Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Things I Want to Do This Summer

1. Visit the seashore

2. Attend the Gilroy Garlic Festival- Looking forward to some things (garlic chicken stir fry sounds good, plus normal foods like BBQ, funnel cakes, etc.) Others just sound like a horrible idea - Conagra will be there giving away free garlic ice cream. As a lactose intolerant person, I can't imagine a worse thing for me to put into my body, and I will probably not partake.

3. Watch an opera at the Met (Carmen or La Boheme, preferably both). I have been wanting to see another opera for several years, and my local movie theater will be showing two classic operas in July! I hope it will be like a trip to New York without a plane ticket, and with a better view than I would have even if I saw it at the Met in person!

4. Go to the California State Fair. I love the exhibits, even the commercial ones. Ok, let's be honest- especially the commercial ones. It's not summer unless you've been ripped off by a guy named Ted selling Ginsu knives. But what is up with the powers that be changing the ever-stable date? Our state fair traditionally runs the last weeks of August through Labor Day, but this year the fair will take place in July. I wonder how this will effect things? We'll find out!

5. See the Impressionist Exhibit in SF. With masterpieces from the Musee D'Orsay in Paris by Manet, Degas, Monet, and Renoir, this De Young exhibit looks like a must-see! It runs through September 6th.

6. Start a thriving compost pile. I got my bin and this Saturday, out I go to mix my kitchen scraps with dirt and various natural materials.

7. Read as many books as possible. I am already 99% done with my original summer reading list and need to come up with a new one...

8. Make my own reusable bags. I already sewed 3; now to decorate them as desired!

Beach Madness

Beach in Nice, Southern France

The weather where I live in Northern California has soared to scorching heights of 103 degrees in the past week, leaving me panting and dreaming of the beach. There’s nothing like a nice, cool, salty breeze and the shock of still-cold seawater lapping your toes. How about a free exfoliating pedicure by walking barefoot in the sand?

Perhaps most folks fall into the category of beach or mountain lover. I do enjoy a wooded mountain, but growing up, our family made frequent trips to the Northern California coast. That, combined with a childhood obsession with the Little Mermaid, sealed my fate as beach person.
I have traveled to the Indian ocean in South Africa and the Mediterranean sea in France, as well as the warm waters of Tahiti, Hawaii, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and the Mexican coast.
All were unique and exerted their own special magic, for there is something inherently freeing in walking along a beach. I remember clearly the sensation of blissful breaking away that washed over me when I went for a solo swim in the sun-warmed waters of Nice, a 20 year old American traveling Europe without her parents for the first time.

Over and over again, the sea calls me to return. Maybe I am part mermaid after all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why You Should Just Go for It!

A couple of months ago, I did something that was fairly trivial but felt significant and brave to me at the time. I organized a group around something that interested me - food literature. I ignored my inner negative voice and followed an positive impulse. Guess what happened? At first, not a whole lot. And maybe still not a whole lot. But I can’t help but be ecstatic about an e-mail I received this week from a lady at Houghton Mifflin publishers in New York.

Having noticed my group on and my profile, she wanted to know if I would be interested in being added to a book distribution list for a newly published novel that she thought might interest me. Here is a synopsis of "The Spice Necklace":

"While sailing around the Caribbean, Ann Vanderhoof and her husband Steve track wild oregano-eating goats in the cactus-covered hills of the Dominican Republic, gather nutmegs on an old estate in Grenada, make searing-hot pepper sauce in a Trinidadian kitchen, cram for a chocolate-tasting test at the University of the West Indies, and sip moonshine straight out of hidden back-country stills. Along the way, they are befriended by a collection of unforgettable island characters: Dwight, the skin-diving fisherman who always brings them something from his catch and critiques her efforts to cook it; Greta, who harvests seamoss on St. Lucia and turns it into potent Island-Viagra; sweet-hand Pat, who dispenses hugs and impromptu dance lessons along with cooking tips in her Port of Spain kitchen.

Back in her galley, Ann practices making curry like a Trini, dog sauce like a Martiniquais, and coo-coo like a Carriacouan. And for those who want to take these adventures into their own kitchens, she pulls 71 delicious recipes from the stories she tells, which she places at the end of the relevant chapters. The Spice Necklace is a wonderful escape into a life filled with sunshine (and hurricanes), delicious food, irreplaceable company, and island traditions. "

So basically, I am getting a shiny, brand new novel mailed to me for free. I'm sure the publishing company hopes that readers who receive a free copy will enjoy it and share our impressions with others on or otherwise like-minded friends. And I am so excited not only to read the book but to pursue more things that I'm afraid of. I have learned that when you listen to the voice that says you can and go for it, you never know what unexpected positive things will happen in your life!

Mango Chicken Salad

Sometimes in summer, you don’t want to cook with heat. Those days, it’s nice to have a delicious, cooling salad up your sleeve so you can have a heat-free dinner. I found an Indian-inspired recipe for chicken salad in an old Cooking Light magazine which I modified using free-range rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for the spiced chicken breasts. You really can’t get much easier than this, and the secret ingredient: mango chutney! The chutney adds a touch of fruity sweetness and extra moisture, so that you can use less heavy mayo to keep the mixture moist.

We ate this salad with fresh biscuits, and the next day we ate the leftovers on slices of ciabatta bread. Leftovers make an excellent sandwich filling! My husband really liked this one. I hope you will too!

Mango Chicken Salad

1 free-range rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded
1/4 c. finely chopped red onion
½ c. sliced green grapes
1/3 c. diced celery
1/3 c. Major Grey’s Mango Chutney
1/3 c. olive-oil mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. It’s ready to go!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Make Your Own Compost!

My newest determination is to begin composting. Rich, fertile “black gold” as it is called by gardeners and farmers, can be used to enrich any flower bed, garden plot or lawn - and you can make it at home!

I bought a cheap plastic smell-proof bin from and will begin collecting my kitchen scraps (egg shells, vegetable peelings, apple cores, etc.) and adding it to a compost pile at my parent’s house one a week or so. That way, my apartment-dwelling neighbors won’t have to smell my new project (although once you get the right combination of air and moisture, compost supposedly doesn't stink).

Here is a quick guide for those of you interested in making your own compost. It may take anywhere from 6 weeks to 1 year to be finished, depending on a variety of factors that affect the speed of the process.

1. If you're doing a pile (as opposed to using a bin with holes in the bottom), start by clearing the soil of weeds (you don't want them flourishing in your lovely compost).

2. Start the pile with a layer of brown stuff (high in carbon) to serve as the "fiber" for your compost. Brown stuff includes dead leaves, plants and weeds; pine needles; old straw and hay; or shredded newspaper.

3. Next, you want to mix half brown stuff with half green stuff (or up to 3 parts brown stuff to 1 part green stuff). Green stuff (high in nitrogen) will activate the heat process in your compost. Perfect heat-generating materials include: organic kitchen scraps like the ones I mentioned; herbivore manure (from rabbits, chickens, sheep, goats, or pigeons); hair; grass cuttings; etc. Note: Never compost animal products, feces from carnivorous animals, or weeds that are alive (they might grow).

4. Mix in a little bit of soil and sprinkle each layer lightly with water as you build the heap.

5. Turn your pile regularly, once every week or two. Try to move matter from inside to outside and from top to bottom. Break up anything that is clumpy or matted. Remember that the pile needs to be exposed to air and kept moist in order to decompose properly. For faster break-down, shred leaves, clippings; and crush egg shells

6. To aid the decomposing, add some worms, which can be bought online or at Farmer’s Markets.

When the process is complete, you may use your compost as you wish or give it away! Any farmer or gardener you know would probably love to have it! Happy composting!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Southern Biscuits, Alton Brown-style

Because the picture I posted last time made my mouth water, and because I had lots of strawberry jam and wanted to give it away to some friends with something of the baked variety, I made biscuits tonight. I found the most fantastic recipe by Alton Brown, one of my favorite Food Network celebrities. Watching Alton cook is like observing what might occur if Bill Nye the Science Guy took to experimenting in the kitchen. I love the way he uses food science to create perfectionist alpha recipes, explaining the history and culture behind each targeting dish as he goes.

These biscuits tastes exactly as a biscuit should taste, and the texture is divine- crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy inside. Paired with jam or honey, they are to die for. Note: If you use the 2-inch biscuit cutter that he suggests, you will end up with closer to 2 dozen mini-biscuits. At least I did. For medium size, try 2.5"; for large size, try 3".

With no further ado, I give you.... Alton Brown's Southern Biscuits.

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons shortening

1 cup buttermilk, chilled


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We're Jammin'!

Since I bought "The Bread Baker’s Apprentice" by Peter Reinhardt, baking bread has become a hobby and way of actively participating in sustaining myself. From golden dinner rolls at Christmas dinner to a traditional Challah at Easter to every day whole wheat bread, Reinhardt’s book has become my bible of baking. My freezer is seldom found without a leftover loaf of bread that can be whipped out for a quick snack or simply dinner accompaniment.

When I looked in the refrigerator today, I realized that I have accumulated a dizzying array of jams to go with my baked goods. Here’s how it stacks up so far:

- Prickly Pear Jam from when my family visited Arizona and the Grand Canyon
- Strawberry Guava Jam from when my family visited Hawaii
- Apricot Pineapple Jam, which a family friend shared from their bumper crop of apricots last year
- Lemon Curd, leftover from our Mother’s Day Brunch in May - wonderful served with lemon poppyseed bread
-Sour Cherry Conserve, slightly tart and imported from Italy. It was on sale at the Nugget Market and I was curious to see what it would taste like. Me likey!
- Homemade strawberry jam that Paul and I made on Monday

Since we do have PB&J fairly often (especially on Meatless Mondays), this surplus of fruity condiments does not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I am even thinking of making more when plum season comes around. I’ve never had plum jam before, and I think nothing makes a better gift for friends than a jar of homemade jam!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice Update

Since today is the first day of summer, I thought I would do an update on our patio garden. Obstacles so far have been finding the right amount of light and water, staking our plants, and keeping the aphids off the leaves with an organic pest repellent. Here are some pics I took tonight.

Our early producing tomato has already given us one ripe red tomato and more are on the way!

Our herbs are doing great in their little box! We've used the thyme with vegetables, basil in pasta, and the parsley in just about everything.

Our yellow pear variety has one that looks about ready to become part of a dinner salad.

Here's our late bloomer which should really kick in some time next month. The yellow bell pepper on the right also hasn't seen much action yet.

We love our garden so much, we couldn't help but expand it this weekend. Left to right: cool new succulent plant, sage, and a new rosemary plant.

Redemption at the Church Potluck

This Sunday, our church had an informal potluck in honor of Father’s Day after the services had concluded. Having recently read "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollen, the spread of food offerings depressed me somewhat in the sense that it seemed representative of all that is wrong with the way we eat in America today. Quantity trumps quality. Processed food reigns and we consider American cheese and white bread an acceptable sandwich. I watch as the re-heated frozen meatballs becomes the first dish to be emptied by the hungry crowd. Meanwhile, children make a grab for the sugary Twizzlers and cocoa puff-marshmallow squares for dessert. Even the veggie trays cradles sad, faded, pre-cut specimens that probably saw their best day sometime a week ago.

Then, in the middle of the table, a shining beacon of hope: Slices of our bishop’s wife’s famous homemade bread and chunky strawberry jam (possibly homemade). Now, that’s more like it! As Michael Pollen and Jamie Oliver have asserted, the hope of America’s health relies on a return to homemade, real food like our great-grandparents would have eaten 100 years ago.

Yes, I know that men and women today are busy and their priorities may not place old-fashioned acts such as making bread at the top of their to-do list. But biting into that slice of fresh bread spread with berry preserves reminded me of everything that is good about life. It showed that someone was willing to honor the fathers in our life by investing a piece of themselves and their time in the act of nourishing the body and soul.

So if you get a chance, make something from scratch this week for someone you love. Here’s a recipe for strawberry jam to help you get started thinking of the possibilities.

Fresh Strawberry Jam

Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

2 cups sugar
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
1 1/2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved


Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Continue to cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate. (I keep one in the freezer.) Total cooking time may be around 40-60 minutes, but will vary.

Pour carefully into 2 pint canning jars and either seal or keep refrigerated. Use immediately, or follow proper canning guidelines to preserve them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Root Beer Tasting - Which Brand Ruled?

Yesterday I blogged about our German Grill Party and alluded to a root beer tasting conducted collectively by those in attendance. Behold, the contenders:

Left to right, we have: A&W; Henry Weinhard's; Natural Brew; and Virgil's. Here were some of the comments heard and observations made regarding the nuances of the different brands.

A&W: By far the sweetest (thanks to loads of high fructose corn syrup), this classic came on very strong and tingly on the tongue. The flavor is pretty straight forward and uncomplicated - made for easy drinking.

Henry Weinhard: The flavor here was smoother and milder with deeper notes than A&W. The There wasn't a strong aftertaste here, and the flavor was very honey-like.

Virgil's: No artificial sweetener here - this one is sweetened with cane sugar. I respect that. This was a complex brew, including but not limited to notes of nutmeg, wintergreen, anise, and licorice. It was a strong drink but the preferred choice of my licorice-loving husband.

Natural Brew: This one is sweetened with natural cane juice and is probably the most likely to offend the average drinker's palate with strong notes of sweet birch, wintergreen, anise, licorice, sarsaparilla, cinnamon, clove, and vanilla. Probably the least favorite among our group, but not repugnant by any means and probably a good choice for those wanting to cut out HFCS from their diet.

My personal favorite was the smooth Henry W, while the majority of our tasters were drawn back to the familiar sugar-sweetness of A&W. I still want to try Thomas Kemper and IBC. Other suggestions or favorite brews?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

German Potato Salad

In my family, traditionally a BBQ means hot dogs and hamburgers. However, my co-workers last year introduced me to the beauty of a well-made sausage. This discovery prompted me to throw a German-themed grill party.

On the menu: smoked bratwursts from local authentic German deli Morant's; freshly baked rolls from the Grateful Bread bakery; mixed greens with lots of vegetables, including the first tomato from our patio garden (wonderfully sweet and delicious!!); fresh fruit platter by my friend Heidi; German potato salad; and for dessert, my friend Chelsea brought (what else?) German chocolate cake.

We had a wonderful time laughing with friends and devouring our German feast and sampling a variety of root beers... But I'll have to blog about our tasting conclusions next time! I will share the recipe for the German Potato Salad, which was given to me by a sweet little German lady who is a client of the law firm where I work. Her name was Ingeborg (you gotta love a lady with a name like that!) and she shared it with one of my associates who lived in Germany as a child, who then made copies for all of us. This salad is cool and refreshing and light, very good with sausages of course, and an excellent alternative to a mayo-based salad for those who are scared of food poisoning (or just don't like mayo)! It serves 8-10 people.

P.S. I threw some green onions in for added color, then garnished with chopped red bell pepper and flat-leaf parsley.

Bavarian-style German Potato Salad
Courtesy of Ingeborg Wright

5 large potatoes (I used red potatoes)
1 small red onion
1 1/2 c. water
1/2 T. salt
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 3/4 T. distilled white vinegar
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dill weed

Wash and clean the potatoes (do not peel). Boil potatoes in large pot until done (when they feel soft when pierced with a fork). When done, remove potatoes and set aside until cooled to lukewarm. THEN remove the potato skins (I left some on for texture) and cut potatoes into small pieces.

Dice the onion into tiny pieces. Combine with ALL the other ingredients in a container and mix well. Pour about half of the mixture over the potatoes and let soak for 20 minutes - THEN stir. Add a little of the remaining mixture and let soak for about 10-15 minutes and stir again. Repeat this procedure until the mixture is all or almost all used up. (Sometimes you will not have to use all of the mixture - do not make the potato salad too thin.)

Cover and store in refrigerator. Tastes best when allowed to soak overnight before serving. It will keep for several days when refrigerated.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Urban Farm Stand

This Saturday, I went to the Broderick Urban Farm Stand. This is a new effort in an older part of my town's community to offer affordable, fresh produce in an urban setting. There is an internship program set up so that local young people can gain experience by helping at the stand. The project also allows a poorer segment of the population that generally suffers from more health problems greater access to fresh produce. Farmers Markets - they're not just for rich white people anymore!

The stand was set up in a park next to an elementary school. I found their prices to be quite reasonable. I got 3 baskets of uber-sweet strawberries, a bunch of carrots, a head of lovely red lettuce, and early hot house tomatoes. There were also radishes, blackberries, turnips, apricots, kale, chard, sweet peas, squash, tiny beets, and onions. I hope to go every week now and support their project. I can't wait to see what seasonal goodies they'll offer next!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Have You Heard of the 3/50 Project?

This week, I learned about the 3/50 Project, created by blogger Cinda Baxter, who is aiming to stimulate local economies with the following advice:

"Think of three [local] businesses you'd miss if they went away. Stop in. Say hello. Pick up a little something that makes you smile. Pick 3. Spend 50. Save your local economy." In other words, channel $50 (that would would have spent anyway on food, a hair cut, clothing, etc.) into a locally owned and operated business.

Baxter claims that for every $100 spent in locally owned independent businesses, $68 returns to the community (through taxes, payroll, and expenditure). If you spend that money in a national chain, only $43 returns, and if you spend it online, virtually none of it returns.

As a citizen of one town for most of my life, I can see the potential benefits that the 3/50 project carries for a healthier local economy. My relatively small town often loses potential revenue when shoppers choose to shop at the state capital city that is just a 10 minute drive away, but in fact a completely different county altogether. As for local businesses, I know that I would be lost without my favorite Laotian and Indian restaurant, my trusty dry cleaner and salon, and the Woodland-based Nugget market (the best grocery store I have ever had the pleasure of patronizing). Incidentally, I saw on Facebook that Cinda Baxter visited the nearby city of Woodland and spoke about her project just this week. Too bad I missed her, but I hope to keep her ideas in mind in the future when I need to purchase goods and services and keep it close to home.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Finding Zen in A Common Mole

Everyone needs to find their own piece of Zen. For me, I often find it on a quick walk through the grounds of the law office where I work, which features a small duck pond, towering trees, and even the occasional flower. As a full-time office-dweller, sometimes I need to remind myself that I too am a living part of the natural world, more like the mischievous squirrels scurrying outside the window than the dictation machine I hook myself up to all day. There is something mysteriously awe-inspiring about a tiny white mushroom that sprouts up unexpectedly in the grass, or a protective brown maternal duck herding her tiny offspring into the water.

Today, while on my usual stroll, I noted two tiny holes in the flower bed and pondered what creature could be responsible. As I walked by a second time, I glimpsed a brown, fat critter with a pink patch where its eyes should be. As it scurried rather clumsily towards that hole, it appeared to be blinded by the daylight. Later, I noticed piles of fresh dirt all over the grounds. I do believe I spotted a mole!

Why did I run breathlessly back to the office to tell my co-worker about my "wildlife sighting"? To our groundskeeper, a mole may seem a common pest and a silly thing to get excited about. But I couldn't help but feel wonder when I imagined the underground tunnels it was creating and a world unseen by the too-busy humans above. I even envied the animal for its quiet, dark, cool, simple life - most of the time, he's probably just trying to find the next earthworm for dinner. Then back I go to my indoor, air-conditioned, windowless desk and realize we might be more alike than I thought.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Spring Linguine with Basil

Courtesy of Cooking Light

I have seen a few Meatless Mondays in my day, but here I present to you the kind of dish that makes you sigh with satisfaction because of its simple perfection, no meat even needed. I added garlic because I wanted a little more punch, and it was one of our favorite dishes so far. I also substituted a package of sugar snap peas for freshly shelled peas and cut them into bite-sized pieces.
Spring Linguine with Basil
Adapted from Cooking Light

Yield: 4 servings ( 1 cup)


9 ounces uncooked fresh linguine
1 cup shelled fresh green peas
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
2 ounces shaved fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Add peas to pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain pasta mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup pasta liquid.

2. Heat oil and butter in pan over medium heat 1 minute or until butter melts. Add garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat; stir in pasta mixture, reserved pasta water, juice, salt, and pepper; toss well.

3. Divide pasta mixture evenly among 4 bowls; top each serving with 1 tablespoon basil and about 2 tablespoons cheese. Serve immediately.

The Daily Good Deed

I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, Amelie, a French film about a shy young woman who has difficulty interacting with people because of her reclusive childhood. One day, she discovers a hole in her apartment wall in which a young boy stashed a box of his treasured toys 40 years before. After she restores it to it’s rightful owner, she begins dabbling in altruism as a hobby. I love one scene in which she guides the neighborhood blind man down a street to the metro stop, verbally narrating all of the sights, smells, and sounds of the neighborhood, giving the lonely man a fleeting vision of the world around him.

Watching this film always makes me consider what simple good deeds I could do to make the world a little better. Doing a good deed takes me outside of the me-oriented survival bubble that working often leads me to create. Today, I went for a walk and saw a plastic bag in the pond where baby ducklings were swimming, so I fished it out with a sturdy stick and threw it in the nearest garbage can. I believe in the possibility of small gestures making a big difference to someone, somewhere - even if it’s just one piece of litter or one less drowned duckling.

I found some ideas for good deeds - browse and happy good deed-doing!

*Give an honest compliment to 5 people you meet today.
*Every night, for a week, write down 10 things that you are thankful for that happened during the day.
*Share a book.
*Make encouraging bookmarks and leave them inside books of a public library.
*Email someone you admire and tell him/her why.
*Write a letter to your public official and express your suggestions for the community.
*Write a note to thank some one who has positively influenced your life.
*Cook a meal for your family.
*Buy flowers for your mom (or dad).
*Donate old books to a worthy cause.
*Start a "free hug" campaign. (Note: I have actually seen college kids at the Davis Farmer’s *Market doing this - now I know what it was about!)
*Use reusable bags.
*Water the plants.
*Plant a tree and/or a garden.
*Use ladybugs instead of pesticides.
*Teach someone a skill that you know.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My Favorite Meatless Thing to Grill

It’s summer time, and everybody is hitting the grill, warm weather or no! (Today in Sacramento, it’s raining - unheard of in June!) Here is one of my favorite things to eat from the grill. It’s meatless, simple, and absolutely delicious. Mushrooms are like sponges, and in this recipe, they’re going to soak up the balsamic and herb flavor as they marinate.

I like to top them with a little bit of basil mayonnaise, mixed greens, ripe tomato, and red onion. In my opinion, you can’t get any better than that! You can add your choice of cheese or leave it off, as you like! Enjoy!

Portobello Mushroom Burgers


4 portobello mushroom caps
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
4 (1 ounce) slices provolone cheese (optional)
Good quality buns, preferably whole wheat


Place the mushroom caps, smooth side up, in a large Ziplock bag. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, basil, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour over the mushrooms. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes or so, turning twice.

Preheat grill for medium-high heat. Brush grate with oil. Place mushrooms on the grill, reserving marinade for basting. Grill for 5 to 8 minutes on each side, or until tender. Brush with marinade frequently. Top with cheese during the last 2 minutes of grill if desired.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How China Changed My Diet

Rambutan- spiky on the outside, smooth and slick on the inside

Mangosteen - Very tart, sort insides, eggplant colored on the outside

Dragonfruit - Sweet, cooling flesh with creamy texture.
Love the contrasting colors of red against black-speckled white!

The biggest dietary change I ever experienced was moving from Provo, Utah where I attended college, to Hong Kong, China where I volunteered with my church. The food in Utah was heavy, relying mostly on processed foods and dairy. Nearly everything I ate, both socially and when I cooked at home, contained cheese, milk, and probably Campbell’s soup in some form. Yogurt, quesadillas, ice cream, casseroles, cheap Italian food - these were my staples. I was uncomfortable much of the time and would later learn that I had developed lactose intolerance and mild IBS. But that’s another story.

Flash forward to Hong Kong. Rather than doing my shopping at a huge Smith’s supermarket, I ventured to the market when I needed food. The Chinese are obsessive about eating everything fresh, to the point that there are live chickens, fish, and sea creatures displayed proudly in the stalls. These unfortunate creatures will be slaughtered in front of potential buyers. It took me a long time to get over my shock at the visible organs of an open-splayed fish, still jiggling around after being hacked in half. Once the fish stops moving, it’s no longer considered "fresh".

It took me a long time to learn to eat fresh, partly because I had trouble recognizing what I saw as food! Apples and oranges were a distant memory; I discovered the sweet nuances of dragonfruit, dragoneyes, rambutans, lychees, mangosteens, and mini bananas so sweet they were like eating candy for breakfast. The soups that were urged upon us by kind Chinese friends were promised to make our skin beautiful, no matter what ingredients they contained.

Some things I never adapted to - the fatty, cartilege-ridden cuts of meat that the Chinese find superior to our leaner, meat-only versions. Or eating hot foods even in the summer instead of cool, crisp salads (older Chinese people didn't believe raw vegetables to be edible). But my health improved in my time there as I learned the benefits of a diet that is low in dairy and sweets, as well as the importance of keeping it fresh! Now I visit the Chinese markets, hoping I'll strike gold and find some of the fruits or foods I grew to love.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Recurring Dreams

Have you ever had a dream over and over again? According to one web site:"Recurring dreams are quite common and are often triggered by a certain life situation or a problem that keeps coming back again and again. Such dreams may be highlighting a personal weakness, fear, or your inability to cope with something in your life - past or present... It may point to a conflict, situation or matter in your waking life that remains unresolved or unsettled. Some urgent underlying message in your unconscious is demanding to be understood."

When I was a child, I had two recurring dreams. In one, I would run so fast and the wind was so strong that it would lift me up in the air - I could fly! In the other (perhaps stemming from watching the movie "Splash" too many times), I was underwater and discovered that I could still breathe. Perhaps these dreams represented the feeling of freedom that comes with childhood.

For the past several years, I have had a recurring dream that I go into a public restroom to discover that each stall is filthy, too dirty to be used. This may be partially due to some of my experiences in China, and partly due to a physical connection to a full bladder towards the end of my slumber that cannot be emptied. I’m not sure if there is a deeper meaning - perhaps a fear of contamination? Recently, I have begun dreaming that I am back in Hong Kong, where I lived for a year and a half. I see this as a longing to travel and have adventures, as well as to reconnect with the place and people I grew to love.

Do you have recurring dreams? If so, what do you think they mean?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The KFC Monstrosity and Cavemen

What. The. Heck. Is. This.
KFC has announced that their new Double Down sandwich which debuted in April, will remain around as long as the demand for it is strong. Originally only intended as a 6-week promotion, this stunning invention features 2 pieces of fried chicken, processed ham and processed cheese. No bun. Just meat. The advertisements market the Double Down as a very "manly" thing to eat.
The sandwich contains 32 grams of saturated fat and KFC has sold 10 million already. This feels to me like a major loss in the battle against obesity in America. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder why the idea of masculinity has to be equated with foolish dietary choices, particularly menu items that are heavy on meat and fat and light on anything nourishing. Carls Jr. generally has the corner on this market, with their ads encouraging a mentality of "I’m a manly man who hangs out with my cool guy buddies and together we stuff our arteries with the biggest, fattiest burgers in town".

I hope the future holds a different kind of advertising industry. I want to see masculine men making healthy dietary choices, taking responsibility for their bodies and health. Spokesman Jared of Subway fame comes closest to this ideal at this time, although he’s not exactly a sex symbol.

The reality of our diet comes down to this fact: a body that is healthy and fit is sexy. A diet of junk food should stop being attractive around the time of high school graduation, like many other stupid choices made by the young. Let's hope that we can evolve beyond the "carnivorous cave man" mentality by making smarter dietary choices so we can curb the tide of diet-related disease and deaths that plagues our country today.