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


Retreat report

Marin County sits just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It is a hiker's paradise, encompassing both Mt. Tamalpais and Point Reyes National Seashore, with their hundreds of miles of trails and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

My women's group of 20 years has an annual get-together at a healing retreat center in a remote corner of Marin County. We convened there this past weekend, ten friends who know how to be present for each other without judgment or agendas. These few days a year when we gather together from our now widespread hometowns is such a delight!

We walk, frolic on the beach, meditate, swap stories, dance, sauna, sing, and do crafts together. We shed a few tears and laugh a lot. And of course we feast. My cooking contribution this year was Saturday night's meal.

My partner in the kitchen, who shall be called Lulu Coyote, shopped at her local farmers market and came bearing a cornucopia of beautiful fresh veggetables -- eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and squash -- in many sizes, shapes, and colors.

I made a filling of saffron rice, fresh herbs, garlic, and the suateed innards of said veggies, with which we filled the scopped out vegetables before baking them. Also on the menu: roasted green beans with peppers and sweet red onions and an arugula salad with heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto vinaigrette, and toasted pine nuts. Appetizer: Carrot garbanzo hummus I'd whipped up at home, with pita chips. Dessert: A birthday cake for Felicidad -- banana yogurt "pudding" spread between layers of yellow cake, the whole thing topped with berries and fresh peach slices -- made by C & D.

The meal was a succulent celebration of summer produce -- light and luscious and lovely to behold. However, I took only one photo -- of the wild and wonderful cake --being so caught up in the present moment that I couldn't be bothered with camera duties.

I'm home now, back in the big city, missing the silence of the woods and the crash of the sea, the closeness of my sisters. No doubt about it: such getaways help me stay grounded and happy with my lot.

May you nurture such friendships and celebrate them for years to come!


Tempeh, ole!

There's a lot in the press these days about the downside of soy. After years of being told by nutritionists that it's good for us, we've been hearing lately that there are adverse health effects from eating soy products regularly.

Some of the "dangers" being reported have to do with thyroid problems and estrogen-driven cancers. If you have such health challenges, you should study up and make a truly informed decision about whether or not soy is good for you.

As for me, I plan to continue eating soy foods on a regular basis until the day I die at a ripe old age. Since I've been eating tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy sauce, and miso for decades with no ill effects, I feel perfectly comfortable keeping them in my diet.

Are there any tempeh virgins out there? This firm and chewy nutty-tasting soybean "patty" has Indonesian roots and pairs deliciously with all Asian seasonings. Sometimes, though, it's fun to bend the boundaries and take it in a different ethnic direction, like I did with the taco filling pictured here. It contains lots of different vegetables and seasonings from the Mexican flavor family: oregano, chili powder, and cumin. Also has a serrano chili chopped up in it and some cooked brown rice stirred in. The dish in the background is a chunky guacamole and some hot corn tortillas are wrapped in that towel. It was a delicious and, yes, health-enhancing repast.

Tempeh is a fermented product, meaning it contains live enzymes in abundance. That's always a good thing for our digestive systems, but other soy foods have their own claims to good-health fame.

Of course, folks who don't eat meat need good lowfat sources of protein, and soy fits the bill. That's one major reason to enjoy it in abundance.

My common sense tells me that the benefits of soy way outweigh the risks. I'm no doctor, but Andrew Weil is. So if you don't want to take my advice, here's some of his:

All told, based on the evidence to date, I see no reason to worry about eating soy foods, whether fermented or not. I still recommend consuming one to two servings of soy per day, an amount equivalent to one cup of soy milk, or one half cup of tofu, soy protein (tempeh) or soy nuts. -- Andrew Weil, M.D.

You can read lots more about the joy of soy at his website.

Blessings and bon appetit!


Hooray for frisee

I'm in love with a frilly little lettuce called frisee (pro-nounced free-zay). As a member of the chicory family, it has a decidedly bitter flavor note. And we all know bitter greens are good for us, right? They stimulate digestion and help the secretion of bile, which keeps the liver working smoothly. (Over-simplified explanation, but that's the basic story as I understand it.) Chicory also provides good doses of fiber, calcium, and iron.

I like working with the bitter greens, learning to balance their palate-bracing flavor with sweet, salty, sour, and piquant notes. The goal of such experiments is to achieve a pleasing symmetry of taste, where no one flavor predominates.

Tonight's salad was a deliciously successful combination: frisee, red cabbage, and juicy golden heirloom tomatoes. Delicious with a quick and simple fresh basil and honey vinaigrette.

Here are basic instructions for making the latter (quantities approximate):

1) Put a small handful of fresh basil leaves in your blender.
2) Add about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, and a teaspoon of honey, along with a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper.
3) Puree, then taste and correct the seasonings, if necessary.
4) Toss with your favorite bitter green salad mix.

I hope you'll start to play with frisee in your own kitchen.

Blessings and bon appetit!


Summer's essence

Yes, as a matter of fact, it has been a month since my last blog. I can't believe it myself. I have a hunch, though, that there are many other bloggers like me, who somehow get extra busy in the summer and just don't find time to blog. I'm going to do better now, cross my heart.

So it's mid-August already. Cool, crisp, tart, refreshing. These are the hallmarks of my favorite summer foods -- salads, lots and lots of salads.

I eat other things, too, when the weather is warm. Corn on the cob, for instance -- briefly steamed and served plain, or with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of salt and ground chile, as the Mexicans enjoy it.

Also sandwiches, especially open-faced avocado sandwiches with fresh tomatoes, or with a bean spread or baba ghanoush. Or I'll saute some finely chopped fresh greens with lots of garlic, which are delicious piled on toasted baguette slices. Throw some pinnuts in with the greens and they're even better.

One particular salad combination that shows up regularly on my table is cucumbers and tomatoes, with olives and/or basil, and plenty of garlic. I keep the dressing very simply, with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice,salt, and pepper.

It tastes like the essence of summer to me. I know for sure these super-fresh foods nourish me with their vitality. Blessings and bon appetit!