Hope Springs Eternal: Celebrating the End of Winter with a Renewed Dedication to Healthy Eating

Despite the fact that the ground is still snow-covered where I live about 30 miles north of New York City, the calendar continues to assure me that spring does indeed start today. And after a miserable winter that pretty much compelled me to live on comfort food for the past several months (simply refer to my last post for evidence of that!), I think many of us are looking to the warmer weather as the impetus to shed a few extra pounds and reintroduce more healthy foods back into our diet. Combine that with the fact that it’s National Nutrition Month and we have too many good reasons to ignore.

My focus for this post is two of my favorite salads. In fact, few things make me happier than the day in mid-May that I plant my annual herb garden of basil, chives, rosemary, parsley and cilantro. It compels me to get creative with different ways that I can use them.

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Family Meals

My father was a widower with two kids (me being one of them) who married a widow with 3 kids and had a baby together (Think the Brady Bunch model back in the seventies). There was always a lot of people to feed (you had to add my grandfather who lived with us and several friends always ready to stay for lunch or dinner). So every meal had to feed an army. We were not rich so it had to be nutritionally savvy and at a good price. Then I moved to live alone (soon with  Deby, still my wife) and had an adjustment period. I always bought more than needed as my buying habits were always for a dozen. Not to mention cooking for two (that allows for better luxuries or takeaway). So I had to learn to cook all over again on a single-portion basis.

Last week, I visited my sister who lives in Tilcara, a tiny village in the interior of Argentina and had just had a baby (Julia, photo above). She is married with Nico, who had 2 kids from a previous marriage. Add my wife, 2 girls and a boyfriend and we were always 10 at the table. So my sister and myself had to go back to all our family recipes. Cooking pasta, polenta, large salads and soups was just part of the fun. It also had some melancholic moments (her mother/my stepmother passed away a couple of years ago and we couldnt help remembering her a lot at the kitchen). Trying to achieve a perfect balance between nutritional, on-a-budget and delicious was not easy. Pleasing and tempting kids aged 6 months to 19 years old was a challenge. And as she lives in a tiny rural area where there is no supermarket around the corner, so it required perfect planning (an a lot of resourceful improvisation).

As the song goes: "A House is not a home…", well, a kitchen is nothing without the love and fond memories of the person who cooks. And you can always find lots of love while boiling spaghetti for your family….  

Ketchum Food Center – Recipe for Muesli with Dried Plums

Chef Catherine Pantsios, culinary manager at the Ketchum San Francisco Food Center, shares a recipe for Bircher Muesli with California Dried Plums.

BIRCHER MUESLI WITH DRIED PLUMS
 

1        cup coarsely grated unpeeled apple
1/2     cup rolled oats
1/2     cup steel-cut oats
1/2     cup chopped raw natural almonds
1/2     cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2     cup (about 3 ounces) quartered California pitted dried plums
1 1/2  cups apple juice
           Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
           Sliced bananas and yogurt, for serving

    
In a large bowl, combine apple, rolled and steel-cut oats, almonds, sunflower seeds and dried plums. Add apple juice, orange zest and orange juice; mix well. Refrigerate, covered, overnight or up to 3 days. To serve, portion into bowls and top with bananas and yogurt.
Makes 4 servings

Nutrition Information Per Serving (does not include yogurt and fruit): 421 calories; 0 mg cholesterol; 17 g total fat; 2 g sat fat; 6 g mono fat; 2 g poly fat; 0 g trans fat; 5 mg sodium; 61 g carbohydrate; 12 g protein; 10 g fiber; 510 mg potassium

 

A Simple Salad

Contrary to popular belief, even in California we’re not inundated with the best fresh fruit all year round. So if you’re craving fruit on your salad but the current market offerings aren’t ripe and luscious, canned fruit can pinch-hit. Go for the fruit that’s packed in pear juice concentrate rather than heavy syrup–and don’t throw that juice out when you drain it!

Whisk a few tablespoons of juice into some lowfat lemon yogurt until it’s a light coating consistency, and you’ve got a creamy dressing that tastes rich even though it’s practically fat-free. Toss the drained fruit and butter lettuce leaves in the dressing, and scatter some toasted pecans on top.

Quick, easy, healthy and delicious–what more could you ask for in a salad?

My Own Julia

Born in the pre-global TV era, no Internet, no Twitter, Julia Child did not enjoy fame around Latin America at least. So let me introduce you to our own Julia. Her name was Petrona C. de Gandulfo and was the fisrt lady to cook on Argentine TV.  She wrote a book that has been a best-seller ever since its first publication. It is like a bible and any decent Argentine cook has one. Whenever in doubt about a preparation, just go to Petrona.

As her American counterpart, her recipes were full of butter, included dozens of eggs and were cream rich. But who cares…

If you are curious to see her in action, see her in full blossom here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4oiw8BWpa8

Discovering the Art of Julia Child

Julia Child is my new hero and inspiration.  After watching the mouthwatering film Julie & Julia, I only want to eat, cook, eat and cook more. This film inspired me to buy Ms. Child’s revolutionary cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” online.  I’ll wait in anticipation until it arrives on my doorstep. Meanwhile, I’ll dream in French and fantasize about beef bourguignon and chocolate layer cake. And wonder what it would have been like to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 1949, or even live in Queens in 2002, mastering Ms. Child’s recipes everyday in a tiny apartment kitchen while working a full-time job.

When the cookbook is in my hands, I’ll peruse each section with a good glass of red wine and brie. I’ll probably have trouble choosing a recipe. (There probably won’t be a thirty-minute meal, and I can’t sneak a peek at the Food Network for guidance.) I doubt I’ll be courageous enough to debone a duck or drop a live lobster in boiling water, but if I change my mind, Julia will be by my side.

I’m starting to sound like the author Julie Powell of the memoir “Julie & Julia” in which this gastronomy delight is based on along with Julia Child’s memoir “My Life in France.” Julie Powell is obsessed with Julia Child.  With good reason.  Ms. Child entered Le Cordon Bleu in a country where she didn’t speak the language let alone know how to chop an onion or fry an egg.  Through her love for food, she discovered the joy of cooking and herself.  This passionate love affair with food, led her to co-author, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,”  a book that changed the way the American housewife cooked in the 1960’s.  Besides the title cookbook author, as many of you know, Ms. Child also became a culinary teacher and the first TV celebrity chef.  She is a true pioneer.

In the film, Ms. Child (as channeled through Meryl Streep) ignited Ms. Powell’s soul, giving her life meaning while she perfected 524 recipes in 365 days. Completing one recipe at a time, Ms. Powell unlocked her passion for cooking and writing, documenting her culinary triumphs and mishaps on a blog.  She thought the blog reached no one, but learned slowly there were people in cyber space listening. Her fan base grew and so did her popularity.  News stories, literary agents and a book deal followed.  And of course, the silver screen.

If you’re in the mood for inspiration and to fall in love with Paris, food and cooking, I invite you step into this culinary journey of two unique women.  Bon Appétit!

A Night at the Movies with Julia Child

We spent an evening this weekend with Julia Child — well at least the Meryl Streep version of Julia Child. And it could not have been a more delightful — and delicious — experience.

It was a good thing we had had dinner before we went because the food that both Meryl and Amy Adams appeared to be whisking, chopping and roasting looked pretty fantastic. We had had dinner out with friends Hilary and Fred — after a long week.  A delicious dinner at a local Italian spot called Frantoio here in Mill Valley.  Mine consisted of acorn soup, a prosciutto, fig and arugula salad (with a rich deep
balsamic reduction!!) and papparadella with rabbit and mushroom. I have been a fan of all things rabbit since a trip to Paris in the winter of 1998 or thereabouts. Tonight’s dish was rich and gamey and well complemented by the noodles.
 
Then off to the theater.  Seeing Julie and Julia made the group of us want to go out and buy copies of her book — we might be the only Americans who don’t have one. We all talked about growing up with Child’s show playing on the televisions of our youth. My mother was hooked on The French Chef and I hear Child’s voice in the soundtrack of our home in Wisconsin. My mother couldn’t boil and egg when she married — or so she says and became a really accomplished cook.   I have to believe that some of that came from Julia.
 
I am sure that anyone reading the blogs on this site already know the story behind the movie. In 2002, novice cook and first-time blogger Julie Powell challenges herself to cook the 542 recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year. The movie easily weaves Powell’s process in with the story of Child’s journey from onion-hacking neophyte to culinary legend starting in 1942. The movie was at times poignant for both Julie and Julie — and at others uproariously laugh-out-loud funny. The connection between Streep and Stanley Tucci, playing Julia’s husband Paul was outstanding — making the characters seem real and very likable. When Julia learns about her sister’s pregnancy, a whole untold storyline about Julia and Paul’s childlessness becomes instantly clear — and heartbreaking.  The history of McCarthyism woven in gives the movie a solid footing in history as well. The flash forward to Dan Ackroyd’s classic blood gushing parody was still hysterical.
 
But food is really front and center, too. Butter. Eggs. Butter. Mushrooms. Butter. Aspics. Butter. Roasted Chickens. Butter and Bruchetta!!!! Yummy on screen. And while this movie is a food lover’s dream — and foodies will love the processes, the food stalls, the Parisian shops, the copper pots, the souffles, and even the kitchen disasters in both eras — it is also about stick-to-it-iveness for both Julie and Julia.   It was about finding a passion and pushing yourself to overcome the challenges in your way — and ultimately to triumph. If that triumph is a book deal, a duck pate or this Norah Ephron script — it is a triumph nonetheless .
 
One side note: it is rumored that Julia herself has cooked in our San Francisco culinary center — goosebumps, three floors down from me as I type this!  And tonight, we’re off to the bookstore!