say to a person's face. (Really, folks, this is Internet 101, and it starts with avoid words like "twitterhead." Seriously.)

Assume the most positive motivation
No one steps into dog poo on purpose.

Use active listening
Active listening is a standard negotiating technique that helps everyone understand exactly what the problem is and why you're concerned. It's a little slower on the web, because you have to give the person you're talking to time to respond, but it still works:
  • Frame every concern as to how it affects you: "If I follow your advice, I'm afraid my plants/meals/family will suffer."
  • Use "I" statements, not "you" statements. Wrong: "You're a twitterhead." "You don't know what you're talking about" Right: "I read your statement on line and I need you to clarify" or "I'm concerned that your advice won't work for me."
  • Repeat the response and then rephrase it as to what you think it means "You think I'm a twitterhead because you feel that I made a statement without thinking about it." (Get the feeling I don't like being called names by total strangers who haven't done their research?)
  • Don't have an outcome in mind, and don't take sides. If you make up your mind about a single acceptable position before you start the conversation, you will not be able to hear the discussion.
  • Don't use threats or namecalling.
Avoid blame
Controversies are no one's fault. They are simply ordinary situations that slipped under the radar and got out of hand. Go back to the origin of the problem, find out how the problem affects you, and have a discussion from the outset that gets you not vindication, but resolution.

Update: Always respond. This is good internet etiquette and good marketing, and it forces the commenters to see the blogger and each other as people.

Here's the Xanboni post that inspired this essay. Just in case you're both a gardener and a crazy skating mom.

UPDATE: I wasn't going to name names, but looks like I need to: This post is an example of someone who tried, a bit, to make amends for bad advice, but the comments quickly devolved into fanboyism, with no one going back to see what she was talking about. Here's one where the blogger stuck his neck out, and then basically went through the steps above, to keep the discussion civil while letting everyone get in their point.

One of them's a blogger. The other one's a journalist.

No recipe today. Just some advice:

Be Excellent to Each Other

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Real Food- the dilemma of Whole Foods

The big grocery store chains-- Safeway (called Dominick's here in Chicago), Jewel, and their like-- are getting better. They all have certified organic store brands, and certified sections in the produce aisle, as well as the next step up from horrendous meat (i.e. free range, raised without antibiotics, etc. not that I trust the labels). Unfortunately, the big boxes like Target, Meijer and Walmart have stepped right in with grocery sections that are wall-to-wall processed foods at seductively low prices.

Enter Whole Foods. Designed to look like the authentic local groceries that they put out of business, they are staffed by engaged, activist, educated individuals. They are wonderful corporate citizens, proactive not just for local food and green initiatives, but in arts, education, science and civic engagement. They have trustworthy brands, and hard-to-find organic and unprocessed items.


When Whole Foods moved into Chicago, they appeared to be doing it right. They held meetings. They were accessible. They promised not to shut down locally owned organic grocers and coops. But those shops are gone anyway. And I would have been fine with that, if these shops had closed simply because they couldn't compete with the better selection and prices at Whole Foods (yes, even Whole Foods was cheaper than some of the organic markets, because of the quantities they can buy).

But Whole Foods didn't leave it at that. They bought the organic markets saying they weren't going to shut them down. And then they shut them down.

When some of the food co-ops stubbornly held on, being immune to buy out, since no one owned them, Whole Foods stepped in and got zoning laws changed, forcing them out of their neighborhoods.

Whole Foods is great-- I trust their products. Their prices, while high, are in line with what food should cost, without the Big Ag subsidies that put small farmers out of business. They are one of the last national companies left who put their charity dollars into their local communities. They have amazing staff. They have items available that real food junkies like me simply can't find anywhere else (organic, preservative-free chocolate chips anyone?). It's not so easy finding real food in the city; the mercados and asian markets have wonderful produce, but if it's organic I'll eat my non-organic hat.

In fact, I'm in big trouble right now, because Whole Foods gives charitable support to three of my clients.

But I can't forget that when they moved into the community, they acted like the corporate bullies that their clientele abhor.

Do you shop at Whole Foods? Help me feel better about them!

My good friend Patte brought me this delicious, sauce? soup? side dish? when I badly sprained my ankle last month. I love people who save old copies of Gourmet! I wonder if she got the ingredients at Whole Foods?

Pasta e Fagioli
from Gourmet | October 1993
Reprinted without permission
Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.
Yield: Makes about 3 cups, serving 2 as a main course

2 slices of bacon, chopped

1 small onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small rib of celery, chopped fine
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
16-ounce can white beans, rinsed well and drained
16-ounce can tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/3 cup tubetti or other small tubular pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
freshly grated Parmesan as an accompaniment

In a heavy saucepan cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp, pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, and in the remaining fat cook the onion and the garlic, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the celery, the carrot, and the broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 5 minutes. In a bowl mash 1/3 cup of the beans, stir them into the bacon mixture with the remaining whole beans and the tomatoes, and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tubetti, simmer the soup, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente, and if desired thin the soup with water. Let the soup stand off the heat, covered, for 5 minutes, stir in the parsley, and serve the soup in bowls sprinkled with the Parmesan.

Patte’s Note: I cooked the pasta separately to the al dente stage and added it as I needed it. Any small pasta will do. I also ditched the parsley and added 3 c. fresh baby spinach (chopped) at the very end of the boil.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I have not gardened all my life.

I point this out because I just emerged from several lectures by gardeners who all wanted the audience to known that they had gardened all their lives. Gardening lectures and books are full of heart warming stories about gardening with gramps and diggin' fer worms, about earliest memories of harvesting the peas planted with their own grubby, chubby little fingers at the age of 4.

I don't know why garden speakers seem to feel that this is somehow a credential, I mean, I've been banging on things since I was 3, that doesn't make me a drummer. What if lawyers had to have this credential--"I've been trying criminals all my life. Why, I remember researching precedents at granddaddy's firm when I could barely walk."

I find it off-putting. While I understand that the impulse comes from a good place in the heart-- the lifelong love of gardening-- it seems superfluous. Does it really matter that you've always been a gardener? Perhaps it's because everyone really can learn to do this-- since in the not-too-distance past everyone did do this, and in fact everyone learned it from gramps--the largely self-taught experts want to establish their bona fides. The statement of an expert: "I've been doing this my whole life" suggests that if you have not been doing this your whole life, you cannot possibly aspire to the depth of knowledge, not to mention the degree of cool, that the speaker evinces.


I have not been gardening all my life. My mother was not a gardener. My grandmother was not a gardener. I come from a long line of non-gardeners. I taught myself to garden as an adult. I also went to college as an adult. I learned to drive as an adult (well, if you count 16 as adult). I never had sex until I was an adult. I never had a job until I was an adult. I learned to skate as an adult. I learned Spanish as an adult.

You don't have to have gardened as a child to be a gardener. You don't have to come from a family of gardeners. Your mother needn't be a gardener and grampa doesn't have to own a farm. You can always learn something new, about gardening, or cooking, or anything that interests you. Today, for instance, I learned to make lemon curd from a book. Sorry, grandma, missed that lesson.

Of course, I'm just as guilty of the pointless stories about how I started to garden. I love to tell people how I started, what the first thing was that I grew, how the garden expanded over the years.

But I don't mistake childhood memory for expertise, or nostalgia for knowledge.

Lemon Thumbprint Cookies
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 c white sugar
2 eggs
1/3c lemon juice
zest from 2 lemons
3 c flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 salt

Whisk dry ingredients together, In another bowl cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in juice and zest. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined (over mixing will make this dough tough). Cover and chill until dough is firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll into balls using about a tablespoon of dough for each. Place on cookie sheet. Make indent with thumb in center of each cookie and fill with lemon curd. (Yes, I'm going to make you make your own. It's easy.)

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or till edges are just turning a light golden brown.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show

To sum it up-- fantastic speakers, terrible exhibits, same old marketplace.

But still totally worth going, because I get to see all the people that I talk to on line all year, all the gardeners who have made such a difference in my life.

In general, the show was poorly lit, unimaginative and focused on hardscaping rather than plants. There were very few plants that even a casual gardener wouldn't recognize, and those weren't identified (in fact almost no plants were identified). The theme of "sports" was not well conceived, and for the most part poorly executed. (There was a pond that looked like an ice rink; really really want that.)

I managed to make it to four seminars, although I missed three that I was hoping to attend as well (stupid job). Got a great lecture about using the web as a resource from Mike Nowak, another on sustainable garden design and a presentation by Chicago Gateway Green about converting highway spaces, and responsible, workable corporate sponsorships, and I finally got to hear Lamanda Joy's wonderful talk on Chicago and the World War II Victory Garden movement.

Sadly, there was no edible garden at the show. Again. Okay, there was one, but it wasn't using the plants as edibles, but rather as ornamentals. Why is the garden show so averse to edible gardening? I don't get it. The landscape awards were all for professionally designed and installed mega-gardens in rich peoples' houses. At the very least, there should be a display featuring Mayor Daley's Landscape Awards.

Ah well. Kvetch kvetch kvetch. I rescued a lost child and I did score some wonderful dried fruits from Lehman's Orchard, with which I made these scones, and some wasabi peas, which I used in the following potato salad.

Wasabi potato salad
10 red potatoes
2 russet potatoes, peeled
1 large carrot, shaved and chopped fine
1 hard boiled egg
1/2 red onion, sliced very thin
1/2 cup dried wasabi peas, crushed

1/4 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon wasabi (less or more, depending on your heat tolerance)
1 teaspoon finely chopped basil

Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces and boil until just done. Set aside to cool (do not put boiling hot potatoes into the mayo). Using a vegetable peeler, shave the carrot down, then finely chop the shavings. Cut up the egg, and mix everything together, no finesse needed.

I had this with crab cakes. Make your own mayo.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Does anyone actually follow a recipe?

Or is it just me.

I picked up some cashew butter from the Lehman's Orchard booth in the Marketplace at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show yesterday (along with dried fruits and INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS dried, deep fried green bean crisps. Not kidding. These things are so good we had an 8 year old eating them.)

So this morning I decided to try cashew-butter cookies. I don't like things baked with peanut butter, for some reason, or peanut butter candy. Love peanut sauce, love peanut butter sandwiches. Spoonfuls of plain peanut butter are one of my go-to snacks. But somehow sweetened peanut butter treats make me gag.

So I started hunting around on line for a recipe. Martha Stewart has one. Epicurious has one. All-recipes has one, but all of those use vegetable oil, which just sounded nasty. Orangette did not have one (!) and neither did Coconut and Lime (No way. She steals all my ideas, and then publishes them years before I have them), but Chocolate and Zucchini has a recipe for the cashew butter itself. Most of the recipe I found were for butter cookies with finely ground nuts in them.

So I pulled out my trusty Woman's Home Companion Cook Book and adapted the peanut butter cookies. (I guess that makes this an original recipe.)

And as I was doing this I realized how much cooking "on line" is like cooking with a friend, or trying your mother's old recipe for the first time, solo. You follow the recipe, up to a point, and then realize you don't have some ingredient that's listed, or you never really liked that flavor in there, or that your mother (caution, heresy follows), never really got those noodles right.

So you start to tweak.

And that's what recipes are like on the web. You'll find the same recipe a dozen times (sometimes clearly cut-and-paste; Epicurious recipes in particular show up all over the place), but with a little tweak here and there. Honey instead of sugar, or sugar cut back. More chocolate, less chocolate, more yeast or substitute whole wheat for white flour. The most common phrase on one-off recipe sites is "adapted from Better Known Blog."

Here are my cashew butter cookies with dried cinnamon apple pieces (also from Lehman Orchards). Adapted from the Woman's Home Companion Cookbook.

Cashew-butter cookies with dried fruit
1 cup white flour
1/4 + 3 T cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup cashew butter
1 cup granulated sugar + 1 Tablespoon molasses
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 dried apples or other non-acidic fruit, chopped fine (acidic ones like berries will overwhelm the delicate cashew flavor. I also think these would be delicious with white chocolate or caramel chips.)

Preheat oven to 375F/190C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the dry ingredients with a whisk. Mix the sugar and molasses with a fork until it resembles light brown sugar. Cream shortening and nut butter; slowly beat in the sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the beaten egg. Combine the dry ingredients one third at a time; dough will be very dense and soft. If dough is too crumbly, add a tablespoon of heavy cream or cashew oil. Mix in the dried fruit.

Chill for about 10 minutes, then form into 1-inch balls and flatten with two fingers (sorry, can't use the fork-crisscross, that's for peanut butter!). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 3 to 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

You can substitute almond or hazelnut butter, and substitute honey for the sugar. If you use honey, increase the flour by about 1/4 cup and add more fruit, because you'll have a little more dough.

What recipes have you adapted? And how guilty do you feel when the recipe is from your mother?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Leisure Time

I spend at least one day a week cleaning.

No, wait, cooking I mean I spend a day a week cooking.

It just seems like it's a day spent cleaning.

Make the bread dough, wash the dishes. While the bread is rising, make cookies, scones or crackers; while they're baking, wash the dishes. Make stock items- baking powder or trail mix or mayo, and then lunch. Wash the dishes. (As you may have realized by now, I don't have a dishwasher. For my soapbox on appliances, see here.)

I'm not sure what it was I used to do with my "leisure" time. Did I go shopping? Walking? I never had a dog so it wasn't that. I suppose I used to spend this time with my kids, but doing what? Shopping? Playing? Commuting from lesson to lesson (not so much, actually- we never got caught onto that particular treadmill, thank heaven).

Once upon a time, we didn't have "leisure" time-- all of our time was spent householding. The cooking and washing and making and growing. The funny thing is, these activities are not unenjoyable. Yes, there's drudgery. The fourth time I have to wash the dishes, I'm thinking a little true recreation might be just the ticket. But cooking, and gardening, is fun, and everything has some level of drudgery to it. Humans are simply not designed for non-stop fun, Charlie Sheen notwithstanding.

What we have done in our society is replace these creative activities with so-called "leisure" where we do nothing but consume. Leisure time now is intimately associated with spending money: movies or shopping or water park or theme park. It's about gratifying personal desires that are disconnected from personal, family or community needs

Our leisure time is now spent consuming and extracting instead of creating and nurturing.

So here's your next challenge: next time you have "free" time, don't go to the mall, or flick on Netflix. Make some crackers.

Sourcream-honey crackers with cranberry
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 teaspoon seasalt
2 tablespoons softened butter

1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup honey
2-3 tablespoons of cranberry sauce

seasoning: 1 teaspoon each seasalt, white peppercorns

Preheat oven to 150'C/ 300'F.

Grind the seasonings together in a mortar; whisk the milk, sour cream, cranberry sauce and honey together to form a little more than a cup of thick liquid. Add the salt to the flour, and in a mixing bowl or food processor, cut the butter in until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. (I start this with a knife or pastry cutter, then finish it with my hands.) Slowly mix in enough liquid to form a soft, but not sticky, dough.

Divide the dough into three to four portions and roll out one at a time, until paper thin. Some people recommend a pasta press, but I did it fine with a rolling pin. Keep turning the dough over, and lightly coating it with flour so it doesn't stick to the pin or the board.

Lightly brush the sheet with oil, then grind sea salt onto it. Using a sharp knife or pizza roller, cut the dough into crackers. Line cookie sheet with parchment (or just put them directly on an ungreased sheet), then transfer crackers to the cookie sheet if you rolled it out on a board.

Bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp. Allow to cool on the tray and then store in an air tight container for up to a week. This recipe made about 200 1" square crackers.