Saturday, October 29, 2011


I confess. When Michelle Obama was in Chicago last week, and visited Walgreens, I stood in front of the television yelling at her.

Why was Michelle Obama, of all people, in Chicago-city of neighborhoods, home of the nation's most diverse ethnic population, in the middle of the richest farmland in the world, and leader of the WW2 Victory Gardens movement-standing in some anonymous Walgreens, praising them for importing tomatoes from Chile.

Why was she not walking down Clark Street in Rogers Park, where there are probably 15 locally-owned mercados featuring produce raised locally, and run by families living in the neighborhood. Why was she not on Devon Avenue in the 40th ward, another strip of vibrant local economy? How about 57th Street in her own neighborhood, and home, until the big boxes shut it down, of the famous 57th Street Food Co-op?

The solution to healthy food systems and urban vitality is not another vast parking lot, where private security will boot your car if you so much as step onto the sidewalk to mail a letter, but small, locally owned grocery stores, with sensible inspection protocols, and family management.

After the '68 riots, Chicago let its local economies die. Where once there were dozens of family businesses keeping the neighborhoods, especially the African-American neighborhoods alive, a decades-long shibboleth has been sold us, teaching us that "business" happens on Wall Street or LaSalle Street, over-regulating small businesses while letting the big guys get away with murder and the family silver, and selling our own livelihoods back to us in Big Boxes stocked with the fruits of foreign slave labor.

Once "business" is what your grandpa did, in his shop around the corner from his house, or downstairs from his apartment. You worked there on the weekends and after school, learning how to run a business, a business that you would take over, when your grandpa and your pa got too old. We've let not one, or two, but now three generations of business acumen just die in service to the supposed "efficiency" and low prices of Walmart and its ilk.

Just another reason to be disappointed in the Obamas. Michelle, Walgreen's is not the answer to food deserts or to sustainable economies. Walgreen's is the problem. Bring back the neighborhood pharmacists, tailors, shoe repairs, appliance repairs, and grocers.

A coalition of local food activists agrees with me. They've created the Statement of Local Food Economy. You can sign the statement, too--instructions here.

Root n fruit soup
1 medium parsnip
1 medium white carrot
1 medium orange carrot
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup pumpkin puree
2+ cups water

1 medium purple carrot, sliced
1 medium white carrot, sliced
small onion, cubed

salt and white pepper to taste

Roughly chop and then saute the parsnip, orange carrot and one of the white carrots in about 2 tablespoon butter, until very soft. Add a cup of water and boil under they start to fall apart. Add the pumpkin and another cup of water; bring to a light boil, then puree with an immersible blender (or decant into a food processor if you don't have the blender).

Sautee the sliced onion and carrot in about a tablespoon of butter, until onion is translucent. Add to the puree, and add water until it reaches the desired consistency (personal choice). Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with homemade shortbread biscuits.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Safeway

I envision a massive crowd of suburban uber-moms standing on top of their SUVs.

These are our demands:

1. Only healthy junk food, with pictures of rain forests and bunnies so I know it's safe
2. Fresh organic lettuce, sold in plastic bags, preferably pre-cut, because who has time.
3. No dirt-- otherwise who KNOWS where that turnip has been
4. Healthy options at MacDonald's. If you eat a salad with the Big Mac, I'm pretty sure it has fewer calories.
5. Have Maria teach me the proper pronunciation of "habanero" next time she comes to clean
6. All vegetables presented in faux wood bins, with real wicker baskets instead of shopping carts so I can pretend I'm at the Farmers Market, which is full of all these farmers, which can't be sanitary
7. A special display with 14 different heirloom tomatoes (not 14 types--14 tomatoes) so I can say I've seen one. Make sure they cost $7 apiece so I can complain about how organic (sic) is too expensive
8. Candy in the checkout aisle. Because those nuts from Occupy Safeway are blocking access to the candy.
9. Support local farmers! Give them jobs as baggers, since their farms are all mortgaged to the hilt.

No energy to come up with my own recipe today. Made these honey-apple muffins.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


My head hurts. I think it's from falling off the October Unprocessed wagon and eating hallowe'en candy.

Serves me right.

Here's a delicious mild salsa from pastry chef Lindsay Shepherd. I guess pastry chefs like to walk on the wild side every now and then!

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)
1 pound fresh tomatillos (about 8-10 ripe tomatillos)
2 serrano peppers (if you like heat) *optional- if you want mild salsa, use 1 large bell pepper (prefer chocolate bell peppers)
2 jalapenos
1 medium sweet onion
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
¼ - ½ cup fresh cilantro (depending on how much you like cilantro)
¼ cup fresh lemon basil
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice

Preheat broiler.

Remove husks from tomatillos and rinse under warm water to remove stickiness. Remove skin from onion, and cut into 4 wedges. Place fresh tomatillos, serranos (or bell pepper), jalapenos , onion, and garlic (with skin on) on rack of a broiler pan 1 to 2 inches from heat. Broil, turning once, until tomatillos are softened and all ingredients are slightly charred, about 10-20 minutes.

Peel garlic, and rub the charred skin off the peppers. Pull off tops of chiles and jalapenos and take out the seeds (leaving just a few for heat).

Place all of the ingredients (including the remaining cilantro, basil, salt, and lime juice) in a blender, and puree until desired consistency.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cake thief

I went to a wonderful harvest dinner at The Yarden last night. Madam Yarden, aka LaManda Joy, made an amazing feast from the bounty of her gorgeous urban farmette, with two dishes contributed by guests: ratatouille (by yours truly) and Apple Dapple cake, from another friend's mother.

I got the last piece of the cake.

Which turned out to be LaManda's. I ought to say that I feel really guilty about stealing her dessert, when she had just spent the day preparing this amazing feast for us. But it was so delicious I'm having trouble summoning up the shame.

So I made these for her this morning.

Apple dapple blondies

2/3 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chopped peeled apples
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (i did not add nuts)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla until thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture on low speed, mixing until blended. Stir in apples, cinnamon and nuts, mixing well. Spread evenly in greased 9x13 pan.Bake in Preheated oven at 350 degrees until set and golden, 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup margarine(1 -1/2 sticks)

Stir together in a medium sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil. Once it starts boiling gently, keep stirring and cook for about three minutes. Remove from heat. Remove hot delicious cake from the oven. Pour over hot cake while cake is still in pan. Let cake cool completely before removing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I ate that on purpose

Repost, from October 10, 2010

Unprocessed. Real Food. Slow food. Locavore.

Every time you turn around these days, there's a new term about getting away from the American industrialized, depersonalized, outsourced food culture. Now on my third food challenge, I think that Michael Pollan actually said it best (that's why they pay him the big bucks).

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The main thing I take away from these efforts--all of them personally and culturally challenging, mostly well meaning, in varying degrees sensible--is that what you need to do is think about what you are eating.

When I was growing up in the middle of the last century, you didn't have to think about it. The food you bought, even in suburban supermarkets, was what it said it was. It had a shelf life and a source, which was mostly nearby. Importing food was something that starving Indians (as in subcontinent) did. Even as a child I knew which fruits were in season, not because I looked up a chart, but because if it wasn't in season, you couldn't buy it. No one ever got salmonella poisoning, and E. Coli was something you learned about in high school biology. Meat was meat colored, not that bizarre bright red (how do they do that, and why?). Chickens came with innards. Fruits did not have individual labels, and the butcher packed your meat in paper, even at the supermarket (yes, Virginia, there were butchers at the supermarket). You could buy only the amount you needed, and exactly the amount you needed, because they cut it on the premises. I got to Junior year in college before I knew that you could buy French fries frozen in a bag.

Because of this, I am able to "think" about food. I have clear memories of what it looks like, when it's naturally available, and how it tastes. My mother had to cook, because the prepared food industry was just getting started ("Prince spaghetti day", anyone?).

Younger generations don't have this advantage. You are rediscovering what I grew up understanding, perhaps the last generation to do so. I'm not saying there were no processed foods; we had spam and cake mixes and tv dinners and every day there was a new "convenience" product. But families eating meals cooked from whole ingredients was the norm, not the outlier.

For the way I live and eat, I think the "slow" approach works best-- seasonal, local, organic, whole. It gives you flexibility--can't find or afford organic? Buy it from the local mom-and-pop, instead of the super store (on the "3 outta 4 ain't bad" theory). What works about it, and all the other monikers, is that they make you think about what you're putting into your and your family's bodies.

Unprocessed. Real Food. Slow food. Locavore.

Call it deliberate eating.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What if you're already unprocessed?

One of the things I've been hearing alot in talking about October Unprocessed, is "oh, we already eat really healthy."

This statement is not just hubris--I work in food activism and I live and work in a crunchy-granola urban neighborhood, so a lot of the people I know eat only seasonal, local, organic and whole. They know how to make their own yeast. They have root cellars, in the city. They haven't set foot in a grocery store in 5 years.

I'm one myself. I started with Not Dabbling in Normal's Real Food Challenge in 2009 and never looked back. Except.

I gave myself a pass on candy bars. I like flavored teas. I eat out.

I'm probably not going to stop doing any of those things in the long haul. But I can do it for a month. And maybe I'll find, like I did with the Real Food Challenge, that there are things I can live without. And things that are easy, I mean easy, to replace, like getting local farmer-made raw-milk cheese and plain yogurt, or bread from the family-owned bakery, instead of Sara Lee's "healthy" line. And things that are absurdly easy to make, like jam, and mayonnaise, and flat breads-pita or nan.

Don't talk to me about "I have no time." I don't have kids at home, but I work full time and then some. I just spend all day Sunday cooking, and then the rest of the week I get to hang out on line looking for challenges.

So if you're as green as you think you can get, think again. Look through your cupboard and your larder and take an extra step. Think of creative ways to approach the challenge--go vegetarian if you're not already, or vegan, for one day. (Meat being one of the most highly processed foods we know.) Get really unprocessed and try incorporating more raw foods into your weekly diet. Think ahead and put something up for the winter.

As Andrew says in the Eating Rules blog that "runs" the challenge, October Unprocessed is not just about eating real food. It's about eating mindfully. Read a label, or better yet, a recipe. Eat a carrot for snack.

You'll be surprised how basic you can get.

Apple-maple oatmeal
1/2 cup apple cider (buy it at the farmers market, or read the label. It should say "ingredients: apples")
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup oats
pinch of salt
1 T maple syrup
1/2 apple, cubed.

Boil the apple cider and water, then slowly add the oats, stirring constantly. Boil about 5 minutes or until the oats start to soften. Add the salt and maple syrup, continue cooking until it's the consistency you like. For a sweeter oatmeal, increase the apple cider to a full cup (and skip the water), and/or add more maple syrup.

Add the cut-up apple and serve.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October Unprocessed: snacks

Can't get away from the topic, seemingly. I wrote about an unprocessed treat on Friday, and here we are two days later, snacking again.

Here's what I "snacked" on today:
Fresh-squeezed orange juice
A 6-oz glass of locally pressed apple cider
A pear
A donut from the farmers' market, freshly made on Saturday
Some dried cranberries (from Mick Klug Farm, bought through the CSA, so not commercially processed)
Popcorn, the old fashioned kind
In other words, to snack "unprocessed," just eat food. Snacking isn't about the type of food you're eating, it's about timing, convenience and quantity. If it's 3:00 in the afternoon and you're eating an apple, that's a snack. If it's noon and you're eating it with a sandwich, that's lunch. If it's 7:30 and you've put it in a pie, that's dessert (the pie also counts as a snack in the middle of the afternoon, but mother says you may only have a small piece).

The problem is we've let the industrialized food system and Madison Avenue tell us what a "snack" is, and have swallowed wholesale, if I may, the idea that "snack food" is somehow different from "food."

Unprocessed snacks can include nuts, raw fruit, dried fruit (but read the label, the grocery store ones contain a lot of preservatives, artificial colors and even sweeteners), potato chips are easy to make if a little tedious, popcorn–the old fashioned kind, you pop it in the microwave just like “microwave” popcorn. Just stick it in a paper bag and hit the “popcorn” preset, bread and butter, jam or nut butters, hot cocoa or a hard boiled egg.

Here's the homemade hot chocolate my mother used to make for us when we were little (I never had commercial hot cocoa til I got to college; didn't know what it was, despite watching Bosco ads all my life). I remember traveling with some friends, they asked me to make hot cocoa and handed me little bags filled with brown powder. I knew what it was, but had never seen it, let alone made it. I did it wrong. They were really mad, and I was really embarrassed, but in retrospect, I'm very glad I did not know that dirt-colored powder was considered an acceptable drink.

Homemade hot cocoa
from the Woman's Home Companion Cook Book

2½ oz unsweetend chocolate (2½ squares)
⅓ cup sugar
pinch of salt (just a few grains)
½ cup boiling water
4 cups milk

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler, add sugar and salt; add boiling water, stirring until well-blended. Place pan back over heat and boil about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, heat just short of scalding, again, stirring constantly. Beat until frothy. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream or a marshmallow.

Here's a recipe for a homemade chocolate syrup that can be used in milk, or on ice cream.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What's a little cold between friends

At the ice rink where I teach, there are two vending machines. One of them is full of candy and dorritos; the other one has what the snack food industry likes to call "healthy snacks"-- things like granola bars, and sun chips, and those "reel froot jelly" things that kids insist isn't candy. I refuse to call it "healthy" food, so I tell the kids that one of the machines has "junk food" and the other one has "snack food."

A fine distinction.

In fact the distinction should not be "healthy" or "snack" or "junk" but simply there is food and then there is that edible stuff that they sell in all the pretty boxes. Why not have a vending machine full of "food"-- yogurt mixed with jam, and only jam. Apples and pears. Nuts. Milk. Raisins. If you have to say "this is healthy food" chances are it isn't food at all because saying "healthy" food is like saying "cold" ice or "metal" steel-- it's simply redundant. Food is healthy. That is its purpose.

It seems appropriate to start October Unprocessed with snack food, since it's snack food where we find the most processing, and the most resistance to the idea that you can snack on something that's not bad for you.

And since it's a balmy 40 out right now, I thought I'd start with ice cream

Autumn ice cream
1 pear, roasted
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 T home-powdered maple sugar
1/2 teaspoon maple extract, if you're cheating on the unprocessed thing

So, powdering your own sugar turns out to be a giant drag when you only have a little coffee grinder to do it in. I put a tablespoon at a time into a standard coffee grinder, and let 'er rip. It's not exactly powdered, but it's very very fine. Mix this, the cream and extract, and stick them in the freezer about 30 minutes (this helps with the aerating process).

Roast the pear at 350 for about 40 minutes, peel the skin off, then grind it in the blender, and put in the fridge until chilled.

When the pear is chilled, start up the ice cream maker (I have a little 2 cup one) and pour in the cream mixture. When it starts to resemble ice cream, add the chilled pear, and aerate until it turns into ice cream.

I tried this with maple syrup for sweetener, but it makes the mixture too watery and it doesn't aerate properly.