Sunday, November 23, 2014

10 Farm-to-table Centerpieces


You can tell a lot about a person from their table's centerpiece. Mine says I have an eco-chic sensibility. Think hippie chick with a fine art degree and a razor. I did say chic. To me, a bunch of fresh veggies is every bit as sexy as a bouquet of flowers. They might not look all dolled up sitting in a produce bag, but with a little bit of fluffing, you'll have some oooh-baby, come-hither carrots.

It's superficial to look at produce from strictly a nutritional aspect. What's on the outside counts, too. Inspired by the juicy couture of fashionista farmers, I created these farm-to-table centerpieces that you can throw together for any occasion and eat the next day. You can't put yesterday's tulips between your two lips. But you can chow down on these beauties while leaving a light carbon footprint. But make sure to eat your handiwork. Wasting food is neither eco or chic.  

Now presenting my sustainable, eco-chic, farm-to-table centerpieces. Nutritionally filling. Creatively fulfilling. No landfilling.

1. Come-hither Carrot Medley


2. Radiant Radishes


3. Posh Squash and Herbs




4. Glass of Chard


5. Moroccan Herbal Tea Glasses


6. Ravishing Radish Greens


7. Green and Pearl Onion Ensemble



8. Pot de Carrot 



9. Colander Couture


10. Radish-ista Fashionista

Want 10 tips for creating your own centerpiece? Then read my piece, Farm-to-Table Centerpieces for Eco-Chic Entertaining at Zester Daily. 

Related Links:
Ode to a Radish

Monday, November 10, 2014

More Food Network Pitches (the Out-takes)



In my recent Zester Daily piece, Kale Wars? Dumpster Divers? Must See Food TV! I came up with three Food Network pitches for more nourishing television. So if you haven’t yet savored every scintillating word, please hop over there, savor, scintillate and come back for the out-takes that were a little too out-there for a respectable food site. 

If you liked my "Food Activist Star," "Dumpster Divers" and "Kale Wars" concepts for more filling, yet thrilling television, I hope you'll enjoy this wacky, tacky twosome, too. Here goes:

Skid Row Kitchen

Format
Nice guy Tyler Florence mentors six homeless people from LA’s Skid Row as they vie for a culinary school scholarship. We see them briefly before they are cleaned up and given housing.

Episodes
Each week, the “culinarians” are taught a basic cooking skill, ending in the preparation of a communal dish that will be served at a homeless shelter. The kitchen scenes will be intercut with scenes of them in their communal housing environment. They are judged on both their kitchen performance and interaction with fellow culinarians. There are two judges—a chef and a mental health expert who will provide as-needed counseling, plus onscreen commentary. Each week, the culinarian who is eliminated will be assigned a social worker who will help find that person housing and a job.

Finale
The final two must cook a meal for the judges. The winner gets free housing for a year and a scholarship to attend culinary school.

Thrilling
Knife-wielding, unpredictable street people playing with fire? That's hot!

Filling
The audience will have a deeper understanding of the homeless as they attempt to re-enter society and turn their lives around.


Chef Africa

Format
This adaptation of the "Iron Chef" franchise pairs two celebrity chefs each week in a different ebola-free African country who are assigned a local ingredient for a timed cook-off.

Episodes
Each week, we see the chefs being chaperoned through the local market, interacting with the people. Cut to the chefs in the kitchen studio, each with two local assistants. They have one hour to cook and improvise a multi-course meal around one ingredient that must be in all the dishes. Alton Brown gives the blow-by-blow account, and we also hear commentary on the ingredients’ history, culinary traditions and nutritional information by agronomists, farmers and a nutritionist. The two judges are Ethiopian-born, New York celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and one local chef. 

Sample episodes and promo dialogue:

Week 1 
Paula Deen and Sandra Lee in Ethiopia; Ingredient: bambara beans
Paula: "You’re gonna love these bambara beans, y’all!"
Sandra: "Dried bambara beans are inexpensive and make festive tree ornaments."

Week 2
Martha Stewart and Ina Garten in Angola; Ingredient: egusi
Martha: "Egusi seeds. They’re a good thing."
Ina: "Egusi soup. How easy is that?"

Week 3
Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis in Botswana; Ingredient: marama
Rachael: "30-minute marama in a little EVOO? Yummo!"
Giada: "This easy marama dish will be perfect for Jade's lunchbox. And Todd's gonna love it, too!"

Week 4
Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri in Guyana; Ingredient: lablab
Bobby: "Lablab. I can't wait to get grillin'."
Guy: "Hey, it’s Guy in Guyana. I'm gonna make a fierce lablab chili."

Finale
The winners from the previous shows return and are assigned to two final teams. The winning team donates the prize money to an African food nonprofit of choice.

Thrilling
Fish-out-of-water celebrity chefs. Foreign ingredients. Paula Deen in Africa. It’s a Neilsen bonanza! 

Filling
It will enlighten viewers about different farming practices and cuisines of the world, promote multiculturalism and help eradicate xenophobia.

These out-takes may be a little out-there, but trust me. They're completely doable. 

Food Network execs: Have your people call my people. My personal assistant will pencil you in.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lentil Breakdown Turns Five!



Can I get a high five? If you can't muster the strength, I'll understand. This little blog has had plenty of days like that over the past few years. Okay, most days. But think of it as the Energizer Lentil. Still going. Sure, it's down to a sputter, but it still has a little get-up-and-go. Then when lentils are involved, you usually have to get up and go.

What's changed over the last five years? After discovering several food intolerances and radically altering my diet, I've become more focused on health and the state of our food supply. That's why I ask the hard questions like, "If 'natural flavor' is so natural, why doesn't it go by its real name?" 

So in honor of the leguminous occasion, I thought I'd share a couple of top five lists. Some of the results are surprising. If you missed these posts the first time around, don't worry. There's no expiration date. In fact, if they taste funny, it means they've aged well.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Food Forward Field Trip to McGrath Family Farm



Though I grew up in Texas, I was no farm girl. In our house, “farm to table” meant watching Green Acres over a Swanson's meat loaf TV dinner. Farms were what we saw and smelled through the windows of a gold Delta 88 when we drove across state. But after starting this blog and studying our food system for the last five years, my inner farm girl was starting to emerge. 




I had been wanting to volunteer with Food Forward, a Southern California food-rescue group, and picking organic tomatoes seemed like the perfect opportunity. This hardworking nonprofit gleans fresh, local produce from private properties, public spaces and farmers’ markets that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to people in need. The Food Forward credo revolves around Fruitanthropy: The picking, donating or distributing of fruit for humanitarian purposes. 



So I decided to take on L.A. rush-hour traffic on a Wednesday morning and make the hour-plus drive to McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo. Carbon footprint be damned. I was on a fruitanthropic mission. 



Top: tomatoes; Bottom: kale and fennel

McGrath Family Farm is located right off the 101 freeway in Ventura County in the thick of a $2 billion-dollar-a-year agriculture industry. The county's top crops are strawberries, avocados, raspberries, lemons, celery, tomatoes, peppers, flowers, nursery stock and cilantro. In a region teeming with pesticide use, McGrath has been a staunch practitioner of organic farming for five generations. With its deep topsoil, the perfect climate to grow year-round crops, and generous community outreach, the farm is a revered leader in the organic community. I worried about the freeway air looming over the heirlooms, but what can you do? When McGrath started, there was only farmland. A freeway moves in, and there goes the neighborhood.




McGrath sells wide variety of produce directly to restaurants and farmers' markets, from strawberries, tomatoes, corn and squashes, to beans, stone fruits, citrus, greens and root vegetables. They also offer a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, educational farm tours, a u-pick farm for picking your own produce, and a roadside market. I was excited to buy some lima beans that were picked that day. Who knew these simple limas could be so fresh, so lovely and so who needs the French Laundry when I've got this bowl of beans?



It was last call for tomatoes, and we were there to pick all the heirlooms, cherries and Early Girls we could since the remains would be destroyed the next day. It was sad to see all the fruity road kill go to waste when they could've become a gleaner's gazpacho, but we had to move on to the ones that showed more promise. 



Bend…squat…sweat...repeat. Once I started picking, it didn't take long to see that farmworkers are about a 12 on the thankless job meter. It was a mere 80 degrees outside, but what's it like when it’s 100 under all those heavy, protective clothes?  



Working on an organic farm like McGrath must be like hitting pay dirt to a farmworker, as laborers on conventional farms face dangerous exposures to toxic pesticides with no adequate safeguards. Many groups are trying to get the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a worker protection standard for farmworkers like they have for other job sectors.



Not only do farmworkers have the lowest annual incomes of any workers in the U.S., one dies every day, and hundreds more are injured. Roughly half are undocumented immigrants—many living in substandard housing who can't afford to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. 



Those in favor of deportation should try working in the fields for a day. Maybe they'll see what it’s like to risk everything to put food on someone else’s table.



Thanks to McGrath Family Farm and Food Forward, there will be food on even more tables.



Over 800 pounds of tomatoes



Want to harvest food, fight hunger and build community? Go on a fruit pick or volunteer with Food Forward at your local farmers' market.

Related Link:


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Health, Mötley Crüe and My Chemical Stew

Credit: iStockphoto / dmitryphotos

Wondering what this radioactive apple has to do with Mötley Crüe? 
Click on over to Zester Daily and read my article to find out!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Borscht Belt Salad (with Beet, Cucumber and Dill)


Why's it called the "Borscht Belt Salad?" Funny you should ask.
Remember Henny Youngman—that old Borscht Belt comedian with the violin and famous one-liners like, “Take my wife...please!”? The legendary Jewish comic got his start on the New York Catskills comedy circuit, aka the Borscht Belt, that was popular from the 1940s through the 1960s. Well, when Henny's wife, Sadie, said to him, “For our anniversary I want to go somewhere I've never been before,” he said, “Try the kitchen!” 

So in honor of Mrs. Youngman's culinary lethargy, I created this simple salad inspired by the refreshing essence of borscht. Vibrant beets, cool cucumber and herbaceous dill conspire as loudly as Henny's out of tune violin to announce big, babushka-like flavors. It's so easy to throw together, even Sadie wouldn't have minded making it. It shouldn't taste funny, though. I left the funny to Henny.

Beet, Cucumber and Dill Borscht Belt Salad

Equal parts beetscubed, quartered or sliced 
Equal parts unpeeled organic cucumber, cubed, quartered or sliced 
Handful of fresh dill, chopped

Vinaigrette
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp white wine vinegar
½ heaping tsp Dijon mustard
½ medium shallot, minced
Sea salt to taste

Steam or roast beets till fork tender. Peel and let cool. Cut beets and cuke in same size shapes—either cubes, wedges or slices. Add vinaigrette and dill. Let chill for half an hour and serve. 



The Borscht Belt Salad first appeared (sans recipe) in the post, A Job Farewell: Nine Years and Nine Salads