Time to Return

Never before did I experience the disorienting feeling of death in such a way as I have in the past couple of months. The confusing labyrinth I’ve fallen into pulled me away from life, my own life, including this blog and my love for writing about food. But it’s time to come back.

Many things have happened in the world in the past couple of months, besides my personal loss. A new president came in, women marched all over the world, and the nerves of many groups and countries are spilling over, especially as the dreaded changes start to happen. What does this has to do with food you might ask? Everything.

I’ve used this blog for the past couple of years with the hope to make food more approachable to anyone who reads it. I’ve spoken about my shortcomings with food, from the unknown cooking techniques required for artichoke decoding to overcoming my dislike for beets. I’ve approached meal planning and food waste in a attempt to understand them better and open the conversation.
Food is a place where we can unify, we all eat. Granted we all eat differently, something I value deeply, but i trust we all understand the importance of food, good, wholesome food. 

pickled Chioggia beets

The latest news of the new government possibly banning the USDA and EPA from communicating to the public about their research, research that affects our daily lives through food policy, laws and regulations. Or that the Keystone XL and Dakota pipeline projects were called back to reapply worry me. We could agree that it targets our food sovereignty. Especially when we add the conversations surrounding cuts to the school lunch programs that serve low-income children; dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which many states, like Oregon and Denver, have used as a way to recognize the silent problem of food insecurity; and many new moms use for breastfeeding support and lactation supplies. 

I’m not planning on turning this blog on a food policy site, I don’t have the knowledge Marion Nestle or Michael Pollan have on the topic, or the infrastructure and experience of the journalists at Civil Eats. What I do have is a mission to teach people about a simple turnip and how to cook it, or how a beet is not as scary as the millions of corn kernels grown on the U.S. farm belt used to feed cattle {which makes them sick because ruminants aren’t meant to eat grain but grass}, or to become sweeteners, fillers, and preservatives in junk food, amongst other deplorable uses, as you can hear in this podcast from The BBC Food Chain

beet greens and parsley

I’ll continue bringing stories of simple food, of the humble chard, or my beloved lentils. Because as the famous Leah Chase, Queen of Creole, says, “Food is so important, it makes people happy, and if you are happy you think better.” 

xo
~Paula

using carrot greens

 

Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Even with its unbearable heat waves, summer is a luxurious time of year. I wish I could grab it by its tail, harness it and slow it down. I love the flowers in every yard, walkway and park. The plants bearing fruits and vegetables, and the farmers bringing their best to the market.

With July gone, we are down to August and September, and then is winter. Unless we get a long enough fall to drown our sorrows before the snow stars to pile. I shouldn’t be thinking about winter and should just enjoy the present, the hot weather, and the abundance from the land.

My new weekly ritual includes a trip to the Union Station Farmers Market, which is proving educational. We’ve had markets in Denver on previous years, but none that accumulated the quantity and quality of locally grown produce that this, new to the city, market is bringing.

For years, I envied the Boulder and Longmont markets, and traveled at last once a month during the summer to indulge on buying produce grown just a few miles away; now they travel every Saturday to bring their produce to us in Denver.

union station farmers market denver

Many meals and cooking ideas spring every week based on what’s available, a concept I didn’t follow particularly close before I challenged myself to cook the majority of our meals using only seasonal produce. By seasonal, I mean whatever is in season around me, or at least in the United States especially during the winter months, not including Hawaii, I haven’t bought a pineapple in years, and not including snow and sticks from our Colorado winter harvest.

Some meals are simple variations using, for example, different types of cucumbers {which just this year, after 15 years in the U.S. and 13 of those in the kitchen I found they are nicknamed “cukes”} like lemon cucumbers in a cucumber-tomato salad dressed with carrot greens pesto.

lemon cucumbers

Other meals, like this Bulgur and Lentil Salad, are born out of the necessity for an easy to take lunch that’s nutritious and simple to make, all while providing a punch of flavor to keep me from stopping at the burrito place nearby for a second snack. Continue reading Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Pig Talk

The 289 lb pig carcass laid on the chef’s counter, cut in half from torso to tail, bagged, and headless. The head, I heard, sat in the walking refrigerator outside the restaurant, where the delivery person from the farm left it a few minutes before I arrived.

Part of the curriculum of the class I taught during spring semester included meats and fish, and the art of butchering, a knowledge not associated with those of us who spend our time with flour and sugar, and building cakes and tarts, and I had a few weeks to learn a lifetime of skills.

Pig trotters

For weeks, I had recurring nightmares of butchering the animals into inadequate and unrecognizable pieces, or having the slippery fish coming back to life to chew my fingers off as I tried to skin it in a classroom full of students.

At that point my choices were:

  • Call in sick the day before each protein class and risk loosing my job,
  • Take sleeping pills so at least the nightmares would go away, even if my skills didn’t improve,
  • Spend hundreds of dollars buying entire hogs and countless fish, plus the refrigeration system to store them
  • Or, Find experts who could instruct me in the art of butchering

Continue reading Pig Talk

Lemony Carrot Greens “Pesto”

carrot greens and curry pesto

The garden glows. Spring harvest past its prime with the last few peas the bunnies stole and the bolted radishes and arugula left behind, giving way to beans, tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and the heat of summer.

potted eggplant

The Union Station Farmers Market bustles. With growers from Boulder, Longmont, Hygiene, Larkspur and more towns I can’t even recall, and patrons eager to taste the local harvest. Carrots and beets from Cure Organic Farms, mushrooms from the Mile High Fungi, cherries from Ela Family Farms, are just a few of the goods I found.

garden lavender

This season I’m striving to try every vegetable I see and every new, to me, idea I’ve read, like using carrot greens, for example. I’m guilty of composting the tops of many vegetables, unaware of their delicious possibilities in the kitchen. It makes me wonder, what do Colombians do with all of those tops? Feed them to animals? I have never seen a beet or radish green in the markets there and it never occurred to me they could be used in cooking.

using carrot greens

Continue reading Lemony Carrot Greens “Pesto”

Budget Grocery Shopping

One of the assignments for one of the classes I teach at the school is a scavenger’s hunt. The students have to go to different grocery stores and look for the price of different cuts of meats from different animals, analyze and compare. They found that there are “less desirable” cuts of meat, like chicken legs or shoulder-blade chops, to name just a couple, that have great amounts of flavor and are sold at a much lower price per pound than, say, chicken breast or pork tenderloin, because they require too much cooking or are perceived as difficult to cook.

ingredients for vegetarian french cassoulet

The most interesting part of this exercise, to me, is that in many cases the prices don’t change drastically from store chain to store chain. It does, however, change based on the quality and demand of the product. For example, organic, boneless chicken breast, the most popular piece of animal protein in the U.S., is between $5.99-$6.99 dollars per pound across the different store chains, compared to chicken legs at $2.49 dollars per pound at whole foods.

If we do the same thing for other items, like legumes, for example, we can see that 1-15 oz can of black beans costs an average $1.50 dollars, at any store, twice as much if it’s an organic product, $2.50-3.00 dollars. Now, the net weight specified on the label is not the food weight we get, consumer report did a test and found that most canned foods have an average of 40% of that weight in the liquid that we throw down the drain, so we end up with a little over a cup of cooked beans.

In comparison, a pound of organic dried black beans costs an average $2.25 dollars. Continue reading Budget Grocery Shopping

Whole Grain Banana-Chocolate Bundt cakes

Once in a while the grocery store where I shop has ‘brownish’ bananas on sale, as it happened a couple of weeks ago, so I buy enough to make a few loaves of banana bread.

The desperate look of the in-need-of-a-home bananas brakes me every time and I end up sheltering more than enough to make the usual banana bread, plus some other quick bread variation that I could serve for afternoon tea or even dinner; banana-chocolate bread baked in mini bundt pans fools anyone into thinking is dessert.

chocolatebananabread

The whole wheat and rye flours hide behind the dark {extra-brut} cocoa powder and the chunks of 68% chocolate giving it a sense of indulgence, plus lowering the sugar allows the chocolate flavor to shine and support the bananas as the first act.

chocolatebananaminibunts

Continue reading Whole Grain Banana-Chocolate Bundt cakes

A Weekend in Los Angeles

The scent of the orange, mandarin and lemon trees’ blossoms from the backyard of our friend’s house in Los Angeles filled the air with the sweetness of a long-awaited California beach vacation.

fresh of the tree oranges

The morning sun and the eight pound dogs running around the house woke us up as the bed covers insisted we stayed in a little longer after a night of blackberry and bubbles’ slushy cocktails at a nearby bar with an outdoor game room and an adjacent art gallery filled with millennials taking selfies and playing video games on a giant screen. My head empty with sleep and only the ocean waiting with a dose of sun and adventure could break my inertia.

The Hike
We drove to Malibu looking for the Solstice Canyon National park, right off the Pacific 1 Highway. Continue reading A Weekend in Los Angeles

Apple-Cream Tarts, A Pastry Lesson

Pretty desserts, the one reason why I decided to venture on to pastry instead of the hot kitchen. Well, the sweaty hours chained to a grill or a sauté station helped further convince me that my future was where the pretty things live, the pastry kitchen. That became the topic for a talk I gave at a culinary school in Oaxaca, Mexico last week, a trip I’ll share in a post in the coming weeks.

apple cream tart

Of those pretty pastry things I have a certain infatuation with tarts – of any shape and size. I love the intricacy of the simple looking tart. The crunchy shell with the delicate ruffles, like a well-made princess dress. The layers of creams, fruit, chocolate, caramel, nuts, and anything else one can imagine.

Continue reading Apple-Cream Tarts, A Pastry Lesson

Upside-Down Applesauce Bread with Honey-Ginger Pear Topping

The warm weather has prompted me to work on the garden beds and prepare them for the season ahead. I’m still kicking myself for not had at least tried to overwinter some carrots, sunchokes or something from the onion family, at least for some green tones on the overly brown landscape.

Our yard is big and clumsy. A couple trees and a lot of dried grass, and on a corner, close to the house, the garden I started last year.

This year I’m resolved to expand, to grow more vegetables, to plant a fruit tree, maybe plum since we receive boxes of peaches and apples from a CSA with Ela Family Farm,  and get a few egg-laying chickens.

I have so many questions like, what does one do with them during the winter? How do I keep them safe from the coyotes? Mr. Miles is happy to help, but at his age he spends more time sleeping than guarding the yard. Also, what to do when we go on holiday? That was actually my husband’s biggest worry, and I wonder how many people may need chicken daycare these days {now, that’s the business (!)}.

Another friend told us that she’s never had problems finding friends to care for the chicks, “People love to take care of my chickens, they know they’ll get the best eggs as reward,” she said. That was the last push the boy needed to say yes to the idea of rummaging birds in the backyard.

honeygingerpearbread

While the season in Colorado gets on its way, I scavenge the grocery store for produce somewhat closer to us. If I take my experience as a traveler, I can attest that after traveling for days I’m tired, grumpy and most likely not all that tasty. So, I prefer a pear that comes from say, Oregon, than a plum that comes from Chile. Nothing against Chileans, I have many Chilean friends and love them all, but I’ll stick with the pear.

Continue reading Upside-Down Applesauce Bread with Honey-Ginger Pear Topping

My Kind of Book Club

My love for reading and attempting to write came later in life. Yes, I always read culinary books, but that was as far as I got with the written word.

Fiction, not a chance.

Not until I started working on a minor in English and writing and had to catch up with humanity on the classics. I did like the literature classes, maybe because the professor were knowledgeable enough to keep me engaged, and went deep into the paragraphs to the word level, the punctuation, the intention of the writer.

I miss that.

Reading in such way helped me understand its importance, the importance of reading that is. I stayed within the creative-non-fiction writing genre, especially food writing and culinary food memoirs. From Michael Pollan to Dan Barber and Ruth Reichl, to Anthony Bourdain, Bee Wilson and David Lebovitz.

All fascinating stories.

All related to food and travel.

slowfooddenverbookclub

So when it came time to join a book club, I longed for one that focused on the subject of food. Hard to find, right? But the reading gnomes worked hard to make it happened and in January I went to my first book club meeting. Slow Food Denver put together a list of awesome books, I must say, and sent a call of action to all of those, like me, who wanted to sit around a table and discuss The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan, or The Third Plate,” by Dan Barber, to name a few.

Yes, dreams do come true!

Dreams can also bring you out to a reality that feels more like a nightmare. Reading about the U.S. food system is as depressing as going on a beach vacation to encounter pouring rain everyday. The set of laws that support industrial agriculture of mono crops, like corn and soy, which are used as fillers in processed foods or to feed animals that were not intended to eat grains but grass and therefore get sick and are injected with antibiotics, and almost punishes small farmers by subsidizing the big guys and making competition harder, are just the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg of this so call “system to help us feed the world.”

Thankfully Michel Pollan’s entertaining writing style takes the reader from page to page with ease and grace, hypnotizing her with fascinating facts and comical anecdotes. No wonder he has become of the most influential writers of the past decade. Barber, on the other hand, is more philosophical, and you can almost hear his lament over the series of atrocities we have done to the food we produce.

And that’s exactly what we do in this book club, well besides drink wine and eat.

XO
~ Paula