Saturday, October 30, 2010


When I was a kid, a picture like this would have made me drool with envy. The sight of all this candy oozing gooey fillings and bright sugary centers would have been more than I could contain in a single day. The image would implant itself in my brain and I would recall it so often that I could almost taste it. Such is the path of a kid with an apparently genetic sweet-tooth, but a childhood in a health food conscious home. I had seen pictures of some of these candies, the "Big Cherry" "Cherry Mash" and "Idaho Spud" off and on over the years. These fabulous names for candies from a bygone era inspired a wild imagination about ripe fruit crushed with sugar, coated in a chocolate shell just waiting to burst with deliciousness. These old fashioned candies have always held some special sense of delight for me, like something out of a movie, precious and near perfection. So, after years of anticipation, when I finally found these candies in a store when I was out west, I jumped on the chance to get my hands on them. As it turns out, every single one of these candies was absolutely, positively and completely, gross.

None the less, the candy shrapnel on display above was totally and completely fun. It is the day before Halloween, and I'm trying to get enough real food into my kids to balance out the sweets and treats they will be eating at the endless Halloween festivities this year with the holiday falling on a Sunday.

 The big thing I noticed when tasting these candies compared to their contemporary counterparts is that the quality of the ingredients is just not good. And this is coming from a woman who doesn't even consider the list of words on modern candy labels to be real ingredients or food. Most of these candies were made starting in the early 1900's, the cherry ones especially, and I don't think that the recipes have changed at all. The chocolate is oily and waxy, the cherry flavor exceedingly artificial, and the filling overly sweet.
from left: Twin Bing, Big Cherry, Cherry Mash, this is the real color!!

A while back I read up on the three chocolate, cherry, peanut candies, wondering why that combination was so popular. Peanuts were a huge crop in the middle and western parts of the country, but why cherries and chocolate? I wonder if cherries were particularly popular for some reason? Someone must know, but I couldn't find much info online. Each of these candies is from a specific region of the USA, and two of them, the Twin Bing and the Cherry Mash were made by produce companies that went into the candy making business to make more money, and then ended up shuttering the fresh fruit business in favor of the candy business. A clear indication of where our national food system was headed: highly processed, empty calories replacing fresh, healthy foods.   
The Valomilk cream cup was the candy I was the most excited to try, but the cream center had a metallic taste that was disappointing. I thought it would be more like the Mallow Cup I remember from my youth. Honestly, that might be gross now too, I haven't tried it as an adult, so you never know.
 The "Original Cream Center" bragged about on the label was dried out and hard, definitely not creamy.
The Idaho Spud was the most intriguing, with a molasses flavored marshmallow covered in chocolate and shredded coconut. The texture of the marshmallow however was unappealing, there was too much gelatin and the grayish color off putting to our modern sensibilities. 

So, I'm glad I got to try these candies, it was fun, and now I can let go of the fantasy. I'll save my sweet eating treats for some good chocolate, some delicious fruit or something that actually tastes good. I do wonder as I watched my kids actually enjoy tasting these if there is something different about kid's taste buds that lets them like these things. One of my fondest Halloween candy memories was of these small candies from the mid 80's called skull crushers. A small white chocolate skull filled with strawberry cream. You squished it with your finger to make it look like blood oozing out. My sister and I used to buy them at the pharmacy on the corner, and I haven't tried them since. They still hold that mystique, but they are nowhere to be found in this country anymore. I wonder if I crushed one of those buggers today, would I still like it?

Do you have any great candy memories or experiences? 
Please share by clicking the comment button below.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Food Activism on the Move

I don't know if I can even begin to write down all of the work I have been doing lately. Amidst the new menu I finally got launched for Blue State Coffee (blog post coming soon), New Haven Food Policy Council work, a feast from the fields fundraiser for Common Ground School on their urban organic farm, (post also coming soon) a community meeting for the coming Elm City Market - food coop, parenting, and the first colds of the season, there has been more than too much to do, and an incredible amount of great local food activism going on. I don't have many good pictures from all of this since I have been far too busy being involved in it all, but wanted to share a little about this part of my food life, none the less. The sustainable food movement has been evolving and becoming more visible recently, so I thought I'd try and lay out some of the concrete ways this work happens on the grassroots level. 

a new food coop coming to New Haven, CT in the 360 State St building.

Photo credit: Thomas MacMillan, New Haven Independent 
community member Tambira Armmand speaking her mind at the community meeting

I had been hearing rumors of a new grocery store coming into the ground floor of this new high rise in downtown New Haven for much of this past year, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I knew anything concrete. I was invited along with a few dozen other community members, food folks, and community leaders to be part of a "core leadership team", a group of community members whose purpose is to help bring the community of New Haven into this new food coop, so that the store can be a resource to a wide cross section of New Haven and help to fill the needs of people of different cultural and economic backgrounds. I will do a whole post on this in a while, but if you want to check out some newspaper articles on the recent community meeting about the Market, check out the NH Register or the NH Independent.  There was  a great turnout at this meeting, and a fair amount of enthusiasm and healthy skepticism. Over all, my take is that it will be great to have a full service grocery store in New Haven and not have to drive to get to it, and I hope that a broad and diverse group of New Haven residents will shop there and become member/owners. If you care about food in New Haven, please get involved, and make this market ours. To become a member/owner of this new market/coop click here. There are a variety of ways to join, and it will help get the market open!

Mark Winne - national food and food policy activist

Mark Winne started the first Food Policy Council in the country in Hartford, CT. He ran the Hartford Food Systems organization, and now runs the Community Food Security Coalition, and consults nationally with food policy councils and similar groups.

Mark was in town as part of a panel on grocery stores hosted by the Yale Sustainable Food Project. The New Haven Food Policy Council also hosted an event at the main branch of the Public Library for the launch of his new book (pictured at right). We had a good turn out, and it was great to hear someone with as much experience over time as Mark has talk about our food system and it's successes and failures.

Mark also made time during the day to meet directly with the members of the New Haven Food Policy Council which I now chair. It was a very inspiring meeting, and we all came away from it with a lot of good ideas and inspiration about making the work we do more affective and visible. Thank you Mark!

CT Local Food Summit
Billings Forge & Wholesome Wave
Guest Speaker: Shira J. Gans, Manhattan Borough Presidents office

Following right on the heals of Mark Winne's talk, I headed up to Hartford the next morning for the CT local food summit hosted by Billings Forge and Wholesome Wave. It was a great gathering of about 50 of the key players in sustainable food in the state. Some good conversations and inspirational talks. It was great to make connections with people doing similar work in various parts of the state to share ideas and strategies. Hopefully some larger networks and change will come from it.

Shira Gans from the Manhattan Borough President's office was the keynote speaker, and hearing about all the forward thinking work they are doing and the huge staff they have was incredible. We are doing so much of the same work here, some of it inspired by NYC or other cities, and some of it emerging right from the roots of our own community. What is going on in NYC is pretty exceptional right now though, the leadership of the city is really pushing a good food agenda for all people.

Feast From the Fields
Common Ground School - dinner, fund raiser and auction

A wonderful fund-raising event at one of the most special places in town. For those of you who read this blog often, you have heard me gush about Common Ground School before: An urban charter school with an organic farm and tons of great community events and programs. Many Chefs came out to make the night a success. I had the honor of cooking the main meal together with Jason from Caseus and Rhonda from the Common Ground kitchen, using lots of produce from their garden. It was a thoroughly delicious night with a huge number of fabulous teens from the school who volunteered to work the whole party! And, we helped them raise $40,000. A blog post detailing the event coming soon.

Chefs Move to School and Health Heroes - TODAY - October, 20, 2010
A great event happening today, Wednesday Oct 20th. The launch of these two programs in New Haven will shepard in some great new energy into the schools to get kids (and teachers and parents) to eat healthier foods, get exposure to fresh veggies, gardens, and other healthy and delicious activities. I will be joining Chef Tim Cipriano for the local launch of the Obama's Chefs Move to Schools initiative in New Haven. For the simultaneous launch of Health Heroes in 4 New Haven public schools, we will be giving out 1,500 of the New Haven Cooks cookbook I developed with CitySeed to low income children and families as an incentive to enroll in the healthy living and eating program. If you are a chef, come down to the Barnard School Garden Wednesday morning at 10am, and wear your chef coat!  I'll follow up with a blog post soon...

Stay tuned for more on my crazy (but exciting) life in food. 

note: blogspot is messing up the post date and won't let me change it. This was posted on Wednesday morning October 20th. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

If You Have Pumpkins, Make Pumkin Pie

For me, living with a two year old and a six year old means that everyday I am negotiating between my wants and needs, and those of two wild creatures whose desires have no correlation to my exhaustion level or ability to actually fulfill them. It is the joy and challenge of parenting, especially as a working parent. This food project was one such event. A few weeks ago I took the kids on an after-school excursion to a little farm stand that had mums and pumpkins. I had just launched my new menu at work, and was in need of a recreational minute. The kids each picked out a pumpkin and my 6 year old (who has spent enough time with me in the kitchen to know that everything we do, some how comes back to food) instantly said, "mommy, can we make pumpkin pie?!" so a sugar pumpkin was purchased for a few bucks, and we headed home, illusions of fresh pumpkin pie fueling our ride back.

Now, I can't tell you exactly how many days it took me to actually turn this pumpkin into a pie, but let's just say, that by the time we made it, my boy had stopped asking, "mommy, when are we going to make the pumpkin pie". Life is busy, and as much as I'd love to just stop everything and make pumpkin pie, well, you know, it just isn't that simple.

So, finally, over the weekend we cut open the pumpkin, and brought it outside for the kids to clean out. I roasted it in the oven and scooped out the soft flesh. A few days later I managed to make some pie dough and put it in the fridge, and the next day, we actually got the pie in the oven. It was devoured for breakfast, dinner and dessert and gone in about 1 1/2  days. The fresh sweet pumpkin made a delectable custardy pie, very unlike the dense grocery store bought cousins or the pumpkin from a can versions. All in all, the effort of making a fresh pumpkin pie, spread out over a bunch of afternoons was actually totally worth it.

Fresh Sugar Pumpkin Pie
One 9-inch pie
Pie Dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (1 cup white flour plus 1/4 cup or more whole wheat flour or wheat germ)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup ice water
1/4 teaspoon vinegar (white or cider)

1 small sugar pumpkin (about 7 inches in diameter) equaling: 2 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup heavy cream, milk or soy milk
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or clove
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

   1. Make the pie dough: Cut butter into 1-inch pieces and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. measure and sift all of the dry ingredients. In a mixer, food processor or using two forks,  cut the butter into the dough until it is the size of larger peas. Some larger sized piece of butter are good, just pinch them flat. Add the ice water and vinegar and mix dough till combined, dough should be tacky. If dough is too dry, add spoonful more water. It is better for the dough to be a little too wet, than too dry. gently form the dough into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for one hour or longer until well chilled.

   2. Preheat the oven to 375°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to an 11-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie dish and trim the overhang to 3/4 inch; fold the overhang under itself and crimp decoratively. Prick the bottom of the pie shell all over and refrigerate until firm.

   3. Line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edge. Remove the foil and the weights and bake for about 12 minutes longer, or until the pie shell is golden brown and cooked on the bottom. Cover the rim of the pie shell with foil when it starts to brown. Leave the oven on.

   4. Make pie filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Rub with a few drops of oil and place cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment. Pour 1/2 cup of water on the pan to help it steam a bit while it roasts. Bake for 45 minutes or longer until the flesh is very tender. Mash with a fork, a ricer until smooth. If you want a very smooth filling you can prepare the rest of this recipe in a blender or food processor, for a more textured filling mix by hand. Scoop 2 cups of the pumpkin flesh into a bowl and let cool, reserve the rest for another purpose (like soup). Whisk in the cream, brown sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and scrape into the prepared pie shell.

   5. Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 375°. Turn the oven down to 350° and continue to bake for about 40 minutes longer, or until the filling is set. If the crust edge starts to brown too much, cover with the edge with foil. Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with yogurt or whipped cream.

Note: If you like sweet potato pie, you can use this same recipe and substitute, 3 pounds of baked, mashed sweet potatoes for the pumpkin.

To make ahead
The unbaked pie shell can be frozen for up to 1 week. The pumpkin can be baked and refrigerated for two days.
 please share any great pie recipes you have!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Visit to the Boulder Farmers' Market

When I say that my life revolves around food, I mean it literally. If I have the good fortune to travel somewhere the first thing I do is hunt down some local food. Could be a cool old diner, a search for a special local dish, a walk through a grocery store,  or my very favorite: a street market or farmers market. The day after the lovely wedding we attended in Boulder, CO there was a farmers' market, so I piled the family in the car and dragged all three of their tired selves through a fairly large and wonderfully bustling farmers' market. What I especially loved about this market was how it was organized with a main street of primarily produce, a side street of locally prepared and packaged foods, a side street of food made to order by local restaurants and businesses under tents with live music and seating, and a smattering of other great things throughout: flowers, balloon animals, face painting, knife sharpening, and lots and lots of bread. Not all markets have this wide assortment of things, and for the Boulder market it really seems to work well.

 tortilla factory treats and late summer watermellons
 produce and pizza oven
knife sharpening! what a great idea for a market stand, and very large bread!
 When you show up in a new place, ask people about the food there. If you walk into a gas station or a park, or a restaurant, try asking the people who work there about the food in their area. Is there something special the town is known for? Are there any open air or indoor markets? what is their favorite local restaurant, food cart or bakery? Everywhere you go there is a food adventure to be had, you just need to be hungry enough to find it.

please please share some of your food finds by commenting below!