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Alas, April, the mild-mannered month that typically heralds the coming of spring — and sparkles like its designated diamond birthstone with a pile of precious celebrations — is now on lock-down. These fun events that highlight fertility and rebirth, freedom, the national pastime, pranks and humor, and literary and planetary pursuits will all have to be rejiggered this year.
It’s time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 with some scrumptious breakfast dishes and drinks inspired by the Emerald Isle.
More and more of us are turning to plant-based diets, whether for health reasons or environmentally-conscious ones. So the hunt is on for protein sources that don’t bleed, yet are satisfying, hearty, tasty and versatile. I broke down last week, and tried a batch of “cheat meat.”
Some folks love to spend a leisurely Sunday morning strolling the stalls of a gourmet farmers market, scoping out seasonal offerings from local growers and purveyors, and feeling like part of the community. A couple of Sundays ago, I joined a group of intrepid foodies in a farmers market trip on steroids — an adventure that began in the state-of-the-art Studio Kitchen, San Diego headquarters of Specialty Produce, the glitterati of fruit and vegetable sellers. There, the first in a series of “Food as Medicine Cooking Classes” was launched by Chef Christina Ng, chair of the Berry Good Food Academy, a non-profit that embarks on benevolent food programs.
We do have some powerful self-protective weapons at our disposal — food selection and handling being the most effective. Ancient cultures relied on that for their health; even before old Hippocrates advised using food as medicine. So, while you arm yourself with tools provided by personal trainers, meditation gurus and other healers, I’ll provide the edible components of your healthy lifestyle to keep you vibrant for years to come.
At the supermarket produce aisle, I befriended a shopper choosing assorted leafy greens and venting about how she must pay the piper for an indulgent holiday food orgy. She grumbled about the light, airiness of salads, and how “rabbit food” was hardly a satisfying meal. Looking outside the bowl, you can easily find an exciting bounty of roots, fruits, seeds, grains, gourds, greens, succulent seafood and other lean proteins to beef up an otherwise anemic salad, giving it a nutritional and gratifying oomph.
Strolling the aisles of my favorite supermarket looking back at the gustatory highlights of the year, I then gaze at my culinary crystal ball perched in the child’s seat of my shopping cart to predict what’s ahead for 2020. This has been a year of imposter foods — cauliflower impersonated everything from mashed potatoes and rice to pizza crust, breads and gravies. Plant-based proteins and molecules (like pea and heme iron) made mock meats taste, smell, chew and even “bleed” like the real McCoy. Shredded Jackfruit doubled for crab cakes, while spiral sliced zucchini and other squashes disguised themselves as noodles, aka “zoodles.”
’Tis the season when Christmas and the eight-day Chanukah hoopla merge. Chanukah, which begins on Dec. 22 this year, used to be a minor celebration in the Jewish line-up of holidays. Thanks to Christmas-envy among Jewish children (and adults) who are awe-struck by the bedecked trees and sparkling neighborhoods lit-up like a fairytale wonderland, Chanukah has been elevated to the holiday A-list. As for the food part, we’re fortunate to partake in the delights of both traditions that can be enjoyed during a joint celebration.
Over the years, I’ve attended many holiday parties, and hosted even more. I’ve appreciated all festive offerings, and while I would never turn my nose up at a jar of caviar or good bottle of wine, the gifts I’ve enjoyed the most came from creative minds and loving hearts. A particularly memorable one was a forest green ceramic planter filled with fresh sprouting seasonal herbs, including rosemary, sage and thyme, potted in an edible soil of crumbled dark chocolate brownies. These whimsical treats can be tailor-made to accommodate the dietary restrictions of the host (low cholesterol, or gluten-, lactose-, tree nut-, or sugar-free), and preferences (mild, hot, smoky, crunchy, sweet, savory, or vegan). You will need some simple supplies like Mason jars, cruets, clear gift bags, decorative tins, ramekins, twine and labels. Now let’s get this craft party started!
Years ago, my aunt hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. She prepared a turkey feast from scratch and it was delicious. The next day, 18 of us had a date with the toilet bowl and were queasy for days. The only two who weren’t impacted were the vegetarians. We were all stymied and started asking questions trying to deduce the source of our illness. Remember the board game “Clue”? Well, Mrs. Peacock poisoned Mr. Boddy with a contaminated turkey leg in the dining room. Turns out that Auntie left the unwrapped, partially frozen turkey on the counter to thaw overnight, so the vegetarians were unscathed by her “fowl” deed. Here are some cautions to help keep your dinner guests healthy, happy and free from harm.
With Thanksgiving approaching at gigabit speed, we’re all gearing up for the big day with a main course of stress, and side dishes of angst and doubts about menu choices, modes of preparation, presentation (and dinner guests). To help make this feast a delightfully memorable one, I’ll now take your questions and offer cooking tips.
KITCHEN SHRINK: A friend of mine was invited to a Cinco de Mayo potluck, and needed an authentic recipe to show her appreciation of the lively Mexican cuisine.