Inspired by Mark Bittman

I got to hear, speak to and shake Mark Bittman’s hand yesterday. He spoke at Powell’s Books in Portland. He’s written many wonderful cookbooks and writes the weekly Minimalist Column in the New York Times. He has a new cookbook out but spent very little time talking about the book. What he did talk about (and why many of us might want to get the book) is the pure and simple need for more people to cook more often; for all of us to eat more plants and less processed junk and fewer animal products. The wonderful thing about Mark is that he’s not preaching any particular diet. What he is preaching is that in order to keep our good, green earth alive and green and good and able to sustain its inhabitants we need to do things differently.

Me (on the right) with fellow Food Blogger Kathleen Bauer and Mark Bittman. Could I have a bigger grin on my face?!

Many of us may already be doing what he advocates but he calls all of us to action nevertheless because caring for our own families is great and critical but not enough. I won’t recount all of the statistics he presented last night be let’s just say that a very small percentage of meals consumed in America are made from scratch and include unprocessed vegetables and that a great many people (children included!) are getting very sick from processed foods and our planet is paying an equivalent price. He also makes a very clear point on the role of government in food. He says that government is subsidizing corporations and should be subsidizing us, people! So he calls for a mass movement of folks to talk about subsidizing good food in school, vegetables, fruits. . .. instead of soy and corn and pesticides and fertilizers. And when the resources go to people rather than industrial food, well then maybe organic vegetables or just good, fresh vegetables and fruits will be readily available in all neighborhoods and for all kinds of folks, not just those with easy access to farmers’ markets, well-stocked grocery stores and a bit more cash. And then there’s a huge need to teach people what do with all the wonderful, fresh food. . . .

Now how is this inspiring? Well that latter part is where I come in and where we might all come in. There is such a need for better access to good food, better food in schools, better skills in the kitchen. And talking about food, while the statistics are depressing and horrifying, can and often is really fun, unifying and community-building. We all have to eat, most of us like to do so, and we all have our favorite memories, stories, flavors, associations. So I’m inspired to use these statistics to focus on all the good stuff we can be doing with food and with our families and how to make this even more part of our regular, daily lives. And I’m inspired to do more work on the political front to help shift the way our tax dollars are spent. And I’m inspired because Mark Bittman articulated in 45 minutes what Slow Food USA (of which I am a board member) has just spent 8-months articulating in the form of our strategic plan. When I said this to him he said: “It’s taken me 20 years!” So it’s nice to know that someone of his stature and influence is on the same path and that we, Slow Food, and many other local and national organizations, have a huge role to play in helping people find ways to improve our food system, our health, our planet.

Thanks for reading and happy cooking!

Keeping Up With All the Produce

My son was sick for more than a week, I’m completely behind on my work, and it’s GORGEOUS outside (built little hoop houses for my winter greens this weekend instead of catching up on inside work). All of this means that the fruit and vegetables, already abundant this time of year, are overwhelming my small refrigerator, counter, fruit bowl, etc. The fruit flies are feasting and time is a wasting on all this beautiful stuff. So I just did a whirlwind catch up job on some of it:

Roasted peppers

Roasted Tomatoes

Cut the rotten parts out of a few quince and am plotting what to do with them all. Compote, paste, apple/quince crisp, jam. . . .

And alas, threw away some rotting lettuce.

I think tonight’s dinner will be a frittata with some of the roasted peppers or a Savory Bread Pudding with some of the peppers and roasted tomatoes and the rest of the basil I just salvaged from the garden.

I feel a bit better about the state of my fridge and counters and am ready for tomorrow’s CSA and all the shopping I’ll be doing for this weekend’s classes. And I do love this season and the bounty and beauty of it, but I won’t pretend that it’s not a lot of work. I enjoy the work and like the creativity of figuring out what to with it all. If I didn’t work at home though, and have a job (have given myself a job:) that involved food, I wouldn’t be able to manage all of it and still have fun with it. I also know it’s a privilege as well as a choice. I’ve been musing about this a lot lately and will devote more time to it in the future, but in the meantime, I wish you the time to preserve and use this bounty if you’re so  inclined. And I’m happy to share my techniques and ideas if you’re interested. And I’d love to know what you’re doing with the odds and ends in your kitchen, whether it’s just tonight’s dinner or some favorite way of preserving.

Happy cooking and eating!





The Last of the Corn, Peppers. . .

We are having a beautiful fall here in Oregon. Days are sunny and warm, evenings and mornings cool and sometimes foggy and all those dreaded green tomatoes have (or will!) turn red. The peppers are glorious and abundant in every color, size and shape. And while I’ve mostly shifted to late fall/winter vegetables for my classes (still spots left in Soup Class on 10/24!) I am still clinging to the summer ones for the duration of their existence this year for my home cooking

I first made this salad almost a month ago as part of the dinner I catered for a forestry conference my mother hosted. It was well received and prompted my brother (the one who recently got married) to tell me that he wished I would have catered his whole wedding. I say this in part because I was thrilled to finally have created a barley salad worth writing about unlike this attempt you might remember.

So if like me, you’re trying to get the most of late summer treats like corn and peppers give this a try and let me know what you think. And I just might try a winter version of this hearty dish when I fully embrace the colder seasons.

Corn, Barley, and Roasted Pepper Salad

1  cup pearled or *hulled barley or about 3-4 cups cooked

3-4 ears of corn, kernels cut off cob

2-3 **poblano peppers or sweet Italian red peppers or really any kind or combination of sweet or mildly spicy peppers

3 oz of feta, crumbled


3 tablespoons lime or  lemon juice

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 cloves of garlic minced

salt, pepper

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 bunch parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

*Note: I used hulled barley which, unlike pearled barley, has only had the outer layer removed and the bran layer is still intact. It’s delicious and full of good fiber but does take a little longer to cook so depending on what kind you’re using adjust your cooking time. ** Poblano peppers vary widely in their level of heat/spiciness. Taste them as you go and you may not want to use as many as I suggest if they’re really spicy. Final note, if you’re using sweet peppers and are in a hurry you can skip the roasting step and just dice them. The roasting adds a wonderful smoky richness but the salad is still good with fresh peppers.

If you’re using hulled barley add it and 4 cups of water  to a pan with 1 tsp kosher salt. If you’re using pearled barley, add only 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for about one hour for hulled and 45 minutes for pearled. Test to check for doneness. You want it to be soft but with a bit of a bite still, not mushy. It’s pretty forgiving though and firms up a bit as it cools so don’t worry too much. Remove from heat and put in a large bowl to cool.

Meanwhile roast the peppers under the broiler or directly on your gas flame until blackened and blistered on all sides. Set in a bowl and cover for a a few minutes to cool and loosen the skin. When you’re able to handle them remove the skin, stem and seeds and roughly chop.

Cook the corn kernels with a splash of water and several pinches of salt until just tender, about 5 minutes.

Mix all the dressing ingredients. Add corn, peppers, cilantro or parsley (if using) and dressing to barley and mix well. Then add the feta.  Add salt, lemon juice or cumin to taste. The barley soaks up a lot of salt and acidity.

Note: It’s easy to cook barley in larger quantities ahead of time and freeze for  super quick meals like these.

What a Wedding!

250 corn cakes, 150 “caprese” toasts, and 160 deviled eggs! Done, consumed, enjoyed and almost forgotten. I have not, however, and never will forget the spirit and beauty of the day. You can get a sense of it here and I’ll post more photos as I get them. My brother has always been good at throwing parties and he (and Emily!) outdid themselves this time. They managed to organize four days of celebration beginning with cider pressing on Thursday followed by a totally impromptu “cook with what you have dinner” for 20 by yours truly and my mother. Then we had a day of set up, rehearsal and rehearsal dinner on a beautiful evening. The only hitch was that the lasagnas were still solidly frozen 4 hours before dinner and I was afraid they were going to turn from block of ice to mush in those four hours they spent in the oven. Somehow they managed to survive.

Ben (the groom), uncle Hans (from Germany), brother Reuben

The wedding day dawned foggy with a pink sunrise that just barely permeated the fog to lend a warm glow to the quiet morning. We all scurried about hauling straw bails (supports for the last couple of benches for the ceremony site), setting tables, arranging flowers, and in my case frying corn cakes. That was the longest slog on the food prep front–frying 250 of those little buggers in two 9-inch cast iron pans for 90 minutes straight. I had had lots of  help with the deviled eggs the day before and new helpers arrived Saturday morning to assemble the appetizers. Thank you Susan, Bridget and Vita!

Corncakes with cumin lime Greek yogurt and parsley

Deviled eggs with homemade mayonnaise and lots of herbs

"Caprese" toasts

In the middle of the appetizer prep and the bride getting ready with her bridesmaids and about an hour before picture time, the power inexplicably went off. I panicked, just a bit. No power means no water at my mom’s place (where all this was happening) since water arrives in the faucets via a pump that is powered by electricity. My brother Ben calmly looked at me and assured me all would be fine. My other brother Reuben started calling neighbors to see if this was an isolated problem or general problem (turned out to be a general problem). Some groomsmen and Reuben retrieved the generator from the barn and hauled it down to the wedding site to ensure proper amplification during the ceremony. My mother hastily taped notes with “do not run water” on all the faucets and toilets and my helpers and I continued toasting our hundreds of slices of baguette in the old propane oven in the kitchen. The lamb and pig were both happily roasting up at the barns without any need for electricity and I realized Ben was right. Everything would be just fine!

Then just as photos were wrapping up and we started to line up for the real deal the power came back on. So no need for that loud generator after all and I could rid my hands of the greasy, bacony corncake smell just in time.

To make what could be a record-breaking long blog post shorter, the ceremony was beautiful, funny, moving and everything it could have been. The highlight of the dinner was the pulled pork that had been roasted overnight in a pit underground resting on the apple trimmings from the previous day’s cider pressing.

Ryan, the expert pig roaster (and wedding officiator) and I preparing to "pull" that juicy amazing meat off the bones

The dinner was followed by 45 minutes of moving and funny toasts and stories about the couple, amazing mini-bundt cakes made by Emily’s sister and then there was dancing, until 2 am!

And now back to those corncakes. They  make a wonderful dinner and are a good way to take advantage of some of the last of the season’s corn. And by all means make them regular pancake size, not silver-dollar-sized!


4-5 ears fresh, sweet corn, kernels cut off cob

1 oz bacon, diced

1/2 medium onion, finely diced

1 poblano or anaheim chili, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped (optional)

1/2- 1 tsp. ground cumin

salt & pepper

2 eggs

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/2 – 3/4 cup water

Saute the bacon and onion in  large saute pan for about five minutes until the onion is soft. Add the cumin, salt, pepper, roasted chili if using, and corn kernels. Cook for about five minutes then take off the heat. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, add flour, cornstarch another pinch or two of salt and water and whisk until smooth. Start with 1/2 cup of water. Add the corn mixture and mix well. If the mixture seems too thick and sticky add a few tablespoons of water at a time. Heat another frying pan with a little oil (just to coat the bottom–these are pan-fried not deep-fried) and spoon the batter into the pan. Flatten the cakes a bit and fry until golden brown on both sides. Just a few minutes on each side.

Serve with greek yogurt mixed with more cumin and some lime or lemon juice, to taste.

Finally, three orders of business. First of all, most of the fall classes I’ve posted are almost full or sold out. I do have a few spots in this coming Sunday’s Soup Class #1 (since yesterday’s was overbooked) so let me know right away if you’re interested.

Secondly, I will be doing the chef demo at the Portland Farmers Market this Saturday  at 10 am. Come say hello and have a snack and shop the fabulous bounty of the market.

Finally, one of my favorite cookbook authors, Dorie Greenspan, is going to be in town on October 19th and will be speaking at the Heathman about her new book Around my French Table. And there will be free appetizers to boot. 5:30, 10/19 co-hosted by Powells Books and The Heathman.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far!:)