Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Homemade Almond Milk, cool and refreshing

I've been experimenting with milk lately. Cow, goat, rice, soy, and now almond. I love cream or milk in my coffee, but can't really sit down and drink a glass of cow's milk. It might have something to do with the stories my mother told me as a kid of her childhood in Holland and Israel where her mother would warm the fresh cow milk and serve it to her with the skin on the surface that forms with warmed milk. It nauseated my mother so much that she said one day she jumped out the window of her tiny house and ran towards school, only to be called back by her mother and made to drink her milk. Who knows if this really happened quite the way I remember her telling it, but none the less, I can't really stomach a glass of cow's milk. I do eat dairy, I can drink a glass of soy milk which is enriched with as much calcium as milk, and I eat lots of greens and nuts which are loaded with calcium as well. However, when my daughter was weaned at the age of two and started asking for milk from some where other than me, I started to re-examine the topic of milk. 

I am not trying to bad mouth cow's milk, I think it is beautiful stuff, especially when I know it is coming from cows who are being treated well, allowed to graze on grass and not being over milked or given growth hormones to force increased milk production.  I like to cook and bake with it, I love making ice cream, and whipped cream and yogurt, but, to be honest, the idea that humans are meant to be drinking the milk mother cows produce for their calfs has always struck me as bizarre. When you think about the fact that most people are freaked out by human breast milk, what makes the milk from a mother cow so great? I usually come around to the fact that the dairy industry did a great job convincing Americans that we need to drink milk every day, and lots of it. I mean seriously, why do you think dairy is it's own food group on the USDA food pyramid?!  I look at dairy as a protein and a fat. I mean fish doesn't have it's own category because of omega 3 oils. The argument that milk is our best source of calcium doesn't fly when you can get calcium from greens, nuts, seaweed, ground sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses and many other foods. The power of this type of advertising was made obivious to me when I was in college and lived in Brazil. I spent some time in a favela (shanty town) in Fortaleza, and I remember visiting a small "house" built of cardboard and scraps of metal, and the image of a young and very poor mother who was standing near a shelf with a can of Nestle powdered baby formula on it. The idea that even in extreme poverty people can be convinced that they need to buy a manufactured milk product to feed their children, even though their own body produces milk that is far superior was just insane to me. That image is burned into my head for life.

So, back to the topic at hand, Almond milk. As I started examining what kind of milk to give my daughter, I found pluses and minuses to each kind of milk: soy milk which my husband and son like to drink, contains a lot of estrogen, so I didn't want to overload her (or them) with that, and it is a fairly processed milk with a lot of added ingredients, but it is higher in protein than it's similar counterpart, rice milk, making it more balanced for the body. Unsweetened rice milk is not too high in sugar, it is enriched with vitamins (not naturally occuring in rice or soy) which is sort of a plus and a minus. Goat milk is easier on the body than cow milk for people with lactose intolerance, and I looked at hemp milk, but it was expensive, and had a lot of ingredients in it, so i decided not to go that route. Then there was almond milk. The store bought version has about as many ingredients as rice and soy milk, but also has flavorings and a lot of sugars. I remembered my friend Shayla telling me when she weaned her son that she was making almond milk, at the time I thought, "almonds for a young toddler, should he have nuts?", but my daughter already ate nuts and was fine with them, so I googled it and found tons of great info on home made almond milk online. I had imagined that it would take a lot of almonds to make, so it would be expensive, but that wasn't the case. A half gallon of home made almond milk is made with about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of almonds and was about $1.75 to $2.50, depending on how rich you like it. It was easy to make, and my husband and I really liked it, the kids on the other hand, well, not so much. oh well.

My basic resolution at the end of this long brain splurge on milk was VARIETY.  If we drink a variety of different milks we will get the nutrients and bonuses of each without over oading our bodies with any of the minuses. This is the answer I come up with for many questions about food. If we eat a variety of whole foods, different colors, textures, food groups etc, it will all balance out and our bodies will be happier for it. I know in some cultures people eat the same few foods every day and are very healhty and satisfied. I have experienced that living in other countries, but i do find while I am here in the USA surrounded by incredible marketing and huge grocery stores, markets and abundance, that I don't feel satisfied eating the same few things everyday.

Homemade Almond Milk
1 cup almonds
6 cups water (4-8 cups depending on your tastes)
Honey or other sweetener (optional)

Large bowl
Thin dish towel or 3 layers cheese cloth
Colander or mesh strainer
Additional water for soaking

Soak almonds in lots of water, overnight or for 24 hours. This brings the almonds back to life. If you think of them as a seed, which they are, the process of soaking them is actually getting them to start growing, so you are eating a food that is more alive than dead.
Soaked almonds in front, dry in back.
Set up your bowl with a colander or mesh strainer in it.
Cover the strainer with a thin dish towel or cheese cloth.
Place almonds in a blender with as much of the 6 cups of water as will fit. Reserve the rest.
 Blend on high speed until the nuts are very fine.
 Pour the milk into the strainer. You can scoop some of the nut solids out of the strainer and blend them with the remaining water. In my blender I fit 4 cups of water the first time and then added 2 cups more the second time. I have seen recipes with 4-8 cups of water, I felt like 6 was a good amount, but it is up to you.

Lift up the edges of the dish towel or cheese cloth and let the milk flow through the cloth.

Twist the cloth until all of the milk is removed from the nut meal.
The nut meal that remains can be eaten, or used in baking. It is great added to a cobbler topping, breads, muffins, yogurt or anything else you like. I tried to find info online about the nutritional content of the milk and the meal, but didn't come up with anything reliable. I do not doubt that it is good for you though, and it tasted good too, so why waste it?
In the end, I was left with a quart and a half (6 cups) of almond milk. I left the milk unsweetened in a jar in the fridge, but added a tiny bit of honey to my glass when I drank it. I kept it in the fridge and we drank it all within 3 days. It was an incredibly refreshing clean drink, great for a hot summer day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Take Action to Help Congress Fund the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization Act!

Help Improve School Food Across the USA!
There is a very important piece of federal legislation in the works that will improve the nutrition standards and funding for WIC and school food in America. Congress is trying to find fund to pay for the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization, and it is VERY important that we push them to fund the changes in this revised law or they will extend the current law which is partially responsible for the sorry state of our drastically underfunded and unnutritious school food programs in most of the country. While the revised law is not as great as some of us would like, it is considered to be much better than what we currently have and will add additional funding to school food and try to increase the amount of fresh foods in school meals. Please click this link for  a way to take action on this issue!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Brooklyn Playground and The Moxie Spot

Ok, I didn't get to take many good pictures of this crazy and fun new brooklyn playground and water park on a recent trip to the city, but that's because it was really hot and lots of fun, so not much photo snapin' went on. Fun, new, and there is a little food find in here too...

The never ending development of Brooklyn, responsible for some cool stuff, and also lots of unfortunate developments of the borough pushing out most of the non-wealthy folk and making room for lots of the rich manhattanites looking for more squarefootage for their millions, has actually yielded something cool: the new playgrounds at Pier 6. Follow Atlantic Ave all the way to the water on the edge of Carrol Gardens/Brooklyn Heights, and you will find a brand new place to play unlike any other in NYC, or any where for that mater. This new spot is divided into four different play areas, each enclosed in a fence, and each a different world, one water, one sand, one crazy climbers, one swings and undulating ground. The boulders in the water area could use a railing here and there to guide kids up and down, and the very sharp gravel surrounding the water area was certainly chosen for it's look, not it's function, but if you are anywhere nearby, it is worth a visit, no mater what your age.

Here is a link to a brooklyn blog post on it: The Pier 6 playground

On our way out, we were very hungry, and didn't know if we would get the kids up as far as the Yemen Cafe or Damascus Bakery, both of which are very close if your legs are longer than a 6 year-old's. But, just one block up from the water on Atlantic was a place called "The Moxie Spot". Made for kids and families, it is a diner type menu with lots of cheap sides to pull together a healthy kids meal (rice $1, black beans $1, edamame, dumplings etc) also, organic milk, grassfed beef burgers and lots of other good stuff. The prices vary depending on the dish, and you get to hang out in a fun space with lots of toys, cartoons on the flat screens, books, and if you are lucky, a disco going on upstairs.

Any good spots in your hood you care to report on?

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Spontaneous Spring Meal with Spicy Thai Basil Pickled Onions (and mint pesto)

I love unplanned quick dinners with friends and kids. It makes a regular night, even a school night more fun, (even if it is more work). One challenge to living in a smaller city where more people have yards and cars is that you have to actually plan to see people, as opposed to a place like New York where everyone spends a lot of time outside in public places because their apartments are so small, so it is easier to connect with and visit people. I am still struggling to get used to this aspect of life outside of b'klyn, but as the weather warms up in New England, and the sun sets later it gets easier to wrangle some friends into our backyard and over to our picnic table for a meal on a school/work night.

This sort of unplanned meal usually means a quick scan of the fridge and a glance at the clock. I try and use up any ingredients that are starting to spoil or just need to get eaten. I also find the easiest way to pull together a whole bunch of random ingredients is with a delicious sauce or two.  Earlier this week I had one such meal and made some marinated onions (a staple in my house) and added some Thai basil and hot sauce for extra flavor. I also had some left over "pesto" from the week before. This wasn't your standard pesto, since I rarely have large bunches of basil lying around, but I did have some spinach that was about to spoil, and a mob of mint growing in the back yard, some grated romano cheese and walnuts. You really can make pesto out of just about any thing: herbs, arugula, spinach, grated cheese or miso, walnuts, pine nuts (or no nuts), garlic or garlic scapes, lemon zest or juice (optional) and olive oil. Just get creative, puree all your ingeredients in a blender or food processor, and taste as you go along. 

Spicy Thai Basil Pickled Onions
basic marinated or pickled onions:
1 onion (red or white) If you use red onions they will turn a beautiful pink color
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (or other sweetener)
3 tablespoons white vinegar or the juice and zest from 1 lime

spicy thai basil additions: 
5 leaves thai basil very thinly sliced (Italian basil and tarragon together make a good substitution)
a squirt of sriracha hot sauce or red pepper flakes

Thinly slice or dice the onion.
Toss with the rest of the ingredients and let sit for at least 15 minutes until onions soften a bit. 
To really pickle them, let them marinate in the refrigerator over night.

We ate these onions with some spinach mint pesto on top of a big bowl of lettuce, some slice boiled potatoes, fresh green beans, and a few wedges of a garlic scape fritatta (or eggy pie as we often call it). It was pretty quick to put together, spicy and tasty!

What have you been making with all the fresh spring and early summer produce?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Garlic Scapes - use them before they are gone

My sister left me a message on my cell over the weekend, "I know you are in New York, but can you remind me how to make garlic scape pesto?". I happened to take this photo of a bunch of garlic scapes last weekend at the opening of the CitySeed Farmers' Market near my house, and had been meaning to write about it so here goes....

Garlic Scapes are the part of the garlic plant that grows above the ground. Just before the tip starts to sprout into a seed, it is clipped off to let the garlic bulb mature underground before it is harvested and then dried a little later in the season. Garlic scapes are only available for a few weeks in June. The hot weather this year brought them to market a little earlier than normal. You can chop up the scapes and use them in place of garlic or onions in most recipes. A very popular thing to do with them is to make pesto. A few years back when I was working with Yale Dinning Services and the Yale Sustainable Food Project, I was given a huge garbage bag full of garlic scapes from a local garlic farm to use to test recipes with. I chopped, pureed measured, blanched, and froze these buggers to see what the easiest and tastiest thing would be to do with them. I determined that chopping them up a bit, tossing them in a food processor with some olive oil and a touch of salt and grinding them until they were smooth, got us a great garlicy base for just about anything. we could add some arugula and romano cheese to make a great pesto, and even some walnuts. Or sauté the scape puree as a base for a soup, a stir fry, or a frittata. To keep the garlic scapes over time, I froze them which worked really well (check out this recipe for Roasted Tofu with Garlic Scapes I made over the winter when I stumbled upon a bag of the scape puree in my freezer). You could also play with canning the puree if you like.

Garlic Scape Puree
1/2 pound Garlic Scapes
1/2 cup olive oil (or just enough to make the scapes blend)
1 teaspoon salt (optional)

Rinse and dry garlic scapes.
Roughly chop scapes into 1 inch sections.  If the "flowery" top is brownish or tough, you can remove it.
Put scapes into food processor and blend with salt and some of the oil. Add more oil as needed to help the garlic scapes puree.

You  can freeze this Garlic Scape Puree or keep it in the fridge for a few weeks. Use it like you would onions or garlic in any recipe. 

To make a pesto:
Add a bunch or two of arugula, basil or spinach, a cup of grated romano or parmesean cheese and if you'd like, some nuts such as walnuts or pine nuts. For a non-dairy pesto, try adding some miso instead of grated cheese.

You can mix this all to taste, adding more or less of anything you want until it tastes good to you. Toss this on pasta, spread it on a sandwich or anything else you like!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chefs at the White House - the expanded edition

The excitement from our day at the White House has not evaporated yet. All I have to do is think about all of us chefs congregated on the White House lawn, only steps from the presidential home and office, and I am reminded of the important work that is being done and still needs to be done to help change the way kids eat in this country. A few times a day since I returned last week, people have stopped me on the street or around town and asked about my trip to Washington. It is amazing how blogging can change life. It is great to have a vehicle to spread good info out into the world. 
I was going to write up all the details of this trip, but Chef Tim Cipriano, the Executive Director of the New Haven Public School Food Program did such a thorough job on his blog, that it seems pointless to repeat it all. He did a great job documenting all the important people who were there and gave some great speeches on the Childhood Nutrition Act which is up for re-authorization this year, and on the basics of food in schools. Click HERE to read his post. 

I was happily surprised on this trip to Washington at how much real talk there was about the seriousness of the obesity problem and the hunger problem in our country today. This was not an event just filled with fluff and just a lot of nice photo ops (although there were lots of those). The leaders of this movement understand the complexity and reality of this situation and that the solution to fixing our food system and how people eat, cook and think about food is a layered and complex one that needs fixes in policy, and action on the grassroots, face to face basis to make real change. That is the objective of the Chefs Move to Schools initiative. If you know any great chefs, or have a favorite restaurant, approach the chef and ask them to sign up to adopt a school with the new White House program.

Here are a few more pictures of the trip, from the chef breakfast and then the line to get through three security check points onto the white house lawn.

Left to right, starting at the top: Chef's Breakfast hosted by Share Our Strength, the breakfast table, Arnie Duncan(Secretary of Education) , Chef Sam Kass (White House), Chef Jorge (NYC Schools) Bill Telepan (Telepan Restaurant), April Neaujean (New Orleans Edible Schoolyard), Chef Anne Cooper (Berkeley Unified School District)
Waiting to get onto the white house lawn. Through three very friendly security check points.
A corner of the White House organic garden, started by Chef Sam Kass and Michelle Obama. Check out the rainwater collection barrel with water fountain spout (below)!!! So great!
A few famous chefs I snuck pictures of: Bee Smith, Lidia Bastianich, David Shea (Applewood Restaurant in Bklyn, he's famous in my book!) and then the rest of us chefs in whites....
Me and Tim in front of the white house, and then of course:
Our First Lady and White House Chef Sam Kass. It was wonderful to hear Michelle Obama talk about something she understands and cares about so deeply. It is really remarkable that she and president Obama have given Chef Kass the role they have to bring about some really leadership and hopefully changes to the food landscape in our country. This is a special moment in our history, I hope we do not squander it, but use it to bring about real change!

Check out these other posts on Chefs Move to Schools and my trip to the White House for more information. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

So Many Strawberries

I know I am bombarding you all with farm posts and not many recipes these days, but it is that time of year when fresh food is springing from the earth (and the markets) and not so much cooking needs to be done. A few fresh perfectly ripe ingredients and you have a meal. I know this is easy for me to say, since I am a chef, and there is a tiny bit of skill involved in putting together even simple ingredients, but please bear with me for one more spring farm post and I'll try and squeeze in a few cooking tips for you too.
The strawberries are crazy ripe and abundant right now, so if you can find the time (or make the time) get out and pick some! The heat and low rain fall have made it an exceptional year for the ruby jewels of the spring. I went to a local farm with my 2 year old on my day off, and picked 13 pounds in about 1/2 hour! At the Jones Family Farm berries were $2.09/pound if you pick over 8 pounds, and $2.69 for under 8 pounds. A quart was a pound and a half, so it would be about $3.15, which is much cheaper than local berries at the market or store, and about the same or less than the usually tasteless ones flown here form California. 

There are strawberry festivals all around, just google them for dates and locations. The White House posted a great rhubarb strawberry crisp recipe* as part of the Chefs Move to Schools launch, and I am working on my rhubarb ripple ice cream recipe which also has strawberries in it. For now, I might just slice some strawberries and add a little tarragon or basil and pinch of sugar, then toss them on a salad, or some yogurt and enjoy. The rest of the berries will get eaten or frozen.

Tip: if you want to freeze berries that you have picked, rinse and drain them. place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer so they will freeze without sticking together. Once frozen, transfer them to a bag or a container and keep them in the freezer.

*If you want to make the White House recipe a little healthier you can use oil instead of butter in the crisp part of the recipe, and substitute some apple juice concentrate, honey, or maple syrup for some or all of the sugar, and reduce the amount of sweetener over all in the crisp. Just taste the crumble to see if it is sweet enough. a little dash of salt helps to bring the flavors together and compensate for the lack of butter and sugar.

To find a place to pick fruit in your area go to:
If you are in the New Haven, CT area you might check out: 
Bishop's Orchards, Guilford
Dondero Orchards, South Glastonbury
Jones Family Farm, Shelton
Rose's Berry Farm, South Glastonbury
Lyman Orchards, Middlefield 
Here are some photos to inspire you:

Monday, June 7, 2010

Reality Check From Farmer Dan

You might be enjoying this hot spring, thinking it is summer come early, but if you were a farmer or a little seedling you'd be seeing things entirely differently. A few years ago while my husband was going to Smith School for Social Work, we had the good fortune of spending a few summers in Northampton, MA. We have family and friends there, and the number of incredible organic farms around is staggering and thrilling, so despite the uprooting, it was a great time. This is a picture of me and my son last summer on a visit to Brookfield Farm where we used to have a CSA share. Farmer Dan is one of the coolest people I know, and his farm is one of the places on earth that inspires me and brings me peace. I just read his weekly letter from the farm (even though I no longer live up that way I still get his emails, because they make me smile, and keep me keyed in to farm life). I thought his letter was a good reality check for those of us on the purchasing side of the fence to remember what it takes to grow our food.  (I also just like Farmer Dan's sense of humor)

Letter from Farmer Dan  
June 5, 2010 
First week of CSA distribution

Play Ball!

When Tobin went out to the Middle Field to make the furrows for this years' fall broccoli field, we knew we had turned a big corner. After 25 acres of plowed earth, it was time to make the last passes with the moldboard for the season. He plowed it like a pro (after having just learned in April) and headed for home. Then he traded in his plow boots for a harvest knife, and started bringing in the beginning of this years' bounty from the fields. Our entire crew has been working hard all spring to get this farm up and running again, and it's time to finally get this show on the road. Lisa has managed over 250,000 plants in the greenhouse, and planted over 15 acres of crops, Pete has cultivated over a trillion weed seeds into oblivion and made miles of planting beds, and Kerry has kept the grease flowing on all of our trucks, tractors, and tools. Karen has cooked lunch for the crew since April 1, and Abbe has answered at least 722 emails from shareholders about when the first distribution will begin. Well, it's going to begin right now. We're done with Spring Training, it's time to eat some salad, folks.

Someone asked me the other day how the season was going. When I shook my head and told them that this was a miserable spring, they looked at me as if I was crazy. "But, It's been so beautiful and warm" Right? For those of you not trying to coax food from the earth it has been beautiful. Beach weather in April. Hot sunny days to start the swimming season early. Sunny days as far as the eye can see. But for us, the tenders of living plants, we always thrive under conditions which come close to a place of balance. Anything that comes to us in the form of "too much" is just not good. And this Spring has been one version of "too much" after another. First it was too much heat (remember 86F on April 7) which took a lot of moisture from our early transplants. Then it was too much cold (remember 23F on May 11th?) which froze the thirsty little seedlings. Then it was too much sun and heat again (remember 98F on May 28), which kept us irrigating for weeks and put the final nail in the coffin on the Spring spinach. What a beautiful Spring to feel this bad about the weather! you know, farmers can complain about anything (and usually do), but we're ready to stop complaining and start eating. We're not going to have Spring spinach, and our lettuce is taking a while to head-up, but our greens are beautiful and our strawberries are ripe and ready for picking two weeks early, and we're ready to move past this Spring and look ahead towards better things to come.

For those of you who are new to this game of seasonal eating, we start off slow and get you started with salads and greens. Before long the "hard veggies" come in (beets, squash, cabbage, early tomatoes), and then (with a little luck) it's a super-bonanza smorgasbord of fresh eating from your farm. Try to be patient with the pace of our harvest season - it will get more varied and hearty - as the earth and our harvest warm up and bulk up as the season moves along. For now, we hope you enjoy the very fresh Spring greens and see them as hints of things to come. We'll keep you posted in this newsletter with events and happenings around the farm, and hope that you'll let us know if you need anything as the season moves along.

We hope you will use the farm to eat good food all season as well as to picnic, hike, visit with your friends, and commune with the chickens and (eventually) pigs. Welcome (back) to Brookfield Farm and here's to a great season ahead! 

Your Farmer,
(for Karen, Abbe, Kerry, Lisa, Pete, and Tobin)

Here are some pix of the Brookfield Farm from summers past:

Hope you get to enjoy some time on a local farm this season. Even if you live in the heart of Manhattan, there are farms within less than an hour of you (and I'm talking about on the subway!) Check out or just google your town's name and "farms" and go for a visit. CSA stands for "community supported agriculture" which is people buying "shares" in a farm, kind of like a subscription. You get a weekly portion of produce, and often you get to visit the farm and pick some crops too if you want. Happy growing and harvesting!

please share any tips of great farms in your area by leaving a comment below