Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nourishing Wednesdays – Building Community From the Ground Up

Photo Credit: New York Times Teresa Fasolino

Wednesday is the day that newspapers traditionally run their food sections. Me too. I share what I learn about food, farming, cooking, gardening and community. Because people brought together over a shared meal can solve anything.

Next week is that most quintessential of American holidays, Thanksgiving. While you plan your own meal with family and friends, running around to stores, farmers markets, making stock for gravy and dough for apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, I’ve rounded up some articles for when you feel like putting your feet up, grabbing a hot beverage and taking a break before the hordes descend on the house and the holiday season officially begins. Gobble, gobble to you and yours.

Bay Area food banks and charity groups are being overwhelmed by huge jumps in requests for help this year — at the same time that donations have dropped off dramatically, including a 50 percent drop in corporate donations to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

"That made up a quarter of our operating budget, so we're very worried about that," said Lynn Crocker, spokeswoman for the agency that helps 176,000 people a month in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, a big slice of the fabled Silicon Valley best known for technology and quick wealth. "If things don't get better, we'll have to reduce the amount of food we give to clients, maybe a half dozen eggs instead of a dozen, a half gallon of milk instead of a gallon."

Other food banks have the same problems — and fears. They're seeing more first-timers than ever before, getting larger requests for help from people they've assisted for years and fewer donors able or willing to help as much as they have in the past.

"We're serving 4,000 more families this year than last," said Christine Woodard, spokeswoman for Second Harvest Foodbank of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties.

Consumers Union & Eat Well Guide® Launch Thanksgiving Local & Organic Food Challenge: Buy & Prepare One Local/Organic Dish for Thanksgiving and Share a Recipe

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, and Eat Well Guide®, North America’s premier free online directory for finding local, sustainable food, have partnered to launch the Thanksgiving Local and Organic Food Challenge. The Thanksgiving Challenge aims to inspire Americans to learn more about local, sustainable or organic food by using Eat Well Guide’s comprehensive online tool for finding local ingredients for at least one dish they will prepare as part of their holiday meal.

“For Americans, Thanksgiving is the year’s peak travel weekend, but there’s no reason the food for our feasts has to travel thousands of miles as well,” said Eat Well Guide Director Destin Joy Layne. “With the holidays around the corner, and fuel-inflated food costs soaring, this is the perfect time to use our interactive Eat Well Guide to find locally produced turkey, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, dairy, meat and more, wherever you live.”

If you have heard about heritage turkeys, the old-fashioned birds with names like Bronze and Bourbon Red, then you know about the work at the Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Lindsborg, Kan.

The owner of the ranch, Frank Reese, is one of only a handful of people dedicated to preserving the genetic lines of poultry that meet the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection.

Together with Brian Anselmo, a young man from Kansas City, Mo., Mr. Reese developed plans for the Standard-Bred Poultry Institute, which would provide training to farmers who want to preserve the genetic pool of heritage breeds of turkeys, chickens and other birds.

In what is becoming an annual Thanksgiving rite, an animal rights group on Tuesday released undercover videotapes taken at the nation’s premier poultry-breeding operation, showing turkeys being stomped to death and punched by workers.

The group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, is asking for prosecution of workers at the Aviagen Turkeys plant in Lewisburg, W.Va., in a complaint filed with the local sheriff’s office under state laws regarding cruelty to animals.

Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake

A little something different to do with cranberries. I’ve made it twice so far and it disappears. And if you want to learn more about cranberries, along with blueberries and Concord grapes that are fruits native to North America, here’s an article from last week’s New York Times – The Zing Starts Here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Saw the fires -- R U OK -- you can come to our house if you need a place -- dogs are welcome too!

That’s the email I received on Saturday from a colleague. It wasn’t until we’d exchanged a string of emails yesterday that I realized how close she was to the Diamond Bar fires shortly after she offered up her place.

I’m in Ventura County; she’s in the OC. But as I looked up at a gray sky all weekend and smelled the air, when it comes to Santa Ana winds and the fire season, we’re all in it together.

I’m tired of the Southern California fire season. I’ve lived here for decades and I know that global warming isn’t a joke. Saturday was November 15th for goodness sakes!

I don’t need to watch You Tube clips from VIP global warming seminars with factoid-fanatic experts droning over their PowerPoint slides showing 30 years worth of rising temps. I can feel it on my arms and legs still clothed in short-sleeved tee-shirts and cropped cotton pants, sans a sweater even at night.

Last weekend the temperature was in the 90’s. Friday I thought I was going to scream with humidity in the single digits. Not only has driving become impossible, don’t get me started on that, but the weather has pushed me round the bend.

Today I heard a weather person report with joy that it’s going to get cooler. Today will be 90 degrees. Cool and 90 do not belong in the same sentence.

Here’s an article from Huffington Post by a fellow Californian that shares my sentiments. If you like your posts filled with factoids rather than crazed rants, check it out.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tikkun Olam Fridays – Repairing the World One Step at a Time

Another Friday, another post on tikkun olam – to repair the world. Remember, you don’t have to finish the job, but it is your responsibility to start.

What action did you take this week, big or little, to make a difference?

I voted, like millions of other Americans. The turnout was huge, the civic involvement was great. I shed tears of joy. Now what? I looked around and said ‘where can I focus my energies?’ What did I want to see happen, other than world peace, a thriving economy and the end of global warming?

I was not on any short list for President Elect Obama’s cabinet, so I surfed the Internet and checked out the HaveFunDoGood post for Nov 5th. It discussed How You Can Make An Impact, laying out some steps to channel the activist urges that I must be sharing with many of my fellow Americans.

Blogger Britt Bravo said “To figure out how you can make an impact, try this exercise based on a similar one from Carol Lloyd's book Creating a Life Worth Living” describing how to find what interests you and how to break it down into bite size/doable pieces.

What issues are important to you, what are your skills, find the areas you’re most interested in, list 3 bite size, doable steps that could be accomplished in 30 minutes-2 hours, mark your calendar for when you’ll complete them, do it, pick 3 more. Repeat with same idea or another. Find a group to report in to.

Sounds like a plan. And this weekend I’ll try it.

In the meantime I wanted instant gratification. I like food and California is not only an aggie state, I have real farms near me. Only their produce is not as close as I would like. But it could be within walking distance if the farmers market that’s been scheduled to go in about 1 ½ miles from home even happens.

So I wrote a letter to my local weekly newspaper, The Acorn, about how I’m in favor of having a farmers market in our neighborhood. Supposedly all the ducks were in line. Is it bureaucratic red tape? More on that later. But if the letter gets published, I’ll let you know. I missed the deadline for this week’s issue and it was filled with election recaps anyway.

After the letter, I called a government office. Oak Park is unincorporated and the County of Ventura Board of Supervisors looks out for us. So I called our Supervisor’s office and spoke with a staffer. I asked about the hold-up on getting this market going. She was pleasant and said the delay wasn’t from their end. The owners of the mall, where the market will be located, have to send in certain forms for a minor modification to the permit.

Hmmm was my response to myself. I sniffed the air. Fish. After 8 years of Bush, all I could think was that somebody was sitting on something for some reason.

The staffer emailed some material to me right away so I guess you can say we’ve started a dialogue. I’ve calendared the next Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council meeting for later this month where I plan to ask how we can make this market, the closest thing Oak Park can get to a public square, happen.

And I just made a call to the company that puts on these farmers markets. Of course, the person in charge wasn’t in – duh, it was 4:45pm on Friday afternoon - but I did catch someone who said call back on Monday. And mentioning the market didn't scare her off. A good sign.

Well, my community organizing has begun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nourishing Wednesdays – Building Community From the Ground Up

When I started really cooking and not just defrosting, it was easier to drag myself out of bed on Wednesdays. That was the day when the food section came tucked into the Los Angeles Times. Imagine how I felt when we started getting the New York Times with its sophisticated discussion of all things culinary. When I took to surfing the Internet, I found a cornucopia of food sections from around the country where I could learn about regional cuisines.

My interest in the best way to measure flour, whip up a batch of pesto and create my own curry blend has since expanded to issues like soil depletion, fresh water, heritage seeds, family farms and the humane treatment of animals. (California’s Prop 2 passed! See my Nov 3rd post.)

So it’s appropriate that I launch Nourishing Wednesdays. I hope to share what I learn about food, farming, cooking, gardening and community. Because people brought together over a shared meal can solve anything.

Today I want to tell you about a little neighborhood store tucked in an unassuming strip mall. My daughter and her high school pals discovered Tifa Chocolate during their weekend quests to celebrate the newfound freedom that the automobile can still provide.

I’m not a big chocolate fan. (mon dieu!) So it barely registered on my brain until I needed to get a present for a friend’s birthday party. I figured it was the perfect excuse to check out the shop.

Tifa is family owned and operated and Denise happily jumped out from behind the counter to explain chocolate facts to me. We discussed the soil where the beans are grown, and its effect on flavor. She plied me with samples and questions about the birthday girl, the better to divine the perfect chocolate. My friend was deemed a dark chocolate connoisseur and a package was created. I hadn’t had such great service since I discovered a wonderful bra lady at Macy’s. Exceptional chocolate and a good fitting bra. Is there anything else in life?

Denise spent a lot of time with me and I left promising to come back the next week for another birthday gift. It seems I have many chocoholic friends.

And of course I did return; it wasn’t an idle comment. I’d found a local merchant, one of my community building goals. When I told Denise I liked to cook and enjoyed learning about the ingredients I used, she shared a salad recipe that used nibs and offered to send me home with some next time.

So what about the samples, you’re asking. Well, the caramel milk chocolate with salt was very good, all the flavors were balanced. Then there was a white chocolate that was much better than the supermarket wax chips in a bag. And one with a hint of floral, another with citrus and I can’t leave out the pepper infused one that would go great with a Syrah … well come on, I didn’t say I hated chocolate.

But the point isn’t the candy, at least not for me and my thighs. Here was a storeowner who knew her merchandise and what it took to sell to someone from the neighborhood. This wasn’t a national chain with cashiers who knew nothing and cared less. I’d played crazed mama bear and whipped out a photo of my daughter, and Denise had remembered her and her buddies. Try doing that with a big box clerk.

I’ll be back. Tifa serves hot chocolate and has two little tables and chairs where you can enjoy your sipping and check out the world map that shows where chocolate is grown. Perfect for pre/post movie evenings.

And by coincidence today’s New York Times Dining & Wine section has an article on this magical bean, “When chocolate is a way of life”. It’s about a family and village in Ecuador and how they’ve become real entrepreneurs, making and marketing their own chocolate. I guess I’m fated to learn more about cacao beans. I sense more tastings in my future.

Yes We Could

I have some friends who don’t share my political beliefs and some who do. We’ve been emailing articles back and forth during this divisive campaign season. I’m sure the rest of you have been going through the same experience. While I’m not ready to pretend the last eight years never existed (how can I? we’ll be living with the damage forever.) But as the Thanksgiving season approaches, I want to reach across the table with an image of a barn. It’s time to join hands and rebuild. Here is the email I sent round today.

We did it. OMG. Our oldest called twice from Germany, on the land line! There were lectures at some university building all day Tue/Wed AM about the American political system. She said McDonald's was giving out free hamburgers. Virtually no one was for McCain. She phoned just as Wolf Blitzer was calling PA. They were watching CNN too and cheering as the states were called for Obama. We were watching CNN and talking to her at the same time. Is that too cool for school? Her second call was after 8pm our time so it was 6am their time and she was heading back home, all screamed out.

I don't know what makes me happier, having an African-American president, first lady and first family, or getting rid of the Republicans and installing the Democrats once again. I have hope that we can move forward to rebuild and repair our country - the economy, the health care system, the environment and our image in the world. I pray that we can reverse the harm that Reaganism has done to this country.

True, I wanted Hillary, partly because I thought she was the right person for the job, partly because she was a woman and I wanted to see that in my lifetime and truth be told, partly because she was a boomer and I'm not ready to pass the torch. But if this is what it takes to make change happen, so be it. We need a new New Deal. Besides, now she can go off and channel Eleanor to her heart's content and become the new Teddy Kennedy in the Senate.

We stayed home to watch the returns so we could be with our youngest. She cried during Obama's speech and told us she was so inspired. When I made calls and drove to Nevada I remembered why I was doing this. It's not easy making cold calls. But as I cradled my cell phone and hesitated over punching the buttons, I pictured my two girls and the future I wanted for them.

About six years ago I was driving down Kanan and Thousand Oaks Blvd. with them in the car and the Simon & Garfunkel song about going off to look for America came on. I started to cry. They asked me why and I said I wanted my country back. Now, after years of fear about how much worse it could get, I can be proud of my country again.

With love and respect and to a future where we all work together once again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Birth of a Community Activist

This morning I made calls at an Obama house call center just like I’ve done the past few days. All ages, colors, ethnic groups, people I’ve never seen before sitting on living rooms couches, patio chairs, kitchen benches hunched over their cell phones and scripts. It was such a moving, spirited feeling to be surrounded by others committed to the same efforts as me. The conversations swirling around me spurred me on. All of us calling because we knew this was the moment to take our country back.

I learned that our district has made the most calls in California and that California has made the most in the nation for Obama. I am so proud of my state. We are not a bunch of nuts that have rolled to the coast. We are proud Americans working for what we believe in, a country that will return to the principles of democracy and opportunity that I was taught in school.

My daughter is in college in Germany for her junior year. She sent an email saying the university is putting on lectures today and tomorrow about the American political system. Virtually everyone she meets is for Obama. The whole world is watching.

I’ve been glued to the TV as I work as best as I can on a day like no other. I write an email pitch as I click back and forth from CNN to MSNBC. At the last minute I remember to join a client conference call. I mute the set and watch during the call, checking Huffington Post as I take notes. We’ll start hearing some results soon because it's now after 6pm in the East and Wolf Blitzer says some polls in Indiana have closed. At MSNBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza is partying like it’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Can two years of kitchen table politics really be ending?

The long lines and energy for this election makes me hope that we will all work to undo the damage of the last 8 years, really since 1980, and repair our economy, our healthcare system, and our environment. No matter what happens I know that the seeds of community activism have been sown. For me and for others I’ve spoken with at meetings and driving to Nevada, there’s no going back.

My high school daughter told me she was proud of my efforts. I'm proud of me for walking the walk, not just talking the talk. I decided we should stay home with her to watch all the returns instead of going to a neighborhood election party. And we’ll Skype her sister at midnight to celebrate.

We are the change, the infrastructure, the community we have been waiting for. I just can't believe it. Where are the tissues?

Monday, November 3, 2008

California Proposition 2


  • Requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.

  • Exceptions made for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes.

  • Provides misdemeanor penalties, including a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail for up to 180 days.

Last Sunday the New York Times Magazine ran an article about Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, “The Barnyard Strategist by Maggie Jones. As the article says, he’s been “campaigning to unite vegans and meat-eaters in support of California’s Proposition 2, the country’s most sweeping ballot initiative on animal welfare.”

By coincidence, I just finished reading Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food by Gene Bauer, about how he started an animal rescue for farmed animals and the whole back story about industrial animal agriculture.

Now, I’m not not interested in how we get the chicken I make soup with; but I can’t call myself an activist - yet. I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started it. Wrong. I’ll review the book in another post. Right now I just want to say that it made me think about a question which I’ll pose here:

What do you do when you learn about an injustice? Can you turn away or are you called upon to do something?

Reading about the way agribusiness treats animals and the disease that’s introduced to the food system makes me want to consider becoming a vegetarian. Just consider at this point, not make a complete about face.

I like meat. Should I just eat a little bit? Should it be organic from animals living like they’re supposed to, not in factories? That will cost more so should I give it up altogether? Does it matter at my age that I’ve got unnecessary hormones in my body? My girls are 20 and almost 17. What did I do to them and what should I tell them to do as they move out on their own? And what about my husband? He’s all for composting, cloth napkins and beans but can he give up smoking brisket in his R2D2-shaped smoker?

And once again, what can one person do about The System, no matter which industry we’re trying to change?

So as my brain wandered around, I realized there was one first step I could take. We’re trying to get a farmers market into our unincorporated city. There’s the usual red tape that’s frustrating the process. I wrote a letter to our local newspaper supporting the market and sent a copy to our county supervisor.

Small step for sure. For now, I know I’ll cut back on the size of the meat portions, make a few more veggie meals, check prices on milk and meat, read up on it, and of course vote for Prop 2.

Dear Editor:
As a 15 year resident of Oak Park, I believe that a farmers market would be a good thing for the city. Whatever we can do to strengthen the ties between people and build a viable local community, we should consider.

I’ve visited other cities like Seattle with its Pike Market Place and Vancouver with its Granville Island and the value in a public square is immeasurable. Sure, those centers are permanent and include numerous shops and galleries along with the farmers market. But if you’ve ever sipped a coffee and watched the human parade go by at an outdoor cafĂ©, you know what I mean by the joy of spending a few hours at a real public gathering place.

It’s not like we don’t have ongoing examples nearby with the Calabasas and Thousand Oaks Farmers Markets. What a lovely way to spend the morning walking among the vegetable displays, lingering over the olive oil samples and schmoozing with the farmers. When you ask a merchant what to do with some strange looking beets, you’re likely to get a friendly, impromptu recipe from the customer standing next to you.

I know we have to be careful about parking, noise and all the other worries that the permit people have to deal with. But why not consider the spirit, rather than the letter of the law.

As we move into that most quintessential of American holidays, Thanksgiving, it’s time to think about the public good. Let’s save our family farms and our communities and put up a farmers market in Oak Park. If we’re ever going to pull this country back together, we have to start somewhere and over a ripe tomato is as good a place as any.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain

See what I woke up to. Is this beautiful weather or what? My husband couldn’t play tennis this morning. Why? One word - wet!

Yesterday, November 1st, like clockwork, the weather changed. I turned on my windshield wipers. I took care driving on street surfaces mixed with oil, dirt and just a dollop or two of water. The recipe for skids.

For those of you who live in four seasons and think I’m nuts, SoCal has finally moved, like the clock, into another zone and some of us who long for cable knits rather than cut-offs are praising the gods. My sunscreen tube sacrifice must have paid off.

My eyes have been bathed in cool moisture and gray clouds. My sun-parched soul is refreshed. Ye, though I walk through the valley of the sun later in the day, my brain knows I can wear my long sleeved shirts once again.