Monday, March 30, 2009

cookies for sharing

I got lucky this weekend.

I had been jonesing to attend WAM! 2009 (that's Women, Action & the Media: A Conference for Activists, Journalists & Everyone) for a couple of months now. Due to the generosity of some dear friends who offered me a bed for the weekend, I got to go. It was, by far, one of the best weekends of my life.

Have I mentioned that I'm a Feminist? That's right, I am. The kind with a capital F, thanks. In my free reading time, I devour cookbooks and feminist fiction, throwing in a healthy dash of pop culture critique to taste. Sometimes I'm not sure how to fuse my immense love of artisanal cheeses and farmers markets with my adoration for feisty feminist blogs that challenge the gendered status quo. This weekend, those two seemingly separate worlds collided in me, and I don't think I can look back. 

This weekend was filled with swiss chard sauteed with sweet onions and eaten straight from the pan with Jess and Yoana, my incredible hosts. It included a lunchtime discussion on the immense barriers that prevent residents of low-income communities in cities like New York and Chicago from accessing fresh produce like that I had gleefully enjoyed the night before. On more than one occasion, I found myself confronted by the issues at play when I consume meat and other animal products; the workers whom I affect through my own culinary choices, for better or worse. 

I'm still reeling from all the learning I did this weekend, from all the accomplished activists and writers and people I met. I won't bore you with my glee. Instead, I'll share with you some delicious cookies to make when you visit your favorite vegan friend. Or anybody, really. Try them. You'll like them.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks

2 cups all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or spelt flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup organic, natural peanut butter (chunky or smooth, depending on your preference)
1 cup agave nectar (or maple syrup)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place one rack in the top third. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a larger bowl, combine the peanut butter, agave nectar, canola oil and vanilla. Pour the flour mixture over the peanut butter mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it's all barely combined ("still a bit dusty looking", as Heidi says). Let it all sit for five minutes, and then give it one more stir.

Throw the bowl in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. Take the bowl out, and shape tablespoon-sized cookies into rough balls with your hands, laying them on a well-oiled baking sheet or Silpat. Wet a fork slightly, and then press the cookies down with its back, in different directions to make a criss-cross design. If the cookies start to stick to the fork, just wet it again. 

Bake for 10 minutes, until the edges of the cookies just start to brown. You really don't want to overcook these, as they get crunchier in the hour after they bake, as they cool. Let them sit on the baking sheet for five minutes, then transfer them gently to a rack to cool and harden.

Enjoy with old friends, new acquaintances, your family and/or your favorite snuggle buddy.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Today I fell in love...

...with a jar of Bron's Bee Co. Raw Honey - Buckwheat Blend. Just small treat I had picked up for myself during my last trip to the Green City farmer's market. I don't usually buy honey, but for some reason, on this one rainy Saturday, I couldn't resist the small glass bear filled to the brim with a deep amber liquid. An impulse buy, really, but one infinitely more satisfying than a pack of sugar-free gum. Or a cherry chapstick, for that matter.

But the honey, oh let's continue talking about the honey. Did you know honey has a flavor? I didn't. The pale, processed goo I had always found in the supermarket had been as close as I had ever come to the real thing. But oh, I have been eating a lie! Because real honey does have a flavor. It's somewhere between molasses and ripe fruit and fields in late summer, and it's earthy and intense and comforting all at once. With the first spoonful, I was carried back to the day I was 9 and I fell asleep wrapped in a blanket on our hammock strung between two sunny pine trees. And a good jar of honey can be used with anything. Really. I dare you to go out and find a food that won't taste delicious with raw honey. Licked off of fingers, drizzled on scones, painted on barbecue, served with cheese, added to marinades, mixed with peanut butter, stirred into tea, spooned onto oatmeal, baked into breads...Baked into breads....mmmmm.

Pardon me while I go hide the honey away in my kitchen cabinet. It's been sitting on my desk all this time for inspiration, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to type as I keep poking my finger into the jar for just one more taste. But I need to type because I absolutely must tell you how that honey made it into my dinner tonight. Honey Walnut Bread with Golden Raisins. And it's taken all my willpower (ALL of it) not to demolish the whole loaf in one night. Smeared with cream cheese and drizzled with more honey, a slice of this bread may be the most decadent, soul-fillingly joyous treat I've eaten since Kylie baked me a chocolate fudge cake for my birthday. I'm sure each and every one of you is simply dying to try this bread for yourself, so allow me to explain just how to make it.

Special note: Thank you Bronwyn and Bob for collecting the very best honey I have ever had in my life! I very much hope to come visit you on your farm soon. For those of you who want some Bron's Bees Co. Honey of your own, visit them at the Green City Farmer's Market in Chicago, or online at

Honey Walnut Bread

with Golden Raisins
makes 1 large loaf


3/4 cup golden raisins
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one package)
2 tablespoons raw buckwheat honey
2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

Step one: Put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with 1/3 cup hot (but not boiling) water. Set aside.

Step two: Dissolve yeast into 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Mix in the honey and then let the mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. If no bubbles appear, your yeast might not be working, so toss the mixture out and try again with new yeast. Add another 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water.

Step three: Mix in the whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, sprinkle in the salt, and stir until well combined. Continue stirring in a bit more flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Step four: Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary. By the end, the dough should be smooth, elastic, and slightly sticky. Place dough in a lightly oiled large mixing bowl (making sure you turn it first to coat it), before covering it with a damp cloth and setting it aside in a warm place to rise until it doubles in size, roughly 1 1/2 hours.

Step five: Drain the raisins and dry with a paper towel. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead the raisins and walnuts into the dough. Shape into a loaf and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until it once again almost doubles in size, about 30 more minutes.

Step six: Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Slash the top of the loaf with a small, sharp knife, and brush the entire loaf with the egg mixture. Bake for 15 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 30 more minutes or until nicely browned. You'll know it's done when you tap the bottom of the loaf and it sounds hollow. Cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

I ate my bread with cream cheese (and don't even think about using reduced fat) and a drizzle of the buckwheat honey on top. Here's a picture of my roommate trying my invention.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Musings on Milk

This is a picture of me with some of the happiest cows in the whole wide world. These, you see, are Swiss dairy cows just outside the village of Murren, Switzerland. They wear big, friendly bells around their necks and spend their days munching on the alpine clover while watching the weary, sunburned hikers go by. They do all this, of course, on perilously steep mountain slopes at an altitude of 5,577 feet. But they don’t mind the heights a bit. And my smile is so big in this picture because I’m about to have a glass of the very best milk I’ve ever tasted in my life.

I have a lot to say about milk.

In fact, if I detect even the slightest hint of interest on your face, I will positively talk your ear off.

Homogenization. Pasteurization. Raw. Grass Fed. Whole Milk. Skim. Conjugated Linoleic Acids. Local. Organic. Industrial Organic. Oooooh, I’m getting breathless just thinking about it.

My obsession with milk began with my very first sip of raw, whole, straight-from-the-cow-that’s-standing-just-to-my-left-fresh milk on July 14, 2008. In case you are wondering, it was a Monday. The med-student and I were in the process of backpacking our way through Europe, had made our way to Switzerland, and had found ourselves hiking for two hours one morning in order to arrive at a tiny dairy farm on the top of a mountain in time for the 7 AM milking. Although I’m a bit ashamed to say it, I don’t think I had ever, in all my 22 years leading up to this event, really understood that the milk I poured on my cereal and drank with my cookies had, at one time, actually come out of a cow. Of course I knew it, but I had never really known it before the moment I was handed a glass of real milk from a real cow on a real big mountain. And hooo boy, that milk was something else.

Something else? Why would my first taste of alpine milk be so unlike any of the previous thousands of times I had sipped a white beverage by that name? Well, I’ve given it some thought since then. I’ve read things by scientists, philosophers, farmers, nutritionists, federal agencies, and academics. I’ve scoured the farm bill, scrutinized the school lunch program, and waded through other food-related legislation. All in pursuit of the answer to a simple question. Where has all the real milk gone? Because it sure as heck ain’t easy to find.

The vast majority of milk in our grocery stores and schools bears virtually no resemblance to what I had on that mountain in Switzerland. American commercial milk has been extracted from cows packed into unsanitary conditions and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. This is so they both produce more milk than is natural and don’t die from the infections caused by their unsanitary conditions. And that’s just the first step. After the milk has been gathered into huge tanks, it’s pasteurized with high heat and pressure in order to kill all the bacteria that inevitably end up in the supply before the liquid’s separated into its respective components of skim milk and pure cream. At this point, the two components are then recombined in the proper proportions to ensure a consistent final product. But no, the milk is not yet ready for consumption. In order to make sure that pesky cream doesn’t separate and float up to the top of the container - as would happen in real milk from a real cow – the milk is forced through extremely high pressure spigots so that the fat molecules are permanently dispursed throughout the liquid, a process called homogenization. Finally, as the milk is carted across the country, and an average of 12 days go by before that milk even hits a supermarket shelf. I could talk for hours about how each and every one of these steps leads to a nutritionally inferior, hardy recognizable, reorganized, finalized, industrialized milk product, but my guess is that you know this already.

The saddest part about this whole system is that it’s extremely difficult to find the simple, wholesome, and un-tampered with alternative. Dairy lobbies have done their best to limit the abilities of organic dairy farmers, industrial organic dairy farms have done their best to muscle out small, local farms, and the government has played its part by making raw milk from small farms illegal to sell in most states. Illegal. A brilliantly healthy, unquestionably wholesome food that used to be available to any and everyone within walking distance of a cow has now become a rare and, in my mind, precious commodity.

Ah see, I did just what I was worried I would do. I got myself going on a rant. But that’s not what this blog post is supposed to be about. This is meant to have a happy ending. And it does, because this morning, at my farmer’s market, I came one giant step closer to finding real milk again. In fact, it was being sold in refillable glass bottles by a friendly, balding gentleman that yammered away about how his cows happily wandered around his fields and munched on grass and alfalfa all year long. How the cows had never been touched by a hypodermic needle full of hormones or corn-feed full of antibiotics. How he had milked them just yesterday in preparation for the farmers market, but that I should try and drink the milk within the week for the freshest taste.

In fact, he positively talked my ear off.

Yes, the milk I bought was more expensive than the plastic gallon containers at my local grocery store. And yes, I did have to schlep down to a farmers market on this rainy Saturday morning to find what I was looking for. But for something this good - good for the environment, good for my body, good for the world – there’s nothing I wouldn’t do.


breakfast for a sunshiney day

New York weather sometimes feels miraculous. 

Just this week, it snowed eight inches in one night, and we trudged to the subway through fluff that reached well above our ankles. Today, most of us got on our jackets, went outside, turned right around, and came back in to shed them. It's warm out. It isn't just warm like put-on-a-sweatshirt-and-sit-outside-the-coffee-shop-shivering-in-the-sunshine warm. It's wear-your-t-shirt-and-jeans-and-bask-as-it-warms-your-face warm. It's the kind of warm that made me take a run around Prospect Park this morning instead of going to the gym as I had planned. I smiled as I stepped outside and walked down the stoop into a world that was a little different than yesterday's. In this sunny world of spring, there are young families strolling with their babies and confused toddlers, couples holding hands as they listen to music on shared iPod earphones, and very old men and women who have lived in the neighborhood for years. They walk slowly and let others pass them. They've walked these streets enough times to know that the sunshine feels best when one soaks in it at one's own pace.

This sunshiney day is the perfect time to try making millet porridge, if you haven't done so already. I've been experimenting with millet a lot over the past week or so, and I've wanted to share it with you. I prepared it in my rice cooker, and it turned out perfectly. You can also make it on the stove; I just didn't because I nearly burned my favorite pot to its death trying to make rice a few weeks ago. The night I made the millet, I ate it with a soupy green curry. And then there were leftovers.

When millet is prepared, it begs for a liquid to moisten it. The cooked grain itself has a nutty scent that reminds me of nutmeg. Milk, cream, or coconut milk complement it beautifully. Once you combine the grain with some type of milk, you can make endless additions to the cereal. I simply grated on some cinnamon and nutmeg and then pinched in a few drops of stevia. However, I think it would transport you to Fantasy Breakfast Land if you added any or all of the following: Apple sauce, chopped dates and pecans, dried cranberries and apricots, rehydrated raisins, fresh strawberries, citrus zest, agave nectar, raw honey, bee pollen, good preserves, sliced almonds, vanilla extract, pumpkin seeks, flax seeds, lavender blossoms, flax seeds...

Are you still there? Phew; I went off on a tangent there. Glad I didn't lose you. My point is, you can do a lot with this. You could also make it into a savory breakfast, or add an egg as I did for some more protein. 

One of the reasons millet appeals to me so very much is that it is gluten-free. It has been around for thousands of years (literally), a staple in many Indian, Russian, and African cuisines. It grows easily on soil that is bereft of nutrients, making it ideal to feed those living in arid climates. And it is free of gluten, meaning that those with wheat sensitivity or gluten allergies can eat it safely. As a flour, millet lends baked goods a tender crumb, though it doesn't allow them to rise. This makes it an excellent base for flatbreads. And so the recipe I present below is both gluten-free and vegan. While I eat nearly everything and have few food aversions, I know that many of you out there must be careful. And if you're unable to eat refined sugars and want to sweeten this up, try it with stevia as I did. 

Millet Porridge
Makes 4 servings

1 cup dry millet
2 cups coconut milk
Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, or other garnish of your choice

Step 1 (Rice Cooker Method): Rinse millet in a colander. Place it in rice cooker with three cups of water. Let the rice cooker do its magic, and proceed to step 2.

Step 1 (Stovetop Method): Rinse millet in a colander. Boil three cups of water, add millet, and return to a simmer. Cover and allow to simmer slightly for about 25 minutes, or until water has absorbed. Be careful that you keep the heat low enough that the grain doesn't burn onto the bottom of the pan (trust me). 

Step 2: Mix cooked millet with coconut milk in saucepan. Whisk together until porridge has warmed. Add your chosen garnish and mix it in, or spoon the porridge into bowls and sprinkle on top. 


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

my baby mama

Did I tell you yet? I adopted a baby from Adriana. No; not that kind of baby. Don't go all bonkers on me. I have some serious respect for people who have children in this city. No, my baby is of the yeasty variety, and her name? Kombucha.

In my opinion, Jennifer Adler says it best when she calls Kombucha the "soft drink for the 21st Century". It's a beverage created by fermenting prepared tea, a bit of sugar, and a colony of bacteria for about a week. Because I consider myself much better at making and drinking kombucha than explaining how it works, I'm just going to refer you to the link above so that Jennifer can explain it all to you.

Here's what I can tell you, though. Kombucha is an adventure. The first time you taste it, you'll be excited and maybe a little scared. You'll be like a curious cat, investigating the sensory situation with your palate-whiskers. Your first kombucha experience might be with GT Kombucha, bottled and readily available at Whole Foods, Garden of Eden, or your local coop. If that's the case, I highly recommend the mango flavor, which incorporates an ounce or so of juice into a big bottle of the tonic. Or your first taste might be at a friend's house, somebody adventurous and earthy who is a seasoned explorer of all things fermented. Whatever your introduction, soak up the experience. Try it more than once. Why? Because when we deal with fermentation, we're dealing with the natural world, incorporating variables like terroir and weather and light, things that will affect the taste and texture of the finished product.

I'm lucky enough to have an adventuring friend of my own who acquired a culture that I was able to adopt. I smuggled this baby in my carry-on luggage back from Chicago (please don't tell JFK Airport), and she made it back unscathed. I proceeded to brew my tea and sugar and float her on top of it all, making sure to cover the whole batch with a towel to keep bugs and debris away. I then waited impatiently for a week to try my homemade brew.

I'll admit that my baby (now considered a mother because she was birthing a new baby as she fermented) didn't produce as fizzy a brew as I had been hoping. I've now discovered that to get more fizz, you must place your brewed kombucha in an airtight bottle or jar and leave it out at room temperature for a week or so longer. You can also add herbs or roots to the jar for flavor. When you like the taste and texture and decide your kombucha is ready to drink, put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for quite a while, though it usually gets more vinegary as time progresses. I like to float frozen berries in glasses of my kombucha when I'm ready to drink it.

I highly recommend that you try making kombucha, or at least buy it and give it a taste. Its bacteria helps your body to extract and use the nutrients in the food you eat. Plus, it tastes good. To obtain a culture, ask around at the local coop or natural foods store to see if anyone has extras (they produce a new baby with each batch). You can also find one easily online.

Now my last question I have to ask about my baby: What should I name her?

About 7 days for fermentation to occur
1 quart filtered water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of loose black tea (or 2 teabags)
1 cup (or so) mature kombucha
1 kombucha mother

Mix the water and sugar, and bring to a boil in a small pot.

Turn off the heat, add tea. Cover and steep for about 15 minutes.

Strain the tea into a glass container (do not use plastic or metal; both of these can leach chemicals into the kombucha). Allow tea to cool to body temperature.

Add mature acidic kombucha and kombucha mother. It might float, or it might sink. Doesn't matter. Cover it with a clean cloth and store it in a warm spot, ideally 70 to 85 degrees, undisturbed (the top of the fridge is a good place, in my opinion).

After a few days to one week, you will notice a skin forming on the surface of the kombucha. Taste the liquid. If you like it, pour into bottles to carbonate or store it in the fridge. If you leave it sitting longer, it will become more acidic.

You now have two kombucha mothers: the new one and the old one. You can use either for your new batch and pass the other on to a friend.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Another Day, Another Dinner

There's no telling what I'll be eating for dinner tonight.

Don't even try and take a guess.

For someone who thinks, and dreams, and wonders about food all day long, I have a surprising knack for not knowing what will end up on my dinner plate until about 5:48 PM Central Time. Here's the usual routine. 5:45 PM: exit subway. 5:46 PM: call boyfriend and ask what he's doing for dinner. Now, at 5:48 PM, one of two scenarios will take place: Scenario A. My boyfriend tells me he's making dinner tonight and that I should come partake in it's deliciousness, or Scenario B. My boyfriend tells me he's re-heating pasta tonight in order to cram in 20 more minutes of med-school studying. Scenario B, of course, means that I'm on my own to experiment with whatever ingredients I please in the pursuit of the evening meal.

This is a tale of two dinners.

Scenario A:
Hamburger Pie, Hamburger Pie,
If I don
't get some I think I'm gonna die!
My boyfriend makes a mean Hamburger Pie. When he informed me yesterday that I should sit back and relax, because he had dinner under control, I knew another brilliant Illinois-grown concoction was on its way. Apparently Hamburger Pie is a family recipe, something he's eagerly anticipated and wolfed down at lightening speed since he was just a wee little thing. I was careful to photo document the event so that you too could bake up this culinary celebration of all things american. After all, what could possibly be more patriotic that Pie + Hamburger + the Pillsbury Doughboy (don't worry, I'll get there).

1 tube Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
1 package ground beef
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Step One: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pop open Crescent Rolls and lay out over a 9-inch pie pan in order to make a crust.

Step Two: Over medium heat, brown ground beef. When the beef has cooked, add in the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, and onion, and cook for one minute longer. Remove from heat, and add the bell pepper.

Step Three: Dump ingredients into prepared "pie shell". Even out with spoon. Top entire pie generously with shredded cheddar cheese, and pop into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Scenario B:
Red Quinoa Salad with Mango and Curried Yogurt

Sometimes I just take one look at a recipe's ingredients list and decide two things: 1) there's absolutely no way all those flavors will go together, and 2) there's absolutely no way I'm going one more minute without trying it for myself. Thus, when the med student couldn't pry his eyes away from the text book for some dinner, I chose to give this one a whirl. I made several revisions to the original recipe, and, after 20 minutes of easy effort, I found myself sitting down to a bowl of this absolutely delectable, complicated, and surprisingly delicious grain salad. If you're in the mood for something light on the tummy but challenging to the palate, this may very well be the dinner for you.

1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice + 1/4 teaspoon zest
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
1 1/3 cups uncooked quinoa - I used red, but any color would do just fine
1 pound firm-ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (2 cups)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 fresh jalapeƱo chile, seeded (if desired for less heat) and minced
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts (2 1/2 ounces), chopped

Step One: Prepare your quinoa according to the instructions on the package. For me, that mean rinsing the quinoa with water before putting it in a saucepan with 3 cups water. Then I brought the water to a boil, covered the pan, reduced the heat and let it simmer until the water had evaporated (about 15 minutes). The done quinoa should have loose little tales, and be chewy with a tiny bit of crunch. You don't want soggy grains here.

Step Two: Make the sauce. Whisk together the yogurt, lime, zest, curry, ginger, salt, pepper, and oil until thoroughly blended.

Step Three: Mix it all up. Add the prepared bell pepper, jalapeno, mint and peanuts to the quinoa and pour the yogurt mixture on top, before stirring to coat evenly. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts and a mint leaf. Enjoy!

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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009