Thursday, August 20, 2009

Project Descriptions - Who, What, Where, When

I met with Tina Firesheets of the Greensboro News and Record today. She was great to talk with. It appears we may get some press coverage to help us find the family we've been looking for! She wanted me to review what I thought I was looking for in a family and what activities we'd be engaging in over the year. Here's what I told her...

Ideally the family would live in close proximity to my house so we none of us are traveling great distances to participate in the project (remember I have no funding here!); both adults should have a fairly equal investment in participating in the project (I have done enough counseling to have seen that an unwilling spouse can be anything from annoying to outright passive aggressive); everyone is willing to share their experience with the blog and other media (but not in a reality tv, embarrassing or overly exposed manner - honest and tasteful exposure is what I am aiming for); and the family has to be willing to give the project the time it needs, which is about 4 - 6 hours a week (so probably not a family who have working parents with 3 or more jobs and kids engaging in 2 or 3 extracurricular activities each week). This project needs to be viewed as an extracurricular activity for the whole family. If I find a family, instead of a couple or some singles, then I want the kids to be at least school age and willing to make some dietary change. Also they should be willing to write an essay here or there or at least to be interviewed about their experiences. And lastly, I don't want to have participants who have major dietary restrictions as I don't want this project to be about me wearing my dietitian hat (it looks dorky on me). I want to have my chef torque on instead. (Did you know that the 100 pleats in a chef torque represent the 100 ways you can cook an egg?)

So, as I have done with the applicants to date, we talk by phone and then decide if a sit-down interview is next. Then we can decide on the parameters. Here's a pseudo list of some of the things we'd talk about in the sit-down:
  1. Conduct a family interview:
    a. What would you like to see as the outcomes for your family by participating in the project?
    b. What level of ability and willingness do you have for blogging, tweeting, facebook(ing?), being videotaped, etc.
    c. What is the current state of your kitchen? What tools do you have now and what might you need to purchase so you can cook? My basic kitchen tools are: a good pot, pan/skillet, w/lids, a casserole dish with a lid, colander, a few good knives, cutting board, peeler, microplaner, roasting pan, cookie sheet, spatula, serving spoon, slotted spoon, rubber spatula, food processor, hand mixer, crock pot and kitchen scissors
    d. Let's talk budgets – can we analyze how much is currently being spent on food and what percentage of foods are being consumed as processed foods, meals out or cooked from scratch? I think you will save money in the end but we would need to have a good idea of where we start to assess that.
    e. What is the cooking skill level of everyone in the project?
    f. What scares everyone the most about the project?
    g. What is the most exciting thing about the project?

  2. Decide if the project is right for both parties.

Then we'd start doing the actual project and this is how we'd be spending the year.

  1. At the first family visit I will inventory the pantry and fridge and make an analysis of what is being consumed now and note which things may need to change initially and then later based on every one's mutual goals. And I will probably have everyone cook a real simple meal with me to celebrate the start of the project.

  2. Have everyone make a list of their top ten favorite dishes that they would want to learn to make from scratch themselves by the end of the year?

  3. Show them my "recipe bucket" and help them create their own.

  4. Over the months teach everyone to cook from scratch and make it fun. (I can teach you how to make everything from grilled cheese and french toast to goat cheese, pasta from scratch, ice cream, pastry, bread, desserts, barbecue, roast duck, beef wellington - the sky is the limit - I am intrepid in the kitchen!) As Chef Gousteau says in Ratatouille "Anyone Can Cook!"

  5. Over the months teach new strategies for grocery shopping by concentrating on the different areas of food each week: fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, meats, canned goods, condiments, breads, cereals, the baking aisle, dairy, etc.

  6. Go on a monthly excursion trip to local farmers' markets, farms, artisanal production areas, edible gardens/homesteads and community gardens - come over to my house and see the chickens!

  7. Decide late spring to plant a garden or work on a community garden.

  8. Learn how to process foods from the garden or market: make pickles, can salsa and tomato sauce, jams, dehydrate foods and freeze some foods.

  9. Concentrate on taste re-education for everyone and see how far we can get people from having a taste for processed foods to wanting more whole foods. I use a taste re-education scale - more later.

  10. At the end of the year evaluate where you started and where you are now and what impact the year had. I know it will change me! Let's get started...

Monday, August 17, 2009

CSA - Aug 15, 2009

What an incredible bounty August brings! Tomatoes, at least 4 varieties and sizes, red and purple sweet peppers, the most precious baby eggplants you've ever seen, a nice big bag of fresh basil and a bag of succulent figs!

Sunday morning I decided to take everything, but a handful of the basil and the figs, and turn it into a Tuscan Bread Salad (aka Panzanella.) So, before heading out to a 9 am meeting I tore up one of the loaves of whole grain seed bread that I made on Saturday and I dried these bread cubes in the oven at 170 degrees for about 5 hours. Later in the afternoon I set to chopping the following veggies into a large roasting pan and cooking them for one hour at 350 degrees: a large sweet onion (love the Vidalia!!), all the peppers, all the baby eggplants and 8 ounces of baby bella mushrooms (grocery store purchase) all tossed with a generous portion of olive oil and an ample sprinkling of Jane's Crazy Mixed Up Salt (a salt blend that I rely on.) Separately, I chopped all the tomatoes and threw in one can of Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Chopped Tomatoes (another stand-by favorite) to give the dish a bit more of a wet base as the Juliette tomatoes aren't that juicy. I cleaned, picked the leaves and chopped the basil and added this to the tomatoes. I then added the last 2 tablespoons of the 25 year old balsamic vinegar from Italy to the mix and waited until the other veggies were roasted. With the roasting complete I just blended the two batches together and stirred it all up. From here you just ladle a scoop or two of the veggie mix over the dried bread crumbs (aka fresh croutons) and let the juices soften the bread a bit and savor the freshness!!

At the stage of pre-blending the roasted veggies and the tomatoes I was overwhelmed by the quantity I was about to produce; about 16 cups. We would be eating Panzanella every day this week (easy for me because it is so delicious, but Steve only tolerates leftovers for a day, maybe two.) So, at 3:15 I decided to can half of it and see how it would hold up. My thinking was "what a great lunch idea" bring a jar of veggie mix and dump it over a tupperware bowl of bread crumbs for an instant gourmet lunch at school! Yum!

The funny bit was that I was supposed to be leaving for the theater to see "Julie and Julia" at 4:15 and I needed a shower, make-up, hair and to get dressed - I am a girly girl after all. So, I grabbed my canning supplies, which are at the ready in the summer months, and put the kettle to boil with 6 - 8 ounce jars and one pint jar (the pint jar is for the day when my friend Amy and I eat lunch together.) I put the veggie mix in another kettle on med high and I jumped into the shower. Coming back through after the quickest shower in history I, dressed only in a towel, came rushing back into the kitchen and adjusted all the temps. Ran and got minimally dressed (in a giant t-shirt so as not to spoil a good outfit) and ran back in to can the goods. After all the jars were filled and resubmitted to the water bath canner for processing I set the timer and went and did hair and make-up. Somehow, both I and 64 ounces of Tuscan Bread Salad mix were both done by 4:15. Who says canning has to be an all day affair!

Post script: we scrambled the first 4 eggs on Friday morning and they were fabulous. Thick shells and perfect bright yellowed yolks. We now have the chickens laying their eggs in the actual nesting box and we have had 8 eggs so far!!

Julie and Julia

I went to see the movie "Julie and Julia" last night. How utterly delightful! It reaffirmed my faith in butter and refreshed my passion for all things food. Nora Efron did an incredible job weaving together the two biographies of Julie Powell, intrepid cook, and Julia Child, the towering grandmother of the American food movement. By far, Julia's "My Time in France" was the better book, rich in its depth of Julia's beginnings and subsequent trials and tribulations in becoming the original Master of French Cooking. Julie's book, while entertaining, was at times fairly self absorbed and whiny. But the blending of the two was a nod of the latter to the former and both were as beautifully paired as walnuts with Stilton.

My joy in the movie, and both books, is that I, too, feel fearless in the kitchen. I am in my element in the kitchen. It is pointless as to whether a recipe succeeds or fails because it is the transformative journey from raw food to succulent dish that moves me. Opening a box of mix or scooping raw dough from a tub or retherming a frozen meal can't even come close to the magic that mixing, roasting, blending, whisking, sauteing, searing and simmering can, to say nothing of the joys of whipping, kneading, rolling, rubbing and frying! This is what keeps me from blogging, I would rather be in the kitchen!

If you enjoyed the movie, or either of the books, I would highly suggest reading the memoir of Judith Jones, "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food." It is another view into a fabulous world of culinary adventure and the recipes in it are to "dine for!" I am very inspired when I read of the development of a recipe and there exists this possibility that I could become a part of their journey just by recreating the dish. Food is transformative for the diner and the creator.

Think of your favorite meal. Where was it, who were you with, what did you eat? What about it was the essence of making it one of the most memorable meals in your life? Can you replicate that moment in time? Probably not. But chances are high that with a little effort and the right recipes and ingredients you can recreate the dishes served. Why not try? Why not dazzle and amaze and have a life filled with incredible culinary moments. Otherwise eating is pedantic and just another activity of daily living that must be slogged through. Seriously, when you learn to cook you learn to live through senses you always took for granted and a new level of daily joy enters your life. Beware though, joy is addictive and once turned on it is very hard to go back to the other side.

Please let me remind you that I was the frozen meal queen and this is a process, one which I want to help as many people pass through as I can. I lived on the frozen food side. I didn't know how to cook anything beyond rice and pasta when I started. (I still rely on Bertolli's Vodka Sauce in a pinch. My amped up version; add some red wine and mix in some browned grass fed ground beef and a chopped sweet onion!) I remember my transformative meal: it was a dish of medium rare swordfish with a lemon reduction sauce and capers, served with an unknown risotto dish. At that moment in my early twenties I didn't know that food could taste this good or that it would become my life's passion. But if there is a food gene, mine got turned on in that instant. I wish I could help every person who is subsisting on what passes for food in this age with their transformative moment, but for each person it is different - and I don't have the budget!

Next week I will stand up in front of some 125 students and once again try to nudge them off of their sofas, where they watch the Food Network, and try to convince them to get into their kitchens. I will succeed with some and others still won't get it. Most of my undergraduates (kitchen virgins) will create more than a few incredible dishes that will shock them and, hopefully, have them calling home to tell mom and dad about what they made. This brings me hope and keeps me going. This project, when it gets rolling with the right family will do the same!