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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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    SlowFoodFast sometimes addresses general public health topics related to nutrition, heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes. Because this is a blog with a personal point of view, my health and food politics entries often include my opinions on the trends I see, and I try to be as blatant as possible about that. None of these articles should be construed as specific medical advice for an individual case. I do try to keep to findings from well-vetted research sources and large, well-controlled studies, and I try not to sensationalize the science (though if they actually come up with a real cure for Type I diabetes in the next couple of years, I'm gonna be dancing in the streets with a hat that would put Carmen Miranda to shame. Consider yourself warned).

Last-Minute Sweets for Rosh Hashanah

toaster oven baklava rolls with honey

A quick last-minute wish for peace and a sweet and prosperous New Year to everyone. I know it doesn’t look that likely, between the physical and political versions of “weather” in the news, but I try to remember that it begins with us in our own neighborhoods and that we can make a difference by our own actions. If you haven’t yet, please make an effort to donate aid–even a couple of bucks–to the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and to the victims of the earthquakes in Mexico. If you have neighbors and friends waiting to hear from loved ones caught in these disasters, do what you can to support them.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck for a last-minute dessert that works along the theme of “honey”–try baklava. I’m not actually kidding–if you have a toaster oven (for smaller amounts, 7-10 portions) and a microwave, and you have the makings of baklava (a roll of fillo, a bag of walnuts, some sugar and sweet spices and some butter or light-flavored vegetable oil), plus a bottle of honey, you’re in business. Of course, you could do apples instead of walnuts and make a strudel instead–also good and pretty easy. Peel and slice up or chop the apple (s), stick the pieces on a plate and microwave a minute or so to cook through and drain the juices before sprinkling on sugar, spices, and crushed nuts or breadcrumbs and/or raisins, and rolling up in fillo.

Toaster Oven Baklava Rolls

These are kind of like “ladies’ fingers” Moroccan fillo pastries, only with walnut filling rather than almond paste. Rolling individual fillo sheets is easy and a lot  quicker (and more fun, frankly) than layering several sheets flat and neat and then cutting pieces and baking and pouring a big jar of cold syrup over the hot pan. Plus the traditional syrup soak is a huge overload of sweet that’s admirable in its own odd way but very rich and hard to deal with–very sticky–right before you have to head off to synagogue. This is kind of a modular recipe–make just a few rolls if you feel like it, drizzle a bit of honey over the rolls at will.

  • roll of fillo dough , thawed (uses 1 sheet per roll; if you have extra left over, rewrap carefully and store in the fridge or freezer)
  • about 1 ounce walnuts per roll (I used about 6-7 ounces for 7 rolls)
  • 1 T sugar per 3-4 oz walnuts (I used 2T)
  • cinnamon or ground cardamom, about 1/2 t for 6-7 oz walnuts)
  • 1 t orange blossom water, optional, or orange or lemon juice or rind–you don’t want the mixture wet, this is for aromatic flavor
  • 2-3 T butter, melted, or vegetable oil, or a mixture, as needed
  • honey to drizzle over the top once baked, about 1/2-1 t per roll
  1. Slice the butter thin and melt in a ceramic or other microwaveable bowl, about 2 minutes.
  2. Put the walnuts in a plastic bag with some room and roll over them with a rolling pin or wine bottle to break them up fairly fine with a few 1/8th-1/4 inch bits, or if you feel like it, chop them in a food processor, not too fine. Add the sugar, spices and orange blossom water or juice to the bag and mix them into the nut meal.
  3. Unroll the fillo carefully onto a clean flat surface (lay down plastic wrap first as needed).
  4. Put a plastic sandwich baggie over your hand and dip it lightly into the melted butter. Dab on the top sheet of fillo.
  5. Fold the fillo sheet in thirds lengthwise. Grab a small handful of the nut mixture (2 T-ish), squeeze, and place at one end of the fillo strip. Tuck the side edges over it by 1/4-1/2 inch, then roll the end over and around the nut filling to enclose it. Dab a bit more butter on the rest of the strip and roll it up. Place on tin foil. Repeat with the rest of the fillo sheets until you run out of nut filling. If you run out of butter or oil, you can slice a bit more to melt quickly. You don’t need much per roll and the sandwich baggie should help spread it without absorbing any.
  6. When all the rolls are made, dab the last of the butter or oil on the tops, wait a minute to let it sink in a bit, and place the sheet in a toaster oven (or your regular oven preheated to 350F). For the toaster oven, set to bake on 350-400F, not “toast”, for about 8-10 minutes and keep an eye on it so nothing burns.
  7. Bake until the rolls are a deep golden brown and smelling baked. Remove from the oven, cool and squeeze on a drizzle of honey to taste–about half to one teaspoon per roll is enough for flavor without submerging it in syrup.

Baklava rolls browning in the toaster oven–don’t forget to set the temperature a little lower than for toasting so the tops don’t burn

L’Shanah Tova Tikatevu!

Microwave Tricks: Black Beans

microwaved black beans

Cooking seasonally is a tricky thing–especially if your season currently includes hurricanes or extreme heat. Pasadena has finally cooled down to 80s/90s with a bit of cloud cover, but last week’s 105-degree afternoons were a serious challenge. It was so bad the only time to go out for a walk was about 5:30 in the morning. Hard to think school has been in session for a month, it’s already September, and Rosh Hashanah is a week and a half away. Running the oven is, to put it bluntly, not an option, and the stove top isn’t much better in my small and easily overheated galley kitchen.

Microwaving is a powerful way to cut the time and pain (and airconditioning bills) for bulk cooking of things like vegetables, rice, pasta…and dried beans, which are much cheaper and more versatile (and much lower in sodium) than canned. Make a bean stew or chili and you can zap a portion of it at will later in the week. Plus bean salads can be served cold–a plus for weeks like the ones we’ve had recently.

But for microwaving, you usually have to adjust whatever method is spelled out in a recipe to your oven, your containers, your food quantities. Microwave times are sensitive to all of those factors, plus how much water you have (water’s the main molecule microwave radiation acts on) and whether or not you’ve got a lid.

Most people don’t try to make changes based on their first-run results and most cookbooks never really explain how to make useful adjustments. Predictably, most microwave cookbooks end up in the Last Chance bin at your local Friends of the Library booksale.

It’s a shame, because once you’ve got your timing and so on down, you can repeat it with reliable results.

Over the years I’ve posted basic heat-to-simmer-and-let-sit-to-absorb microwave methods for cooking split peas, chickpeas, lentils and other bulk dried beans. Lentils and split peas always did work out well without needing to soak them first–they tend to be easier to cook quickly by standard stovetop boiling too. Chickpeas work okay if you presoak them or hot-soak in the microwave (heat briefly in water just to cover, let stand 15 minutes or so and let them swell up) before the main cooking, and adding a dash of baking soda to the soak water really helps. Same with gigantes (giant favas)–which I’ve now decided cook better with the skins left on, same as if you were boiling them, and they’re certainly a lot quicker and easier to peel afterward–also more fun.

But some beans just seem to toughen if you don’t presoak overnight or if you microwave them too long. Black beans and kidney beans have given me more trouble than they seem to be worth–and I’m a bit reluctant to post this because it’s fussier than I like to admit even after adjusting the method successfully. Microwaving isn’t supposed to take more time and fuss than straight boiling on a stove, or working with a pressure cooker, if you have and trust yourself with one.

But this is a good illustration of how to use a microwave as a workaround when you don’t, and it shows you how you might think about making adjustments based on what the food is doing or not doing.

I microwave because I want something relatively safe, that doesn’t heat up the kitchen, and that turns itself off when done because, let’s face it, I’d rather be reading or writing than waiting for a pot of water to boil or jumping up at the whistle to avert an explosion. And I want the beans properly cooked and tender in less total microwave time at the least and without having to boil them afterward on the stove. I’ve done that before and I’ll probably do again if it ever cools down enough, but I’d rather not have to. The prior microwaving steps still shorten the stovetop time to maybe half an hour, but really, I’d rather it were all microwave, no fuss (I can dream, can’t I?)

So after a rethink of my previous methods, I’ve made some changes to the way I cook black beans from scratch by microwave. It also works for things like brown rice, steelcut oats, and other tough, uncut, unpeeled whole grains like farro or pearl barley when you’ve forgotten to put them up for soaking overnight, and at least for the rice it’s quicker than the 45 minutes or so of my previous brown rice method–maybe 20-30 minutes for a pound or two of brown rice. For the beans, maybe an hour of time total, with sitting and rechecking. Maybe less if your beans are fresh enough and/or you remembered to soak them overnight first.

Cracking the method

It starts with the water. I had been covering a pound of dried beans (or brown rice) with more than an inch of water and heating it all, or else heating that much water by itself (more than a quart) and then tipping in the rinsed beans to soak for a bit. But since the water molecules are what the microwave heats up first for preference, the more water you have, the longer it takes for the Continue reading

Diabetes meets ethnic foodways in new ADA series

Just in at my library are two new cookbooks from the American Diabetes Association. Indian Cuisine Diabetes Cookbook by May Abraham Fridel (©2017, ADA, Inc.)  and The Italian Diabetes Cookbook by Amy Riolo (©2016, ADA, Inc.)  are written by two food authorities in their respective home cuisines. The books are bright, they’re attractive, the food looks decent and authentic.

But what makes them “diabetes cookbooks”? What have they changed–or not–about the recipes and what was the ADA’s role other than simply publishing them? Above all, how helpful are they to an average diabetes or prediabetes patient?

Both books start out with an explanation of their food traditions and what’s generally healthy about them. Both include a variety of food categories for different meals, from appetizers or chaats to mostly-protein “main” dishes to mixed casserole-type dishes to salads, breads, soups, cooked vegetables, fruits, baked sweets and drinks. The Indian cookbook also includes some useful spice mixes and tips on how to handle them, and the Italian one includes some traditional menu choices and tips on choosing wine.

The recipes are generally very DASH Diet-able with an emphasis on a variety of vegetables, beans, whole grains, low-fat dairy, whole fruits and nuts, along with smaller portions of meat and cheese and less added sugar for desserts.

On a closer read, the adaptations to recipes mainly look like sane portion sizing for starches and sweets, reducing or substituting poly- and monounsaturated fats for some of the saturated fats, cutting down excess sugars in sweets and desserts, adding fruit and vegetables, and substituting almond flour and dried fruits for standard flour and sweeteners. The recipes are adjusted just enough to be low in sodium and saturated fat, reasonable on calories, total carbohydrates and added sugars. The portion sizes listed are smaller than what you’d get at an American restaurant or see on a magazine cover these days but they’re close to the amounts people traditionally serve.

So the nutrition stats are a general improvement compared with most current cookbook-style recipes for equivalent dishes, and it looks like the nutrition guides at the bottom of each recipe are relatively accurate given the ingredients. So far so good. If this was the ADA’s doing, I’m all for it.  But it seems obvious to me that it would be better to trust the ADA reviewers’ understanding of diabetes nutrition than either cookbook author’s.

I was surprised to find that the ADA let each of the authors go her own way on the introductions, and that the health explanations tend to be vague and cultural rather than practical. In the Indian cookbook, Fridel describes ayurvedic dietary principles rather than talking about nutrients. Riolo also veers off into a discussion of which appetizer traditionally goes with which first course and how to choose Italian wines in a way that doesn’t really have anything to do with target carb counts or  exchanges for a meal either.

You can discount or admire these things as you please, but you can’t really learn a lot from them diabetes-wise. They’re not really directed toward helping patients put together balanced, carb-controlled meals from the nutrition stats given with the recipes.

Moreover, the ADA’s particular nutrition stats system lists “carbohydrate exchanges” separately from “starch,” “fruit” “vegetable” and “dairy” exchanges, even though most of the ingredients that fall into those categories contain significant carbohydrates. All of them have to be counted for diabetes management.

It’s not clear why their system differs so much in this regard from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ standard “Choose Your Foods” exchanges system for carb count approximations. It works okay for figuring out standard servings definitions for the major food groups if you’re following the DASH Diet or USDA/HHS MyPlate plans, but it’s not really in keeping with the way endocrinologists and certified diabetes educators train Type I diabetes patients. It makes carb counting and carb planning for meals more complicated than it has to be. That can’t be a good thing.

Also, simply giving the nutrition and exchanges stats for each recipe as it shows up in the book is not the same as teaching a new patient how to carb count or set up a balanced plate. Most of the dishes are mixtures of carb-containing and noncarb-containing ingredients–casseroles, soups with beans, meat and vegetables, biryanis, meatballs containing breadcrumbs, and so on. Those are some of the most difficult foods to estimate carbs for by eye, and it’s not visually obvious–or discussed in any detail–what the authors and their nutrition consultants at the ADA did to adjust these specific recipes.  In this regard the ADA books are no worse than most “diabetes diet” cookbooks and magazine recipe collections, but they’re also not much clearer.

Beginners really would do better to start with the carb and noncarb foods separated on the plate, at least until they get a feel for what to count and how much food to serve.

What both of these books–and any others in the ADA series–could use is a short, clear explanation for how to work through the nutrition stats they give in each recipe and how to plan a nutritionally balanced meal around that dish to reach a target total amount of carbohydrate. A two-page standard ADA primer with a basic diabetes meal plan diagram, some suggested per-meal carb counts or carb exchanges, a balanced-nutrition plate à la ChooseMyPlate.gov,  examples of where to look in the recipes for serving sizes and how to create a full meal from them, how to add things up for a meal’s total carb, etc., would help a lot. It might also be helpful to point out how to rework the meal plan if someone wants more than the standard serving amount or takes second helpings.

All in all, these two cookbooks aren’t terrible as cookbooks, but they’re not nearly as helpful as they could be as diabetes guides.

Vine and Fig: Charlottesville

fig tree

Charlottesville is my hometown. I grew up there from the age of seven, went to the public schools, was part of the active Jewish community as a kid, a UVA student, a young working adult. After last weekend’s events, I’m still struggling for what to say.

The Jewish recipe for fearlessness and a decent society is a lot different from the “blood and soil”,  “exercise your 2nd Amendment option” and other noxious fantasy slogans of the radical right, and it’s also different from the laissez-faire governmental and police attitudes that led to the violence in Charlottesville.

It’s  this:

“Everyone shall sit under his vine and fig and none shall make them afraid.”

Does it sound less believable than “blood and soil”? Less heroic? Which world would you rather live in?

Vine and fig sounds like a pretty simplistic recipe–only two ingredients, maybe three or four if you squint–vines, figs, sitting in your own garden without being disturbed or threatened.

Some people have confused the Vine and Fig model as passive, cowardly, sheltered, privileged. Not so. Ask anyone who grows grapes–or any food crop– for a living. To take it literally, growing plants for food successfully requires hard work. It takes looking ahead and choosing your actions today to improve your future–will you have plenty or will you have waste and starvation? Will you get to eat? If you forget to water–no crop. Overwater–rot at the roots. Plant at the wrong time of year, no crop. If you don’t transplant seedlings, your plants don’t grow and you get a late crop or none. You sure won’t get wine.

I’ve learned these things the hard way in the microcosm of my own backyard by trying them out.  I think they hold some lessons for society as well.

Everything that happened last weekend was magnified to national and international coverage one way and another. The news has been chewed and rechewed and comes down to the ugly fact that Virginia’s government, its laws and its court system failed all its residents badly, as did the federal judge who accepted the ACLU’s argument that out-of state white hate groups’ claims to first and second amendment rights and the right of free assembly should somehow outweigh the fundamental rights of local residents to be safe in their own community from threats of violence and harassment.

It’s not just the Confederate statues, which were the bald excuse. It’s not just the open-carry laws and the confusion of hate speech with free speech, for which the ACLU has taken one in the eye over the violence in Charlottesville and said they’re not going to continue defending hate groups for that in places like the Bay Area (where they’d have a lot less chance of winning, or is that by the bye?) Those arguments subverted the value of the first and second amendments as civil rights and turned them into excuses too.

It’s the favoritism and the vastly unequal application of the law. By any reasonable definition, the KKK, neo-Nazi and other white hate groups are gangs. They may not be running drugs or prostitution rings, but they’re certainly peddling open violence and amassing guns–plus explosives, plus caustic chemicals, plus plus plus. They’ve done most of their recruiting, paying, supplying and organizing online. It doesn’t sanitize them.

The white hate groups are not secretive about their aims to commit acts of violence and intimidation against minority groups and whole towns. Richard Spencer called on his online followers to harass and threaten a woman in his town in Montana a year or so ago because she’s Jewish. They’re gangs, and they should have been treated like gangs by the police, the city of Charlottesville, and the federal judge who I sincerely hope will have to account for his callousness in the ruling he gave.

Gangs do not get unfettered right of free assembly. They don’t get to amass weapons and carry guns anywhere they feel like and point them at whoever they feel like. They don’t get to throw caustic chemicals at people whose towns they invade or deface people’s property. They don’t get to run people over and  swarm around houses of worship during services, guns in hand.

Regional police and sheriff’s department networks typically collaborate extensively on gang-busting operations, often with state and federal help. Panting to participate–it’s pretty high-profile.

Unless the gangs are white, conservative, Christians, khaki-pant-wearers, perhaps? Unless the targeted victims are not?

Virginia gave the outside white hate groups a free ride and a red carpet, over the objections of Charlottesville residents, the University of Virginia and the city’s municipal government, until something bad enough actually happened. As it was bound to–who the hell couldn’t have predicted that white hate groups carrying guns and torches might actually commit acts of violence they’d been saying they wanted to commit? How else would it add up?

Last weekend, Charlottesville’s Jews were singled out by several of the out-of-town haters on Friday afternoon, before Friday night services and apparently in preparation for the march the next day. Three of them stood just outside the synagogue, sieg-heiling and waving semiautomatic weapons, pointing them at the doors several times. The synagogue had hired an armed guard, something they haven’t done regularly but which is standard for my congregation here in southern California, where Jewish community centers and synagogues have been attacked by gunmen in the past 20 years.

Saturday morning, Congregation Beth Israel had to usher its worshipers out a back exit away from the larger and riotous parade of the white hate groups, who were carrying even more guns openly as they swarmed through the downtown blocks and marched toward the synagogue’s front doors shouting death and destruction to Jews. The police were not visible on the scene. Yes, they were occupied elsewhere with active casualties, especially after Field drove his car into the crowd, but a token presence is one of the more effective tools our local police force lends us in Pasadena for as a deterrent. Even one or two police cars are an indication that the law is taking notice and that arrest is a possibility.

There appeared to be no major collaboration with other towns to send enough police to help handle the demonstrations. No significant restrictions on the permit terms. No other strategies that might have helped Charlottesville create a serious deterrent to violence. The police barriers were sufficient only to protect the rallyers, not the townspeople. That’s a really bad message to send.

If the out-of-state rallyers had been unarmed African Americans, or protesters demonstrating against violations of minority and women’s civil rights by the government, or taking away healthcare benefits, you know the state and federal response would have been a lot different. Protesters and reporters who confronted Republican congressmen or federal appointees earlier this year have been assaulted and arrested for “shouting,” asking questions at town hall meetings, even laughing.

This has been going on ever since–well, for a very long time in a wide variety of excuses and guises.  Open-carry gun laws and a long run of reactionary Republican leadership at the state and federal level have made it a lot worse, though.

I grieve for Heather Heyer and her family, and I’m grateful for hers, and her mother’s, forthright bravery. I grieve for the other local people who were injured by the rallyers last weekend, and I’m grateful for all the people who stepped forward to counter the white hate rally. They don’t deserve to have a bunch of out-of-town louts (or local ones) marching around brandishing guns and torches and harrassing them, using some generally ignored park statues as a poor excuse for the occasion.

However, the specific insult and harm that had already been done to the African American and Jewish communities in Charlottesville has gotten lost or ignored at the national level of op-eds and commentaries, and some of them have actually had the nerve to blame the African American residents and Charlottesville’s deputy mayor for the whole fracas because they dared to object to Confederate statues in their public parks. That’s shabby and fundamentally dishonest.

Last night’s Charlottesville city council meeting was disrupted by residents angry at how badly the city, the police and the mayor failed them. Police arrested three of them for disruption, but the protesters were numerous enough to insist they be released or they wouldn’t let the council meeting continue. The three were released. Mike Signer, the mayor, came in for the loudest blame, and shouted back that he tried, the city council tried, but the federal court made them allow the white hate rallyers in.

It’s true, technically. But they could have done more if they hadn’t been thinking so strictly along legal lines and had used some vine-and-fig strategies while the case was going forward. Continue reading

Fast fix for ripening peaches

peaches ripening on counter

People are STILL hitting up two of my early posts on possibilities for improving spongy, underperforming peaches that don’t ripen properly even after being left out on a countertop in a paper bag for a day or so (the best-known strategy).

My recommendation back then was first of all to try to buy local or US produce because under-ripened imported fruits are heat-treated at Customs, which disrupts their potential for ripening naturally off the tree or for keeping well.

If your only options for fresh peaches and nectarines are supermarket fruit shipped long-distance, and the produce you get doesn’t ripen on its own within a day or so at room temperature, even though the color’s right, my next suggestion was to cut up the fruit, leaving the skin on, and microwaving them with a little sugar and lemon juice. What you’d get wouldn’t be full-on raw, fresh peaches magically fulfilled to the height of the season–they’d be cooked, suitable maybe for peach jam, and they’d be tolerable, not exquisite, but it was better than having to throw them out in disappointment.

Neither the paper bag scheme nor the microwave scheme produce particularly stellar results with spongy peaches. Also, even though it may work, a 24-hour wait isn’t terrible but it isn’t particularly fast either.

Back then I thought the old Victorian-era trick of cutting up fresh strawberries and sprinkling a spoonful of sugar on them, then letting them sit out a bit to macerate–ten minutes? half an hour? who knows–wasn’t working on the spongy peaches. And maybe it wasn’t, or maybe I just wasn’t waiting long enough (ten minutes might not have been enough). But with domestic underripe peaches that aren’t rock-hard, it does seem to improve them quickly without cooking them.

The sugar draws out some of the juices to the surface but it also seems to enhance the color and perhaps creates a bit of conversion to riper flavor within the fruit itself.

Caveat: the peaches I bought yesterday were US peaches, and they had a tinge of aroma to them. They’re not rock-hard after sitting out on an admittedly warm counter near a window overnight, and they’re not hideously spongy and flavorless like the ones I bought when I was really upset about it in the original post. But they’re not really going sublime on their own either, or at least not as fast as I thought they should. Given their high color when I bought them (which used to be the other main signal for ripening and flavor potential), I wasn’t happy to find that they weren’t ready yet this morning.

I took the most yielding one, washed it, sliced it up in a bowl and took a bite–underripe, tart without the sweet (at least there was some tartness, though) and that hard yellow that isn’t really peachy yet. Potential, perhaps, but I’m impatient, as everyone knows.

So I dusted on a little sugar, turned the slices in it to get some contact, and waited about 10 minutes. Which may not be enough to see anything obvious, but it did make the slices noticeably juicier and they also seemed a little sweeter than the amount of sugar would account for. Not perfect, but not bad.

Half a guess based on the success of my faux-sour cherries experiment and last year’s nectarine sorbet (which I did again just last week):

If your peaches are really not tart either, just dull, you might try either a squeeze of lemon, or preferably, if you have it, a light dusting of citric acid powder along with the sugar. Citric acid will give them tartness that goes with their own flavors, so you don’t end up with something that tastes specifically like you added lemon. Let them sit a while and see what happens–take a sample taste and if it’s good, eat them, and if not, you can always go ahead and microwave them.

Finding heart

Right before the inauguration, a woman I didn’t know wished me a happy new year as we passed each other in the library. Something about the cautious way she said it made me wish it back to her with a wry twist we both acknowledged: neither of us felt we had much to look forward to in the coming administration, and both of us were worried for our families, our children, our community, ourselves. “We’ll keep on,” she said and I nodded. Both of us were a little grim.

And although it’s spring and Passover started Monday night, I am still a little grim and on standby. Every so often I feel a bit lighter in spite of the news, but to tell you the truth, I still often feel like hiding under a table. With a big tablecloth on it. In another, better, saner country. I kind of wonder if Iceland’s available. Are there Jews in Iceland? I hope so. Do they have enough matzah? I could lend them some…

But it’s spring. You can’t just hibernate for 4 years (or 2, hoping for a reversal in Congress in 2018 and a brain transplant for pretty much everyone in the White House, starting not with Trump–may not be possible–but perhaps Spicer? no, again, not possible–stick the oversized bunny suit back on him, make him hop around the WH lawn–would you be able to tell the difference?)

Ahem! As I was saying, you have to get back out there and see how your neighbors are faring and talk to them. If you’re not naturally extroverted and you work alone (double-ahem!), it’s even more important to take a breather and reconnect in the real world.

Despite my wariness about the immediate future of American government and my repeated incredulity at the daily headlines, there is reason for hope in this country. All kinds of people, business leaders and employee groups, religious leaders and congregations, public officials, judges, entertainers, and most of all, ordinary citizens have started speaking up and donating money and time to support the safety and rights of threatened and persecuted minority groups, whether their own or someone else’s. Citizen or not. Same religion or gender or race or not. California’s not the only place where this is happening. If it can happen in North Carolina, in Kansas, in Pennsylvania, in Texas–it can happen anywhere.

These surprising oases of sanity, civil contribution and decency give me heart that we can take steps in our own neighborhoods and states to protect the progress and community we’ve recovered since 2008.

But I do have to ask, is there really still room for a food blog like mine? Is this what I should be doing this year? Can I help anyone by talking about food and trying to seek pleasure in it when we’re all worried about bigger things? It’s taken me four five whole months to get to the point where I can say I think so.

A few weeks ago, still wondering, I went to Shabbat services for the first time in a while and tried hard to find heart and figure out what to do with it. And I did. I looked around at my neighbors and friends, I joined in the prayers and singing, sat with my husband, said kaddish for my brother and father and grandmother, whose yahrzeits all fall in the same week, got an aliyah, heard my daughter chanting the longest possible maftir in the book (usually we’re tawkin’ 3 verses at the end of the Torah reading, this time it was 20-plus). I found myself thinking both how proud I was of her, how beautifully she sang it, and how rusty my Hebrew reading had gotten through neglect these past months.

Being with my community and my family, seeking something not posted in the daily news headline deathspiral, put me in a more expansive frame of mind.

I decided not to let the current occupants of the White House and their make-America-hate-again tactics continue to ruin my or my neighbors’ life and drain all the color out of our days. I decided not to hide under the table–it was too much like duck-and-cover, and that’s only good for ducks, and only if it’s Wabbit Season.

We can be better and more powerful together than our current representatives in Washington think. Although I would personally like to thank MY congressional representatives, Judy Chu and Adam Schiff, as well as my senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein. Keep doing the right thing, and Chazak v’Amatz (strength and courage).

Living well and supporting each other is the best revenge.

(Chasing recalcitrant rightwing congressional reps down with pitchforks or at least cellphones at various town halls and telling them to do their jobs is starting to be tempting too, don’t get me wrong. Plus it’s aerobic.)

So anyway, back on track. Because Civility 101 demands community, and community includes good food. Even if it occasionally has to be served up with a pitchfork. And, as I mentioned somewhere up in the wilderness above, it’s Pesach. Time for a taste of freedom.

Passover Links

Passover Pareve, Eggless Chocolate Torte (Sacher Torte) with Dairy-free Ganache

Assorted Passover cakes (apple/almond, banana ginger) and breakfast schemes

Macaroons, mandelhorns and almendrados

Homemade Horseradish (but I’m not bitter)

Not gefilte–better fish options

Microwave shakshouka

Not-chicken soup

Israeli spinach-feta casserole

Post-Election: Food and, well, everything else we value

Not a good week. At all. Even Garrison Keillor is jumping in and warning the Rust Belt states that they’ve made an extreme mistake that will keep them down (and they’re probably not listening or aware that he’s even left NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion”) and prevent them from enjoying anything but more Hamburger Helper and Mac ‘n’ Cheese in all its fabulously innovative variations for the next ten years or so.

And how do I explain this development to my daughter, who came home from a high school election night event as ashen-faced as we all were?

Certainly mac ‘n’ cheese, posed in this case along with brussels sprout gratin and leek casserole as fabulous Thanksgiving options (and so transportable!), was at the top of the New York Times food article server to show alongside all the disaster inch-high election result headlines and the not-quite-mea-culpas for having called it wrong for months. I’ve never encountered something so unappetizing in my life–at this point, MnC looks much too much like a certain infamous hair don’t. And despite blog after blog and cookbook after cookbook extolling the midwestern ecstasies of MnCs in every possible not-gonna-happen-because-you-can’t-get-roquefort-or-chervil-in-Middle-America, I find myself in revolt.

Heartened by yesterday’s thousands of young protesters taking to the streets, but in revolt nonetheless because street protests aren’t going to be enough to solve this mess.

So yes, I’m going to be alarmist for a few minutes here. Maybe more if I get on a roll. Every prospect for a decent, diverse, civil and prosperous society is about to be thrown under the bus by Congress and the president in two months, if the bloviators have their way. Mac ‘n’ cheese is the least of it, the most trivial and trivializing point. I’m not trying to be elitist here–more like, why favor what is essentially a flavorless stodgy heart attack on a plate and then whine about high drug prices?

But the anti-trade rants that seem to have won over the red states are a damn good place to start. I’d just like to point a few items out to people who already have a limited selection of food at their local supermarkets because they live in small towns across the country (and that includes plenty of us in California as well).

What the hell are us cooks, foodies or no, wherever we live, going to do? We have two months to stock up on actual spices that didn’t come in a tiny, uptight, never-to-be-used tin box or jar as part of a wedding set from however many years ago. Because most spices come from…overseas. That’s right. Or Mexico.

Thanksgiving, utterly whitebread and middle-American as it so often seems, requires spices. Pumpkin pie is not the same with “pumpkin pie spice” artifices developed in chemistry labs in New Jersey. It needs cloves. And ginger. And cinnamon. And nutmeg or cardamom or both. Also mace, if you can get it. Sweet potato pudding requires crushed pineapple. Which comes from Mexico or worse, in the eyes of our next president, Hawaii.

The last time we were on an hysterical close-the-borders binge, in one of the Bush eras, cloves started to run over $50 a pound. Because they come from places like Iran. For those of you who don’t know, cloves come from a clove tree–hard to find in the gardening catalogs and apparently somewhat tricky to grow in most of the US. Cinnamon, the most “American” of spices, is the bark of one of several trees, either “true cinnamon” or cassia, grown in Vietnam, some places in Latin America, Sri Lanka, etc…

Peppercorns–India, mostly. Limes, Mexico again. Where will all the Margaritas go? Also many varieties of hot peppers.

And don’t forget the two great American drugs–coffee and chocolate. Both imports from countries the newly elected right-wingers would like to ban altogether. African countries. Arab countries. Latin America. Indonesia which is, yes, primarily Muslim.

Recreational marijuana, which almost anyone can grow in the US, pales in comparison and everybody knows it.

More disconcerting to me for most of the year, sesame seeds. Tehina requires them. All Arab and most Israeli and some Caucasus/Persian food requires them (all those amazing cookbooks the past couple of years and this fall season–Zahav, Samarkand, Persepolis, Balaboosta, you name it). Also Chinese food. And Korean. Bagels wouldn’t be the same without them. Sesame seeds are grown primarily in Ethiopia and are traded through a variety of countries on Trump’s bloviating rant list.

There’s more. Cookware–China. Almost all of it at this point, with the exception of Lodge cast iron frying pans and whatever Shinola decides to produce in the way of an orange-and-tan hipster le Creuset wannabe with detachable split calf handle covers or whatever. Wonder how well Shinola’s gonna be selling in Brooklyn now, or whether discerning New Yorkers will cut them a break and realize Detroit voted blue, it was all the surrounding Michigan counties that clutched up.

The worst hit of all, probably, may be for print. As in, cookbooks. It’s well known that our next prez does not like to read much and may find print expendable (and he’s no fan of the free press either). Most American publishers print their hard copy books of all kinds in China and Singapore and ship them back to the US. So do many magazines and brochure and business card companies. DVDs and Blu-Ray. All that stuff–made in China.

Although I would welcome a return to American printing for major publishers, retail prices for everything would probably go up. A lot. And a lot of trees would be killed here unless we can get that elitist tree-hugging recycling thing going properly without sending all our paper waste to China for processing.

And, as I say again, coffee. And chocolate. If there’s a shortage or an embargo, serious chocolate may disappear in this country and be replaced by stuff about the quality of typical Halloween candy, most of which is brown without noticeable chocolate content.

Very depressing.

Well, screw all that. In fact, corkscrew it. (Wine may also end up harder to come by, because it comes from the Blue States–California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Virginia, Maryland…)

The two cookbooks most blogged about this fall are MnC-like in ways I hadn’t expected from either of their authors. Then again. probably both of their authors were looking for a more united state of the Union when the books came out.

Mario Batali has decided he’s the new Jane and Michael Stern and surveyed some regional American recipes he thinks are worth putting in a cookbook. There are, contrary to his Italian-focused cookbooks, almost no vegetables and an awful lot of bland-looking starch dishes. On a quick flip-through, none of it looks exceedingly delicious, to be honest with you.

Then there is the self-consciously infamous Anthony Bourdain doing his Hunter S. Thompson-as-foodie act with Appetites–this one’s also sort of American-ish, and focused on “dad food”. The prose veers back and forth between “still badass in his heart” and handy dad tips you never knew you needed because “it’s all about the little girl,” who’s age nine or so at this point. Things like how to fix a broken hollandaise sauce for Eggs Benedict and not to bother with risotto for birthday parties for nine-year-olds and their friends. A little surreal–what typical American dad really aims for hollandaise sauce, broken or un-?

To make up for the mawkish sentimentality, the photos are unnecessarily aggressive: a combat helmet filled with Korean Army Stew, rice noodles slopped over the side and onto the table (a Lucky Peach original motif). A cotton gi with bloodstains from his boasted-about workout routine. Bourdain, sitting on the seat of a toilet in a stylish and thankfully clean bathroom, and even more thankfully fully clothed and pants zipped, but eating a sausage and pepper sandwich on the pot.

Is it necessary? Is it ornamental? Is it even particularly entertaining? No. It’s overshare and trying a little too hard to stay provocative.

The real puzzler for most food journalists has been how he conned Eric Ripert, head of Le Bernardin in NYC and also the author of the well-received recent memoir 32 Yolks, into posing for the gonzo photographer with pale gravy dribbling down his universally-acclaimed-to-be-handsome chin, like a 6-month-old fed something he or she doesn’t care for. The expression on Ripert’s face tells it all–dismayed, dyspeptic, slightly helpless and trying to be a good sport in the face of his friend’s over-the-top enthusiasm and that of the photographer. It is not a solid advertisement for the supposed deliciousness of Bourdain’s biscuits and gravy recipe on the opposing page.

All of which…doesn’t give you a lot of hope for serious food prospects come January 20.

We have two months to make a point and also put up some reserves so our kitchens don’t devolve into flavorless beige wastelands of mediocrity.

How do you grow sesame seeds in your back yard again?

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