First Harvest

RadishesRadishes fresh from the kitchen garden.  Perhaps whoever compiled the table of yields I used to decide how much to plant didn’t like radishes, or only intended radishes to be used one per salad as a garnish.  I used this in a raita – or rather, used the raita dressing – yogurt with cumin, raisins, lime juice – as a dip.  There will be enough radishes for garnish, but not to eat as a vegetable.  Time to plant more.

The Dangers of Fake Food

Today’s Washington Post details the current recall of processed foods made with hydrolyzed vegetable protein from Basic Food Flavors, a list that is now over 100 products.

Basic Food Flavors tested surfaces near food-processing equipment throughout its plant twice in January and once in February, and each time the samples showed salmonella contamination, according to FDA records. The company continued to ship products and to make more HVP without cleaning the plant or the equipment in a way that would have minimized contamination, the records said.

Foods that used the contaminated HVP include some sold by national chains and manufacturers such as Trader Joe’s, CVS, and McCormick.

The description of the Basic factory conditions is truly disgusting.  It should, in the best of all possible worlds, have the effect that Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle had on the meat-packing industry, including inspiring the creation of the Food and Drug Administration – only, now we already have the FDA. Unfortunately, the FDA does not have enough inspectors to police food manufacturing; it generally only checks when there is an epidemic or a complaint.

Maybe this will at least persuade people not to use gravy, stuffing, and salad dressing mixes and buy so many other snack and prepared foods.  Is it harder to mix vinegar, oil, and dried seasonings yourself than to dump in a packet of who knows what? Is gravy really too hard to make without a packet of gravy mix? Really?


One of the professors on my doctoral committee at the University of Chicago was quite thoroughly a city boy. He was Jewish, grew up in Brooklyn, played the violin and had a Ph.D. in physics.  (I could just see him, a skinny little kid in thick glasses and a yarmulke, trundling along the city streets with his violin case.)  I can still see his face when I told him I was taking a job in Tennessee.  He said “How can you move to Tennessee – you won’t even be able to get croissants there.”  I told him only God could make a tree and I could certainly make my own croissants. After only three years, I was tired of the endless limestone, cement, and flatness of Chicago, even though we lived a few blocks from a park on Lake Michigan.

I had baked a good bit in West Virginia, including making my own tortillas and bagels, before I went to Chicago.  Once in Tennessee, I found a recipe in Bon Appetit and made croissants, just to prove I could.  They were a tremendous amount of trouble – all that folding, rolling out, chilling, etc.  Once we moved to Austin,  there were bakery croissants again, most recently at the Upper Crust, two blocks from our house.  But we mostly lived without them.

But – pain au chocolate, chocolate croissants, that is a different story.  The bakery in Chicago did not have them. Those were the days before filled croissants were fashionable, in any case.  I had read about the French bread with chocolate; it seemed odd, but then…  In any case, at some point chocolate croissants showed up at Texas French Bread, an Austin institution which was also the first place I ever had scones.  Later, they became a standard treat on Sunday mornings, from Upper Crust.  Here in Clarksburg, you can get them at Panera’s, which is conveniently on the way to the place we thought was the only place to get the Sunday New York Times. A while back, we realized we weren’t really reading much of the paper, and the croissants weren’t that good, so we have done without both lately.

Then I saw this post on How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day on Jellypress (which I highly recommend).  I picked up a couple of bars of good bittersweet chocolate Tuesday (senior citizen’s day at Kroger’s ;-) and got with the plan.  It was easy, not nearly as much work as I remembered, and the steps are spread out over four days, each taking half an hour or so.  Yesterday I finished up and froze a dozen, leaving four out to bake for the two of us this morning  (it was a Valentine’s treat, after all) .

They were indeed a treat; better than bakery, if I do say so myself.  And there are enough in the freezer for another month of Sundays!

If you go over to Jellypress and try these, there are a couple of things I would do differently.  First, these were so buttery we almost couldn’t taste the chocolate.  Next time, I’ll try just two sticks of butter instead of three.  Second, the recipe doesn’t specify unsalted butter.  Use unsalted butter, or don’t add salt.  Finally, I cut the dough in half for the final roll-out, because my bread board wasn’t big enough for a 15×20 rectangle.  After rolling out 15×10, I realized I had cut the wrong dimension in half, so I just cut it in half the short way and quarters the other (for pieces 5×3 3/4).  This also gave me 16 instead of 15, which worked out better with the 8 squares of chocolate in a bar.  (And Robert and I won’t have to argue about the odd croissant.)

Burns Night

We won’t be making a really traditional Burns Night, but we will be having “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes), plus cabbage and pork sausages, since authentic haggis is banned here anyway. I have a bagpipe video to play, and we will say the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

We have a Norwegian version on a plate from Stavanger, inherited from Robert’s family:

Noen har brød, men kan ikke spise.
Andre kan spise men har ikke brød.
Vi har brød og vi kan spise.
Derfor vil vi Herren prise.

For Summer Song, Eat Local, Eat Organic

We have tried to eat local or organic foods for years, because it is healthier, better for the local economy, better for the environment.  Eating in season is one of many ways to keep closer to nature.  Eating locally and in season means that every season is different and there is always something to look forward to – the first greens and peas in spring, the strawberries, blackberries, peaches of summer, luscious August tomatoes, the apples and pears of fall, the warming and filling beans and cabbage, carrots and potatoes of winter.

From the National Wildlife Federation, another reason to eat local and eat organic: Put a Songbird on Your Shopping List – birds that winter in South America are dying from pesticides being used there that are illegal here.

Open House

My mother almost always did homemade presents, sewn or knit.  She and my Aunt Elizabeth had a competition going for crafty decorations, Christmas and otherwise.  One year they made dozens of sets between them of Wise Men made from cone-shaped industrial thread spools, scrap fabric, and old jewelry.  There were wreaths, swags, dried arrangements, mostly from found materials, not made in China from a big box craft store. For a year or two there were “snow” candles, covered with paraffin snow whipped with a hand mixer.

Starting before I was born, my mother made dozens of kinds of candies, cookies, and fruitcake each year at Christmas.  These were carefully arranged on painted tin trays or in tin boxes. When the cooking and baking, started before Thanksgiving with the fruitcakes, was done, the dining table became an assembly line for filling the trays and tins.  My mother’s fellow teachers and the church choir all got one, and one Christmas Eve we would drive around town distributing them to friends, relatives, and shut-ins.

I had been married only one Christmas when my parents were killed in a car wreck.  I inherited the recipes, and the idea that Christmas was made by all this special food.  We lived far away, and didn’t have as many co-workers, choir members, shut-ins, and friends and relatives handy.  We did pack up tins and travel with them on our holiday trips to West Virginia and North Carolina, but that didn’t use up nearly enough.  The Hungarian Christmas cookies alone make 12 dozen, and somehow cutting the recipe, which says to mix them in a dishpan (a mixing bowl not being large enough), seemed against tradition.  So we started having a Christmas Open House, usually a Sunday or two before Christmas.  I had also inherited my mother’s Fostoria crystal punch bowl and cups (and Robert had come with an inherited set of his own) and various matching cake plates, platters and trays, so they needed to be used occasionally. Robert is half Norwegian, where there is a tradition of gløgg, and so we have always served mulled wine, and mulled cranberry juice for the non-alcohol drinkers.

We skipped the last few years for various reasons, and I discovered that yes, indeed, it is still Christmas without a single cookie.  This year we had one for our new neighbors and friends, and our newly-close relatives, the day after Christmas.  After discussion, we decided just to do the few things that at least one of us loves: Julekage, which my husband always makes from his grandmother’s recipe, the Hungarian Christmas cookies, sand tarts, and springerle. Our son and daughter wanted to add ginger snaps, and Robert wanted sugar cookies to revisit his family tradition and use the cookie cutters we have collected.  And we made a big batch of party mix, which I then eat for lunch long after the holidays.

Everyone agreed that the sugarplum strawberries, a 1960s Good Housekeeping recipe, were fun to make, cute to look at, but ultimately disgusting. (If you are interested, Google for “coconut strawberries” – there are videos.)

Saturday Night Supper

Food seems to be more popular than anything else on the web. My few food posts certainly get more hits than anything else.  My mother was a plain cook, except for desserts (which were only for Sundays and holidays), although she occasionally did very odd things inspired by women’s magazines.  It's better than a real candle because you can eat itWe were “comfortable”, not poor, but there wasn’t a lot of money for extravagance in food (or anything else). The grocery store didn’t have a lot of exotic food, anyway.

I had just finished college when the first oil crisis hit.  Hamburger went from 29 cents a pound to $1.29, as gas went from 29 cents to $1.29 a gallon.  I quit eating meat.  The next year, I moved back to my home town, where lots of “hippie farmers” had moved in while I was away.  Most of my high school friends had gone to college and not come back.  My friends became hippie farmers, and many of them were vegetarian.  I met a Seventh Day Adventist couple then in their 50s who shared their vegetarians ways with me. I read Adele Davis, who was seen as a radical at the time, although she had graduate degrees in nutrition and biochemistry from distinguished universities, and Francis Moore Lappé‘s Diet for a Small Planet. These women established the ideas that a mainly vegetarian grain and bean-based diet was best for us and for the planet. Now, more than 30 years later, a third of the population is obese and our health costs are skyrocketing, and industrial farming, especially of beef, is a major contributor to pollution and user of non-renewable energy.  A new generation, and a lot of mine, is “discovering” slow food, local food, organic food, healthy food.  What on earth happened? And will we ever learn?

For all those years, I have been eating that way and raised two children, one of whom is now a much stricter vegetarian than I ever was.  My husband and I worked full time (and more), volunteered at church, led the kid’s Camp Fire clubs, and finished graduate school.  Cooking this way was cheap, easy, quick, satisfying, and nutritious. We were not fanatic about meat, although we rarely had meat more than once or twice a week, and I didn’t sprinkle everything with wheat germ, bean sprouts, or sunflower seeds, or use tofu, veggie burgers, or “fake meat.” Somewhere along the way I found Nikki & David Goldbeck’s American Wholefoods Cuisine, which has everything from soup to nuts, including a great short-order section for quick healthy meals.  My cooking is basically my mother’s plain cooking, with whole wheat flour, little meat, and none of the amazing cakes, cookies, and candy my mother produced.  I’ll continue to post menus and recipes here, in hopes that people will see how easy and “normal” healthy cooking can be.

Saturday night, we had friends for supper, and I was thanked for catering to a vegetarian on the Ornish diet, which, other than expecting you to cut down even more on oils, butter, cheese, eggs, nuts, and other high-fat foods, is just what Adelle Davis, Francis Moore Lappé, and the Goldbecks were teaching all those years ago.  I picked dishes without cheese and eggs, left out the oil in the stew and the salad dressing, but otherwise cooked as I usually do.  Here’s what we had:

Sweet potato oven fries with drinks beforehand

A “warm salad” of plain frozen vegetables (I used a broccoli, green bean, and mushroom mix) with a dressing of just balsamic vinegar, salt, and fresh-ground pepper.

Wholewheat cottage loaf

Beans from Brittany (a stew from the Goldbecks)

Poached pears with buckwheat crepes and yogurt sauce

Washed down with cider (hard cider for some of us)

White Sweet Potatoes

Here’s an autumn taste treat for Kahuna Kolbert.

Sweet potato and vineBaked White Sweet Potatoes

Rinse, put on the rack in a 325° oven, and bake until soft (depending on size, maybe an hour).
Or put on a grill over a wood fire, as we did when we did our Thanksgiving camping.
If you must, microwave like a baked potato.

Split and butter.  This doesn’t need anything else, but you can sprinkle on a little brown sugar.

We prefer white sweet potatoes, something I grew up with in West Virginia, but hard to find now even here.  Our local Kroger’s doesn’t have them, but the corner Produce Market in downtown Clarksburg does.  My brother used to grow them, and should again.  Once we brought back white sweet potato plants from Georgia, where my grandparents had retired.

I always believed that the orange sweet potatoes often called yams really were yams, but apparently yams are a completely different species .  The orange and white sweet potatoes are varieties of the same plant, just like the many varieties of potatoes.  The white sweet potatoes are really pale yellow, dry, flaky, and delicate, not as dense and waxy as the common orange ones, and with a milder flavor.

Eating ourselves to death

“Despite recent trends in obesity rates,” Huang explained, “we anticipate that the population will reach an equilibrium in obesity levels, since we cannot all become obese.”

From Science Daily, Diabetes Cases to Double and Costs to Triple by 2034

I’m still trying to figure this out. Why can’t we all become obese?

For starters, we are each not eating about 1400 calories a day of the food we produce – it is thrown away.  If the two-thirds of Americans who are not yet obese ate up what is wasted, at 3500 excess calories per pound of weight gained, we would be able to gain almost a pound every other day, and reach obesity (roughly 30 pounds overweight)  in less than three weeks (even those of us who are near the bottom of the normal range).

Summer Squash Casserole

We bought our first squash of the season at the new farmer’s market in Bridgeport this morning, and soon after my brother emailed asking for this recipe.

Mother found this recipe while I was in college – we never had squash of any kind growing up. My father used to tell a story about squash and his brother Conrad. After their oldest sister Doris got married and was living in Charleston, the family went there for Sunday dinner. Aunt Doris’ husband, Uncle Scratch (he used to pay the children a nickel to scratch his feet, and would always let us feel where he said he had blown off a toe with a shotgun – I never saw him with his socks off) came from a Raleigh, North Carolina family of hotel-keepers, and was full of Southern hospitality and salesmanship. Uncle Conrad, who was quite small at the time, ate all his squash first to get rid of it so he could enjoy the rest of his meal. Uncle Scratch, seeing Conrad enjoy the squash so, insisted on giving him a second helping. The unfortunate Conrad didn’t catch on, ate it all quickly again, and ended up with a third serving. His mother, my grandmother, always said “Eat what’s set before you, even if it is a frog.”

Squash Casserole
2 cups cooked summer squash, diced
¼ cup milk
¼ cup melted butter
3 eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoons grated onion
salt, pepper, cayenne
¼ cup buttered bread crumbs

Mix all ingredients except bread crumbs and put in baking dish. Top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350° until firm (about 25 minutes).

Anna Mary McVaney deGruyter