Monday, April 25, 2011

The Quest for Treats

You'd never guess it from looking at these pictures, but I have been trying to cut way back on the amount of sweets that I eat. Infact, I managed to go a whole week without eating sugar (well, almost). Last week was however, school vacation, and I was able to get a few days off to hang with my family and some great friends in Brooklyn. When I lived in Brooklyn, my general motivation for leaving my apartment was food (either for work or adventure). On this trip, I have to say I ventured out after many fewer sweets than usual, but there are still some good things to share. Over the break we also spent one day hanging out in South Norwalk for a children's museum visit and managed to score a bunch of delicious treats there too....

So with no shame, I will share with you some of my guilty (and not so guilty) pleasures:

 Amy's bread 
Fabulous, NYC based bread co., the Semolina Bread with Golden Raisins and Fennel (and corn meal). This bread when toasted is unbelievably good. My wonderful mother in-law manages to bring me a loaf every time she visits and had this one waiting for us when we arrived at her apt! If you stop by Chelsea Market you can watch them being made by hand!

The Mast Brothers are part of the beard wearing, slow food, almost cultish, artisnal food making Brooklyn elite. Exceptional, handcrafted, single origin chocolates, with only 2 ingredients : cocoa and sugar. That's it. I have to admit while I have known about this chocolate for some time now, I had yet to be able to splurge on a $10 chocolate bar. These were a gift from my fabulous sister in-law, and a wonderful gift they were. The Madagascar bar was particularly great. The cocoa nib bar was less bitter than most cocoa nibs I have tried. I'm guessing that they were carefully roasted, so not burned, but the chocolate in that bar (the grey wrapper) was much more acidic, and not my favorite. My kids taste buds agreed with mine, and while it warmed my heart to see them enjoying such fine chocolate, I had to hide the bar so it didn't disappear as quickly as it had arrived.

This was an almond croissant. Need I say more about how good it was? This one was from Cousin John's in Brooklyn, the predecessor to the more refined SoNo Baking Co. in South Norwalk, whose almond croissants are event better, if that is even possible (thanks to John Barricelli) . Dark, crispy, caramelized edges, filled with sweet, tender almond paste cream. A serious treat.
 A fancy raspberry mousse cake from SoNo Baking Co. My boy's choice.

Some of you may have read my posts from my trip one year ago to Holland with my grandmother. This salty black licorice is an acquired taste, one I am thankful to have had since childhood.When I was a kid, my aunt Claire used to bring us these cone shaped bags from a Dutch store in Toronto, on her visits south. Now we are lucky to have a Dutch store of our own right here in CT, Taste of Holland in South Norwalk, CT and they have a website. Two of my other favorite Dutch sweets are applestroop: a dark strong apple jam made with sugar beet syrup and apples, and Honey Spice cake: a chewy slightly sweet cake made with rye flour, unusual, but delicious. 

Cafe Regular
Ok, there is more great coffee around these days than anyone could possibly drink, and certainly not just in NYC (who was kind of late to the great coffee game to be honest.) There is one sweet spot in Brooklyn though, that has been around for a while, has excellent coffee, and a particular flare for interior design - french style. The original Cafe Regular was about a block from my last B'klyn apt, and in an unlikely hole in the wall, which attributed to part of it's charm. The owner was known for training his employees for months on the particular techniques of steaming milk, long before there were latte art had over 1 million google image hits. And, the painted and distriessed tin ceiling and walls, and the menu written on a mirror had an old world, handcrafted, hip charm. My occasional perfect latte from the original spot was always incredible. I've had hit and miss experience with the new spot, although the interior of the store and all the details are incredible, and even a "bad" latte from here is still great. They also have these amazing handmade ring dings from Tumbador chocolates that are kosher and I think vegan. (yes, I know that sounds rediculous.)

While I'm on a favorite treats role here, I can't help but mention a few other places I love even though I didn't get to them on this trip:

Franny's is a fabulous Farm to Table pizza (and more) spot on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. It first opened when my son was born and I have the fondest memory of walking there and eating at the bar with him asleep in a sling. It was his first meal in a great restaurant and my first proof that life with good food didn't have to end just cuz I had a baby. Brooklyn Larder is their Cheese and Provisions store across the street. Gorgeous store, fine artisnal foods, way out of my price range these days, but amazing none the less!

There is no argument that these are some of the absolute best bagels in NYC. (ok, start arguing). These must be eaten the same day you get them, because the extra crusty/chewy exteriors get harder by the hour, but when you get them fresh, they are just incredible, and a far cry from the all too fluffy bagels that seem to be everywhere else. The pumpernickel has tiny pieces of onion flecked throughout, a real treat.  One other good bagel spot is Terrace Bagels, very good, but in my opinion a second place to the Bagel Hole.

Oh, I could go on and on, Damascus Bakery, Almondine, The Pickle Guys....anyway, I'll have to save something for another trip....

And, just so we can all remember that a treat does not have to be a food, or a sweet, two wonderful spring garden related treats to get you going on the summer harvest treats to come: 

Turning a pallet into a garden - a beautiful garden project, especially if spaces is tight! Many garden centers will give you pallets for free. We used them to make our compost pile too!
Homemade seedling starter cups - use b&w newspapper or newsprint paper (like the kind you can get at ikea check out) to make little seedling starter pots!

What are some of your favorite treats???

Saturday, April 16, 2011

There's a Party Happening at Stop & Shop!

Finally, after over a year of shuttered doors, there is a new, full-service, centrally located grocery store in New Haven! Yesterday, the Stop&Shop near downtown opened to the public. It was incredible to see the parking lot full, and hundreds of people milling in and out of the store. Typically big corporate ventures are not high on my list of things to be happy about, but when you live in a city of 126,000 with no centrally located full-service grocery store, and very few grocery stores within city limits at all, this is really something to celebrate! 

The atmosphere within the store was festive, with balloons, music and tasting stations everywhere. They did a great job at having a lot of foods for different ethnic communities, Chinese, Jamacian, Kosher Jewish foods, Latino, etc. They've hired 100% New Haven folks, a bunch of great people to run departments, including a large number of people of color,  and are planning community outreach and nutrition events. This is certainly a great step towards improving availability of healthy food for the people of our city. Let's hope that the store continues to respond to the needs of the entire city to create a vibrant and thriving urban food center!

It has been deeply disturbing to me recently how all of the large grocery store chains refused to open a store within our city limits, and even shuttered the one existing store, even though it was profitable. Most large grocery companies don't really seem to understand the urban grocery market, and seem unwilling to alter their suburban models at all to provide a service and make money within these under-served "food deserts".
Enormous congratulations go out to the Greater Dwight Development Corporation, the people of the Dwight community, and all the New Haven partners that worked extremely hard to get this store open!!!
I was caught up in the party atmosphere and kind of randomly snapped some pictures...

 And, I bumped into 3 friends while I was there!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Passover: A Time for Reflections on Slavery and Racism

When Passover rolls around, I inevitably start thinking about slavery, and not just of Jewish people. This year however, the thinking and talking about slavery as well as racism and oppression has been at the forefront of my mind for more than a few months.

One challenge that I find not only in my food justice work, but also in life, is that so few people, of any race think deeply about the subtleties of racism and it's prevalence in our society. I look at everything through a lens of race, and I am white and Jewish. I notice when a school teacher chooses more white children to answer a question, or uses a harsher tone with a black child than a white one. I notice when a dark skinned black man on the subway calls my light-skinned husband cousin, rather than brother. I could go on and on, but a recent experience has gotten me pondering all of this in a slightly different way.
A few months ago I began participating in a clinical study of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  as a result of the Holocaust, (my grandparents are survivors of the Nazi death camp, Sobibor). This study was conducted on 2nd generation survivors (like my mother) and has shown that genetic markers of PTSD are passed down from 1st generation survivors to their children. The study is now being reopened to study the effects on 3rd generation survivors like myself. I do not doubt that there are things that have been passed on to me as a result of my grandparent's horrific experiences in a Nazi death camp. Whether they are learned or genetic, I will leave to the researchers. However, the thing that strikes me is that we live in a society that was founded on genocide and slavery, literally, yet very few people are studying the affects of this trauma on black Americans. Or Native Americans.  If a few years of horrific trauma from the Holocaust is passed on genetically to future generations, what would the effects of trauma be over decades, centuries and generations, of 300-500 years on the descendants of Africans and Native Americans in this country?

Part of the work I do is food justice and food access in urban communities.  I recently spoke on a panel about obesity in New Haven which was followed by a panel on violence, specifically gun violence in the city which has been increasing at an alarming rate. It seemed to me that people listening to our two panels were asking themselves: "what is the point of trying to get people to eat healthy food when their biggest concern every day is whether or not they are going to get shot?".  I left this conference feeling like we missed the opportunity to discuss how the solutions for dealing with obesity and food issues in our communities go hand in hand with the solutions for ending violence and trauma. The problems facing urban, low income communities, and people of color, are complex, and  racism  whether overt or implicit runs through most of them. Working towards wellness of individuals and communities, rather than just against violence is important. Having access to, and the ability to eat good fresh food is a right not a privilege, and nourishment is an integral part of the healing process for people who live in neighborhoods where guns and prison are prominent parts of daily life.

The effects of trauma on generations after generations of people is real, and if we are going to heal from any of it we need to acknowledge that.  The effects of racism on black people, white people and all people of this country is deep, it pervades everything. Most of the manifestations of it these days are more subtle than many people are able to comprehend, but we will never get past the segregation and deep inequalities in this country until many more people start to have a real understanding about racism in our lives today.

Each year, many Jews sit around the passover seder table and retell the story of their exodus from slavery as a reminder of our history. If only the story of the African Slave Trade and the Native American Genocide were retold at dinner tables across this country as a reminder of all of our history as well. I can only imagine the effects that could have on our society, and our perception of our neighbors, friends and strangers.

I know the jump to cooking and holiday recipes may be stark after the words I have written above. But, all I can think is that spring is a time of renewal, a time to look at the darkness we have come out of and the light that we hope to move into, and that food is an essential, vital part of life, in times of slavery and in times of freedom.

Some great holiday recipes from years past:

Lemon Cardamom tofu with pistachios and roasted lemons*
Grind: 3 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, 1teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper corns, 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional), 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 bunch cilantro. Toss on 2 pounds of sliced extra firm tofu. Roast on a lined baking pan at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown. squeeze the juice of one lemon over tofu when removed from oven.  Thinly slice one lemon, brush with oil, and roast on a lined baking pan along with the tofu, until browned, or place under the broiler until lightly charred. toast pistachios. Toss everything together and enjoy. Serve warm or at room temperature. This dish could also be made with chicken or lamb replacing the tofu.

French Lentils with roasted apples and onions*
Boil 4 cups of french lentils in 12 cups of water with a teaspoon of salt and half an onion. When lentils are tender, drain, discard onion and drizzle lentils with olive oil. Slice 3 onions into wedges, toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread in a single layer on a line baking pan. Repeat this process with 4 firm apples. Roast apples and onions at 400 degrees until browned on edges (apples will be done before onions). Toss lentils, apples and onions together and serve room temperature or warm. Fresh thyme or blanched or roasted asparagus would also be a nice addition.
*tofu and lentils are not eaten by some Ashkenazi Jews during passover. these two recipes were actually from a Hanukkah celebration, but they are great vegetarian dishes for people who do eat these bean products on passover. In both cases, meat can be substituted for the tofu or lentils to make it more kosher.

Chicken Soup - the basics 
(add your own matzo balls!)

Click the link above for instructions on making chicken stock. If you don't have left over chicken bones for stock, you can use inexpensive but flavorful cuts like thighs, legs, wings and necks to make great soup. You can brown the meat or not, depending on your preference, and if you leave the skin on you will render the schmaltz (fat) into your broth, which you can chill, and scoop off for use in your matzo balls. Last year I bought a box of matzo ball mix, and followed the directions, using seltzer, like my Oma, and cooking them in water that had simmered with some carrots, celery, onions and salt "so they won't soak up all the soup" as my Oma always said. Don't lift the top on the matzo balls while they are cooking, this is key to getting a fluffy rather than rock-hard texture.

The Best Flourless Chocolate Cake 
made with sweet potatoes
       This recipe is a real winner!
Almond Cardamom Cake
I made this last year for the first time, altering a recipe from an Iranian Seder found in the NY Times. I removed the 1 tablespoon of matzo meal to make it gluten free, and added some pistachios and lemon zest. It was moist, light and very flavorful!

Yield: One 9-inch cake
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus additional for the pan
7 large eggs, separated
3 cups almonds(or part pistachios) or 3 1/3cups finely ground nuts
1 cup sugar
2 teapoons ground cardamom
1 tablespoon almond extract
zest from one lemon
confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9-inch spring form pan or a 9-inch square pan and set aside. Using a stand mixer, whisk egg whites until stiff but not dry, and set aside.
2. Using a large food processor, pulse almonds until very finely ground, stirring once or twice to prevent them from turning into a paste. In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar, and whisk till blended and pale. Add ground almonds and cardamom. Add almond extract and 1/2 cup oil. Gently fold in egg whites.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and finish cooling on a rack. To decorate, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Please share thoughts on any part of this (long and involved) blog post!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Great B-day Cupakes

April is a busy month in our house. My husband, both of our kids and my mom have birthdays. So far, we've made it through two of them, and the cupcakes for my daughter's b-day were a hit, so I thought I'd share the recipe. More than one person coming to the party was allergic to eggs and dairy, so I decided to try out a new vegan chocolate cupcake recipe I found online, and it was great. I even replaced 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat, and it was unnoticeable. I love real buttercream, so I made two versions of frosting, one with butter, and one with earthbalance margarine. I generally stay away from food coloring, but my daughter kept pointing to colorful cupcakes everywhere we turned over the past month, and asking for them for her birthday, so i gave in.....

Vegan Chocolate Cupcake
I found this recipe on Love and Olive Oil
makes 12 cupcakes or 36 mini's

1 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (or use 1/2 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
2 tablespoons almond meal
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together the coconut milk, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract until incorporated. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in coconut milk mixture. Stir until just smooth (do not overmix).
  3. Pour into liners, filling each with 3 tablespoons of batter (cups should be no more than 2/3 full). For mini cupcakes, fill each with 1 tablespoon batter. Bake 18-20 minutes (or 10-12 for minis), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
Vegan Frosting:
1cup non-hydrogenated margarine, room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar (or enough to make it sweet and fluffy)
1to 2 tablespoons soy milk (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter until smooth and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat until combined. Mix in vanilla and milk. Continue adding sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition (depending on the temperature of your butter, you may need more or less sugar/cream to achieve the proper consistency). Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Buttercream recipe (swiss meringue)
Seen at top, and yes, I'll admit it's from  Martha Stewart

4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) strawberry jam, pureed in a food processor
  1. In the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch (about 160 degrees).
  2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg-white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.
  3. Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. (If frosting appears to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more.) Beat in vanilla. Beat on lowest speed to eliminate any air bubbles, about 2 minutes.

    To make chocolate buttercream, as seem below, just melt 12 ounces or more of good dark chocolate and beat into the buttercream.
    The yellow cake I used was also a new recipe found online, and uses an oil base, rather than butter, so it stayed moist for days afterward.
    Do you have any great cupcake recipes?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bringing 'New Haven Cooks' to WIC Offices

photo credit: Uma Ramiah
Finally after a year of waiting for some logistical issues to be worked out, New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven is finally getting out to all of the New Haven WIC (Women Infant and Children) offices, and I get to go with it! WIC offices provide low income women and children with food assistance and nutrition education. The cookbook that I poured my heart into for a year and half through an incredible CitySeed project funded by the CT Department of Public Health is a bilingual community cookbook with a wide range of recipes all featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, and it is packed with tons of other info on cooking and eating fresh foods and helping kids (and adults) eat more veggies. We packed so much info into this little book, that I just couldn't imagine dropping off hundreds of cookbooks to health centers with no instructions or info on how to use them. I gave so many months of donated time to finishing this book, and I just couldn't afford to do that any more, so, very lucky for me a wonderful local doctor and colleague of mine donated a small amount of money to help make this process happen.

Starting last month 400 copies of New Haven Cooks have been delivered to each of the New Haven WIC offices, as well as 2000 copies through wellness initiatives in the public school system. I have had the wonderful opportunity to do a 45 minute workshop with each group of people who will be giving out the cookbooks, and trying to engage their clientele in healthier eating habits. Having just this small amount of time to discuss with them the 100 or so community members and organizations that made this book possible, and the sections of the book with info on cooking fresh for the week, cooking with kids, local help with growing your own food, free and low cost places to exercise and more, truly helps to bring the book to life for these amazing community workers. It has been a thrilling month for me, and the connections with really positive people who will be helping to get the cookbook out to the community, is deeply satisfying. I look forward to the exciting work that is to come!

Thank you to Uma Ramiah, from the New Haven Independent for this article on 
my visit to the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Building Raised Bed Gardens

There are so many ways to grow food in an urban environment. Window boxes, pots or buckets on stairs or a flat roof are great options, and are how I gardened for many years. Tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and herbs are all easy to grow in containers. And the online resources for container gardening online are endless.  If you are fortunate to have a little piece of earth outside your door, as i now do, raised beds are a great option. For the first few years that I had a yard, I gardened in the ground and had my soil tested and also added lots of compost and lyme to it to help things grow, but last year we finally managed to build raised beds, which allow us to grow more food in a smaller space and guarantee that our soil is not contaminated with lead or other toxins. You can purchase raised beds online, or build them yourself rather cheaply. Click here to read a detailed post on how we built ours using inexpensive but sturdy douglas fir wood.

What are you growing and where?