I’m fresh off the plane from Japan, where in addition to sampling the cuisine (see my field report below) we followed the peak of cherry blossom blooms from place to place by train. Peak bloom is only one week, and which week is not entirely predictable. We hit it! And we were utterly and delightfully besotted. :)
Sunny one day, rainy and cold the next. Peaceful, then wildly windy! Warm, then here comes a snowstorm! Spring is so beguiling… and so fickle!
Let’s not forget, we’re in another transition time. Spring is a little bit of a seesaw. So our immune systems can be tricked! We can get colds or leftover remnants of the flu.
It’s been super rainy here in the Bay Area, in fact, super rainy in many parts of the country. And while you may be yearning for those bright, fresh spring greens it isn’t quite time to jump into a big salad yet. But it is a time when you want to perk up and feel a little brighter.
How do you welcome in the green of spring and still successfully juggle all the vagaries of what’s going on outside?
Soup is the answer!
On a recent Sunday, I was in my pantry trying to find baking powder. If you know me, you know I’m not a baker. Soup, yes! Baked goods, not so much. So I have a little bin at the top of my cupboard where I keep less-used things that I have to get on a step stool to reach. I stretched up, got down my little box, pulled out the baking powder… and noticed the expiration date. Embarrassing!
I started going through everything in my cupboard and putting things on the kitchen table. Oh my gosh! I had forgotten about all this stuff. Here’s what I realized: My cooking patterns have changed.
Maybe kids go off to college… maybe you stop entertaining so much, or you start entertaining a lot more! When I’m recipe developing, I explore a dazzling number of ingredients that I certainly don’t need when I’m not. Things change in our lives and in how we cook. We’re always shifting.
When you think of February, do you picture the color red, matters of the heart and that Hallmark holiday right in the middle of the month? I remember those old-fashioned paper valentines! Sitting at the table, filling them out, and taking them to school, one for every classmate. And the cupcakes parents would bring in, iced with colors not found in nature. And those hard little pastel, heart-shaped candies stamped with messages (BE MINE). As I got older, it was all about, am I going to get a valentine from a CERTAIN PERSON? And then, am I going to have a date?
Fast forward: when I was 44, I met the love of my life. And he wooed me by cooking me dinner on Valentine’s Day!
The irony is, Gregg Kellogg does not cook. He can make toast. He can pick up Thai food. He can go to the market with a very specific list, with pictures. He can make a pumpkin pie, too, but that’s it. He really doesn’t cook.
You may not be surprised to learn that when I’m thinking about food to have on hand for the holidays, I’m thinking soup!
This is the time when you’re entertaining both formally and (more often than not) informally. Your kids are home from college, and their friends drop by. Your favorite Aunt just arrived hungry from Cincinnati. The family is suddenly hungry, and a quick, comforting impromptu meal is in order. Soup!
Even when you’re having neighbors over for a holiday meal, instead of always thinking you’ve got to make a big deal, soup and salad with brownies for dessert can be a friendly, even fabulous menu! If you’re doing a buffet or potluck, blended soups in 5-ounce shot glasses can make a very pretty, tasty and unexpectedly warm treat for your table.
It’s such a busy time of year—who needs to make things more complicated?
Here are some of my easy, pretty star-quality favorites for the holidays, from my popular Clean Soups. Make a big pot, serve warm and freeze some to have on hand for those impromptu gatherings.
What’s the reason to buy a cookbook? For me, it’s either because it’s a good story or because the author has something excellent to teach me. My favorite cookbooks become companions in my kitchen, wise chef/authors I commune with to enhance my kitchen creativity. I love books that share a unique point of view, that tell a compelling story, that are beautifully designed and have gorgeous photography.
Here’s my 2018 list of the best of the best! These would be great gifts... or fit rather nicely on your wish list. :)
If you have been thinking that the new Yotam Ottolenghi might be a great choice, you are SO right. I’ve been cooking out of this one a LOT and loving it. Meals are deliciously simple—made in 30 minutes or less, with 10 or fewer ingredients—and of course with his yummy Middle Eastern style.
This will fit right in with your life! A total winner.
Thanksgiving can be full of joy, gratitude, warmth, friends, family, and of course, good food! But it can also be an emotionally wrought holiday, especially when it comes to food.
Everyone has a favorite dish they look forward to on the table. Remember Campbell’s Classic Green Bean Casserole, created by Dorcas Reilly, Campbell Test Kitchen Manager, in 1955 that went viral in a pre-internet world? Apparently, the distinctive combined flavors of cream of mushroom soup, green beans, soy sauce, and French’s pre-cooked crispy onion rings has proved unforgettable to a multitude of Americans and is still a staple on Thanksgiving tables.
Are you already surrounded by people coming down with sniffles and coughs? I'm reposting one of the most potent food as medicine—and delicious!—cures I know. If you've never really taken this superfood seriously before, do it now! It will do you a world of good.
Have you been trying to ward off colds and flu as the season changes? Watching out for trick or treating vampires? Have I got the fix for you!
From one of my all-time favorite references, Healing Foods: “Native to Central Asia, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world... Sanskrit records document the use of garlic remedies approximately 5,000 years ago, while the Chinese have been using it for at least 3,000 years.”
Wow! Am I ever intrigued with a recent article in the New York Times entitled, Why Following Your Passions Is Good for You (and How to Get Started). This features a 2015 study published in The Annals of Behavioral Medicine which found that pursuing your passion both lowers stress and contributes to greater happiness overall. My dears, this is RIGHT up my alley!
In the article, Laura Vanderkam, a productivity expert and author of Off the Clock: Feel less busy while getting more done, advocates finding time for yourself as a means to greater happiness overall. “Life just feels better when you have things in your hours that you want to do,’ Ms. Vanderkam said. ‘There’s moments where time almost has no meaning because we’re so happy about what we’re doing. The more time you can spend in that zone, the better life feels...
Maybe you can carve out a few hours of really fun, cool stuff per week. That will make the other 165 hours that are in a week feel a lot more doable,’ she explained.”
What could be cozier or more welcome than homemade soup? If you've never tried cultivating this admirable culinary skill before, this popular post from the archives will guide you to success! Friends, family, and YOU will be thrilled.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s soup season!
When I get that first whiff, that first little inkling of Fall, I take my big old soup pot out and I start sauteeing onions -- the beginning of broth, the foundation of soups to come, the veritable core of both health and flavor, the indescribable difference. The YUM!
I come by my love of soup making honestly. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the little girl who learned to make soup while sitting atop the kitchen counter, watching in wonder as three generations of women worked their culinary magic over my Ma’s flame-enameled Le Creuset cast iron soup pot.
There was something about soup that enchanted me from the get-go. I think I instinctively knew that soup had the power to heal not only oneself -- I always felt better after having a cup or bowl -- but others as well. At my alma mater, Northwestern University, exhausted classmates would straggle by at all hours looking for a bowl of my Nana’s chicken soup.
Referencing the old saying, Everything old is new again—all of a sudden, cooking at home is trendy! A recent article in Bloomberg Business with data about current eating habits says,
“Home cooking would be making a comeback if it ever really went away. Restaurants are getting dinged by the convenience of Netflix, the advent of pre-made meals, the spread of online grocery delivery, plus crushing student debt and a focus on healthy eating. Eighty-two percent of American meals are prepared at home [emphasis mine]-- more than were cooked 10 years ago, according to researcher NPD Group Inc. The latest peak in restaurant-going was in 2000, when the average American dined out 216 times a year.” Read the full story.
Way back in the day, you just didn’t have a choice! You grew and cooked your food or you starved, with none of the distractions or choices that people have today. Being in the kitchen, cooking and feeding a family was a necessity. Things started shifting after World War II when convenience features and choices like frozen TV dinners manifested. Now we’re eating IN by choice, because it’s more economical and because we’re more concerned about our health and well-being.
In the past decade we’ve placed SO much emphasis on whole foods, clean foods, paleo vs. vegan, gluten-free, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant... I think we’re there already, don’t you? We know what healthy eating is. ENOUGH ALREADY! I want to move beyond the research, the data, the shoulds, the restrictions (and the ensuing guilt), and plant my flag right here: are you really being nourished by what you eat?
What is nourishment?
I’ll always remember the first retreat I cooked for at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Bolinas, California in 2000. With transient taste changes and discomfort resulting from treatment, people with cancer may eat so little they become malnourished. My challenge was to provide appealing, healing, tasty food. (In fact, this became a centerpiece of my culinary work.) It wasn’t just about nutrition; it was about comfort and nourishing these beautiful people on a very deep level. I rose to the occasion, and watching their faces as they took tentative bites and responded with closed eyes and blissful expressions was unforgettable! That’s nourishment. Deep comfort and delight. I’ve been signing my books “nourishing thoughts” ever since.
Do you have annual food rituals that you love? Making tomato sauce when the season's at its peak, freezing ripe blueberries or making stock when soup season begins in fall? The fizz of anticipation, the planning ahead, the sheer contentment when the treasure is stored away for future delight. If you haven't tried it or tried it with a friend yet, do! Working side-by-side with a dear friend in the kitchen is one of the most nourishing experiences in the world. Enjoy!
Every year around the 2nd week of August, Gravenstein apples make their entrance at our farmer’s market in Marin County, California. Gravenstein is an apple cultivar that originated in the 17th century or earlier. The fruit has a superbly tart flavor cherished for cooking, and it has such a short harvest! Blink and you miss it — which makes it all the more precious. My culinary co-conspirator Julie Burford is our spy. When she sees the apples come in, she orders 40 pounds from the farmer. We are preparing to preserve!
Come and get 'em! The last of this seasons heirloom tomatoes, in the full array of glowing oranges, reds, and golds. But—what to do with them? If you haven't yet tried slow-roasting tomatoes, you MUST! This caramelizes and intensifies the flavor. Be prepared to have your socks knocked off. :)
On my countertop right now I have a collection of tomatoes. It looks like they’re having babies! We’re at the pinnacle of tomato season, when they’re the juiciest, the most flavorful, the most irresistible. I can’t THINK of anything I don’t want to incorporate them into!
Besides slicing the most perfect tomato, drizzling on a little olive oil, sprinkling on some sea salt and just eating it, my other favorite thing to do with tomatoes is to roast them. When you roast tomatoes, they give up their amazing sugars and become so sweet! I’m very fond of roasting the yellow heirlooms, which are lower in acid, meaning they’re sweeter and easier to digest. I peel the bubbly skin right off and throw them into the blender with a handful of basil. People say, “Are you kidding me? That’s ALL you did?” It’s like drinking summer. Or add roasted tomatoes to any soup to turn it into something special. It’s like magic!
Summer heat getting to you just a little bit? Have I got the coolest, most refreshing ideas for you! Soundtrack included.? An excellent solution from the archives. Enjoy!
My friends, cucumbers have changed! When I was growing up, cucumbers were fat and stubby with waxy skins and big, blah seeds. They were relegated to three uses: a garnish on the plate, sliced in a salad, or finely sliced in little tea sandwiches with butter on white bread. Honestly not a major player, nothing spectacular. The texture was unexciting, the seeds were annoying, the skin was bitter. Meh.
Oh, there was one other cucumber use! Me and my friends all put them on our eyes :) We had sleepover dates, in which we would rummage through our mother’s beauty supplies, slather our faces with face masks and put cucumber slices over our eyelids to get rid of puffy eyes. (Really? Did we really need to worry about puffy eyes?) We listened to Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze,” face masks hardening on our faces like cement. Straight out of a Patty Duke Show.
Did you know that fresh herbs and spices don’t JUST 10x flavor (as if that weren’t enough), but that they have magical healing powers, too? Many contain compounds capable of modifying gene expression to potentially keep cancer and other diseases at bay, plus providing immune support, controlling inflammation, and warding off bacteria and viruses—i.e., they have superpowers! So we’re not talking just enhancing taste, but improving wellness and possibly increasing longevity when you reach for that spice jar or throw some chopped herbs in whatever you’ve got cooking.
I’m delighted to share one of my favorite posts from the archives on this topic. If you haven’t seen it before, take a few moments to absorb this truly remarkable knowledge developed over the past decade of nutrition research. Plus get 2 superb recipes, including one of my most popular potato recipes ever. Serious yum!
Have you experienced hangry? I recently got called on it. I had worked myself into a snit in conversation with my friend when she turned to me and said, “When’s the last time you ate?” I looked at her wide-eyed, and thought, Oh my God! When was the last time?
I work really hard and forget to eat. I lose track of time and my blood sugar runs a little low. At that point, I’m slipping into fight or flight and my mood is taking a dramatic dip. Have you thought through how deeply hangry can affect your productivity, your behavior, your relationships—and why?
An article in the Washington Post this month entitled “If you’ve ever been hangry, this is what your body may be telling you” got me thinking about the whys of hangry, and how much it makes perfect sense! All your neurotransmitters are cycling through your enteric nervous system. If you’re not feeding and nourishing your brain, your mood’s gonna dip! Things that would never irritate you normally are suddenly the most monumental issues in the world. I get possessed! Who is that person? Angry, irritable, upset-out-of-nowhere and often doesn’t even realize it!
As soon as I feed myself, usually a good combination of fat, protein and carbs (enter the nut or seed), I go from possessed… back to my normal self. That little goblin goes away. Is it literally that simple? Yes.
Don't you get to the point on hot summer evenings when all you want to eat are fresh, crispy salads? Here's a deliciously special post from the archives with the salads of your dreams—and a fun video showing you chef's secrets for how to properly dress a salad. I'm telling you, this is a game changer!
Let’s talk salads.
I started making salads for my father when I was 7 years old. He was in the salad dressing business, and he liked his salads a particular way -- big, crunchy, crispy salads, full of vegetables, draped in dressing. Chopping up salad for him was a HUGE deal. I, Rebecca, was making salad for the Salad King!
Fast forward. When I studied cooking in Italy, I had to revamp my knowledge of salads and learn the refined art of dressing an elegantly simple salad -- lightly dressed and full of tender greens such as arugula, radicchio, and mache, varieties I wasn’t exposed to in the states. By European standards, my father’s salads were uber chunky, and way overdressed!
How do you go about dressing the perfect salad?
It’s really very, very simple.
First of all, your greens have to be dry and crisp. I like to spin them in a salad spinner then put them in a flour sack towel to pick up any moisture clinging to them. So you’re starting with the right texture, with the leaves ready to absorb the dressing and receive just a gentle coating. In contrast, if the greens are soggy the salad dressing will roll right off, down to the bottom of the bowl. This step is numero uno! Very important.
My dears, we are approaching picnic season! Including the grandaddy of picnics, 4th of July. I've got you covered with potluck etiquette, recipes and strategies to help make hosting or participating a delicious—and delightful—success!
It’s that time of year! We’re invited to block parties, 4th of July fests, family reunions, picnics, and potlucks of all shapes and sizes. This is when we’re supposed to show up with the PERFECT dish that everyone loves, something that won’t wilt in the heat, will go with whatever everyone else brings (or at least out shine all those other dishes).
Here’s my favorite potluck story ever.
When I moved in with my husband on his street in San Rafael, California, no one in the neighborhood knew about me yet. I was working really hard doing heavy-duty cancer retreat cooking at Commonweal at the time, and, well, I was like the shoemaker with holes in her shoes! The summer party invitation arrived, asking us to bring something for the grill, and something for the cooler. I thought, corn! I bought a whole blue bag full from our farmer’s market. Gregg brought a bottle of wine and some fish for the grill. We walked a few doors down to the Burford’s home, and on the counter were ALL these gorgeous dishes, the most AMAZING spread. Frittatas, tarts, grain salads, gorgeous vegetables. It was like, oh my God! I did not get the memo. I’m a trained chef, I had just come out with my first cookbook and I’m walking in with a bag of corn. Granted, it was shucked! And it wasn’t a bad thing to bring, actually. But ouch! Not the ideal first impression. I could have brought a million more sophisticated things!
We think of seasons: Fall. Winter. Spring. Summer… but it’s really more like transition to spring, late spring… summer… then late summer. Memorial Day feels like the pivot point, marking the start of summer; but you really never know what transition times will bring. Right now in the Bay Area, we’re having unseasonably cool temperatures and rain is predicted. For us, that’s like a blizzard coming! It’s a big deal. We may have harbingers of summer, but we’re not quite there yet.
Food-wise, I’m thinking spring soups, when you want something that whispers of late spring, honors the gorgeous spring harvest, and that’s bright and refreshing! Fresh pea soup… carrots… fennel… asparagus…cream of celery. Easy to put together, with the fresh, tender spring veggies.
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