Monday, August 31, 2009

Chez Panisse A Cult I'm Glad to be a Member Of


My third and final lunch at Chez Panisse was a perfect farewell to a wonderful week of great eating.

It was made all the more special to be able to share it with Neil (my bf of 22 years). It was his business trip out here that allowed me to tag along (albeit a few days earlier).

Maybe it was because I had requested it or maybe we just got lucky, but today we were able to sit on the porch, which I had been coveting since first laying eyes on it at my first lunch last Tuesday. In an earlier post I was grumpy about why it was the reservationist wouldn't promise it to me (pushy New Yorker) of course having been in the restaurant business for so long I certainly understand the need to keep things flexible and be able to respond to the dynamics of the day.

So it was with giddy delight that we were lead out to the porch to be seated. Not only did we get to sit there, but for the first 30 minutes of lunch we were the only people on the porch - our own private dinning room! Admittedly it only has three tables, but still...

The first thing the charming waiter did was bring us a bowl of complimentary olives, then we ordered. Neil had two appetizers a local albacore tune lightly seared on a bed of Cannellini beans with herbs and I believe some tomato concassé. His second dish was the daily pizzette which featured a house made brandade for which they salted their own Halibut. Now I can't wait to get home to salt my own Halibut. I love salted Cod the traditional fish that would be used in a brandade, but my feelings, as have been well explored here before is that Cod is not a fish we should be eating, over fished for years it has been off and on many endangered species list even caught locally I wouldn't buy it.

The pizzette was simple and tasty, with dollops of brandade generously dropped on the tomato sauce and cheese base, with a few red onions sprinkled about for good measure.

I opted for the $24 prix fix, a simple green salad to start followed by a small cazuela filled with a ragout of cranberry beans, pork belly and two very small back eggs with a side of heavenly garlic toast.

My favorite part of the meal came next, compliments of the house, on a hammered copper pedestal dish, sitting on a fig leaf, two small bunches of Bronx grapes (a small very sweet local grape) and a peach cut in half. Brilliant just brilliant so simple and so perfect. The grapes were little sugar bombs and the peach was perfectly ripe, but not over ripe and tasted perfectly of peach. Which seems like a strange thing to say, but in our detached grocery store no season culture it is easy to forget what real fruit, freshly picked in season can taste like: it was a revelation.

And as if that wasn't enough, I had my mulberry sorbet and citrus shortbread and Neil had coffee almond ice cream that with a generous dousing of dark chocolate sauce with some shaved chocolate thrown in for good measure. My sherbet had fine dice of home made candied citrus peel as a garnish which was a lovey, clean and fresh way to finish this wonderful and most memorable meal.

Thank you Chez Panisse.


Grade A Eggs!

In this land of constant summer the wealth of produce all year around is truly a gift.

It certainly makes it easier to eat seasonally, locally and organically when even the tinniest house in Berkeley has a citrus tree in the backyard; rosemary grows like a tree here and tomatoes are the gift that just keeps on giving.

To be a huge fast food chain in this rarefied climate must be challenging. McDonalds has an outlet on Shuttuck street, the main drag in Berkeley, a short walk away from Chez Panisse and an advertising campaign going on here in San Francisco touting their Grade A Eggs in their breakfast sandwiches. Which reminded me of an article I read a while back at Huffington Post that listed the ingredients in McDonalds grade A eggs:

Pasteurized whole eggs with sodium acid pyrophosphate, citric acid and monosodium phosphate (added to preserve color), nisin (preservative). Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soy lecithin, mono-and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).
Free association being what it is this reminds me of the picture perfect market style boutique grocery store at the Ferry Terminal which had this on it's shelves:

Which is really just another example of how here in San Francisco, in all aspects of life, tolerance and diversity win the day.

Junk food and cheap sugar will always have their place as long as there are people struggling to make ends meet, because, rather obviously, in order to have a citrus tree growing in your back yard you need to have a back yard.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Unions Join Whole Foods Boycott

I'm a little behind on the news beyond my San Francisco food frenzy, but I was glad to come across this today: turns out unions having joined in the boycott of Whole Foods

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chez Panisse Lunch Two


Today was a front room day, about half way through you can see in the distance the porch room, it's where I'd like to sit with Neil, but seating is random I guess which is strange given they take reservations and even stranger since it will be my third lunch in a week, you'd kind of think they make an effort? As always they are very professional and friendly in there instance there is nothing they can do and of course any where you have a seat is a good place. Although having now sat in the front and the back I like the back better.

I started lunch off with a simple green salad, it was heavy on bitter greens and lightly dressed, a little red wine vinegar, olive oil a titch of mustard and some bandol vinegar as well. Dressing salads is much more of an art than it appears. Finding balance is very challenging, to not over dress the greens so that they are rendered simply crunchy bits with some heavy or overly acidic oil slick dousing them. This was a perfect plate of salad greens. Again, to flog this idea of local, organic and fresh, it really helps when the greens you are dressing taste so good to start with.

My main course was a Moroccan style dish of lamb meatballs and couscous. It was subtly flavored almost to a fault, the plate was beautifully composed with an artful spoon of yogurt on one section, which I wished was served on the side so I could have put it where I wanted it, a side of Harissa to add some spice would have made it perfect. As it was it was delightful, but I would have like to have seen a bolder flavor approach with this dish.

Dessert was fun: a fancy take on Neapolitan ice cream. A layer of raspberry, hazelnut and chocolate, served with the mini crinkly chocolate cookies and splattered with chocolate sauce. The intense raspberry ice cream was a perfect bright note in the otherwise low key seductiveness of the hazelnut and chocolate.

The waitress was like all the staff a real charmer and when I asked about the chocolate cookies she brought me a copy of Simple Cooking and showed me the recipe.

My hope is to be able to sit on the porch for my next, last and third lunch on Monday, for some reason the receptionists are not willing to commit to this, I guess it has something to do with the way they seat people, maybe I'm just being a pushy New Yorker, I understand you need to have some leeway when making reservations in case an old regular shows up or some unexpected VIP.

Anyway, it is, all things considered, a small thing as really any table at Chez Panisse is a good table, I feel very lucky to be able to eat there three times in one trip.

I'm here in SF until the 1st with lots more from this city of food!

Contents of a Shark's Stomach


Friday, August 28, 2009

The Ferry Building: San Francisco Food Heaven

Think of this as poorly made low budget food porn. The Ferry Building in San Francisco is a food lovers dream come true. A mix of farmers market, food stores and restaurants.

The city has a commitment to supporting local businesses, even in the airport you will find no chain food. The Ferry Building is a perfect reflection of this commitment as it pertains to all things food.

Organic is prized above all else and most of the markets here are all organic. These videos present a quick stroll that starts outside at the farmers market starting with the food vendors, an amazing array of people who do wonderful crazy things like make a portable wood burning pizza oven which they have haul to market to sell artisanal pizzas, Tacos, sorbet, smoked fish sandwiches, the quality and choice is over whelming.

The second half of the market is the produce section, with one exception all of it is organic and gloriously beautiful, the video ends in an orgy of heirloom tomatoes.

I particularly like the snippets of conversation, the beautiful people, the trumpet and the church bells, it makes up for my rather uneven, hurried, camera work.

The last video is of the inside of the Ferry Building which is beautifully restored and so well curated I felt like I was in a food art gallery, ever shop and restaurant a perfect representation of what ever it was they were selling - seafood or olive oil - hamburgers or crab boil. Again even the hamburger joint is all about supporting local farmers, grass fed beef, quality cheese, home made bread, etc.

From what I saw, although not cheap, the prices were well within reason and what you were getting was a kind of consistent quality from shop to shop, cafe to cafe, that I have never seen any where else in the world.

To live in San Francisco is to be a gourmand. Living in Berkeley is what dying and going to heaven must be like.




Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gratuitous San Francisco Vistas with Cheesey Music


Puerta Allegre


This place was fun, serving good authentic food at very reasonable prices, attested to by the big crowds in the early evening. Oh and they also had an extensive list of tequilas, cheap margaritas and a good selection of Mexican beers.

You can't go to the Mission and not have Mexican Puerta Allegre was a good choice.

Mini Video Food Tour of Berkeley



The Cheeseboard Collective
(they do indeed have a wonderful cheese shop as well as an amazing one at the Ferry building in San Francisco)

Imperial Tea

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Peddle Now or Paddle Later


Would someone please explain to me what this means? Paddle later? I think it is some allusion to global warming and the end of the world and mass flooding....but I'm really not sure.

Regardless, love the truck and the bike enthusiast who owns it.

What Is It About San Francisco and Cults?


My first day in San Francisco I was wired from the long trip and thought I'd take a yoga class.

Instead of going to one of the places that had been recommended I looked online for a place in the Castro that I could just walk to and that had a class soon. What I found was a place with several locations called the Yoga Tree. They have a beautiful, enormous space just off the Castro that seemed perfect.

The first thing I noticed after walking up the stairs to the second floor was how the guy behind the desk wasn't so friendly, he was preoccupied and curt. He answered all my questions, but seemed in a hurry. He told me the class would be sold out and that I should sign up now (apparently in SF you need to register for a class on line before you come), and that they had a deal on three classes for 20 bucks, good at any of their locations. Sounded like a deal to me.

I tried to suss out what kind of yoga it was, I told him I was from New York and went to OM, he shrugged and said he'd never heard of it. Fair enough. He told me it was Hatha Yoga (in reality that is a non-answer since Hatha Yoga describes any of the physical practices of yoga).

I go back to the changing area and after I have my shorts and t-shirt on I sit waiting for the room to be free. The amount of people streaming in was quite something. I'm not used to such large classes, nor am I used to how social everyone was.

Yoga classes in New York are predominantly women. If you have 3 or 4 guys in a class that's a lot. Not so here, there were a lot of men, all seemingly young and in good shape, and all practicing shirtless. By the time the doors opened to the yoga room the waiting area was packed.

Between the people coming out from the class that had just ended to the ones going in I felt like I was in Grand Central at rush hour. But the minute I walked into the class I realized I had indeed made a mistake: the room was heated, something I knew was popular in California and that I neither understand nor like.

My feeling is that the two great yoga teachers of our time, B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, don't practice in heated rooms so do we need to? And what brought about this need to over stretch, dehydrate and cause nausea while practicing yoga?

Maybe it's so we can wear less clothing and bring in trendy bottled water (something one of my ashtanga teachers used to rail against: "yoga class is no place for water bottles drink before and drink after but do not drink during!" of course it wasn't a heated class.)

Anyway the rubber band twig of a dancer girl next to me noticing my distress looked at me and asked what was wrong:

"I didn't know it was heated"

"It's stated on the schedule"

"I was a walk in. I didn't see the schedule, but no one told me it was a Bikram class"

"It's not. We only heat to 86 degrees. Bikram heats to 107."

Thanks for the clarification.

I was beginning to think people in San Francisco weren't very friendly, but then I always think: maybe it's me?

I was torn. I wasn't happy and I knew this was not going to be my kind of yoga class. How you can teach a hundred people yoga? How can you do corrections or see if your students have correct alignment so they don't get hurt? Especially in such a hot room where you can easily over stretch?

The only thing louder than my narrative was the din of the room, it was incredible I wasn't in a yoga class where people came to find balance, peace and quiet I was at a singles cocktail party sans the cocktails.

Then the final straw, some hyped up yoga rock music swelled until it as so loud the din of the crowd faded out. Maybe it was a sign to quiet down? It seemed more like the pre-show band getting the already hyped up crowd into a further state of orgiastic, tantric, ecstasy before they engaged in their sweaty group physical oneness.

I fled.

The curt blond guy at the desk and the women who had been chewing an orange sunburst with her mouth open earlier treated me as if I was from another planet. Obviously not happy and not sure what to do except escape I mumbled something about heated classes, Mr. Curt handed me the schedule and said I could look to see which classes weren't heated.

No refund was on offer, so I'm thinking of it as my contribution to the yoga sex cult and just hope they don't use it to buy orange flavored Kool Aid.

When not engaged in faux yoga sweaty sex games I'm sure a lot of Yoga Tree students spend their time at live food mecca Cafe Gratitude.

Having just read Catching Fire I have to be honest up front that I believe eating a raw food diet is actually really unhealthy. I find the subsequent hocus pocus explanation for why you are suppose to think it's a good idea absurd new age crap.

Or as Barney Frank would say: "Just exactly what planet do you spend most of your time on?"

To be fair I greatly appreciate any business dedicated to only serving organic food, that supports farmers and that in actively running a green business.

It's the Louise Hay cultish language and attitude that makes me gag. That and the idea that all of this is suppose to be good for you is nothing more than marketing and I find it all hard to swallow. First and foremost it's a business looking to make a profit off of selling you the idea of health and well being. In one instance through physical activity and the other with food. Both noble objectives, but to do so with messianic fever where in both instances you are putting the people you supposedly serve at risk of either physical injury or malnutrition, seems to me misguided at best, irresponsible and dangerous at worst.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chez Panisse the Movie


I'm getting a little experimental, the video camera software comes with soundtrack music so I thought I'd give it a try. You don't get a great sense of the room, but I wanted to give it a try.

Chez Panisse

After all these years of being inspired by Alice Waters and the people who have worked at Chez Panisse to make it a Temple of Gastronomy, I was finally able to sample her food.

I say "her food" even though I didn't see her in the kitchen, which I could do easily if she were there as both kitchens are open. In particular, the downstairs kitchen is beautiful, the cabinetry well worn wood with heavy, mission style handles.

Both floors of the restaurant have a distinctly Frank Loyd Wright/Mission look, very refined, straight lines, almost austere, yet very comfortable with amber and copper accents. It's not fussy at all, indeed the architecture reflects the food: simple, elegant, classic. It also presents a perfect set in which to focus on the food, nothing to distract you from the main event.

I arrived a few minutes late to meet Kurt who was joining me for lunch, which is served in the upstairs dining room.

The place was bustling, but within ten minutes the very charming hostess seated us in the back room on the banquette. All the staff, in fact, were as charming and several of them were insanely attractive to boot (it never hurts - friendly and cute is always a winning combo).

Our waitress was able to balance friendly, knowledgeable and helpful with ease. The food came very quickly and all was pitch perfect and intensely delicious.

Kurt started with housemade mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes, the cheese so incredibly buttery it was like no mozzarella I have ever tasted. The tomatoes were carefully composed and selected to highlight a variety of flavors, colors and sizes. The vinaigrette had a note of pepper and was faintly acid, perfect for letting the tomatoes predominate. The entire thing was topped with a generous sprinkling of fresh chervil.

Spicy, wood oven roasted, baby, local squid on a bed of purslane with pan fried peppers was wonderful, contrasting tender, slightly charred, peppery squid with cool crisp unadorned purslane all sitting in the juices of the squid. Heaven. Its perfect accompaniment was a Willamette Rose. Kurt had a house Zinfandel from Napa.

Kurt was on a tomato binge and who could blame him as they were bursting with sweet, ripe perfection. For his main course he had housemade spaghetti with pesto, Parmesan and fresh tomatoes. I had duck confit on a ragout of corn and zucchini, topped with some crunchy, fresh, wild arugula. The confit had been put on the grill and fell right off the bone.

For dessert we shared a clafouti of figs and raspberry with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and chocolate mint ice cream - which was made from fresh mint and wasn't artificially heightened green. As a matter of fact it was beige and drizzled in chocolate sauce with two mini, chewy, chocolate cookies thrown in for good measure.

The over all take home message of this meal is in perfect keeping with the philosophy of Ms. Waters: quality ingredients - fresh, local, organic, served simply - will always win the day.

Even though all the food was beautiful I felt like I was eating unfussy food, that I wasn't there to be impressed with the chef's pyrotechnics, I was there to be wooed by nature's bounty and the incredible flavors contained therein.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How Safe is Atrazine?

Atrazine is an herbicide that has been found in drinking water far exceeding acceptable levels. Scientist warn it is carcinogenic and makes frogs hermaphrodites, the corn growers association which is funded by the makers of Atrazine say every thing is fine...who do you believe?

They Killed A Chicken for This?

My flight is delayed by 2 hours, mechanical difficulties, how reassuring.

How did we survive before internet? At least while get caught up on the news and read my favorite blogs, which is what I was doing when I cam across this on Joe.My.God.

You might not want to watch this first thing in the morning.

From the brilliant minds at KFC, a whole new kind of sandwich.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

San Francisco Here I Come!

It has been almost 23 years since I was last in San Francisco. I am beside myself with excitement, I leave tomorrow morning.

I have made 3 reservations at Chez Panisse for the cheaper more casual upstairs lunch. The last one I get to share with Neil.

Neil Joins me on Saturday, so for the first five days I am staying at the rather notorious Becks Motor Lodge which seems to perfectly fine to me. I'll up date you on that later.

When Neil arrives I move into his conference hotel Kimpton's Drake. Definitely a little more tony. Although I have to say that if you are looking for a cheap and cheerful holiday San Francisco hotels are very cheap compared to New York, with lots of fine places to stay in the $125 range. I think the Y here is more then that!

Our friend Kurt sent m some links to different markets that I plan to check out. a list of the Berkley Farmer's markets

The Ferry Buildings market

And my favorite the new Castro Street market which has a weekly featured product, this week it's watermelon described as: Summer refreshment with it's own carrying case!

Too funny those gay people sure do have a sense of humor (wink wink).

Fresh Tomato Salsa with Cheddar Cheese Corn Cakes

The tomato blight has luckily not devastated all the local tomato farms.

My friend Jane tells me a farmer near her country house upstate (Sullivan County) lost their entire field - 18,000 plants. To make matters worse, apparently the plants grow fine and you think everything is going to work out and you're going to have this great crop then you wake up one morning to find them all infected.

I hope those poor farmers have insurance for a loss like that, although even as I type that I'm sure they don't. Not an easy life farming.

Anyway, thankfully most of the farmers at the Green market have been lucky as tomatoes are everywhere, ranging in price from $2-$4:50 a pound.

Mostly this season I have been buying the less expensive field tomatoes (as opposed to the Heirlooms) , which have been very tasty. I have a huge bunch of them sitting in front of me now that I bought in order to make salsa that I was going to put up.

When I got them home I looked at dozens of recipes only to discover that the fresh salsa that I like so much doesn't lend itself to canning. So I'm going to make another version for canning and made a batch of the fresh stuff and served it last night at a little dinner party we had here - it was a real crowd pleaser.

Corn and tomatoes are a classic combination, the corn this season has been sweet and lovely. Corn Cakes are easy, don't require the oven and are delicious. I posted the recipe here a while back, in this version I added 1 cup of shredded sharp white cheddar cheese to the batter. You could also, instead of, or in addition to, melt cheddar cheese on top of the corn cake after you've fried them, if you're feeling cheesy and don't mind turning the broiler on in this heat.

Fresh Tomato Salsa

This is going to be a tad frustrating for those of you who require very specific measurements, so I apologize up front. Feel free to add or subtract as you see fit and remember to taste the salsa as you go along.

Chop 4 large tomatoes into a medium dice (mine was fairly rustic and chunky) and place in a large bowl (about 4 cups).

Stem, seed and finely dice 2-4 jalapeno peppers (or Serrano or any other hot pepper you like - I wear latex gloves when I do this to prevent rubbing hot pepper juice in my eye).

Add to the tomatoes. If you are worried about the heat add a small amount of what you have prepped and then later, when everything is added, you can add more if you want. Better to start with less...

Finely chop 1 large red onion and add it to the mix. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime, stir in 2 teaspoons, or to taste, of ground cumin and about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (I use the stem and leaves), salt and black pepper to taste.

If you are trying to be local and limes aren't part of your world try some apple cider vinegar, you may want to add a pinch of sugar if you do this.

I like to keep very simple recipes loose so you feel comfortable with the idea of changing it to better suit your taste. It's more a suggestion than anything else.

I love cumin, some people don't, if you do add the cumin you might want to try browning cumin seeds in a skillet and then grinding them up in a mortar and pestle (or coffee/spice grinder) instead of using cumin powder.

Some people think Cilantro tastes like soap - go figure - if one of them is going to be eating your salsa basil or parsley would both be good substitutes or don't add any herb at all.

This Salsa can be made a day before and will sit in the fridge for about 3 days or maybe a little longer, but is best used within 24 hours of making.

Once you've fried up your corn cakes, you can either serve them on a platter with the salsa in a separate bowl and another bowl of thick yogurt or sour cream (I used a Three Corner Field Farm's Sheep's Milk yogurt). Or if you are feeling fancy make them into canapes: 1 or 2 corn cakes, a spoon full of salsa and a dollop of the cream of your choice, garnish with chopped cilantro or what ever herb you used.

These little suckers can be very filling, so be warned, less is more! Or you could make a very lovely meal of them, accompanied by a simple salad , some white wine, maybe a chunk of local cheese, some pate or smoked salmon, and a blueberry peach crumble to finish.

An easy, elegant, seasonal supper: voilà!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Candied Bacon Ice Cream

Just when you thought it wasn't possible to do another thing with bacon that hadn't already been done: candied bacon ice cream.

Having grown up on maple glazed bacon, I can certainly understand how this might be some kick ass ice cream. Usually I have a fair amount of derision for this kind of "gimmicky" food, but it's creator David Lebovitz really knows his way around ice cream and the recipe sounds great.

Candied bacon bits act as the chewy, fatty, sweet, smoky, chunky counter point to the luscious sweet ice cream, kind of like chocolate chunks, cherries and walnuts only made from really smart sentient beings that oink and happen to taste really great.

With ice cream like this who needs an entree?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Union Square Masked Accordion Player

This guy cracks me up, he wears this home made paper mache Darth Vader ish helmet and sits in the market playing his accordion for tips.

Every time I see him he makes me smile so I thought I'd share:


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kurt's Food Pictures

Our friend Kurt from San Francisco was in town and stayed with us for the last week. He's a great photographer and documented my goings on in the kitchen. Here are some of the highlights:

This is a chocolate Angel Food Cake cooling:
Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream before freezing
The vichyssoise aka potato leek soup in process
Sour Cherry soup almost done
Thanks to Pam for sending me a recipe from Cook's Country, I didn't make the recipe as it wasn't so inspiring, but they gave this very helpful hint, use a serrated peeler for your peaches instead of the hot water method, it works like a charm and far more eco friendly then using all that water to peel a few peaches!
The groaning board, in the foreground my "health" bread, homemade bread & butter pickles, a Saxelby Cheese course and in the back Peach Upside Down Cake (served with above mentioned ice cream) and in the far left corner my friend Pam being helpful, I love guest who help with the dishes!Me lost in cooking in our wonderful kitchen

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

United Airlines Breaks Guitars: The Sequel

This guy is so damned charming and this video is really quite elaborate! I can't believe at this point United isn't tripping over themselves to give him money. Of course common sense or good management have never been hall marks of United.

Don't most airlines have a $500 maximum baggage replacement cap? What do you do if you have a valuable guitar that cost more then $500, but because it won't fit in the over head bin you can't take it on board. It' s a conundrum, I know: musicians shouldn't fly!

It also seems to me that if you have a plane full of people who actually witness the baggage handlers purposefully breaking your stuff that it would qualify as an exception.
Good business practices and public relations would seem to dictate...

I hope their association with Continental, which starts October 27th, will have a good influence on them, actually what I hope is that they will merge and United will fly into the sunset never to be heard from again.

(If you saw this post when I first put it up I had a dyslexic moment and called United - Un-tied Oops, but kind of funny and apropos at the same time ;-)0

Whole Foods Boycott Update

The web is a buzz with articles on the Whole Foods boycott with seemingly everyone weighing in on the issue.

This morning I read an article over at Huffington Post at the end of which is a survey asking people how they feel 58% said: "I'm outraged and not shopping there again." My sentiments exactly.

The NYT Opinonator does a nice job of fulfilling it's mandate of gathering diverse opinions from hither and yon. My favorite opinonator quote comes from Ben Wyskida over at, again, Huffington Post, who said:

the bottom line for me, reading Mackey’s op-ed, is that by shopping at Whole Foods I’m giving money to a Republican and I am supporting by proxy a donation to the RNC and to health scare front groups like Patients First. I don’t give money to Republicans, so I will have to cross Whole Foods off my list.

The boycott Whole Foods Facebook page has reached a whopping 11,000 members and counting.

Over at The Atlantic Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish highlights a new book by Lawrence Glickman called: Buying Power: The History of Consumer Activism in America

Personally, I think that the board of directors of the publicly owned Whole Foods should ask for Mr. Mackey's resignation.

In the mean time I've realized how unnecessary Whole Foods is.

We're members of a CSA which provides us more greens than we can eat, I get my coffee from Crop to Cup, the green markets are my mainstay for fruits, vegetables, fish and occasionally even cheese. Sometimes I think I should buy a share in Saxelby Cheese I shop there so much. I buy my spices at Dual, my flour locally at Cayuga Organics and sugar, cereal and other sundries at Commodities. Making a pilgrimage every so often to the Chelsea Market to check out my favorite Boun Italia.

Buying good things and supporting local business, makes me wonder what I ever saw in Whole Foods in the first place?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My New Tag Line

Food Avenger: Saving the planet one grocery cart at a time

My friend Ian who is a marketing and PR whiz came up with this. I like it!
Now I have to come up with an outfit...


I'm shocked to see the French actually eating at McDonalds, but in reality you never see him eat just get free food.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Part 2 - Bill Maher interviewed Brad Pitt on 14aug09

I love Bill Maher and have never had much of an opinion about Brad Pitt, but I think he displays a wonderful intelligence and fairness here. Of course it helps that I agree with him, still it's nice to hear it from the likes of him.

You go Brad!

Bottled Water

Mother Jones has done a chart showing how many miles a bottle of water travels to get from the source to San Francisco. It's interesting enough, but kind of old news. What I found more interesting was the discussion in the comments.

Global trade is here to stay the real question isn't how far did it travel, but rather how did it travel? A bottle of water brought by boat isn't as upsetting as one brought by plane.

Who knew Fiji was a military dictatorship?

In The News

There used to be a time when I had several magazine subscriptions, food and travel magazines being my addiction.

My favorite food magazine for a long time was Saveur, before that it had been, for years, Gourmet. When I lived in Toronto my friend Ilse had given me a decade of Gourmet magazines to explore which I sadly had to part with when I moved to NYC.

I even had a subscription in the early days of my living in New York. Which was, back then, a real splurge as we were poor.

My feelings about Gourmet changed over the years. I began to feel that they were out of touch and mired in this weird 1960 aesthetics. When Ruth Reichl took over I had great hopes. She's done a great job and the magazine today looks much better and is taking on serious food issues along with their trustworthy recipes. Although I still can't help but think that I am not the demographic for Gourmet as it still comes across as a bit precious, uptight and posh for me. That's a very subjective opinion loaded with personal baggage, take it as you will.

So you can imagine my surprise when my friend Pam sent me a link to Gourmet's Food Politics section! It would seem the ladies who lunch have put down their lunch time glasses of Sancerre, paused mid bite from their Chicken Caesar salads, and have started to pay attention. Not a moment too soon either.

I have to admit that my rather poor view of most magazines is in part how beholden they are to their advertisers, editorial content so often influenced by advertising. I just have a problem with articles about sustainability, seasonality, and politics when they still have recipes calling for ketchup and corn syrup and are printed on paper from virgin forests. It's cognitive dissonance I have a hard time unraveling.

Ultimately, that's why I canceled all my fancy magazine subscriptions. Now we get Harpers and I see that, mostly, as a donation, as I never fully read an issue, I just think what they do is really important and they deserve our support.

Of course it is a good thing that Gourmet is doing food politics article, it's a great thing in fact, but take the article on strawberries, a discussion on whether or not methyl iodide should be used as a fumigant on California strawberries. It's a well written and interesting article, although one where by the third line I had already made up my mind as to the answer: No it's a bad idea lobbied for by chemical corporations who could care less about your health or the health of the planet.

It is with increasing perplexity that I wonder why instant gratification has become something most Americans see as their God given right, after all if we ate only local organic strawberries and only when they were in season this whole argument would be moot. Do we need strawberries in January in the northeast? No we don't. We want them, we don't need them. And big agri-business and chemical companies wanting to expand their market and bottom lines, make it seem like the world would end if we didn't have them. Farmers in California would have nothing else to grow and families would starve, is how it would play out in the media.


So instead we have to spend time, money and resources reading about and fighting against big corporations destroying our land and potentially our health because they want to make it seem like strawberries 24/7/365 days a year any where in the country are a perfectly reasonable and doable thing; when they aren't.

The real solution here is for people not to buy them.

Would we appreciate strawberries more if we only ate them in season? Yes. Would that in turn help local North East farmers who grow strawberries? Yes it would.

This brings me to Dan Barber's Op Ed in the NYT about unfortunate series of bad luck tomatoes have had to endure this season. Lots of rain, moderate temperatures, humidity and a late season blight akin to the one that caused the Irish Potato famine. In part this freakish series of events was made possible because large box stores like Home Hardware sold plants bought from huge industrial greenhouse facilitates in the South.

Maybe this is another case of how growing huge mono-cultures for profit is a bad idea? That maybe if the mega chemically driven plant breeders had, well, not used chemicals in the first place, in other words grown organically, might the plants have been more resistant and hardier and had they planted a wider selection of types of tomato plants might the blight not have been so successful? Just asking. The Irish potato famine was caused in part because the Irish only planted one type of potato: eliminating diversity is never a good idea.

Mr. Barber does take on the dilemma of the organic farmer and how to deal with the organically grown tomatoes which are also not dealing well with all the rain and the added burden of having to deal with what appears to be a Home Hardware et al imported blight to capitalize on the renewed interest in gardening.

Nothing can be done about bad weather conditions, but as is my constant refrain here I think this problem was made worse by big box stores and our dependence on wanting to by cheap at one store. Further perpetuating the need for bigger everything and more monoculture chemically maintained green houses. I live in NYC and have a half dozen tomato plants that I bought from the farmers market, I mixed them in with herbs and cabbages, they have been super slow to ripen, but they aren't blighted and taste great. Anecdotal as that is I couldn't help but mention it.

Finally, The Daily Beast has joined up with Cookstr to create Hungry Beast an exhaustive overview of everything food and well worth checking out.

Speaking of Cookstr the recent newsletter had a great recipe for zucchini fritters with feta that I'm going to try out this week.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

BANANAS!* trailer

Bananas don't really fit into my local food ideas, but every now and again if I make the decision to have one it would have to be organic. After viewing this trailer it looks like a good decision!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kseniya Simonova - Sand Animation (Україна має талант / Ukraine's Got Talent)

Just go to show you how little you need to make something amazing.

Sumer Time Pasta Fagioli


I say a few things in this video that aren't so true, it turns out to be much more pasta than soup or stew. I also promised a part two that never happened, oops, it's hard to keep track with a house full of company and some wine.

Making it with fresh versus dried ingredients was a great idea - it was full of flavor and really very, well I'm not sure how to say this other than to say seasonal and fresh in a way that canned tomatoes and reconstituted beans don't have. I made a huge pot for 8 people and given the heavy nature of it I was surprised to see how quickly it disappeared.

Serve this with good bread and a nice salad, it's a perfect summer meal and you never have to turn the oven on.

Summertime Pasta Fagioli

In a large pot heat 1/2 cup olive oil and 4 T butter. When the butter is melted add 4 medium finely chopped onions and saute until transparent about 8 minutes.

Add 2 carrots thinly sliced into rounds, 2 finely chopped celery stalks, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, cover pot and cook for about 10 minutes until the carrots start to soften.

Pour in 4 cups roughly chopped tomatoes, seeds, skin and all, bring to boil for about 3-5 minutes then add 2 bay leaves, 2 T fresh roughly chopped Rosemary, 2 T fresh roughly chopped basil, 2 crushed dried red peppers (or about 2 teaspoons pepper flakes or to taste) 3 T white miso paste, four cups of water or stock and 1 cup of white wine. Bring to a simmer and add 1 1/2 - 2 pounds of fresh cranberry beans, simmer for 25-20 minutes.

Taste at this point and season with salt and freshly grated black pepper.

I didn't do this, but if you wish retrieve from the pot with a slotted spoon about 2 cups of beans and place in a blender with enough liquid to puree and then reintroduce to the soup pot.

At this point bring the soup up to a rolling boil and add 8 ounces of whole wheat pasta shells (really you can use any shape this is the traditional one, you also don't have to use whole what I just prefer it - if you use white pasta you may want to reduce the amount of water/stock as the whole needs tends to need more. It's also about how much sauce you want, the extra water isn't going to hurt one way or the other, it's just going to give you more sauce.) Cook the pasta for about 8-12 minutes, it should be done but not mushy, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and more fresh herbs another handful of parsley, basil, rosemary.

Serve with a wonderful rustic bread with good olive oil or butter. Garnish each bowl with a generous portion of grated Parmesan and a swirl of very green olive oil.

A real crowd pleaser and great for lunch the next day!

Also if you want to you can use 1/2 pound of salted pork or ham hock in this soup. If you did this you would add it ad the start reduce the butter and oil by half.

Boycott Whole Foods. "Deceived Progressives" Not Happy

It's nice to see that people are really getting behind this. I have been a big, if critical supporter of Whole Foods, but last year when I started to have questions about their selling of Cod that I realized they were really willing to avoid answering uncomfortable questions and purposefully deceiving customers by making them think that all their fish was certified as MSC approved. When I wrote the MSC to ask them about Cod and certification and Whole Foods they did not answer. In reality only one fish is certified (Alaskan Salmon). I only mention this as an example of one deception they have been perpetrating for years, how many other ones are there?

Join the Facebook group .

There is going to be a meet up for New Yorkers who want to get involved.

I'll be there.

Friday, August 14, 2009

CEO of Whole Foods Weighs in on Health Care and It's Not Good

Neil alerted me to an article on The Huffington Post about an Op Ed the CEO of Whole Foods wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

The article starts off with a quote by Margret Thacher:

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

What? The thing about the non discussion hysteria in this country is that with a universal health plan like they have everywhere else in the developed world is actually facts, truth, statistics show it is cheaper than what the government actually pays now, because so many poor people who don't have insurance end up using emergency rooms in hospitals and then can't afford to pay the bill. An overwhelming amount of people declare bankruptcy because of medical bills in this country. Then there is the fact that this entire discussion is paid for my insurance companies and big pharms afraid that their bottom line will suffer, an overwhelming majority of Americans want and have wanted some form of universal health care for years. This insanity that has taken over the media lately is an orchestrated and paid for blitz by big corporations desperate to not lose their footing.

Ultimately as someone who grew up in Canada I don't see why given we all pay taxes that health care should be included in that. Shouldn't the government take care of it's people? Isn't it better t pay a few more dollars in taxes than to be forced into bankruptcy because you can't afford insurance or worse because the insurance you have won't pay for the treatment you need that will save your life? What is the fucking problem with these people?

The fact that Whole Foods is run by some right wing lunatic is admittedly surprising to me. I bought the lovey feeling let's help the planet and each other have better lives thing.

Can you believe he actually said:

"Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat."

First of all I'd love to see the scientific research he's talking about that tell us that if we eat right we will never get cancer or heart disease or diabetes.

OK I'm waiting, Whole Foods you out reading this, please provide me with the medical research that will prevent me from ever getting sick or needing medical care.

Does eating Kamut prevent VD? Does Cranberry juice cure cervical cancer? Oh just drink some green tea for that sarcoma and it will go away....

Mr Mackey also admits that Whole Foods sells "a bunch of junk" because of course junk sells and your real concern mr mackey isn't the health of your customers or employees or the quality of what yuou sell, you concern is to make more money, increasing amounts of it, by what ever means necessary. Greed is good - wasn't that Regan's motto?

The argument about Canada or Britain's health care system is totally skewed, hysterical and one sided, as it always is in this country, when you can't provide facts give 'em fear.

What's better - getting the treatment you need and having to wait or not getting it?

Look at the map of all the countries with some form of universal health care.

Must make you proud Mr. Mackey to be included with Indonesia, Kahzakstan, North Korea and most of African as some of the few countries left who don't have it.

The point Mr. Mackey is that millions of people in this country have NO health insurance. What about them? What about people who have profound illness and can't work, what about them? What about the elderly? What about them? What about the poor, Mr Mackey, what about them?

Now that were quoting old Brits, dead or moribund, here's one I'm sure you'll love:

"Are there no work houses? Are there no prisons?"

Oh and as a Canadian can I please set the record straight, when you have a health emergency you are dealt with promptly. And the quality of care is world class. It wasn't until the introduction of aggressive American health insurance firms that Canada's health care began having cracks, you and your republican cronies have done everything you can to tear down anything that is good, that supports people not bigger profit margins for ever growing multinational companies.

As the CEO of a store that sells "healthy" products you are on the wrong side of this argument.

Thanks, though, it's been very enlightening to me, as an educated consumer I can now make the choice to shop elsewhere.


JOE.MY.GOD gives good update on what looks like could be a Whole Foods revolution, apparently I'm not the only person who is furious. This Mackey guy should be fired.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Can We Get These in New York?

The BBC reports that botanists have discovered very large carnivorous plants in the Philippines, big enough, the article says they could drown a rat.

They're called Pitcher Plants, they're kind of pretty, I wonder if they'd grow here?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Kind of Health Bread

A few days ago I made a video and did a post about this stupid expensive "health" bread at Whole Foods - 4 slices for 2.99 - made by Eli's.

So I decided to have a go at making my own.

I add lots of seeds and nuts and made it with a freshly ground organic whole wheat flour I got from the market that is so fresh and authentic that the people at Cayuga Farms who sold it to me told me to refrigerate it and if in a month I'd not used it to put it in the freezer. This flour is dated the day it is ground, in this instance it was the day before I bought it! This flour has no relationship to the dry processed powder that passes for flour in the grocery store.

I have no idea how much fiber is actually in this bread, but I am doing research into how I can find out. If need be I'll write to Marion Nestle, but I hope online somewhere is a lab that will analyse it for me. Stay tuned.

Health Bread

Mix in a large bowl: 3 cups very freshly ground organic whole wheat flour, 1 T molasses, 1 T honey, 2 T sesame seeds, 2 T Flax Seeds, 2 T Sunflower Seeds, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/4 teaspoon organic yeast.

Mix well with a wooden spoon or your hands. Cover (I use two tea towels and some times a large plate, but if you use plastic an old plastic bag works as well) leave over night or for at least 12 hours.

Dust a surface (marble or some other kind of stone if you have one) generously with whole wheat flour, scoop the dough out of the bowl and dust it with flour as well. With minimum fuss shape the dough into a round. This dough is very heavy and pretty resilient so don't get anxious.

Cove with a very well floured tea towel or just turn a large bowl over it. Let rise for two hours

30 minutes before it is ready to bake preheat the oven to 500 F and place in it a covered baking dish, I use a Spanish clay one but enameled cast iron, or even pyrex would do the trick.

When you are ready to bake the bread uncover it, it will have flattened out, I like to fold the edges in and create a higher boule shape, don't worry it will rise while cooking. I like a tall loaf of bread, make sure you have well floured hands as this can be sticky dough.

Take the hot covered dish out of the over, take the lid off place the dough in the dish, put the lid back on and put it in the oven.

Cook covered for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes take the lid off and cook open for another 20 minutes or until the bread has a nice browned top and a hollow sound when you tap it.

Let cool. It occurred to me tonight that 1/2 cup chopped dates would be a delightful if not altogether health addition to this bread.
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