Cookbook author Mindy Toomay's blog about eating for health, cooking with spirit, and celebrating life in northern California. Here she dishes up food rants and raves, recipes, and plenty of kitchen wisdom.

By your own efforts, waken yourself, watch yourself, and live joyfully.
-- The Dhammapada

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?
-- Peter Mayle


Cabbage chronicles

In the northern climes, every cook knows that the best local produce during the winter months is likely to be a relative of the cabbage. What would we do without the so-called crucifers -- broccoli, chard, cauliflower, turnips, mustard greens, etc. -- when we're putting together a satisfying winter stew?

I've probably invented hundreds of recipes over the years that make delicious use of cruciferous vegatables. Even if they didn't contain indoles, super-nutritious sulphuric compounds that have a wide range of health-protective benefits, I would still enjoy their taste and texture. Besides, they're just plain beautiful. Here are broccoli and red cabbage, snuggling up with just a few of their compatible food friends.

Think what a soup these would make, all mixed up together with veggie stock, curry spices, and canned tomatoes. Something like this cauliflower version I made a few nights ago.
Now, just in case you're inspired to do a little cabbage cooking in your own kitchen, here's a recipe from my book-in-progress, Longevity Cuisine: Vegetarian Cooking for Vibrant Health at any Age.

Blessings and bon appetit!

Yield: 6 main-dish servings

This soup is borscht-like, but not at all traditional. I added the beans to boost the fiber and portein content. Handling raw beets will dye your skin a lovely shade of pink for a few hours. To avoid this, wear surgical gloves, which I consider to be essential kitchen tools, especially for handling fresh hot chiles. They're available in hardware stores and well-stocked cookware shops. For a vegan version of this soup, just omit the creamy topping. Rye toast or crackers make the perfect accompaniment.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
4 cups diced green or red cabbage
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
2 large red beets, peeled and diced
1.5 cups diced fresh or canned diced tomatoes, with juice
1 tablespoon dried dill or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons mild paprika
1 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper
1.5 cups cooked kidney beans, drained
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
6 tablespoons lowfat sour cream or plain yogurt, at room temperature (optional)

Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium heat and saute the onion, carrot, and caraway seeds for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 6 cups of water and the cabbage, potato, beets, tomatoes, dried dill (if using), paprika, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a strong simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

Add the beans and cook until the beets are quite tender, about 5 to 10 minutes longer. Stir in the vinegar and honey, along with the fresh dill (if using). Ladle into bowls and top each serving with a tablespoon of sour cream or yogurt. Serve hot and enjoy.


Cooking as a refuge

Buddhist practitioners are taught to take refuge in the Buddha (the enlightened one, and the possibility that we ourselves can become enlightened); the dharma (the teachings of the Buddha, which provide all the guidance we need to become enlightened); and the sangha (the community of fellow practitioners who support and inspire us on the path). The idea is that since this human life includes a lot of suffering, we need these "three jewels" to keep us steady and strong and safe, no matter what outer circumstances come our way.

I experience cooking as a refuge in just this sense. Whatever challenges I may face on a given day, I set them aside when I cook, bringing my attention to the tasks at hand. And they are lovely, calming, life-affirming tasks -- chopping vegetables, stirring soup, tossing salad greens around with tongs until a slick of tasty dressing reaches every leaf.

Last night a big storm blew through -- a fitting metaphor for the turbulent mind. I'm facing some big decisions, needing to get clear about where and when to make certain changes, and this feels like an inner storm at times, when the flurry of possibilities and questions and concerns preoccupies my mind.

And so I cook, getting back to the basics, taking refuge in my kitchen, where I feel warm and creatively engaged and sensually alive. I think I'll make hot-and-sour soup, to soothe my insecurities and boost my immune system. It's a quick and easy recipe. Enjoy it as is, or ladle it over brown rice for a more substantial meal in a bowl.

Blessings and bon appetit!


2 tablespoons cornstarch (the kind from the natural food store isn't processed using aluminum)
5 tablespoons (75 ml) unseasoned rice vinegar (not the sweetened kind used to make sushi rice)
2 tablespoons (28 ml) soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less, to taste)6 fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon (15 ml) dark sesame oil
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
7 cups (1.7 L) vegetable broth
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 tablespoon (8 g) grated fresh ginger
4 ounces (115 g) firm tofu, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed to melt away any ice crystals

Whisk together the cornstarch, vinegar, soy sauce, and cayenne until the cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside.

Remove the stems from the shiitakes and thinly slice them. In a stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic, and saute for 3 minutes. Add the broth, carrot, zucchini, and ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the tofu. Simmer for 4 minutes. Add the peas and return to a simmer, then cook for 1 minute.

Remix the cornstarch mixture and stir it into the soup. Cook and stir until the broth is somewhat thickened, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.


The other white "meat"

Yesterday a friend of mine called tofu the "other white meat" and I laughed out loud. It's true. Lots of people who like meat tend to like tofu if it's fried and slathered with some yummy sauce, like the kung pao tofu my friend and I happened to be eating when he made the comment. Kung pao preparations generally include red bell peppers, hot chilies, and peanuts, plus the usual soy and garlic flavors -- so this was pretty yummy tofu.

I've noticed that there are plenty of soy debunkers in the world these days. A friend (a different one) recently showed me an article in an apparently legitimate if fringe-hugging publication that said that tofu causes breast cancer. I don't know how much research the author did, but apparently he/she missed the fact that the estrogen-like substance found in soybeans is actually a mild-mannered little biochemical that blocks estrogen receptors in the breast (and elsewhere in the body) that would otherwise bond with actual, not-so-mild-mannered estrogen. So in fact, the kind of estrogen we get from soy protects us from the kind our bodies make -- which, by the way, shouldn't be demonized; it does all kind of good things for our bodies and brains.

If you want to hear this from a reputable doctor, check out what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say on the subject. (His website is chockfull of useful information on all kinds of health and nutrition topics, in case you didn't know.)

The article went on to say that we shouldn't think that Asian women have less estrogen-triggered cancer because they eat soy, since they have more cancer in some parts of the body, like the kidneys. Huh? That's pretzel logic if ever I heard it. Couldn't we just as easily believe that they'd get more of every type of cancer if they didn't eat soyi to protect them from the estrogen-triggered variety? To my mind, it's pretty convincing evidence that the soy-eating women of the world get less breast cancer, since American researchers have determined that soy does the things I mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

Anyway, I believe soy protects my breast health and eat soy foods frequently, in whole food form like fresh green soybeans, tofu, and tempeh. Make sure they're made from organic soybeans and eat your daily dose. Oh, but if you have a thyroid problem, maybe you should go easy on the soy. Apparently it can be goiterogenic. (Textured vegetable proteins, a soy derivative, is a highly process food that may cause unwanted health consequences, but that's another story.)

There's a lesson here. Don't believe everything you read. Develop an inquring mind and search out the dietary facts from truly authoratative sources. Blessings and be well!


Artichoke, anyone?

I adore artichokes, have adored them since I was a child and my mother first introduced us to the most hands-on of vegetables. I loved that they were like flowers you could take apart petal by petal, and loved the mayonnaise or melted butter my mother put out on the table for dipping purposes.

Once I came to my senses, nutrition-wise, I stopped with these full-fat condiments and devised another dip that is even more delicious. It's creamy like mayo, but not artery-clogging, and is redolent of garlic. What could be better?

Here's what to do.

1) Put about 2 inches of water on to boil in a large pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Into the water, plop about 4 cloves of garlic (unpeeled), 2 bay leaves, and half a fresh lemon, with the juice squeezed out into the water. Place a steaming tray into the pot.

2) Use a very sharp knife (I use my serrated bread knife) to cut straight across the leaves about 2 inches from the pointy tip of the artichoke. Discard the leave tips. Trim off about one inch of the stem (more if the stem is shriveled or discolored). Peel off and discard the tiny leaves that cling to the stem at the base of the bud. If the artichoke is a large one, you may want to peel the stem with a sharp paring knife.

3) Set the trimmed artichokes upsidedown in the steaming tray, with stems sticking up. Put on a lid and steam over medium-high heat for 15-30 minutes, depending on their size. They are done when the tip of a sharp paring knife can be inserted into the base of the artichoke (its hidden heart) without meeting any serious resistance. Tender but not mushy is the consistency you're shooting for. When they're done, remove the artichokes to a plate to cool off a bit.

4) Remove the garlic cloves from the cooking water and squeeze the garlic out of the skins into a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise (organic please) and 3 tablespoons nonfat yogurt, plus a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Whip together with a fork until well combined.

5) Serve the artichokes with the dipping sauce and enjoy!


Mendocino musings

When you encounter a couple of sunny, wind-free, February days on the north coast of California, you are in for a treat. My super-spouse and I went visiting friends in Cloverdale and Mendocino and wound up playing frisbee on a huge deserted beach in t-shirts and jeans; tasting wonderful wines in and around Boonville (which invented its own language, Boontling, a few decades ago and still retains its unconventional edge); meandering the quaint Victorian village of Mendocino, with calla lilies in full bloom everywhere; and feasting at home (see notes below) and at various public eateries, notably Cafe 1 in Fort Bragg, an all-organic breakfast and lunch diner that serves up wonderful, fresh food to tired but happy hikers fresh from the haul road trail. It was all wonderful and seductive, enough to make one want to move there, having forgotten that fog and rain are regular visitors to these environs.

I made delicious salads everywhere we went, using organic ingredients and embellishing the feast with olive or flax oil, lemon juice or cider vinegar, garlic, nuts and seeds, fresh herbs, etc. Here's one in the nude (that is, prior to getting dressed). Yes, the photo's huge (I'm still learning the ins and outs of uploading digital photos) -- almost life-size, isn't it? And doesn't it make you want to go make and eat a huge salad right now?
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My friend, Megan, and I prepared a marvelous dinner in Cloverdale. Too much of a muchness, as the super-spouse often says when realizing yet again how blessed we are to be alive and in love in northern California, lucky beneficiaries of its incredible abundance of everything wonderful.

Here's what was cooked and eaten that night among special friends, a belated Valentine's Day vegetarian feast. Read it and weep (or get busy and duplicate it for people you love).

Home-marinated olives with lemon zest, crushed chiles, and fresh rosemary.
Home-baked whole grain bread with aged gouda

Fresh baby spinach with raspberry vinaigrette and baby beets

Parmesan polenta with Moroccan-spiced vegetables and chickpeas

Warm berry soup with whipped cream and dark chocolate heart-shaped brownies

Champagne for starters
Russian River zinfandel with main course
Pelegrino water
Barely sweetened mint tea with desert


Your daily dose of flax...

Even in winter, I occasionally crave a big salad. Today's lunch consisted of a nice bed of mixed seasonal greens (including some snips of fresh herbs), topped with a good number of steamed baby green beans. Next came some thin slices of carrot, then some sauteed tofu: chunks in a pan with a bit of olive oil, a half cup of water, a drizzle of soy sauce, garlic powder, and paprika; cooked until the liquid evaporated.

And finally, my favorite salad dressing, and one of the easiest and most nutritious you will ever find. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine 1/3 cup flax oil, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup Bragg's liquid aminos (or about 3 tablespoons of tamari soy sauce). Grind in some black pepper and add some minced garlic or garlic powder. Shake vigorously until well-combined and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

I will say more about flax in a future post. Suffice it to say for now that it's a great source of omega-3s and other essential fatty acids and will help keep your digestion, your hormones, etc. in good shape.

Now i'm off to Mendocino on the far north coast of California for a few days. There will be wine and food notes to share when I return. Meanwhile, blessings and bon appetit!


Singing pasta's praises

A few years ago, pasta started getting a bad rep, as part of the Big Low-Carb Con. I was annoyed that a lot of low-carb preachers like Atkins weren't adequately explaining the difference between refined carbs and complex carbs, and the idea that you can eat all the meat and eggs and cheese and butter you want with no ill effects is just ridiculous.

Of course, this was a very popular notion with loads of people who love animal products above all and felt like they'd just won the lottery. Other more moderate diet plans came along, such as South Beach, which remedied some of those problems. But still the dangers of a high-fat, high-protein diet were under-reported. And a low-carb diet is by definition a high-protein and high-fat diet. If you lower the proportion of carbs, you increase the proportions of the other two major nutrients -- protein and fats. No way around it.

The fact that lots of people lose weight on these low-carb plans, in my opinion, is that they suddenly start thinking -- maybe for the first time in their lives -- about what they were putting in their mouths and how often. They no longer consume donuts and lattes and pizza and cookies all day every day. Hence, they consume fewer calories, which is a good way to drop some poundage.

There is so much more to say on this topic -- it could become a WAY long rant. But I'll stop right now and talk about the real reason for this post. I believe that PASTA IS A HEALTH FOOD.

It never made sense to me to categorize pasta as a bad-for-you food when the Italians, who eat it frequently (sometimes daily), are generally pretty long-lived. They're not as obese, on average, as Americans and they don't get chronic ailments like diabetes and cardiovascular disease at any where near our rates. Researchers have theorized that it's the olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and/or red wine that explains why the Mediterranean Diet is so good for the Italians -- and us. Fine, let's make all these foods a part of our diets and reap their benefits. What a lucky thing that pasta often makes use of some or all of them!

Of course, it may not be a great idea to slather your pasta with cream and cheese. These are likely to slather your arteries with plaque over time. But if you emphasize tomatoes and beans and veggies in your sauce, and use cheese as a condiment -- if at all -- a bowl of pasta makes a perfectly wonderful and balanced dinner entree.

Okay, enough yakking. Here's a quick and simple pasta recipe that is definitely good for you. It contains all the Mediterranean health elixers mentioned above, plus shiitake mushrooms, of the healing foods of the Far East.

Yield: 4 servings

8 ounces (225 g) dried capellini
4 ounces (115 g) fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons (28 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (480 g) canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry red wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Several grinds black pepper

Put several quarts of water in a stockpot, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the capellini and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the discard the stems of the shiitake mushrooms (if you make vegetable stock at home, these are a great addition to the pot). Dice the mushroom caps. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms to the HOT oil and cook without stirring for 1 minute, then turn them and cook 1 minute longer. You want them to brown a bit before adding any other ingredients.

Add the onion, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; stir and saute for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, garbanzos, wine, oregano, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook 5 minutes.

Drain the cooked pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce in the saute pan and toss to combine. If the mixture seems to dry, add some of the reserved cooking water to achieve the right consistency. Be careful not to thin it out too much.

If you have some fresh basil or parsley on had, scatter some chopped herbs over the pasta and serve.


Dance while you cook...

I seem to be in the mood for soup these days. Not too surprising when it's cold and windy outside. This one is tasty served with corn tortillas and a lime-seasoned salad. (Those of you who read my last post know I'm really into limes.)

Once again, this recipe is from my latest, 15-Minute Vegetarian. Yes, it's really that easy. If you're not in a hurry, of course, you can make your own veggie stock and cook the beans from scratch. You can even make your own pumpkin puree, though I must confess I don't make time for that anymore. I've become a bit of a sucker for convenience -- but not at the expense of quality.

Not all canned beans are created equal, for instance. Shop around and try different brands. You'll find they vary a lot in taste and texture. I always buy organic and look for low-sodium (or "no salt added") versions of any canned or packaged foods. I like to control the sodium content, thank you very much.

Stock your cupboard with some quality convenience foods and you can make a healthy vegetarian meal in a snap of the fingers (or two). Come to think of it, put on some energetic Latin-inspired music while you're cooking (Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge? Los Lonely Boys?) to spice up your attitude as you spice up the soup.

After all, dancing's another way to keep warm...

Yield: 6 servings

2 cans (15 ounces, or 420 g. each) black beans
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon pure chili powder (the kind that's just ground chiles, without salt or anything else added)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups (.95 L) vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (15 ounces, or 420 g) pumpkin puree
1/4 cup (15 g) minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon (15 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice

Place the beans in a colander, rinse briefly, and set aside to drain well.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a stockpot and saute the onion, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the broth, black beans, and garlic and bring to a boil over high heat.

Stir in the pumpkin puree until well blended and simmer gently until heated through, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice and serve. (With heated corn tortillas and a lime-infused salad, if so inspired.)


Orange, lemon, lime -- aren't they sublime?

I'm convinced the gods and goddesses put citrus trees on this earth to help us feel better about winter. When it's cold and gray and wet in the world, we need bright flavors and colors to cheer us up -- and so there is citrus. I love oranges, tangerines, tangelos, key limes and Persian limes, grapefruit, and even kumquats. I have used them all in my cooking, in addition to enjoying them raw. Persian limes, especially, work hard for me, lending the perfect perky flavor note to any Mexican, Southwest, Southeast Asian, or Indian dish.

Yes, I love all citrus fruits, but the one I couldn't live without is the . Every backyard should sport a Meyer lemon tree. This is the thinner-skinned variety that has a more subtle sourness than the hard-skinned Eureka. A Meyer lemon produces a lot of light and lovely juice that's great for lemony desserts and certain savory dishes. Here's a Greek-inspired soup that highlights its refreshing but not-too-sour flavor. It's pure comfort food from my latest cookbook, 15-Minute Vegetarian (you can learn more about it by clicking on the title in the sidebar to the right, if so inspired).

BTW, lemons are loaded with vitamin C, bioflavanoids, and other super-nutrients, a great health boon during cold and flue season.

Blessings and bon appetit!

Yield: 4 Servings
This recipe calls for pre-cooked rice. You can find frozen cooked rice these days, both white and brown varieties, in some supermarkets and specialty food shops. (Try Trader Joe's if there's one in your area.) Of course, if you cook rice on a regular basis, as I do, you always have some hanging around the fridge. This is a great way to use it up.

2 tablespoons (28 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (160 g) diced yellow onion
4 cups (.95 L) vegetable broth
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups (295 g) cooked brown or white rice
2 large eggs (organic and free-range, please -- or from your own healthy and happy chickens!)
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grinds black pepper
8 ounces (225 g) baby spinach leaves

Heat the oil over medium heat in a stockpot and saute the onion until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable broth in a microwave oven until steaming hot, about 2 minutes. Add the hot broth, garlic, and rice to the stockpot; cover, and bring to a simmer over high heat.

Meanwhile, place the eggs and lemon juice in a medium bowl and lightly beat with a fork. Slowly add about 1/2 cup (120 ml) of hot broth to the egg mixture and beat lightly to warm the eggs so they don't curdle when added to the soup. Repeat this process with two more half-cups of hot broth.

Turn off the heat and add the egg mixture to the soup, stirring gently to incorporate it. Gently stir in the salt, pepper, and spinach. Cover and allow the soup to stand in the pan for about 5 minutes before serving. Stir to combine and ladle into individual soup bowls.


Wine country notes

My super-spouse, Tad, and I met our good old friends Yvonne and Dennis in Healdsburg, for a Valentine's weekend celebration of life, love, food, and wine.

Healdsburg is a sweet small town about 1.5 hours north of San Francisco that's the epicenter of the Sonoma County wine country. Dozens of excellent tasting rooms within a 10-mile radius of the town square; wonderful restaurants on almost every corner; vintage rummage shops and chi-chi boutiques galore (to satisfy shoppers on both ends of the spectrum); great bakery, great cafe, great burrito joint. Use the public restrooms at the police station down the street if the line's too long at the wonderful but pricey Oakville Grocery. It's spacious, clean, and safe from terroir-ists (an in-joke for those wine snobs among us).

Lambert Bridge and Everett Ridge wineries publicized a joint Sweet and Savory tasting extravaganza for the Valentine revelers in the valley over the weekend. Everett Ridge won my heart by putting out a huge, whole round of Humboldt Fog -- the most mouth-watering goat-cheese ever made (just a hundred miles of so north of the winery, I might add). Lambert Bridge, on the other hand, won kudos for their sweets -- namely a house-made dark chocolate brownie with a baked-in sort of frosting/glaze. Amazing with the estate port.

Also included in our wine tasting (and purchasing) was Preston Vineyards at the northern end of the beautiful Dry Creek Valley. Lou Preston and his wife have lived on this land for 40 years and offer fantastic wine, bread, olive oil, and olives. It's a bucolic place to kick off your shoes and picnic under a redwood tree, or try your hand at bocci ball (weekdays only).

We've spent countless hours in Healdsburg, but didn't discover The Cheese Shop until this trip. It's owned and operated by Doralice Handal. Lovely person, lovely selection of artisan cheeses, bread, olives, and other gourmet goodies. Y & D insisted on a return visit on day 2 to replenish their supply of lucques (crunchy green olives in a mild brine) decimated by our gourmandizing on day 1. I purchased a Spanish smoked paprika for kitchen experimentation. I'll post some of my successes here for any interested cooks who happen by.

Sonoma County is an unabashed foodie haven, and I always comes alive there to the abudance of creative foodstuffs northern California has to offer. During the summer months, the Sonoma County Farmtrails program adds fantastic outdoor produce stalls to the wine road meandering.

I love hiking the coast and the mountains, but the Healdsburg area is all-in-all my #1 weekend destination. Check it out.


Early spring reverie

A week since I posted anything new. Bad, bad blogger! Spent part of it in Sacramento, visiting old high school girlfriends. Perfect evening on the river, like it was summertime instead of early February.

Back home, I notice buds popping out on trees and shrubs all over the Bay Area. The birds are busy, darting among the tangled branches of the sprawling wisteria vine out back that is sporting a few fragrant flower clusters -- already!

Such signs of spring always gladden my heart, promising beauty and bounty as the light returns. Now, though, my happiness is clouded by concern. What if another storm comes through and blows off all the early blossoms? Not good for the fruit harvest, for sure. And the bees can't make honey without plenty of flowers.

Of course, in my privileged corner of the world, I don't really have to worry. Monterey Market, my favorite produce market in Berkeley, will continue to have way too much of everything at low prices. California supermarkets and farmers markets and roadside stands will still offer their wares to consumers, sometimes 24/7. I will continue to feast on the fat of the land, and to feed my friends and family well and abundantly.

So why this slight twinge of worry or regret, this haze on the lens as I gaze upon the sunlit winter garden. Chalk it up to existential angst in the age of global warming, I guess. And my awareness that there are so many in other parts of the world who don't have enough, who will suffer even more if the world food supply diminishes.

I vow to dance more, sing more, celebrate life with my heart and senses fully open. I vow to not overeat, overindulge, overconsume. "Live simply, that others may simply live" will be my motto this year.

Here's a recipe that is simplicity itself, and perfect for early spring weather... (from 15-Minute Vegetarian, which you can order from this blog--see the menu of books in the right-hand column).

Blessings and bon appetit!


7 cups (1.7 L) vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (115 g) dried cappellini (angel hair pasta)
6 cups (215 g) diced chard leaves
1/4 cup (65 g) prepared basil pesto
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Bring the broth, garlic, and salt to a boil over high heat in a covered stockpot. Break the capellini strands in half, then in half again, and add them to the boiling broth, along with the chard. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the pesto and black pepper and stir to combine.

Chanterelle heaven

We were blessed indeed on that chilly January morning to unearth 15 pounds of meaty chanterelles within about 20 minutes. Here they are.

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Everyone took home a few pounds. Here's a list of what I did with my share of the loot.
1. Sauteed in olive oil until carmelized. Added minced garlic and salt during last 2 minutes of cooking time. Served on toasted rustic bread. You know what I mean by rustic, don't you? Crusty and chewy, and sold in a whole loaf for freshness. (See my post entitled Bread Lament for more on that subject.)
2. Cooked in a tomato sauce with Italian herbs and eggplant, served with gorgonzola polenta.
3. Sauteed with onion at the beginning of curried lentil and chard soup.
4. Added to breakfast eggs and eaten in corn tortillas with salsa.

The fungus among us are a culinary gold mine. Seek out a mushroom club in your area and join the forage...

Humungous fungus among us

Word has it that this is a great year for chanterelles in California. Judging from my own experience, it's a fact. Got called to a friend's place to help harvest the strange mushrooms he had found protruding from the ground under the oaks on his property near Cloverdale. We went, we foraged, we feasted.

Here's the happy band of mushroom hunters (that is a one-year old child, not a hobbit, in our midst).

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Next post shows the harvest, and tells you a little about what we did with all that abundance.


A bit of a hit

Thought I'd post a photo of tonight's dinner at my house (sorry it's not very high-quality; I'm still learning).

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Here's how it was done, in case you're interested:

1: Saute onion, small carrot bits, and sliced fresh shiitakes in dark sesame oil for a few minutes.
2. Add soy sauce, paper-thin slices of fresh ginger, some left over brown (or white) rice, and a drizzle of water. Cover and cook over medium for 5 minutes.
3. Add chopped leafy greens of choice. Cover again and cook until the greens wilt.
4. Oh, and I put some cayenne pepper into the saute, and sprinkled on some minced fermented black beans from the Asian grocery a couple of blocks from my house. (Keep the soy quantity down if you're using those black beans. They're really intense.)
5. If you feel the need for concentrated protein, add tofu (or even chicken or shrimp or ??? for you omnivores out there).
6. Enjoy with loved ones, if available. If not, relish your solitude.

Pretty big "yum."

Welcome, old friends & new


If you're someone who just got my email announcing the launch of this blog, you're among my inner circle. Welcome and THANK YOU for bothering to check out my efforts.

I'd really like to make this site useful and fun so you'll come back often, and so perfect strangers will be clamoring for my next post. How can I do that? Is there anything in particular you'd like me to write about? Do you have food questions, issues, ideas you'd like me to address? Please leave me a comment to let me know you've been here.

Blessings and bon appetit!

A mushy message

Every overnight guest who wakes up to a bowl of Mindy's mush asks me why it tastes so good. I guess mush has a generally pretty dismal reputation. That must be because people don't understand that mush is a blank canvas, awaiting your creative brilliance.

Here's what to do. First, make sure you have organic 5-grain cereal or steel-cut oats or rolled oats in the house. Also stock up on dried fruit, nuts, nut butters, soy milk (or rice or almond milk, or cow juice if you prefer--organic, please), and maple syrup. There are other great additions, too, but I'll get to those later.

If you're cooking 5-grain or steel-cut mush, it will need more water and longer cooking. If you never have much time in the morning, you can cook up a big batch of these bigger grains and use it for days, or just use regular rolled oats instead (don't buy "quick-cooking" rolled oats; they don't have enough texture when cooked). Either way, add some cut up dried fruit (raisins, figs, apricots, what have you) while the pot's bubbling. Cook as directed, then start "decorating." Oh, and be sure to add a scant pinch of salt to the cooking water.

Put blobs of the mush into bowls and if you're using nut butter (cashew macadamia nut or almond are my personal faves), stir it into the mush. At this point you could also stir in some ground flax seed (a must in my bowl) and spirulina or other super-green powder (note to self: remember this on St. Patrick's Day).

Now top with some soy milk, but not too much. You want the mush to be protruding from the liquid like a lovely island. Drizzle on just a bit of maple syrup and sprinkle with cinnamon, then top with a little bit of chopped fresh nuts of choice. Pecans, almonds, walnuts -- or some of each. Don't stir anymore -- you want the bowl to look appetizing with all those colors and textures going on. You could add some chopped fresh fruit, too, for further beautifying.

Serve hot, with maple syrup and milk set out on the table so people can add more if desired.

VERY IMPORTANT: Sit down with your family/friends and discuss what's up for everyone. Morning is also a great time to read aloud a paragraph or two of some great spiritual teacher (Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn's books come to mind) or a yummy nature poem (by Mary Oliver, for instance). Sets a positive tone for everyone's day.

That's it. Pretty simple.


Bread lament

I promised rants, so here's one:

Why is the typical American bread so very boring, so lacking in color and structure and personality? Why are most of the loaves on our supermarket shelves loaded with additives? How could something as wonderful as bread come to this?

Bread, after all, is the ancient "staff of life." When properly made, it provides complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, and fiber. Sadly, most American bread delivers nothing but empty calories. Staring at my supermarket shelves, I want to scream. But I don't. I just turn on my heels and go shopping someplace else, where quality is the raison d'etre.

Fortunately -- VERY fortunately -- I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where food artisans are plentiful, so I have several fantastic bakeries within a few miles of my home. The "real bread" movement is alive and well in other parts of the country, too, providing people with chewy, thick-crusted bread, fermented with high-quality natural yeast, sometimes using whole grain flours, sometimes studded with rosemary or olives or garlic. In short, bread as it was meant to be.

Check out your local options. Maybe there's a baker in town who takes pride in her products, who uses traditional techniques and top-notch ingredients. If she makes a crusty loaf of whole-grain wheat or rye bread, you're in luck. If she doesn't, ask her to start and promise to become her best customer.

Go on, speak up. Demand excellence. It's a revolutionary act in our bleached out, polluted, over-processed culture when we take a stand for what is authentic, pure, and simple.


February feasting

News flash: It gets cold in California. Folks visiting from the Midwest would laugh out loud to hear me complain about temps of Fahrenheit 45, but hey, I have small bones and really feel the chill.

When I lived in Sacramento, California's capitol, February was often the month of fog. Mists would rise up off the two local rivers and envelop the city in a gray blanket that stifled every cheerful thought, sometimes for weeks on end. In the San Francisco Bay area, the weather is more dynamic. Right now it's overcast and a bit breezy (and did I mention cold?). This afternoon it might be sunny enough for a walk along the white-capped water. This is one of the reasons I love it here. Change is always in the air.

I've been leafing through my cookbooks, looking for a great cold-weather recipe, the first to appear on this blog. Will it be a casserole, stiry-fry, or hearty soup? Since I've written 13 cookbooks, there are lots to choose from. It's an embarrassment of riches.

Here's one from my latest: The 15-Minute Vegetarian. It was inspired by a dish I once ate at an award-winning Indian restaurant in Berkeley (one of many, I might add). If you think you hate okra, this recipe will convert you. All the ingredients are available year-round in my supermarket; hopefully at yours, too. (The book, by the way, just came out and is available now, in your local stores or online.)

Can you really make this stew in 15 minutes? Depends on whether you're a raw beginner or have some experience with cooking. Here are the ground rules: Set out all your ingredients and implements before starting the clock and read through the recipe to get an overall picture of the process before you begin. Then stay focused and work with an attitude of calm efficiency. It may take 20 minutes or so the first time out, but this really is a very simple recipe, sure to satisfy on a winter day.

This hearty stew is an exotic way to enjoy two favorite foods of the American South, okra and black-eyed peas. Serve it with toasted chapatis (Indian flatbread) and a leafy salad for a perfect cold-weather meal.

1 1/2 cups (360 g) canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) vegetable broth
1/2 cup (120 ml) light coconut milk
1 tablespoons mild curry powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoong round cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can (15 ounces, or 420 g) black-eyed peas
2 1/2 cups (450) frozen sliced okra
1 carrot, finely diced
1/3 cup (60 g) dried couscous

In a large stockpot ov er medium-high heat, combine the tomatoes with the broth,c oconut milk, curry powder, garlioc, cardamom, and salt. Place the black-eyed peas in a colander, rinse, and drain. Add them to the soup, along with the okra and carrot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then add the couscous, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.