The Vegetarian Guy

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  • Sep 16

    State of the Veg Union Part 4


    Traveling east, through amber waves of grain, to Lincoln, Nebraska, on our San Diego to Detroit restaurant tour, my wife Sara and I marveled as the Rocky Mountains disappeared into the ground and flattened into the Great Plains of the mid-west.

    We pulled into the historic Haymarket District of Lincoln, where the old rail and distribution system has been largely bypassed by 21st century modernization.

    Over a century ago, way stations for the railroad system, which distributed grains, produce and farm products, were set up from coast to coast. These stations became distribution centers and agricultural hubs, standing out like sparkling jewels in corn and wheat fields when there was little else around.  Eventually, these became the urban centers, which were integral components for the westward expansion of America’s commodity food system. Thanks to local efforts, many of the magnificent edifices from the late 19th and early 20th century are preserved and now function as cultural centers of the community.

    In one of those old warehouse structures stands Maggie’s Vegetarian Cafe–an all-natural, from-scratch cafe using local and organic ingredients whenever possible.   It is very casual and charming with down-to-earth sensibility.

    Owner Maggie Pleskac was in the kitchen and made our Spicy Hummus Wrap and Unfried Falafel Wrap, which we found to be filling and delicious with noticeably fresh ingredients.

    On the walls were pictures of the local farmers who supply the cafe–Maggie told us which one provided each part of the sandwiches.  We left with renewed energy from a simple, yet satiating, meal and felt good about supporting a business that reveres the local farmers, who I view as the true heroes of the modern food revolution.

    Omaha was our next stop.  This city still has many of the mansions and magnificent structures from the early 20th century.  Reminiscent of the elegant neighborhoods populated by the auto-barons of Detroit, these were the homes of cattle barons.  Omaha was one of the capitals of the early factory farming industry in America.

    Ironically, McFosters Natural Kind Cafe is at the edge of this neighborhood.  The building looks like an old Tudor-style home, but was originally Skip’s Skelly Gas Station, one of the original service stations on the old Lincoln Highway.  Now re-incarnated as a natural foods restaurant, it fuels visitors with freshly-prepared food.  Although they serve seafood and free-range chicken, it reminded me of the old-school vegetarian cafes–down to earth, funky and colorful, with an expansive, but uncomplicated, menu.  Unfortunately, we had filled ourselves in Lincoln, so a salad and carrot juice were all we could manage–both were fresh and flavorful.  We hope to travel through Omaha again–this time with empty stomachs.

    Our appetites returned that evening as we pulled into Iowa City, Iowa, a college town with a number of veg choices.  We chose The Red Avocado, an upscale, yet cozy, vegan restaurant in the lower level of a house near the university.  We began with a Cilantro-White Bean Dip garnished with toasted pepitas and fresh baked flatbread (check out my version of the recipe below).

    This was followed by a Corn-Mushroom Soup which was creamy and savory.  Our first entree was Corn Cakes with Shiitake Mushrooms and Tofu, a beautifully prepared dish with excellent flavors and textures.

    Second was Gnocchi, properly light and fluffy–unfortunately, it was swimming in tomato sauce. Dessert was a chocolate truffle which we took to go because the restaurant was closing. Later, we discovered this to be the weak-link in the meal; however, the rest of the experience, including the great service, overcame any disappointment.  This was one of our favorite meals of the entire trip.

    Click Here For Video!

    The heartlands of Nebraska and Iowa were a pleasant surprise.  We were heartened  to see the passion and commitment for local and organic foods as well as a relative abundance of plant-based options.

    Next, in our quest to discover the state of the veg union, we visit a raw, culinary treasure in Downer’s Grove, Illinois.

    Inspired by the Cilantro-White Bean appetizer at The Red Avocado in Iowa City, I created my own version to celebrate the heartlands of America and those good people who are making a difference.

     

    White Bean Cilantro Dip

    Click here for the recipe!

    If you have questions or suggestions, please email or write me on Facebook or comment here.

     

     

  • Apr 18

    When I was in Michigan recently,  I participated in events ranging from cooking demonstrations and classes to lively talks about how food is medicine.  After all the work was done, my favorite past-time was hanging out with the organic farmers in the local farmers markets.

    One of my more memorable stops was at the historic Eastern Market in Detroit, which is in the midst of a revival due to recent restorations and an explosion of interest in local, farm grown foods.  On this early spring day in April, the market was teaming with people buying food for the week ahead. 

    The chatter between the farmers and shoppers was accompanied by music from talented musicians scattered throughout the market.  It was exciting to see the market still thriving as the heart-center of the Detroit food chain.

    While there, I was thrilled to see my old friends Randy and Shirley Hampshire of Hampshire Farms in Kingston, Michigan.  Hampshire Farms was one of the original farms which participated in the Inn Season Organic Growers booth at the Royal Oak Farmers Market in 1990 and 1991.

    They have been at the forefront in the push for more certified organic farming in the Midwest region, a breed of farmers who I consider to be the real heroes of the modern food revolution.

    Join me as I walk through the market, talk with Randy Hampshire and look at some of the market’s incredible produce.

    I encourage you to visit this landmark, which is open every Saturday, and participate in the timeless grandeur of our local fresh food system. Take a look at a video of my visit and hear Randy speak about his extraordinary products.

     

     

     







  • Apr 10

    My first experience with a pesto-style dish was in my Greek grandmother’s house.  Yia Yia prepared every family member’s favorite dish and my father’s was skordalia, the traditional Greek garlic sauce.  As a child in Crete, where almonds are plentiful and full of flavor, her mother taught her the art of the dish; she learned to prepare the skordalia by pounding garlic, almonds and olive oil with a mortar and pestle.  We always knew when we walked into her home that she had prepared the skordalia because of the heavy garlic smell in the air. It seemed to stay in our mouths for days and even crept out of our pores as garlic-tinged sweat.  Over the years, my dad was the only one adventurous enough to indulge, which he would do on a Friday so he could return to work on Monday with minimal effect.

    The Italian word pesto is often used to describe a combination of ground garlic, basil and pine nuts, although the preparation method of grinding ingredients into a paste is universal and cross-cultural.  Ever since man discovered how to grind and pound food products with stone and wood, this method has been employed in traditional cuisines around the world to create sauces, condiments, bases and pastes which enhance flavor profiles. Every culture put their stamp on the method with the common denominator being a mortar and pestle or grinding stone and it is a superb way to add a savory and flavorful edge to a dish without frying or grilling.

    A Sicilian version is pesto rosso which substitutes almonds for pine nuts and adds tomatoes with less basil.  In Mediterranean France, a cold sauce made from garlic, basil and olive oil is the base for the much-acclaimed pistou soup in Provence.

    In India, I watched cooks deftly handle a flat grindstone with a rectangular pestle to create intensely flavored mint chutneys, robust masala pastes and pesto-like fillings for a variety of breads and savories.  The grinding stones would absorb the right amount of moisture and unique flavors would be developed by the grinding action.  I was so enamored by the amazing quality of these preparations that I carried two of these heavy stones home on a flight.

    Central and South American cuisines have a long history of grinding spices, pastes and mole bases using a metate or mealing stone. Chimichurri sauce is one of the well known sauces to use this method.  One can imagine my pesto recipe being made on a metate grindstone in an adobe kitchen a hundred years ago.  Nutty toasted pepitas with crushed garlic, freshly squeezed lime juice, brightly flavored cilantro and smokey fire-roasted poblano chiles provocatively meld together to create an explosion of flavor in any dish that it is served with.  I particularly like it as a foil to corn dishes and often pair it with Quinoa-Corn Arepas and Chocolate Cherry Salsa from my cookbook Vegetarian Traditions.  The bright flavor of the pesto is the perfect companion to the natural sweetness of the corn and deep, dark anti-oxidant-rich salsa.

    Today, I often make pesto with a food processor, which is a compromise for the sake of modern efficiency.  However, if you have a metate, or mortar & pestle and a little extra time, I encourage you to use it–not just for the earthly connection and romance of hand-working one’s food, but also for the flavor.

    This easy-to-prepare recipe works well in sandwiches, as a mezzes-style dip, a quesadilla filling or a layer in a tortilla casserole.

    Pepita & Fire Roasted Poblano Pesto

    1/2 cup pepitas, toasted
    1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
    1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
    1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    1 poblano chile, fire roasted, stemmed and seeded

    In a food processor, grind pepitas to a meal, add all pesto ingredients and pulse to a coarse consistency.  Store in an air-tight container and keep refrigerated.

  • Feb 4

    A Lifestyle of Romance

    This is the time of year to shake off the dust of distraction, polish our manners and look for creative ways to express ourselves romantically.   Often the centerpieces of these endeavors are built around sensual foods and, when wooing our loved ones on Valentines Day, chocolate rules supreme.

    The roots of St Valentines Day lay in Rome with February marking the beginning of Spring on the Roman Calendar.  At that time, every household was swept out and  sprinkled with salt and spelt berries. The fertility festival, Lupercalia, began on the Ides of February (15th) and was celebrated throughout Rome by pairing unmarried youths until the following February, often resulted in marriages.

    Roman culture had a great appreciation for earth’s beauty and those who inhabited it.  They celebrated the gifts of the land and the power of attraction which is intimately intertwined like a grape vine in an arbor. One could reason this had something to do with the word romance being derived from Roman.

    In 485 A.D., the Catholic church sought to Christianize the Lupercalia festival by celebrating Saint Valentine, thought to be a martyred priest from two centuries prior.  As a result, the romantic aspect of the celebration does not appear again until the Middle Ages.  It was the mid 19th century when it began to resemble the phenomena it is today.

    On Valentine’s Day, when the meal is emotionally charged, there is one ingredient that is a “must” on the menu–chocolate.  Chocolate has long been known as an all around sensual ingredient.  The Aztecs called it “Nourishment of the Gods.”  Not only does it enchant us with its dark seductive flavor, but it contains compounds which have an immediate sensual effect as well as long lasting health benefits.

    This dessert, Hazelnut Love Bites, is a combination of three luscious flavors and textures–hazelnut, raspberry and chocolate–all making for a passionate dessert experience.

    Love Bites

    Makes 24 Love Bites

    Bites

    1/3 cup ground hazelnuts
    1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (organic sugar)
    1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
    2/3 cups plain soy milk
    1/4 block (3 ounces) firm silken-style tofu
    1/8 cup raw cashew nuts, ground to a meal
    2 tablespoons canola oil
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Preheat oven to 350º F. Using a 24 cup mini cupcake pan, line each cup with unbleached baking cups. Put hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, evaporated cane juice and arrowroot into a large bowl and whisk together with a French whip. In a blender, puree soy milk, tofu and cashews to a smooth consistency. Transfer to another large bowl and stir in canola oil and vanilla. Combine the two mixtures and stir vigorously for one minute to develop the gluten in the flour. Fill each cup to just below the rim and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean(a little sticky is Ok).  Allow to cool.

    Raspberry Sauce

    1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
    2 tablespoons maple syrup
    1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice
    1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Heat a saucepan on medium heat. Add all ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes. Then strain by pushing through a fine wire strainer with a rubber spatula until only the seeds are left–really work it. Discard seeds. Return strained raspberries to pan and simmer for another 5 minutes. Reserve.

    Chocolate Ganache

    3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
    1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
    1/2 cup plain soy milk
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

    In a double boiler on medium heat, add all chocolate ganache ingredients. Stir periodically and cook for about 30 minutes until chocolate is melted and smooth. Test a drop on a cold plate, it should set up to a frosting consistency.  Allow to cool and reserve.

    Assembly

    When the cupcakes are cool, use a small pointed-tip knife to create a crater in the center of each cake, then pour in a small amount of raspberry sauce.  To frost, either use a flat knife to frost each cupcake or put frosting into a pastry bag and pipe.
    Ready to serve.

    Note:

    I only use organic and unadulterated ingredients

    Through personal example, my father inspired me to respect beauty and romance on a daily basis–one never knows when they will be encountered, often by chance.   He often expressed his inspirations through poetry.

    Beauty

    With the kindness of its weather,

    San Diego has developed multiple forms of beauty.


    (My words of enthusiasm are difficult to restrain.)


    The soil harbors and embraces plants which give birth

    to hundreds of varieties of flowers.


    Their creative method of procreation is:

    they make their flowers so fragrant and colorful

    that the bees and other pertinent species

    are attracted to visit,


    To collect their nectar, and thereby leave tracks

    from gathering visits to neighboring flowers.


    The plants then “eat”, and become happily pregnant.


    This is the intelligence of beauty!


    Now the plants we call ‘trees’ reach high for the sky

    and its sunshine.


    Each family has its own leaf formation, and height,

    their arms lissome to the winds,

    as their hair of leaves is tousled.


    And we humans too enjoy our views of them.

    ~Spyros Vutetakis 2007

    Happy Valentines Day!


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  • Jun 20

    In one of his daily shows, Dr. Mehmet Oz talked about super foods and explained the benefits.   One of the super foods he mentioned was “Greek greens,” otherwise known as horta.  On the island of Crete, the tradition of foraging for wild greens can be traced back to Neolithic times.  It is one of the nutritional secrets of the Mediterranean diet.
    The weed-like greens are hardy and have extra-potent sources of vitamins and minerals.  In San Diego, we have the benefit of having local seasonal Greek greens always available, such as spinach, Swiss chard, curly endive, lacinato kale, mustard greens and beet, turnip and radish tops.  Often some of the greens such as Lamb’s Quarters show up at farmer’s markets because they sprout like weeds amongst other crops and the farmers have learned there is a market for them.
    According to Dr. Oz, Greek greens are a superfood and should be consumed as much as possible, if not daily.

    Traditionally they are prepared by boiling in a small amount of water until they are tender, then dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt.  In Crete, they serve horta with the nutrient-rich broth which then becomes “salsa” for dipping bread into.  It is a common lunch item or side dish for dinner and features whatever edible green item is available from the fields or gardens.
    As a child visiting my Greek grandparent’s house in Ohio, I remember seeing the horta on the table at almost every meal.
    In the Spring, they would frequently enlist the whole family to gather dandelion greens, sometimes walking miles to an undeveloped field with the coveted weeds jutting up from the nutrient-rich soil.
    Their search for Greek greens served as a link to the old country and culture of Crete while providing their family a highly nutritious super food.

     

  • Nov 26

    botanical 02 15 2009 002

    Throughout human history the best foods have been local.  Regions, cities, towns and villages would have their own specialties with differences in climate and soil creating subtleties in food, often sought after for the rare experience.    The current slow food movement embraced by chefs the world over, also recognizes these subtleties and strives to preserve the culinary heritage of unique indigenous foods.  In addition, the new movement toward creating local small farm suppliers for goods originally from other areas is encouraged.  With globalization, people take their cultures everywhere and their food can follow them in the form of seeds and nearby craftsmanship.    This is not a new story.  The ancient Silk Road was the first historically notable and documented large scale exchange of goods with trade between Asia (India and China) and the Greeks and Romans.  Sugar reached Europe in small quantities as a food for the elite along with spices and cooking technologies.  At the same time in the Americas, corn made its way up from South to North America as well as a robust trade in shells, feathers and other sacred goods, eventually spreading throughout the Americas.  The age of exploration, particularly the 15th and 16th centuries, changed local food forever.

    Cuzco 1962

    Spices, seeds and plants crisscrossed the seas and within a few years chiles were common in India, potatoes in Europe and squash, beans and tomatoes all over.  Back in the Americas, olives, pigs, horses and coriander were introduced and often adopted by force.  The pace of change often moved quicker than technology could keep up.  Empires invested heavily in food.  It was the key to economic power.  Sugarcane was planted in the West Indies, Corn in Africa and the southern hemisphere was exploited for the abundance of meat.  Formerly the food of the rich, these foods became available to everyday people and changed the perceptions of diet and health.  The ancient traditions of balancing the diet were based on what was local and indigenous.  With the influx of these former luxury goods, popular culture adapted to include and subsequently rationalize the use.  Indeed, in preserved forms, these foods frequently prevented famine from poor crops, the scourge of local economies which depended on yearly harvests and kind weather.    So we have a double-edged sword.  There is no “best of both worlds” in this story.  It is a story of adaptation and survival, but with a dark side that is driven by the inevitable greed of economic based decisions, which has also resulted in modifying the health of a good portion of the planet.

    The phenomenal advances in scientific understanding hardly offset the fact that we have created an epidemic of obesity, an alarming rise in allergic reactions and a society that is blind to what they eat.  Nothing exemplifies this more than the meat industry, which is a systematic mechanism of death to innocent lives as well as a major contributor to the destruction to the environment.  It is quite shocking that the concern for global warming and reduction of the carbon footprint have not addressed this significant impact.  Decisions that affect the health and well being of people are made for economic reasons, instead of looking at what is best for people.  But, this too is not new in our checkered history of toil and struggle.  The question is whether a vision of a bigger picture will prevail.   Let us step out of the darkness and look at the positive opportunities the food system has provided.  More than any other time in human history, any food product one may want is available almost anywhere in the world.  This is an amazing achievement, giving the ability to choose eating what is good for us, to create balance and to eat what we desire.  The choice is now ours and ours alone.

    hillcrest 11 22 2009-7

    With the proliferation of local farmers markets, small organic farmers and groceries that buy local, fresh high-quality food is usually right around the corner.  The economic cycle has come full circle to help people realize that quantity does not necessarily equal quality.  In addition, discovering the rich heritage in our culinary traditions adds depth to our food and meaning to life, creating a win-win scenario for local farms and the health of the people around them.    People have also rediscovered gardening and the bounty the earth can provide.

    tomatoes in hillcrest

    Not since the Victory Gardens of World War II has growing vegetables and herbs been emphasized, or considered as fashionable.  Putting fingers in the soil and nurturing plants to bear fruit is one of the great unsung pleasures of life and is local food at its best.  I can attest to this and always plant a garden wherever I live or work.  It is a simple activity which bonds us to ancestral heritage along with the life-giving energies from the earth, sun and moon.  Try it, you will like it!

    san diego 02 2009 079

  • Nov 15

    Pomegranate is a neighborhood style restaurant at the edge of University Heights.  As a change of pace, we decided to have a dinner out to celebrate the last day of my son Spyros’ visit.  Entering the restaurant, we stepped into another world, chock-full of a spirit and hospitality unique to Russia’s feisty neighbor, Georgia.

    11 2009 004

    In ancient times, Georgians were the fabled Scythians Herodotus wrote about.  In modern times, most of what we hear about is strife and unfortunate news.  Some of the cultures in the area are renowned for their unusual longevity, such as the Abkazians,who have been victims of recent political power struggles, thus threatening the lifestyle which has made them a rare example on the planet.  But, what we rarely hear about is the strength of the people and the amazing cuisine that makes them that way.  As John Robbins points out in his book Healthy At 100, this cuisine is full of foraged wild greens, mushrooms, roots and tubers, along with seasonal cultivated vegetable crops and preserved foods.

    The menu at Pomegranate starts with a warning of the experience to come:

    “Once upon a time in the West … on the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Louisiana Street, there appeared a Russian-Georgian restaurant.  Our food is robust, for heroes of the table, as our motto amply testifies: “Borscht by the bucket, vodka by the inch.” Our service is “Allegro ma non troppo!” As for parking, it is positively Darwinian:  survival of the fittest.”

    11 2009 005

    Our experience at the restaurant did not disappoint as the food is flavorful and very generous in portions.  The walls are covered with graffiti by happy customers in languages from around the world.  One can imagine many of those scrawled quips were created under the influence of copious servings of vodka, Georgian beer or the special wines made from indigenous Georgian grapes.  The menu boasted 20 vegetarian items so we started with beautifully prepared vegan borscht, full of zest and a good texture.  Next, we grazed a salad sampler plate with a red cabbage slaw, a carrot slaw, a potato salad, a red bean salad and a green bean salad—all tasty.  We finished with a vegetable stroganoff and an eggplant “ratatouille” called Ajap Sandhali.  Both were outstanding.  Perhaps it was the spirit of the place that made everything so good, reminiscent of the family feasts I would enjoy in Crete with long tables of relatives.  Or, it could have been the feeling of authenticity–that we were in the midst of Georgians, celebrating their culture as participants, not just observers.  Whichever way I recall, it was a memorable dinner, for the food and the people.  I even took the opportunity to scrawl my own message, in honor of my father who loved this place.    On the way out, the owner and waitress both enthusiastically invited us to their Thanksgiving dinner, noting it will be home-style–family, friends and great food.

    From About Georgia:

    “Georgia is an amazing cluster of cultures, religions, fascinating landscapes and ancient history. The country where everyone can find something to his liking – from snowy peaks to subtropical shores, from deserts to lush forests, from cities to enchanting villages. Ethnic Georgians constitute a majority of the population. The official language is Georgian, one of the oldest languages in the world. Tbilisi is the capital and by far the largest city.”

    “Georgian cuisine uses well familiar products but due to varying proportions of its obligatory ingredients such as walnut, aromatic herbs, garlic, vinegar, red pepper, pomegranate grains, barberries and other spices combined with the traditional secrets of the chef ‘s art the common products do acquire a special taste and aroma, which make Georgian cuisine very popular and unique.”

    “The Georgian table is conducted in a wise manner in accordance with the ancient ritual. The head of the table “tamada” is elected as proposed by the host. The tamada must be a man of humour with an ability for improvisation and a philosopher’s wisdom. If there are many guests at the table he appoints assistants who in Georgian are called “tolumbashis”. The tamada’s toasts follow one another in a strict never violated order. The guest is obliged to listen attentively to each toast and appreciate the beauty of style and the purpot of the worlds said. If is not allowed to interrupt the tamada when he is saying the toats. The tamada’s assistants and other guests may only add something to the toast or develop its ideas. If you wish to say a toast, you must by all means have the tamada’s consent or else you will find yourself in an awkward position. This table ritual does not put restraints on the guests but maintains discipline at the table. The feast proceeds among jokes and is accompanied by a dance competition, table songs and music, quotations and aphorisms from the works of poets and writers.”

  • Oct 21

    Across the country, top chefs have adopted serving a series of small bites to their discerning customers in order to present food at its purest and freshest state.  In those culinary emporiums of the celebrity chef, the goal is to immerse the senses in the wonders of gastronomy.  Through visual presentation, tactile sensation, aromatic teases and tasting stimulating flavors chefs are wowing their guests with magnificent plates and anticipatory service.

    stuffed okra

    While the specific experience may be new, there is a long history for this kind of eating.  While the great cuisines of Europe are directly rooted to the indulgence of monks in abbeys of the middle ages (and indirectly in Roman high-society excesses), there are also culinary traditions from areas of the world less exposed to the American palate, such as China, Thailand, Vietnam and India.  One of these is the cuisine of Yogic India.  Entwined with the ancient medical science of Ayurveda, as well as religious philosophies which espouse spiritual cooking and distribution of food, the yoga of cooking has been refined over fifty centuries of recorded history.

    GVF74059

    Many years ago, my personal culinary journey placed me in Vrindavan, one of the yoga epicenters of India.  This was Krishna’s hometown and continues to thrive as a philosophical retreat with over 5000 temples and numerous spiritual schools, particularly inclined toward bhakti-yoga.  I became enamored by the attention to detail placed on the food, not only in temples, but in households and street food as well.  With a different approach than Western chefs, the food not only had to look good and taste perfect, but it had to be cooked “a-la-minute” and more significantly, also digest well.

    Govardhana Puja 2007

    The Ayurvedic philosophy of balance was present everywhere, but especially noticeable in the traditional main lunch meal, called a thali.  This is where small bites came into play.  Originally served on banana leaves with clay cups or stainless steel trays for the common man, it was also served pure silver trays for the aristocrats.  Rice is placed in the center and small bowls of vegetables, savories, dahls, pickles, chutneys and raita surround it. In addition, freshly made pillow shaped chapatis are served with steam still spouting through a crack in the top.

    GMF75020

    The meal balances the five tastes and five mellows of Ayurveda to create an ideal healthy meal with abundant complete proteins, phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants.  Like the fine dining cooking in America, it is a complete sensual immersion, but unlike the West, one feels nourished and vitalized in body, mind and spirit with both sensual stimulation and dietary engagement.  The senses are wowed, but they are also brought on board as partners in health.  All ingredients were local and, without refrigeration, we shopped the market daily.  In my mind, this is the gold standard for us to strive for.  There were no leftovers and extras were shared with local sadhus and animals.

    April 2009 photos (73)

    While my explanations cannot do them justice, it can be said some of these meals were instances that created rare tears of joy as I ate.  The food was that good!  The cooks who prepared those meals are still my culinary heroes and inspire similar attention to detail in every meal I prepare.

  • Oct 5

    Hillcrest Market 09 27 2009-3

    Is it possible?   An abundance of high quality food is causing fine dining to change?

    Over the last two decades, high-end chefs in America established their reputations around dishes created from rare ingredients and items served at the peak of freshness. In recent history, these two areas of food products have not readily been available to the public. Indeed, to their credit, the very chefs who helped to build networks of local farmers, food purveyors and distributors and who, in turn, expanded their offerings to the general public are responsible for the public demand. Chefs were the rock stars of the dinner table and everyone wanted in on their secrets, or to emulate their craft.

    hillcrest market sept 2009 (2)

    Today, we have an economic downturn, but this as the only cause of the change of economics in the restaurant industry, albeit a predominant factor. The same formerly rare food products are now becoming readily available and markets have started to feature local, up-to-the-minute fresh foods. For example, just over a decade ago mesclun lettuce was only seen in upscale restaurants, now it is everywhere. The same micro-greens and baby vegetables chefs would wow customers with are sold at major grocery store chains. Casual restaurant concepts around the country serve organic food and these formerly exotic ingredients. Why spend $150 for one dinner, when the same food can found at an upscale bistro-style restaurant for $30 to 50 dollars per person. To add to the dilemma, one can eat like a king much cheaper than this by shopping at local farmers markets and cooking at home. Recipes and techniques are readily available in a matter of minutes on the internet. Food is no longer the lone star, now more than ever, the upscale restaurant has to entertain through service, constructed presentation and themes designed to mentally transport the diner away from the locale they sit in.

    Beach 2009-20

    While enjoyable, this is often a distraction that competes with the food. High-end restaurants have been the bastions of the well-to-do with an additional peppering of the middle-class. The foods of the rich and noble have always been looked up to and desired by those not as fortunate. Numerous parallels to this can be studied in the history of culinary endeavors. Thus, culinary economics are cyclical as engineering advances in food manufacturing and agriculture offered food products previously only available to the elite, thus making them available to the general public. Grocery store shelves are full of such storied items; White flour, refined sugar, Strawberries out of season, refined oils and frozen foods are a few examples. As a result, products available are determined by what is purchased, not by what is healthy.

    recipes 2009-56

    We advanced ourselves into nutritional depletion and are facing the consequences with such issues as obesity and malnutrition in lower income children. Education is the key to transcending this economic wheel of misfortune. The first steps are simple, starting with reading labels and learning what you are eating. Next is to act on it by shopping local and eating organic foods.  Cooking at home and  growing a garden are the most significant things to do that will educate us about the value of food.

    It is not a black and white decision, but a gradual commitment to change. There is no time like the present to take charge of our destiny and good health.

  • May 21

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    Every morning we harness our companion Tea-Bird and walk through the neighborhoods of Mission Hills. It is an area that was laid out in the beginning of the 20th century exemplifying the Southern California lifestyle much in the same way as towns such as Pasadena. The railroad connected San Diego to the rest of the country in the 1880’s sparking a boom in tourism and seekers of fortune. Concurrent with the Belle Epoque in Paris, San Diego had its own renaissance before the sobering effect of The Great War. The founders of Mission Hills included names like Marston, Johnson, Nolen and, of course, Kate Sessions, who had landscaped Balboa Park. Kate Sessions’ original nursery, still in operation since 1911, is just down the street from us and is nestled among an eclectic mixture of Arts and Crafts Bungalows, Spanish Revival homes, swaying eucalyptus, towering palms and rushes of bamboo. Many homes contain architecture elements from the 1915 Pan American Exposition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and started the Spanish Revival movement of home building on a national level. The building boom in Mission Hills coincided with the construction of the Exposition which began in 1911. San Diego was a city of 39,000 and the smallest ever to hold a world’s fair style event.

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    The streets of Mission Hills follow the original slopes of the terrain as the founders believed in the Arts and Crafts notion that living spaces should harmonize and work with the earth, not define it. This now historic neighborhood retains much of the original charm, which, in addition to the beautiful architecture, is greatly enhanced by wonderful natural landscaping most of the homeowners take pride in. As we walk down the sidewalks, each yard has fragrant flower, fruit trees, cacti and tender perennials. Common are creeping rosemary and bushy lavender which add savory fragrances as we brush by.

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    Beauty is not just the view, but how people live as well. Mission Hills is always full of dog walkers, runners, bike riders, kids and strolling couples, making it a friendly and social environment, greatly enhancing the storybook feel to the neighborhood. Here in San Diego, the sunshine and bright, often cloudless blue sky, are backdrops to the movie-set perfection of the neighborhood. I often marvel at the foresight of the small group of visionaries who designed Mission Hills. While the future is difficult to predict, they created a neighborhood that stands out from the crowd of poorly thought out developments and accomplishes much of their original goal. Every walk we take is different and stimulating, very good for creative thinking.

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    The Mission Hills Garden Walk is an annual event which offers the opportunity to see beyond the beauty of curb appeal and catch a glimpse of our neighbors’ lifestyles. We also enjoy meeting people who put their hands in the earth and use it as a canvas for organic expressions. Every home on the tour is unique, but one thing in common are outdoor living spaces, often as an extension of a kitchen, or an entertainment area of its own. Similar to the Mediterranean, the residents of Mission Hills frequently create spaces for casual gatherings centered about food. Alfresco dining and the chatter of company intermingling with fluid songs of mockingbirds are frequently part of the soundscape in Mission Hills. The star house on the tour, designed in the 1920s by William Templeton Johnson, even had a loggia-style bar that opened onto a patio overlooking fountains, a patio and a panoramic vista looking past an infinity pool added by subsequent owners. Houses like this help honor the ritual of food in a social setting. Like drinking from crystal making the beverage taste better, dwellings like this help us to savor both food and company. For the rest of us who cannot afford to live this way, the restaurant industry has thrived on the same principle.

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Chef George’s Cookbook

 

Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years At The Legendary Inn Season Cafe

 

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