Thursday, August 26, 2010

Back To Where It All Began

The first commercial kitchen I ever cooked in was at a hippie alternative community dance camp called Dance New England (DNE), starting when I was 6 years old.  Everyone in the community was required to help out with cooking, cleaning and making the 10 day summer gathering happen. The food I remember from the early days was what I now think of as Moosewood cuisine (as in the cookbook and restaurant). I remember blackstrap molasses, steamed vegetables, buckets of tahini, brown rice, peanut butter, and lots of bodies cooking, dancing, swinging, and kids running in the woods dressed in costumes and covered in face paint. Over the next 30 years, the camp grew a lot and moved into the post hippy era. I cooked in the camp kitchen almost every summer till I was about 26 years old. Many great cooks passed through that kitchen. People from Omega and Kripalu Institute's kitchens, cooks schooled in macrobiotics, delicious vegetarian cooking, organic, inspired, reinvented, fresh cooked healthy, tasty food. I remember there being about 6 cooks in the kitchen each summer with dozens of volunteers cycling through in 3 hour shifts for their kitchen chores. Feeding 300-500 people with a staff of volunteers is an incredible feat!

Over the past 10 years, I have only been to dance camp twice, and this year was the first time with both my children. It was great to be back. My time in the kitchen this year was limited to a few short stints, not the exhausting long days cooking for 500 people that the head cooks were pulling. The DNE kitchen was and is a special place. I certainly owe much of my comfort in the kitchen to the years I spent helping out in there as a kid, teen and young adult. Cooking from scratch without recipes, following directions, giving directions and learning how to cook good food in large quantities to feed a whole community. Meals were cooked with attention and respect to allergies and various diets long before the terms gluten free and vegan were as mainstream as they are now. The lessons I learned in this kitchen about cooking, and in this community about life and cooperation have served me very well, and I am grateful.

The first Charlie, now "Chaz" making bread for 500 people daily. Some wheat, some spelt.

The fabulous lunch salad bar. Who would have a hard time eating well 
with these wonderful options waiting for them?!

The Kitchen in action
 The large immersion blender, once you use one, you'll never go back!

Did you know that you can "cook" kale by massaging it with a little salt and oil? Simple, fresh and delicious. Here we mixed it with some leftover cous cous, lemon juice, roasted garlic and herbs. I remember first learning this technique many years ago, and thinking the cook who
told me to do it was a little wacky, but no, it works and is great!
 Thank you to all the 2010 cooks and community members from Dance New England who fed us for the last 10 days, we miss all that great food already!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Do You Know About The Dirty Dozen?

When I go to the grocery store or farmers' market I look around at the food and wonder what was done to it before it got to the store cooler or market table. Did it come from a huge farm where the soil was mixed with chemical fertilizers and the plants sprayed with pesticides? Did the farmer spray the fruit directly with pesticides or not? If I eat this food, and serve it to my kids how much of those chemical fertilizers and pesticides will we be ingesting? 

While I like to grow some of my food, and I prefer to buy food that is grown with organic or other sustainable farming practices, I can't always find everything organic or ecologically grown, and even if I do, I can't always afford to buy it.  I use this Shopper's Guide to Pesticides put together by the Environmental Working Group to help me prioritize which produce I should try and buy organic. The "dirty dozen" side of the list shows produce with the highest levels of pesticide retention after they are grown, and washed. The "clean 15" side shows produce that has the lowest levels of pesticides. Most conventionally grown food (anything not labeled organic) is grown not only with pesticides, but also herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Some produce is grown "sustainably" or using Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is a process of creating healthy crops through a variety of agricultural techniques to help minimize the use of chemical pesticides and fungicides. You can always try asking the produce worker at your grocery store or the farmer at the market about how the food was grown. A farmer might tell you that they sprayed their peach tree when the flowers were in bloom, but have not sprayed them since the fruit was on the tree, so they are using minimal amounts of chemicals and there should be none on the fruit itself.

Some people say that this list might scare people from eating fruits and vegetables at all. I think that it is important for people to be informed about what they are purchasing and eating, and to make decisions that allow them to balance out the amount of high pesticide residue and low residue foods they eat. For example, I love strawberries, but once the small window for local  IPM strawberries is gone, I can only afford to buy organic ones on occasion, so I sometimes buy conventional ones (with chemical residue) but only on occasion, and the rest of the time I use frozen organic ones or choose a different fruit that is lower in chemical residues. If I didn't know that strawberries were high in pesticides, then I would be feeding them to my children regularly, and that is a lot of chemicals for a little body to handle.
For a complete list of all the 49 types of produce tested by EWG, click here.

Here is some info about the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides:

Why Should You Care About Pesticides?
The growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of
pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human
health, especially during fetal development and early childhood.
Scientists now know enough about the long-term consequences of
ingesting these powerful chemicals to advise that we minimize our
consumption of pesticides.

What’s the Difference?
EWG research has found that people who eat five fruits and
vegetables a day from the Dirty Dozen list consume an average of
10 pesticides a day. Those who eat from the 15 least contaminated
conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2
pesticides daily. The Guide helps consumers make informed choices
to lower their dietary pesticide load.

Will Washing and Peeling Help?
The data used to create these lists is based on produce tested as
it is typically eaten (meaning washed, rinsed or peeled, depending
on the type of produce). Rinsing reduces but does not eliminate
pesticides. Peeling helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the
drain with the skin. The best approach: eat a varied diet, rinse all
produce and buy organic when possible.

How Was This Guide Developed?
EWG analysts have developed the Guide based on data from nearly
96,000 tests for pesticide residues in produce conducted between
2000 and 2008 and collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can find a detailed
description of the criteria EWG used to develop these rankings and
the complete list of fruits and vegetables tested at our dedicated

Headquarters 1436 U St. N.W., Suite 100 Washington, DC 20009
(202) 667-6982
Learn More at

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dinner From the Garden + Bacon (and other food ramblings)

Sorry I haven't posted for a while, the kids were both sick (now I am) and I've been really busy trying to get our new menu ready at work. Thought I'd share a recent, fairly typical summer dinner with produce from our garden and the local farmers' market. Just picked lettuce (from the garden)with blanched broccoli (from the market), zucchini sauteed with thai basil (from the garden), basmati rice and some neiman ranch bacon (from the grocery store) crumbled on top. A little splash of good vinegar, and we had dinner.

I try on occasion to practice what I preach about food. Now don't think that  I manage to eat this way at every meal, but it is what I strive for. When people ask me about how to eat healthy food, I usually tell them to try and eat fresh whole foods, things that didn't come out of a box, they don't even have a nutritional label, because there are no ingredients. I also describe the idea that if you strive to have half of your meal be fruits or vegetables and the other half divided by grains and proteins, then you'll have a great healthy meal. This bowl is a little light on the protein, some marinated white beans would have been a good addition to round out the meal, but, you get the idea...

Note about pork:
While I'm jewish, pork was not off limits at either my mom's (mostly vegetarian) or my dad's (mostly carnivorous) houses growing up.  I have memories of eating salami and peperoni as a kid, my mom even sent me to school in second grade with a matzoh sandwich filled with butter and salami, (could it get any more unkosher?!). Around the age of 12 I started eating a mostly vegetarian diet. In college I was even vegan for a while. That started to change as I began cooking professionally in restaurants  after college in the mid 90's. There was so much good quality meat and it started to smell good to me after a while. At one catering company I worked at up in Boston, each week I had to cook dozens of racks of lamb. I would marinate the lamb overnight in fresh garlic, lemon and orange zest, fresh rosemary and thyme, then sear them in a very hot pan, slather each with dijon mustard and coat them in buttered bread crumbs. I'd serve them up at wedding after wedding, bar mitzvah after bar mitzvah, only to watch the guests and wait staff drool over them. I had never even tasted them, and then one day I couldn't resist, and man was that a delicious piece of lamb! Pork on the other hand still seemed like a taboo. The time I'd spent in Israel after college ingrained in  me the feeling that pork was dirty meat, and despite how good I knew bacon tasted, I just didn't have the desire to eat it, that was until I was pregnant with my second child. I started craving cured pork, salami, bacon etc, but after reading up on the horrible treatment of pigs in commercial feedlot farms (see below), there was no way I could eat the regular meat sold at most grocery stores. On occasion I have a little bit  of pork if it comes from a pig that was sustainably raised, and slaughtered in a "humane" way. 

I can still only stomach a small amount of cured pork at a time, I guess I'm just not used to the fattiness of it. This is some delicious house-made cured pork from Franny's in Brooklyn where I went to eat again after may years away, and it is still fabulous! Great Pizza, even by New Haven standards, and great non-pizza food made with local ingredients from the farmers' markets and sourced from local farms. This plate was shared by the whole table, but I still got a stomach ache afterwords. They also had fabulous roasted eggplant with lemon and almonds, spicy sauteed calamari and homemade celery or cherry soda, delicious!

If you want to learn more about how pigs or other animals are raised in many of the large feed lot farms, the ones that supply much of the pork and meat in our country, check out website and look under issues.