Friday, February 26, 2010

Soapbox, please

As you've probably heard, there's been a lot of buzz about obesity and all of its ramifications. It seems like finally more and more people are calling for changes to be made. I've read countless articles and posts calling for improvements to school lunches. Local governments have mandated better nutrition labeling. And people are taking a hard look at food nutrients, including sugar, trans fats, and now sodium.

Despite all of this talk, it seems that there's still a lot more to be said. Recently Jamie Oliver caught my attention. He got me thinking about why things are the way that they are. Sure, it's easy to blame the government for their poor choices. Officials have made bad decisions regarding food labeling, nutrition guidelines, and catering to food lobbyists. Another major factor, however, is the fact that our culture has changed. People don't cook anymore. And since people don't cook, they also don't learn to cook.

I've been thinking about this a lot in the last week. The fact is that I cook, and I love to cook. But the only reason I know how to cook was because I learned from my grandmother. I consider myself lucky because although my mom was a great cook, very little cooking every happened at my house. We were simply too busy. I can appreciate that the challenge of cooking at home is even worse for most families today.

Take a look at this video and you may be as shocked as I was at what you see. Jump to about 10 minutes in to see the part that's the most startling. Clearly the problem is bigger than just knowing how to cook. It seems that our children don't really even know what food is. Not even the basics. How can you cook or make sense of food labels if you don't even know what food is?

So I decided to do something about this. Stay tuned and I'll tell you more soon.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fun with Pumpkin

A few nights ago I was wandering the grocery store, realizing that I hadn't really planned what to cook for dinner. I happened to be in the canned food aisle, and I spotted pumpkin. I love pumpkin. And I particularly love pumpkin in savory dishes, although I don't cook with it very often. I decided to experiment with a new quesadilla, and it's definitely worth sharing. Even my toddler liked it!

The version I made here is a hearty quesadilla, perfect for a meal. I froze a bunch of them and have been packing them for lunch. You could easily make this a thinner, appetizer-style quesadilla by spreading out the filling over more tortillas. I would keep the cheese to at least 1/4 cup per tortilla.

Bean & Pumpkin Quesadillas
Serves 4-6
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 a large onion, diced
  • 3/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1 can black refried beans (I like the consistency of Amy's beans)
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (preferably a Mexican blend)
  • 8 medium tortillas
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and saute the onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne, then saute another 2-3 minutes. Add the pumpkin to the pan and stir. Warm slightly.

Spread some beans (no more than 1/4 cup) over half of each tortilla, then spread a similar amount of the pumpkin mixture over the other half of the tortilla. Top the beans with 1/4 cup of shredded cheese. Fold in half, then transfer the quesadillas to a skillet or griddle pan. Cook in batches over medium heat until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Disappointed Foodie

I vowed to myself that I would not use my "Local Greats" series to blast the Internet with more negativity. There's already plenty of it out there. I conceived of the "Local Greats" portion of the blog with the proverb "If you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all" firmly in mind.


I've had a few too many bad experiences recently to be completely silent. I have two principle complaints:

Gripe #1: I'm tired of choosing between good food and good service. Davis is small, so there are very few restaurants to choose from. The nicer establishments seem to cater to an older crowd. If you look even the slightest bit youthful, they don't give you the time of day. Result = snooty service. Or, if it's one of the less nice establishments, the food is generally good and the customers are fairly non-discriminating. Result = bad service because nobody cares anyway. Where, oh where, are the restaurants that boast BOTH great food AND great service?

Gripe #2: Vegetarians always seem to get the short end of the stick. For Valentine's Day my hubby and I went out for a fancy dinner. I checked online several times and never found a special Valentine's menu posted, so I scoped out the vegetarian options on the restaurant's regular menu. (Normally, there are many.) When we showed up for dinner, they presented us with a pricey, meat-laden, multi-course prix fixe menu. I inquired on whether they would be able to accommodate vegetarians for all of the courses since their limited menu wasn't posted in advance. They acted pretty put out, but they presented us with the handful of vegetarian options they were already offering. So we ate. And we enjoyed it (except for the cold soup!).

Then during the meal it became clear that everybody else was served additional courses for their prix fixe meal. So not only did we have no choice in what we ate, not only did we have to pay the price of a meat-laden multi-course meal (which costs the restaurant far more to make than a vegetarian meal), but the restaurant apparently had no problem eliminating an entire course from our menu after I specifically asked whether we would get all of the courses. Classy, right? But we didn't make a scene. We moved on.

Then when my husband received an email asking that he review the restaurant, he did. He was honest about what happened, but very fair. A few days later the restaurant owner emailed him saying that he should apologize for his review. Did you get that? The restaurant asked him to apologize for being honest about their service.

All I can is, WOW! These people really don't get what service is about, do they? And why are vegetarians second-class citizens at nicer restaurants? This is a college town in California where vegetarians are absolutely rampant! Do they really want to eliminate us from their clientele?

In the end, these gripes really disappoint me. I'm starting to feel like from now on I'm going to have to cook every nice meal that I eat. So, very, sad.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

So Corney

A few weeks ago I made corn chowder for a Super Bowl party. People brought so much of their own food that there were loads of it leftover. Fortunately, it freezes well. A few nights ago we had it with cheddar jalapeno bread and some veggies. Great combination!

The method I use for this soup is similar to my black bean soup. I use the food processor. And when I bother to pull out the food processor, I generally use it A LOT. The result in both of these soups is that the veggies are diced small enough to really melt into the soup base as it cooks.

This recipe makes a large amount ~ enough to truly fill a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven. (Remember, it freezes well!) Feel free to halve the recipe. As usual I adapted my final version from several recipes I looked at, but here's a similar quick version of the soup here.

Corn Chowder
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 4 Anaheim green chiles
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 (16 oz.) packages frozen corn, thawed and divided
  • 5 1/2 cups milk, divided (I used 2%)
  • 1 can of white kidney beans or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well
  • Tabasco
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • Black pepper
Use the food processor to finely dice the onion, bell pepper, and chile peppers. You will probably need to do this in several batches to get a uniform dice and avoid over-filling your processor bowl. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven (5 1/2 quart or larger) and saute the garlic for one minute. Add the diced vegetables and saute for about ten minutes, stirring often.

In the meantime, place 4 cups of thawed corn, 1 cup of milk, and the rinsed beans in the food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.

Add the remaining milk and corn to the soup. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the processed corn mixture, a small splash of Tabasco, salt and pepper. Continue to simmer another few minutes, or until thick and creamy. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve hot with the toppings of your choice, such as green onions, tomatoes, or cheese.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Black, White, and Cultured

You might have guessed that I'm referring to something along the lines of this chocolate chip frozen yogurt:

{image from here}

But in fact this is more what I had in mind:

{image and bio found here}

Leonard Bernstein ~ pianist, composer, conductor, and promoter of classical music.

In 1955 Leonard Bernstein did a series of television programs on classical music, inspiring audiences young and old to explore the orchestra. These programs, originally aired on the show "Omnibus," have just been re-released on DVD and are available here.

There are several reasons I think these might be worth checking out. For one, I'm a classical music enthusiast and love the idea of making music more accessible to audiences. I've found every Bernstein program I've ever seen to be very well-done. I also think these would be intriguing to anybody who loves all things black and white. There's something so classic about watching old films and TV shows. I'm always fascinated by all the ways in which entertainment has changed, and I'm guessing these TV programs provide a perfect example. Imagine yourself sitting on a 1955 sofa, staring at an oversized television and experiencing these shows for the first time. Fun, right?

If you'd like to read more on the Omnibus programs, there's a review here. And consider checking them out. A little culture never hurt anyone!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I heart . . .

I know this post is several days late, but I suppose that's what happens when you have a three-day weekend straddling Valentine's Day.

Hope everyone had a fantastic weekend! Mine was truly great, and truly full of heart. There were French toast hearts, mini heart-shaped chocolate souffles, pastry hearts floating in pink creamy tomato soup, and heart-shaped veggies atop salad greens. Not to mention the people I spent my time with, who I "heart" more than anyone else in the world.

And, by the way, I also heart a weekend with use-as-you-please baby-sitting. Fun all around!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Make it Sprinkle-y

Here's to an oh-so-sweet weekend!

If you care to try these out, you should know that they are down-and-dirty easy. I just melted some chocolate chips in the microwave, coated half of several large pretzel sticks, and then rolled them in the brightest sprinkles I could find. Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of sprinkles it takes to do this and thought that I had enough on hand. What was supposed to be a Valentine treat for all of my toddler's teachers at her school turned into a yummy treat for just us to enjoy at home. Next year will involve better planning ~ and more sprinkles in the cupboard!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thank you, Thank you

Look what I received this week:

My friend over at Une Femme Curieuse bestowed it on me. So fun!

Silly Davis

I think it's fair to say that the city where I live is one-of-a-kind. To begin, it's both a college town and a hippie haven. Davis is located in the middle of an agricultural hotbed, in close proximity to expansive farmland and wine country. The university's research includes everything from beer brewing to breeding cows with windows in their stomachs. And Davis is widely known for its green living.

It's an understatement to say that Davis residents like their bikes ~ we love our bikes.

The bicycle is our favored mode of transportation AND our city's logo. We have children on bikes, adults on bikes, old-fashioned bikes, and bike races throughout the year. We even house the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame.

I know all of these things, but I was still slightly surprised when I saw this on the street:

What you're looking at is a bicycle with a home-built wagon attached to it. I'm not sure why the wagon is necessary, since it doesn't seem big enough to carry anything beyond the single person on the bike. There's a little note posted on the back, probably with some social action message on it. (Although I was never able to get close enough to read it.) And the guy peddling it thought nothing of riding all around town in it.

You see, this is Davis. And in Davis nothing, particularly nothing related to green transportation, is all that out of the ordinary. Take our double-decker bus that frequents the most popular route for students to travel to campus:

Looks efficient, right?

Monday, February 8, 2010


This morning my toddler was getting ready for preschool as my hubby and I were standing nearby. She let out a big sigh. Then she announced, "I need a break. I don't want to go to preschool today." I think our fun-filled weekend wore her out.

But seriously, what do you say to that? She's only three and she's declaring she needs a break? Very cute, but a little scary too. I think it's time for a lazy evening. Or maybe two.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Menu 2010

You may think about the Superbowl and ask yourself, "I wonder who will win." When I think of the Superbowl my first question is, "I wonder what we'll eat?" (No surprise there!) Here is this year's answer, or at least the portion of the menu that I'm responsible for:

For the adults

Shelled peanuts
Corn chowder

Spinach quesadillas
Chips with homemade salsa
Italian sodas, beer, wine, you name it

For the kids
Cheese quesadillas
Carrots and celery with dip

Water and juice

~Candy and chocolate-peanut butter nuggets all around~

My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Dark and Mysterious

I could be referring to the gloomy sky outside. Or I could be referring to something dark, mysterious, and handsome. But I'm actually referring to one of my chile pepper success stories ~ Black Bean Soup. (You knew all along, right?) For years I have tried to master slow cooked black beans. The recipes I've tried have always been bland, and then at the last minute I haphazardly throw in a bunch of seasonings. The result has consistently been. . . well, good. But not great.

Recently, armed with my new chile pepper know-how, I set out to tackle this problem. Here's what I came up with ~ a recipe that I am very pleased with. I started with a handful of Anaheim chile peppers for some very subtle heat. (Add more or different peppers to taste.)

I used both a food processor and a slow-cooker to minimize the hands-on time. In the end I preferred using the processed veggies over hand-cutting them because they were small enough to melt into the soup base. It made for a smoother, creamier soup.

Here was the result ~ dark and mysterious, as promised!

Black Bean Soup
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 3 Anaheim chile peppers
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 pound black beans, sorted and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 15 oz. can Mexican recipe tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 5 cups hot water
  • Half a lime, juiced
Use the food processor to chop the onion, bell peppers, and chile peppers into a fine dice. Do this in two or more batches to avoid overfilling your processor. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Briefly saute the veggies until starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and thyme, then saute one minute more. Transfer the veggies to a 6-quart slow cooker. Add beans, bay leaves, tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and hot water.

Cook on high for approximately 5 hours. Stir in the lime juice and add additional salt to taste. (I added another 1/2 tsp.) Using an immersion blender, blend the soup slightly to add creaminess, but leave some whole beans intact.

Serve with toppings such as: sour cream, diced onions, cheese, tomatoes, diced jalapenos, or hard-boiled egg.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I am in the habit of asking my hubby silly questions on topics that I know he doesn't care about. Sometimes I do this because I really am desperate for advice. Other times I do it just because I know he'll have some funny response. And sometimes I do it truly out of habit, without thinking about whether or not he'll actually have input on what I'm asking. I asked one of these "habitual" questions last night as I was writing out a card for one of my friends. He was in the process of setting up his new Wii at the time.

Me: Hey, do you think that JW will like this card?
Hubby: Sure.

[He hadn't even looked over, so I was sure that he hadn't even thought about his response.]

Me: No, I'm serious. Does it look like something she would like?

[I held out a card with a dress on it. He looked.]

Hubby: Yeah, probably. I mean, I guess it looks more like your friend MK than your friend JW, but she'll still probably like it.
Me: Huh? What do you mean?
Hubby: You know. MK is more likely to wear something more sleek and streamlined. JW's skirts are broader and more poofy. MK is much more likely to wear that exact dress. But I think JW would like the dress also.
Me: [speechless]

Who knew my hubby paid such close attention to my friends' fashion sense?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The other night I was in a huge rush to get dinner on the table. I uncharacteristically put half an onion in the fridge without sealing it up in anything. Oh, how I hate fridge smells!

Fortunately, I had just read this article about unexpected uses for coffee grounds. I was skeptical, thinking that I would merely replace the onion smell with a coffee smell. But. . .it worked! I transferred my used coffee grounds from that morning in a bowl and left it uncovered in the fridge overnight. Now my fridge is completely odorless. Amazing!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Sting

Although my conversation has been lacking, my appetite for things that "sting" has not.

{Image courtesy and imdb}

For my longtime readers, you may remember that several months ago I started exploring the world of the chile pepper. It's high time I start sharing this project with you again.

Recently I've gravitated towards recipes using the anaheim chile pepper. The anaheim is your standard "mild green chile." I love the milder green chiles because you are able to use a larger quantity before the heat overpowers a dish. I love the flavor of green chiles, so for me this is a big advantage.

In my research on chile peppers I have learned that not all peppers are created equal. Knowing the relative intensity of a pepper variety is important for gaging its heat. But this is merely a starting point. Even mild chiles, on occasion, can be unpredictably hot. If you're not careful, the unwitting use of a chile pepper just might result in a sting. This has been ever-present on my mind as I've explored chile-infused dishes, but I have STILL been caught off guard.

Last week I made a bean soup with anaheims. I used a spoon to scoop out the insides of the pepper before chopping them. Later on I grabbed the spoon, gave it a good rinse, and then used it to taste something. Wow ~ did that ever sting! Whatever remnant of the mild anaheim that was still on that spoon really burned my lip. I could still feel it hours later! I was afraid that this was the "one" ~ the one insanely hot anaheim pepper out there. Nevertheless the soup turned out fine, and not at all spicier than I would expect. I just can't explain it.

I have also noticed that the steam from food containing chile peppers has the potential to sting. When I stirred a corn chowder with anaheims in it a few weeks ago, my hands became raw from the chile sauna alone.

In case it's not already clear, my message here is that the juice of a chile pepper ~ any chile pepper ~ can really be caustic stuff. Do you have your own stories? I'd love to hear. . .
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