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  • Back to basics

    I read an opinion piece in CNN a few days ago, and it struck a chord with me, because it really highlights a lot of what's on my mind these days: The US food system is killing Americans. The title says it all, but I really recommend you take a moment to read it fully. Part of the argument is that the problems with our food system, resulting in deteriorating health for many Americans and particularly for poor Americans, are now -- during the pandemic -- potentially increasing death from the novel coronavirus. Our poor diets are leading to poor health, which makes us more vulnerable to severe complications and death from COVID-19. This is a valid point, and, of course, a nice tie in to our current obsessions. Hopefully, this will grab attention and the magnitude of the impending danger will help folks sit up and take real notice of the relationship between food and health. We typically think of this relationship as one of prolonged and delayed consequences, allowing us to put off the salad we should eat today until tomorrow. But this connection reveals that the diet-health interaction can be much more acute. The danger of this messaging may be that readers take it to the next extreme, and I've read plenty of other pieces masquerading as "news" in the Apple News Feed (what about an ad is news here, people?), touting the benefit of supplements, etc, to boost your immune system and help fight the coronavirus. This is not what I'm referring to, and it's not what the authors of this opinion piece are saying at all. Rather, there is a real, and potentially immediate, consequence to providing food in the way we do in this country. I've been thinking about our food supply chain a lot these days. In the onslaught of the virus and mobility restrictions, the problems with our supply chain were immediate and evident. There was a seemingly unique combination of scarcity and abundant waste. As the crisis wore on, I began to think of it more in terms of food scarcity -- which the authors differentiate from nutrition scarcity -- another valid point. We cannot simply provide food, we have to look at what food we provide. As I was working with the local food pantry to provide fresh, nutritious soup and bread, I started to consider how we provide food for those in need. First, it struck me that people who really deserved a public benefit were instead being fed by local charities, which sources food from a regional charity that was funded in part by the government. The pantry and other local charities also provided clients with gift cards to a local shopping market. In both cases, there are a lot of steps and entities involved, and, in the case of the gift cards, the local market (which does offer a very small discount on the cards) actually benefits, because the families must shop at their store to use the card. Offering a discount on the card amounts to just offering a small sale, a very common practice to boost revenue and generally considered advertising and marketing, not a donation. In fact, since the pandemic began, I've been regularly approached -- once even with a rather in-depth phone pitch -- to begin offering gift cards to save my business's bottom line in this new world. Second, I looked at the food provided. The pantry distributed packaged goods, which were a combination of branded goods, often processed, bought at retail cost in small sizes for easy distribution and of bulk-sized dry goods that could not be distributed because of their size and weight (the pantry had to find other ways to use these and sometimes they ended up in my soup). The more I thought about it, the crazier it seemed. Why would someone want a small box of mac-n-cheese, when they can make a better, more nutritious meal out of a larger quantity of plain ingredients that cost the same? Why do health department regulations prevent you from buying 50 pounds of flour and distributing that just like bulk good stores do? These policies and practices ensure that branded, packaged food essentially gets a cut from providing food for the poor, and individual donors are funding it. Finally, I started to think about how I could help more. I talked to several people about providing food, either working with existing charities, or by forming my own. I was hoping to disrupt the supply chain for the needy, and work directly with local farmers and wholesale distributors to provide the most bang for the buck. Surprisingly, I heard from some people that there was no unmet need in my area. But every week when I dropped off soup at the pantry, the line formed long before the pantry opened, and volunteers would often text me half-way through distribution to ask if there were any more. Clearly, there was as disconnect. And it seems to me that the disconnect keeps the system working exactly as it is -- with the needy dependent on the gifts of locals with money and a lot of people along the way profiting or taking their share for administrative costs, but not any more money going to local farms and not enough fresh, unprocessed food going to the hungry. (Thankfully, New York State has a program to finance pantries purchasing produce directly from local farms, and we can hope that becomes permanent.) In the end, I've completed my tenure making fresh soup and bread for the pantry, but I'm continuing to subvert the system in a very small, very local way. I'll continue to get bulk goods at wholesale prices for the pantry and repackage them by hand to make them easy to distribute and stretch the pantry dollar. This also means that we can offer relatively unprocessed ingredients, instead of mixes that are high in salt and preservatives. The health of the country very well may depend on our ability to do much more than just this. This week's recipe Last week, I transitioned my business from a commercial kitchen to a home-based baking and private chef venture. Already, I've started returning to my roots as a Chef. For the past few years, I've been pushed toward reproducibility, as clients repeatedly ordered what they'd had before at their own event or someone else's, because they just loved it and wanted it again. It's always great when folks love what you cook, and it's wonderful to be able to say something is a crowd favorite. But before I fed such large crowds, I did a lot more experimenting. I'm hoping to return to this more. The last dishes I made in the kitchen were wonderful and delicious modifications of some crowd favorites. And here's one for you! Salted Caramel Brownie Cross between a brownie and a blondie, with a lighter chocolate taste, airier texture, and salty goodness. 1 1/4 cup butter, melted 2 cups best dark chocolate chips, melted 1 Tb vanilla 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp of baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 3 cups flour 1 Tb molasses 3 eggs 1 Tb vanilla Melt butter, and add chips, heating lightly and stirring until fully melted. Stir together dry ingredients. Stir in melted butter and chocolate. Add molasses, eggs, and vanilla and blend completely. (Make sure you break up the eggs nicely -- I don't beat ahead of time, because I don't want it to get fluffy, and I also feel it's a waste of time and a bowl. I'm a pretty lazy cook.) Spread in a well-buttered pan (I use a 1/2 sheet size, which is about the size of a large jelly roll pan). Bake at 350 until set completely and edges begin to brown a bit. Do not overtake (it will get hard and brittle). In my next improvement, I'm going to try drizzling it with caramel sauce before baking -- I'll let you know how it goes!

  • What we eat matters ...

    ... and not just for ourselves. Our food choices have a profound effect on the environment, the economy, trade, and how others live even far away from us. A recent NPR story argues that there really is no food shortage, despite the default messaging of an upcoming "crisis" in feeding our growing global population. There is, instead, a continuing abundance of food and decreasing prices, overall. Yet, the leagues of underfed and undernourished people continues. What's going on here? Certainly, as the NPR story attests, hunger and regional shortages are tied to political unrest and oppression. There's also poverty, plain and simple -- and there are some startling trends around poverty in the US as detailed in Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, the wonderful new book from Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Scientists, however, suggest [paywall for full article] that an overall abundance will continue for the next few decades -- until, of course, climate change threatens to alter all that. And so the issue becomes not how much food we're producing, but what kind and how does that affect the environment, which will in turn affect our future access to plentiful food. This spring, Vox produced a compelling video that visually displays the impact various crops and livestock have on the environment. Beef is, as you might guess, the worst offender, largely due to grazing requirements to raise those beasts. To be fair, the chart compares resources needed to produce 1 kg of each food studies, and not all foods are alike in nutrition and in mass needed to feel satisfied. Anyone who's eaten a vegan meal will confirm that you need what seems like twice the food to feel full. Nonetheless, the differences are stark. And the impact on the environment in the US is compounded by our excessive consumption, particularly of beef. In fact, US consumption of meat, eggs, and nuts has increased over 1970 levels, along with all food categories except dairy. Interestingly, USDA reports "per capita availability" of meat by kind, but actual consumption is harder to find. Available data show 64.1 pounds of chicken and 54.3 pounds of beef per capita in 2017. Further, consumption of chicken has grown steadily since around 1960, but the consumption of beef remains steady following a sharp decline around the same time chicken consumption began to accelerate, and consumption of pork has remained relatively stable (with periodic fluctuations) since at least 1910. This consumption is largely driven by the access to cheap meat. In 2016, US Department of Agriculture projected that beef and pork consumption would rebound in the next decade, after dropping in the previous decade. Increased prices, as well as dietary concerns, led to decreased consumption, and reduced meat prices, thanks to cheaper feed, was considered the primary factor influencing the increase. But is this price really reflective of the true costs of consuming such high levels of meat? And what are we really learning about diet? We seem to have a momentary realization around red meat consumption and health around 1970 -- or was that just prices? At any rate, the trend was quickly reversed, and Americans gave in to their passion for blood. I love a good steak, rare as can be. And I mean, really love it. But 54.3 pounds of beef per year is a lot of meat. A standard portion size for beef is 4 oz, so that's 217.2 servings of beef for each of us each year -- certainly an excess, particularly if we're also going to eat 256.4 servings of chicken each year, and pork and fish on top of that. This is not a good use of our resources. Can we collectively reduce that by 1/4, 1/3, 1/2? I'm not suggesting we avoid it altogether (although many make that argument, and quite compellingly). It seems Americans are not ready for that, and I'm all about meeting folks where they are. Even a minor improvement could help, so let's just start there. INSTEAD OF This Week's Recipe As you may know, several times throughout the year, my family fasts from animal products for religious observance. We've learned a few things about making plant-based meals delicious and filling. One of the key challenges is replacing the umami flavor (coined in Japan, this flavor describes the rich, savory taste we most often associate with meat). Without some umami, savory food can taste thin or lacking substance, even watery. I've heard some people describe this as salty. It is not! We already have a flavor called salty. This is a distinct flavor that adds richness and decadence to food. Thankfully, it is found in the plant world! Here are 7 ways to add umami to plant-based meals that we rely on. They also add richness and savory texture to meat-based meals, so use them liberally. Minced mushrooms, added early in the cooking (works well with soups, stews, and anything with a sauce) Caramelized mushrooms, especially with nuts or sweet onions Wine, wine, and more wine, particularly red or flavored wines like Marsala (when in doubt, add some wine or spirits, I say) Soy sauce, tamari sauce (I always make vegetable soup/stew with this and red wine and it does not taste Asian in any way), and the like (consider miso) Molasses, which will also adds a nice, dark color Tomato paste in sautéing (in soups, this doesn't really give you umami, but acid, but a dab added when sautéing with some wine and herbs or spices, it browns nicely and gives a rich sauce) Play with spices, particularly adding sweet spices (notably allspice and cloves) to savory foods

  • We have a science problem

    America has a serious science problem. When did "belief" in science become optional? Maybe a very long time ago, if we consider the Scopes trial (1925). Maybe our fierce sense of independence is more properly thought of as a desire to believe whatever we want, regardless of evidence. We're watching this play out in dramatic fashion as folks around the country refuse to wear masks, with disastrous results. Dr. Anthony Fauci, this nation's grown-up in chief, speaking on CNN assessed that "there is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country -- an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking." And now nearly 1 in 100 Americans have tested positive for the virus (and likely countless more have remained asymptomatic and undetected), with that number skyrocketing daily. While I've come to think of this response as uniquely American, I have to admit it appears to be more widespread. CNN reports a similar resistance to masks in Britain, and Vice reported a few violent passengers attacked a bus driver in France after he insisted he wear masks as required, resulting in his death. Perhaps most notably to me, The World Health Organization has remained in denial about the method of spread of the virus until 239 scientists demand they reconsider. WHO should be our most reliable international source of scientific fact, and yet they could not address what has been evident for months: the virus is primarily transmitted through the air. And new analyses suggest that our behavior trumps summer heat and may even affect herd immunity when considering the spread of the virus. What we think -- and what we do based on those beliefs -- matters to us all. What are we to do with this? Our current health crisis brings our American split with scientific reasoning into sharp contrast, but that is largely due to the immediacy of the danger and the rapidly changing health landscape. The same thought trend is at work in climate change, environmental health, economic growth, agriculture, public health, energy sustainability, social and racial justice, and myriad areas of public policy. We can see where we're headed, the science is clear, and yet we ignore it, because we have the right to. That's not a right, that's actually willful relinquishing our rights. We choose the confines of a damaged environment and the tyranny of a disastrous economy and inequity, because we will not accept science and facts. I spent 20 years as a medical writer, where science was king. You could not write a sentence without scientific evidence and support for it -- and documentation to bolster the claim. As a nation -- and perhaps as a world -- we need a new understanding of science. Maybe even a love, an adoration, for science. This Week's Recipe A return to simpler tastes, and a very simple recipe for an appetizer or even dessert. And I just love to take advantage of summer strawberries. Strawberries and Mozzarella 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced 8 best strawberries, sliced 1-2 tsp 25-year aged balsamic Mint and berries for garnish Splay strawberries on top of cheese and drizzle with droplets of balsamic. Do not drench! A little goes a long way. Drizzle the fruit and mint with a tiny bit, too. Alternative: Quarter or halve strawberries and cut mozzarella in 3/4-inch chunks. Spear on short skewer (cheese, then strawberry on the end, at an angle, so that the whole thing rests with the spear handle up for easy grabbing). Arrange on platter and drizzle with balsamic.

  • Already? Again?

    It's been like watching a crash in slow motion. We were warned about the dangers of reopening. We watched aghast as revelers gathered over Memorial Day weekend. We were reminded that it would take weeks to register new cases, new hospitalizations, and increased fatalities. And yet, when we hit phase 1 in our area, I noticed fewer people wearing masks and I had a harder time maintaining appropriate distance from people in public, because they just wanted to crowd in and take up my space. Then we hit phase 2, and the social media posts showing people enjoying their new freedoms, sans masks, abounded. Participation in protests increased, and the photos showed plenty of people standing close together with or without masks. What happened to our outrage at those early photos from Memorial Day weekend? If we don't learn to behave ourselves, we may lose our post-lockdown privileges. Yikes! I can't face another lockdown. We're now starting to see the results of increased activity, with surges of new cases and hospitalizations in some areas. When I first read the numbers, I was underwhelmed, frankly. I even wondered if news media were overblowing results to have a compelling story. Then I learned how close some of these areas are to hospital and ICU capacity -- South Carolina is at up to 77% capacity right now. While the total number of cases and the percent increase in new cases pales in comparison with New York at its height, the lack of hospital and ICU capacity to cover these increasing numbers makes these increases just as worrisome. Context is everything. And some experts insist that this is not a second wave -- we're still in the first. Meanwhile, recently published studies showed shutdowns prevented approximately 60 million infections in the US and 285 million in China and saved 3.1 million lives in Europe (paywall). So, will we take these latest studies to heart, and recommit to the measures we know work to reduce infection? After so many months living inside, the temptation to play freely in the sun may just be too great. Nonetheless, we continue to learn more about this virus, and how it works, and we now feel like we know some things for sure. Chief among them, though, may be that masks work! In fact, you may remember the two hairstylists with the virus working in Missouri I mentioned a few newsletters ago. Well, the wonderful news is that although they saw 140 clients, there were no new infections linked to the salon. Experts credit the wearing of masks by workers and clients. And resistance to the return to ignorance continues! A Florida data scientist has started publishing her own dashboard on Florida testing statistic online for all to see, after being fired from the Department of Health for refusing to comply with what she saw as unethical requests to modify Florida's public dashboard. The information is out there, if you're willing to look for it. In unrelated news: Support for Black lives matter continues to grow, which is exciting! I've been sharing charts on the spread of the virus periodically in this newsletter, but here's a wonderful chart on our change in thinking. This week's recipe Finally, in honor of Juneteenth, a few red recipes. I've just learned that Juneteenth recipes often include red drinks as a reminder of the red kola nuts and hibiscus tea brought to the Americas as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Sweet Mint-Hibiscus Tea 1 Gallon water 2 handfuls sweet mint sprigs 1/4 c dried hibiscus flowers (you can find these at Asian markets) Agave syrup to taste Boil water. Add mint and flowers, and boil for 30 seconds. Turn off heat and steep for 30 minutes. Chill fully and drink as is or add agave to taste. Red Velvet Cake 1 c milk 2 Tbs vinegar ½ c butter 1 ½ c sugar 2 eggs 2 Tb cocoa 2 tsp vanilla 2 Tb red dye 1 tsp salt 1 tsp soda 2 ½ c flour Mix milk and vinegar and let stand to make a home-made buttermilk. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, and cream thoroughly, scraping sides as needed. Cream together cocoa, vanilla, and dye in a small bowl with the back of a spoon. Add to butter mixture. Mix flour, salt, and soda. Add to butter mixture alternating with buttermilk. Bake in 2 buttered and lined 8-inch round pans (or 24 lined cupcake tins). Cut top domes of cake level. Crumble removed domes to small crumbs and let stand to get stale while you ice (place back in oven if needed). Fill and ice with vanilla cream cheese icing. Cover side edge of cake with crumbles and decorate the remainder of the cake with extra icing.

  • ICYMI

    We're beginning to emerge from our homes, at varying speeds, around the globe. As we rejoin world events, already in progress, it may be time to broaden our focus beyond the daily concerns of surviving life in lockdown. I feel like I've missed so much, being disconnected from others near and far. As a small business owner, working primarily in isolation in my commercial kitchen, I interact with others to a limited extent. I have no water cooler. My husband is a freelance writer, so he's at home, too. And yet, we usually seem to keep each other up to date on our different interests and what's happening in the local, national, and international news. Although I've been following the news, I feel less informed than normal. So, why do I feel like I don't know what's going on in the world? Why do I feel like I'm jumping into a world already in turmoil and I've missed the beginning of the story? The primary answer must be that I've changed my focus. The top news stories seem always to be COVID-19 related. As a Chef who never really shut down completely, I've made extra effort to research emerging science on the disease and its transmission, as well as current guidelines from the local health department, the governor, the CDC, and WHO. Well, that's a lot. I've just immersed myself in all things coronavirus. Now I find myself blinking in the bright outdoor light of a new day, trying to get my bearings. And the images I'm seeing are bleak. Mass uprisings and demonstrations, sometime violent, to police brutality that are also fueled by the racial disparities in the individual and community experiences of the pandemic. [See Holley Bailey, Annie Gowen, Vanessa Williams, and Jose A. Del Real's 'It's a blue-soaked anger': Amid protests, African Americans feel a private grief in The Washington Post (paywall).] The communities hardest hit by the virus are now suffering from the ongoing protests and aftershocks of demonstrations. [See Washington Post coverage of coronavirus in communities of color (paywall) and a look at racial disparities by NPR.] And those demonstrations are spreading beyond our country [Washington Post paywall]. What to do? That really follows along the same thread of personal responsibility that is so essential to continuing efforts to contain the virus. It's up to each of us to find our way. Some business leaders are advocating for a green return over business as usual. A Chef argues for the dismantling of the restaurant industry as we know it. I agree with these sentiments. If we have to forge a new path, let it be a better one than we trudged before. And so, I find myself looking for ways to emerge as a disrupter, and I'm considering radically different business models. I just can't quite manage bringing back the status quo, even in my very small corner of this enormous industry. What can you do? I always try to include some tiny call to action on the very local level for folks. This week, it's a simple reminder of your civic duty. School budgets are going to a vote this week in our area, and that vote will be conducted by mail-in ballot. As always, vote. No matter what, always vote in every election you can. It is a powerful voice that so often goes unused. But especially vote in this election, not just to give support to budgets to help our schools in this period of extreme economic hardship (or reject them, if you don't like them -- it's your choice!), but to demonstrate the feasibility of mail-in ballots and the simple truth that democracy will prevail through any crisis. As a society, we simply must find a way to persist. And here are some calls to action to help the local economy: All week (and probably next week, too) I'll be highlighting local businesses I look forward to frequenting again on Instagram. Follow me to see the notices. Chime in on Instagram, Facebook, or respond to this newsletter with more of your favorites. The more, the merrier! Keep informed about local news that's not coronavirus related. This Week's Recipes Well, I feel I have to give the premium members a bit more for their investment. I'm going to start sharing recipes that I haven't previously shared before. These are my adaptations and original creations -- the ones that I don't generally share (because pretty much everything I do is some kind of adaptation). Banana Foster Cake 3/4 c butter, softened 1 3/4 c brown sugar 4 eggs 1/2 c dark rum 1 Tb vanilla 3 bananas, liquified in blender (about 2 c volume) 3 c flour 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp salt 1 Tb baking powder Cream butter and & sugar until well mixed. Beat in eggs & liquids. Mix flour, salt, cinnamon, salt, & powder. Mix into batter. Bake in greased & lined 8-inch round cake pans (2). Cool fully. Brown Sugar Milk Icing 1 c milk 1/2 c brown sugar 2 Tb corn starch 1/2 c white sugar 1 tsp vanilla 1 c butter, slightly softened Mix milk with sugar and corn starch and boil until thickened. Cool fully in refrigerator. Beat butter until creamy. Add vanilla, milk mixture and sugar and beat until fluffy. Fill and ice cake with icing. Cognac Caramel Sauce 1/2 c butter 1 c brown sugar 1/2 c cream Dash salt Vanilla 1 Tb cognac Place all ingredients in small saucepan. Heat gently to low boil. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened. DO NOT STIR. No matter how much you want to. Do not stir. Cool and drizzle over cake.

  • How are you doing?

    Tip #1: Learn what a 6-foot social distance standard looks like. Shopping at Costco last week (left). They were smart to limit the number of customers in the store at one time, but they did a poor job of separating us for social distancing. The pallets separating us are 4' x 3'. We should have been standing 1.5  pallets apart within the line, and the divider should have been 2 pallets wide. Six feet is longer than you think. When going out, stay far away from everyone else, and ask others to keep their distance also. You're protecting them as well as yourself. Tip #2: Wear gloves while out, if you have them. Keep a box of gloves in the car, so you can put them on anytime you enter a store, or touch something someone else could have touched. Consider using a bandana as a face mask, as well. We'll get through this It's been quite a while since our last newsletter, and I've decided to restart emails with a new focus: helpful tips, shopping suggestions, recipes, and information for home cooks. What better time to kick it all off than during our current crisis? So here goes. What to buy: Firstly, there's no need to hoard. It's very hard to resist this, I know! We've all felt the pull: What if I can't get to the store? What if we run out? How will I protect my family? Unfortunately, the items we hoard are often not the ones that will really help us get through the crisis. People are buying way too much toilet paper. I actually didn't even buy any, and we've got plenty. I know this will go on for weeks or even months, and I am a little concerned about where this will eventually go, but if we all buy just what we actually need, we should have plenty in the supply chain. (I guess I'll update you all on that later!) The virus is killed by simple soap and water, and hand sanitizer is never recommended over soap and water for cleaning hands. In fact, the Westchester County Department of Health has always considered hand sanitizer inadequate to clean hands. You can use it, but only if you've washed your hands properly with soap and water first. When I grill onsite or serve food in the open, I bring my own hand-washing station. Hands wiped with sanitizer are considered unwashed hands. So, if you have been unable to find hand sanitizer anywhere but online for $90 a pop: great news! Save your money. You probably already have plenty of soap at home. More great news! Soap and water works on surfaces, too. You don't need fancy cleansers or disinfectant wipes! I bet you have plenty regular cleansers, plus dish soap, that will work just fine with a rag.  When shopping for groceries, make sure you buy stuff you regularly eat. We do need to be flexible, based on availability, but resist the urge to stock up on stuff that you just really never eat. You won't want to eat it now, either, and that will get very dismal very fast. Now, here's a list of stuff I'm stocking up on. Vegetables: buy a range and triage usage by how long they last. Buy some leafy veggies (spring greens, romaine, plus dark greens like kale), some soft (tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash like zucchini and yellow squash, and such), some hardy (broccoli, cauliflower), and some starchy (winter squash, yams, carrots, potatoes). Fruits: same as with veggies, buy a range based on how long they last. Soft (grapes and bananas) and hardy (apples, citrus, melons). Apples can last for months in the refrigerator. Citrus: yep, they get their own line, because I think they're so important. Lemon, lime, and orange can be used to flavor pretty much anything. You can use the rind and the juice. Plus, a little fresh lemonade or limeade will do wonders to lift your spirits. I prefer lemons to limes for longevity. Proteins: embrace the less popular proteins! Everyone is buying chicken breast, because it's very intuitive to use. Buy whatever is available, and freeze most of it. Stock up on dried beans, and canned beans if you want added convenience. Stock up on nuts and nutritional yeast (we'll talk about how to use it later). Stock up on harder cheeses, they last longer. Throw in some powdered milk, just in case, if you rely on milk. Starches: Make sure you have a variety of starches you regularly eat. If you bake, make sure you have the staples for baking. I'll try to have some recipes for easy staples in future newsletters. Flavors: Make sure you have a range of seasonings you use regularly. And then use them liberally! Treats: get a few family favorites just because. Make sure you stagger these as well, or everyone will eat their favorite right away, and you'll have nothing to look forward to! What to make: Now that you have a stocked kitchen, use your ingredients wisely. Set the order of what you'll make in your mind ahead of time, so that you don't have food going bad. Waste not, want not. My goal is to go to the store every other week at the most. I'm not sure if this will keep us disease free in the end, but if we all limit our trips, we should minimize community contact and exposure, and hopefully this thing will die out. We all have to do our part. Splurge in the first few days with salads using the softest veggies. Wilted greens? No worries. All salad greens can be lightly steamed or stir-fried, just like spinach. You can also braise them (if it's good enough for Julie Child, it's good enough for me!) and use them in soups. Tomatoes getting wrinkled? Zucchini getting puckered? Mushrooms getting gamey? Cook your softer veggies once they start to look unappetizing raw. Sauté them in olive oil, or simmer in a sauce for pasta. The further gone the veggie, the longer you cook it to lose that sad look. Cut off any actual mold, though, leaving a clean margin. Cook fruit that's starting to get dried out, mealy, or just not so great. Add it to veggies or meat for a savory meal, or add some sugar (or other sweetener) for fruit compote dessert. Or just cook it plain for a regular fruit side with a meal. Consider adding butter (or salt), plus vanilla (or sherry or brandy) for decadence! Venture out with combinations. Have a bunch of stuff going bad at once? Throw it all together, with your favorite seasonings, and it will probably work fine. Trust me -- I do this all the time. Use meat sparingly to make it last longer. The serving size of meat is actually quite small, but if you mix it with veggies or beans you can eat a half serving and still feel like you're getting meat in the meal. Go veggie or vegan for some meals, instead of dipping in to your store of frozen meat. Use nuts, beans, and nutritional yeast for protein. Veggies also have protein! Did you know that calorie for calorie, broccoli has about the same protein as ground turkey? The thing is that 250 calories of broccoli is about 10 servings. So, you can absolutely get enough protein from vegetables, just make sure you're eating enough of them. Use your hearty vegetables last: roasted winter squash with grain and nuts makes a great meal. Add some dried fruit, too. Use up what's in your pantry. Most of us could go days or weeks, if we just got a little creative with what's in our pantry. This week's recipe: We're observing lent in our household (well, some of us, and to varying degrees), so we're eating a lot of vegan food. Here's a basic "recipe" for savory pasta with nutritional yeast, just to show you how to use it for a nutty cheese flavor. Aromatic: sliced onion or minced garlic (whatever you have on hand) Soft veggies: zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, greens (whatever you have on hand, or any combination), plus green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower (if you have it) Cooked pasta or GF pasta, any kind Nutritional yeast Onion powder Dried herbs (Italian mix, oregano, thyme, Herbes de Provence, or the like) Salt and pepper Olive oil Sliced almonds or pine nuts Saute the aromatics in olive oil until soft and sweating. Add hardy veggies, followed by soft veggies. Cover to steam a bit after each addition, so that it's all a little soft (still al dente though) at the end. Meanwhile, cook pasta and drain. Return to pot, still a bit wet. Mix in herbs, salt and pepper to taste, plus onion pepper to taste, and about 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (or more if desired). Cover pot to keep warm and wet, if the veggies aren't ready yet. Toss veggies with any liquid in the pan into pasta. Sprinkle with nuts. Enjoy! Have a question or want a specific recipe? Send me an email! Happy cooking. Stay healthy. Keep in touch.

  • What are we doing????

    Cases are skyrocketing, and the world is alarmed. Several states are now increasing lockdowns, several weeks or months late, much like New York State was delayed in its initial response. But those states should be benefiting from hind site, not repeating our first mistakes. Florida new cases have increased 5-fold in the last 2 weeks, suggesting they are well on their way to a crisis. Even in New York, some areas are seeing cases rising, although more slowly. In our own area, locals attending the Chappaqua drive-through graduation as well as a field night involving several schools may not have followed guidelines set out by the state, and 5 have tested positive so far. At the Sleepy Hollow graduation, I can attest that very few followed guidelines, with most people gathering in groups, hugging, taking photos arm in arm, and very few masks worn -- even fewer worn correctly. At a local celebration, masks were ironically worn well by the grads and younger kids, but not by the parents. We've decided to collectively forget the danger, conveniently overlook the risks. That leaves a heavy burden on those who want to take personal responsibility seriously (we either have to give in or isolate to avoid exposure), and an even heavier burden on folks who cannot exercise that extra caution: workers who must interact with the public. It's the latest privilege that those who do not work in the service industry can exercise. By contrast, China has locked down 400,000 people in response to just 18 new cases. And their lockdowns are no joke: villages, communities, and buildings closed; only one person per household permitted outside to purchase supplies once daily; and all outside vehicles banned. This is a far cry from our "lockdowns," which were never more than mere suggestions anyway. There was no consequence for violating guidelines, not even any reinforcement of those guidelines. How would Americans react if we had to comply with such restrictions, after only 18 confirmed cases? Do we simply prefer the risk, even if that risk is extreme for whole segments of our society? I'm beginning to think of America's defining characteristic as group sacrifice for individual benefit, rather than individual freedom. Maybe it's time for a little reframing. I'm trying to move this newsletter from an ongoing rant at the pandemic and institutional evils to something more on-brand. I'm a Chef, and my business is catering to clients to make beautiful and delicious events. A screed at our country's response to the pandemic seems off-topic at the least. When I was sharing tips on how to cook at home, that was fine. But now I've veered into the weeds of personal responsibility! So, let me know consider a bit of hope: what elements of life in the pandemic do I wish to keep, and what have I learned as a Chef? My family is actually pretty happy together I've actually enjoyed spending time with my family, and my husband and I have discovered that we can't wait to retire together. If we didn't have to worry about earning a living in this mess, we'd be perfectly content with the extra time and attention. So, that's an easy keep (at least on the surface). All we have to do is keeping making extra time to be together. Let's see how we do with that once we all get super busy again. I can cook something from anything I already felt pretty resourceful, but now I feel really confident in making delicious, client-ready food out of anything that's available. I've been serving as a private chef for the entire lockdown, purchasing only every other week at the beginning (and planning menus from ingredients that could last 8 days from one weekly session to the next), scrounging during shortages, and making do around client allergies and special diets. And the clients have been thrilled. Not even, "well, we'll make do because it's a pandemic" satisfied, but really thrilled with the food they've enjoyed. So, that's nice to know. I think I'll take that confidence along with me. I don't need as much as I thought I did I don't need as time, money, food, resources, support, clients, income, or anything as I thought I did. It's amazing how you learn to make do when you just don't have as much as you'd like. Check. Keeping that one, too. Our food system is a disaster Food shortages were nearly immediate, and in some cases extreme. And many were due to how we source food. Reliance on factory farming and food processing leaves us vulnerable to pandemics, political unrest at home and abroad, climate change, transportation and shipping interruptions, and probably a host of problems we haven't even considered. So, this is my next focus: what are we going to do about food (and water) insecurity, locally, globally, and personally? Finally, this week's recipe As you know, I've been making soup and bread for the Dobbs Ferry Pantry for the last several weeks. I'm going to continue through July, as local families cope with the loss of food provided by the schools. I wanted to commemorate that, and let folks in on some of the soups I've been making. Southwestern Chicken & Vegetable Soup Whole chicken 1 1/2 c black beans, prepared (or 15 oz can, drained and rinsed) 2-4 carrots, diced 2-4 stalks celery, diced 1 medium onion, sliced in semi-circles 1 red pepper, diced 1 c frozen corn (or 15 oz can, drained and rinsed) 1 c frozen peas 15 oz can diced tomatoes Dash each cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander 1/4 tsp paprika Salt & pepper to taste Boil chicken until completely cooked and falling off the bone. Retain broth, and pull out chicken. Add beans, vegetables, and seasonings to broth, and simmer until softened but al dente (about 1/2 hour). Remove all meat on chicken, and cut up or shred larger pieces. Return chicken to soup and reboil. Serve alone or with shredded cheese. Vegan alternative: substitute zucchini and/or yellow squash for chicken, and add some vegetable Better Than Bouillon to water. Boil all veggies and seasonings together.

  • Let's keep it clean!

    Get ready to stay at home EVEN MORE this week The warnings are everywhere, and ominous: this will be the worst week yet. This is the week to avoid going out altogether, even to the grocery store or pharmacy. This is tough, and it's almost like learning not to touch your face. Once you know you have to wait to go to the pharmacy, you immediately think, "but isn't my acetaminophen expired, and isn't that what they recommend for these fevers????" OK, it may in fact be expired (I'm pretty sure mine is, but I'm just choosing not to look at this moment). If the worst happens, and we need acetaminophen, I'll deal with it then. For now, let's all try to stay put, and make it through the next week. We'll see where we are then. If you DO go out (please don't), cover up for safety The CDC is now recommending we all wear cloth masks whenever we go to places where social distancing is difficult (like the stores we're all going to avoid this week -- are you seeing a pattern in my thinking here? -- please stay home). So, get out your sewing kit, and whip up a few masks! (Shout out to Jackie, who made the awesome mask pictured above, when she saw I was using a bandana -- it's even reversible for fashion!) Here are a few tips I've gleaned from recent press on the matter: The best fabrics are tight-weave cotton. I read a recommendation for 600-thread count pillow cases. Disclaimer: I don't have 600-count sheets, and I'm not sure I'd sacrifice those soft puppies for a face mask. But if you do, go right ahead! Turns out, bandanas are not really recommended anymore, as they're not tight enough weave. Got some fabric lying around? Test the tightness of the weave by holding it up to a bright light. If you can see the light well, or if you can see the threads of the weave, it's not tight enough. Layering is key. Make sure you double up (or more, I suppose, though I've only seen doubling recommended -- test it out to make sure you're still comfortable breathing in it). Another recommendation I've seen is layering with a coffee filter. I'm not sure how this would work with washing, so maybe just place the filter inside when you tie it on, so you can change it with each use. Wash after each use! Just like undies. This is where the coffee filter issue comes in. If you actually sew it into the mask, I'm assuming it would degrade in the wash. Give it a try, and let me know! Keep it on the whole time you're at risk of exposure and remove it carefully! This is really important. If you pull the face mask down to take a sip of water or smile at a child (my young niece was the recipient of such a smile in a store), you negate the entire act. Any time you touch something, you could be getting virus on your hands and spreading it to other surfaces, in this case your face. Be very careful removing the mask, and wash or sanitize your hands immediately. When I shop (which, again, I'm avoiding this week), I carefully remove the mask folding it in on itself, remove my gloves pulling them over on themselves, and sanitize my hands and all the van door handles I've touched. Then I'm ready to drive. Keep it clean in the kitchen Of course, I follow Westchester Department of Health standards in the kitchen. We're required to wipe down all surfaces after each use, and to sanitize all dishes and utensils, with an approved solution. I use a chlorine-based solution, which is essentially just bleach in water: 1 tablespoon bleach (about a capful, if you're estimating) 1 gallon of water This is safe on stainless steel, plastic, or glass, which includes everything at the store, and I also use bleach and water on my formica countertop at home. Clorox's online guide states this is safe on granite countertops as well, but, as always, test a small area first to make sure you don't stain or damage your beautiful countertop. I would not recommend using this solution on wood, paint, and other porous surfaces throughout the house. I've also been using a fruit and vegetable wash at the kitchen these days. I don't think this is necessary, but it may make you feel better. Here's the recipe (I mix a large batch, and keep it in the refrigerator): 1 cup white vinegar 3 cups water 1 tablespoon lemon juice (I substitute 1 teaspoon citric acid, since the acidity is more consistent) Wash veggies/fruit with water, spray on wash (I use a squirt bottle instead), let sit for a couple minutes, then rinse thoroughly with water. NOTE: This is not concentrated enough to clean surfaces! This week's recipe Easy oat cakes In case you're out of bread (still or again!), here's another quick and easy recipe for starch. These can be eaten warm or cold, and they can be used to make a sandwich. 1 cup oats 1 cup flour (any) 1 Tb potato flour (omit if you don't have it, and not needed if you're using a flour with gluten like regular white or whole wheat flour) 1 tsp salt 1 Tb baking powder or 1 tsp baking soda Dried cranberries, raisins, and/or nuts (optional) 1 1/2 c milk (any) or water 1-2 eggs (can omit and use more liquid) Butter or oil for pan Mix dry, add wet and mix in thoroughly. Let stand a few minutes to let the oats absorb liquid. Warm butter or oil in pan on medium heat. Fry batter in batches, a few minutes to a side (wait to flip until you see bubbles at the edges). Add more oil or butter to the pan before each new batch. Alternatively, drop onto sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 375 for about 10 minutes or until starting to brown for an oil-free option. NEED HELP???? As some of you have already figured out, I'm always happy to share ideas and recipes. You can reach me by text, email, phone, responding to this email, clicking the button below -- so many ways. If you don't know what to make with what you have in house, or you've got some veggies about to go bad, and you don't know what to do with them, reach out! I can help.

  • Yes, indeed, black lives matter

    Since its inception, this newsletter has remained apolitical. I have an open business, welcoming and serving everyone. I focus on the food -- the ingredients and the careful preparation -- and I celebrate flavors from around the globe. I'm thrilled with the challenge of learning new culinary traditions, because every culture offers delicious tastes. This part is easy. But now it's become apparent that this is not enough (and never really was). Today, it is simply required that each of us takes a stand and declares who we are and what we believe in. So, I cannot believe that this needs to be stated (it's just so obvious, because all people are precious and a gift), but here it is: BLACK LIVES MATTER BLACK LIVES MATTER BLACK LIVES MATTER Really and truly, black lives matter. There. Let's all be really clear on where I stand on this. The world has been taking a stand, finally, and it's thrilling. In the age of coronavirus, it's also worrying, and we have to remind ourselves how much we depend on others to bear the burden of social activism to bring the change we need. The communities that have been the hardest hit are coming out in the greatest numbers, because the danger from lack of social change equals the danger of the virus (at least in appearance, although we may never know the specific numbers of who got sick where and why, and we never recognize the true losses to racial injustice). The inability to compare accurately perpetuates the status quo. Here are a few things to note. Thankfully, the numbers of positive tests continue to fall in New York, so perhaps the timing of demonstrations is not as bad as we think, at least in our area. And being outside and wearing a mask appear to be among the most important ways to minimize risk, so these outdoor demonstrations and the wearing of masks among demonstrators may, in fact, keep them safer. The protests also come during reopening nationwide, and it will be difficult to ascribe responsibility for new outbreaks to protest gatherings or to more public activity in general. Dr Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, contributing columnist forThe Washington Post, and former health commissioner of Baltimore, spoke with Brian Lehrer of WNYC on Friday. She had some wonderful ideas for how to stay safer while protesting: Always wear masks. Masks are not a replacement for social distancing; both are important. Masks worn by all can reduce risk of transmission by 50% to 90%. Use a modified group buddy system: stay with a small group of people, and keep that group distant from other groups. This way, you can be a part of the larger gathering, but really keep primarily within your social bubble. This may be impossible if police corral gatherings or during arrest. Use a noise maker, instead of chanting. Bring your own drinks and hand sanitizer, and use sanitize any time you touch something (like signs or bullhorns) that have been touched by others. Self-isolate and self-quarantine as much as possible after attending a protest. I found the most remarkable message she conveyed, however, was a poignant reminder that while mass gatherings during a pandemic are hazardous to public health, "Racism is also hazardous to public health. Police brutality is also hazardous to public health." We cannot allow racism and brutality to continue without protest in the name of public safety. Instead, we need to engage in harm reduction strategies -- an approach following the example of measures to fight HIV transmission that is being widely discussed. Read Dr Wen's Washington Post editorial for more. Finally, we can look for ways to state our case publicly, but from a distance. A group of activists is collecting videos of police misconduct in a Google spreadsheet. Many of us have been reading more these days, and now there's a push to expand our libraries and our minds. There are lists of recommended reading for kids of all ages, beginning with board books. And some individuals are coming out individually to make a statement, like a veteran who held his own hours-long protest in Utah. Even a local Facebook post, like one from Toby Clarke of Irvington to the private group 10533, can make a real difference. Last week, I promised to promote local businesses I'm looking forward to visiting again as restrictions loosen up. It just didn't seem appropriate. Instead, I maintained a media blackout for the week. Here's a list of some, and I'll be promoting them this week on Insta and Facebook: Rivertown Dance Academy Sebastian Barbershop Little B's JJ Beans Coffee Shames JCC Tarrytown Music Hall Jacob Burns Film Center There are countless more, but these are the ones I think of first. Maybe you have some, too! Send me your favorites, and I'll give them a shout out. And, finally, here's this week's recipe: I learned a few years ago that Martin Luther King Jr's favorite kind of pie is pecan pie. Since then, I've been making mini pecan pies every year for a loyal friend who teaches class on MLK Day, and likes to give his students a treat. These are very well received every year, and they couldn't be easier. They have a very rich flavor, because the sweetness comes from maple syrup, instead of corn syrup (I never use corn syrup, because it's just junk!). Maple-Pecan Pie 1 c pure maple syrup (best quality) 3/4 c brown sugar 3 eggs 3-4 Tb butter, melted 1 tsp vanilla (or more, to taste) Dash salt, or to taste 2 c pecan halves, at least Prepared, but uncooked, pie shell Mix syrup, sugar, eggs, vanilla, melted butter, and salt until fully combined. Fill pie shell nearly about 3/4 full with pecan halves. This should be at least 2 cups, but it could be more. Fill to your heart's content, particularly if you love pecans. Pour mixture over pecans. Bake at 350 until filling puffs and sets, and pecans begin to brown. Serve room temp with whipped cream. Whipped Cream 1 pt heavy whipping cream 1 tsp vanilla, or to taste 2 Tb powdered sugar, or to taste Whip on high speed until soft or stiff peaks form (depending on use). Do not overbeat (stop at dry peaks at the very latest!). Use generously on everything.

  • Keep it up!

    We're all feelin' it... In my household, we started strict self-isolation March 14. My last event was March 6, and events started getting cancelled then, so my events for the following weekend and beyond were gone. The kids are home, and my husband worked from home even before the outbreak, so we're all in his space now. It's been 2 weeks, and I tell you we all feel like it's been months. But social distancing remains the key to curbing this outbreak, so please be encouraged, and KEEP IT UP! We can do this. Here are some things I've been thinking about this week. Is it coronavirus, or just anxiety? This virus is very serious, and I do not want to trivialize it in any way! But I'm also very aware that every sniffle I have makes me anxious. The truth is that I've had seasonal allergies for years, and I've been working in the garden now that I have some extra time. My symptoms are runny nose, itchy eyes, and clogged ears -- the exact same symptoms I get every spring. I have no aches and pains, no fever, no cough, no diarrhea/vomiting, no headache, no chills, nothing that could ever be construed as flu-like symptoms. Maybe you're having the same sense of anxiety about how you're feeling. So, learn the symptoms, and be vigilant. Monitor how you feel, and look for any changes or worsening. If you have symptoms, contact a healthcare provider. Here are sources of reliable information: CDC COVID-19 page (translation options at top left of page), includes a self-checker Mayo Clinic New Network (some articles provided in Spanish translation) Cleveland Clinic COVID-19 page, including an online screening tool (works like a chat) WHO COVID-19 page NPR COVID-19 live updates Plus, the Washington Post and the New York Times are providing information on COVID-19 free, as a public service (other content remains subject to a paywall).  Symptoms: Fever Cough Shortness of breath Diarrhea A less common, newly identified symptom may be loss of smell and taste (read the NPR article). Meanwhile, practice strict social distancing, including avoiding narrow trails packed with people getting fresh air in the spring weather and unnecessary errands. Do you really need to go to the post office? Do you really need new annuals from Home Depot? I know it's hard to come up with projects to do at home with what you have on hand. We're trying to fence the garden, and we've realized we don't have enough chicken wire for the project. The seedlings are sprouting under the plant lights in the basement, and we have just a little time to problem solve! I'll let you know what we figure out. What to cook? Like everyone else, I've been perusing news feeds, looking for something interesting to do or think about. I saw a post of 25 recipes to make with what you have on hand in your pantry. I didn't have a single necessary ingredient for these recipes (nachos with fresh veggies? really? didn't you all eat the chips first? we did!). So, here are some "recipes" I'm really hoping may help you out for ideas. I'm trying to be flexible with ingredients, and give options you may have on hand. And I'll be giving more recipes every newsletter. Easy, double-quick rolls I haven't been to a store in a while, but the last time I went, bread was really hard to find. Luckily, I enjoy making bread, but you may not feel the same. Here's a super easy recipe that honestly takes very little time and attention. If you've run out of bread, give it a try. 1 package (or about 1 Tb) active dry yeast 1 cup warm water 1 Tb potato flour (omit, if you don't have it, or consider using a mashed, boiled potato or yam) 2 Tb sugar (or honey, agave, or any other sweetener you like) 1 tsp salt 1 egg (optional -- I usually omit, unless I'm doing a GF version) 2 Tb oil or melted butter 1 Tb potato flour (omit, if you don't have it, or consider using a very well mashed boiled potato or yam) 2 1/4 c flour (any kind) Proof yeast in warm water plus sugar, salt, egg (if using), and oil/butter for 10 minutes in a bowl to get a good bloom (or less if you're lazy, really this should be a low-stress recipe!). Add flours and mix throughly. Cover and rise until doubled, about 20-30 minutes. Oil 12 muffin cups. Spoon dough into cups and let rise again for about 20 minutes. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Simple chickpea salad I've been eating this a lot, because it's very fast to make and quite satisfying. It's also a versatile base for combination with other things to make a meal. 1 can chickpeas, drained and well rinsed juice of 1 lemon 1/4 cup sliced almonds 1/4 cup dried cranberries Salt and pepper to taste Combine all, and serve alone or over sliced romaine or mixed with any fresh raw veggies you have (delicious with avocado, if you have it). Can mix in some drained, canned tuna or shredded cooked chicken for more protein or cooked grain or potatoes for starch. Add dried or fresh herbs or spices, as you have them. If you add veggies, proteins, or starch, double the lemon. Dark chocolate truffles This is by far my most popular truffle, and now that you'll see how easy it is to make, I doubt you'll want to buy them -- you'll just make them yourselves! It's a stretch that you'll have these ingredients, but I hope some of you do. This is also easy for kids to make. If you have gloves, they help reduce the mess. 8 oz (weigh this, if possible) best quality dark chocolate 1 cup cream or coconut milk/cream (use full-fat if you have it) Finest quality cocoa (use brute if you have it) Roughly chop chocolate in a bowl. Heat cream to just simmering, and pour over chocolate. Let stand 10 minutes (I mean it! Do not skip this -- the cream has to melt the chocolate -- just try to think about something else). Whisk to combine fully. Chill fully in refrigerator (at least 2 hours, but this will take less time if you pour the mixture into a flatter container so it can spread out). Spoon out about a 1/2 tablespoon at a time (whatever size suits you, really), and form a ball rapidly in your palms. Roll the ball in the cocoa. Reserve in the refrigerator to extend the self-life. Or eat them all at once in one sitting. I won't judge. Possible substitution:I've never tried this with milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, or reconstituted powdered milk. My guess is that the texture will be difficult to get right without the added fat. But it may be possible to mix in butter and/or add less liquid overall. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes! Sometimes a return to childhood past-times is just the comfort we need. How about a few adult coloring pages? Download, print, color (maybe right beside your kids).

  • Chocolate-oatmeal health bars

    If you've read the older posts, you know that I was recently asked by a customer to make some lactation cookies. I felt they were a little heavy on the cookie, and a little light on the nutritional boost needed to support a healthy mama. Well, they sold very well at the store, but I kind of had to gauge the audience a bit before giving them a name. I was calling them a "more healthy oatmeal chocolate chip cookie" or a "nutritional cookie" for most folks. Mothers with younger children heard "lactation cookie," but I avoided that for the most part. It's a bit of a marketing nightmare to sell lactation cookies to middle-aged men. Yet, many of my customers are health-conscious men. And they ask questions about recipes, and what's in things, and such. For some reason, the "nutritional cookie" label wasn't cutting it. Fessing up to the fact that they were lactation cookies lead to one gentleman actually asking with a little concern if they make you lactate. No, they do not. Don't worry. They're just to support nutrition! Well, I've moved away from the original recipe and opened things up a bit. I now offer Chocolate-Oatmeal Health Bars, a gluten-free, vegan breakfast bar that's appropriate for everyone! I replaced the white flour with GF oat flour and the oats with GF oats, the butter with oil, the white and brown sugar with organic molasses and maple syrup (and cut the total sugar content by half), and the chocolate chips with vegan dark chocolate chunks. I removed the eggs, since there was already flax seed meal dissolved in water (and that makes them appropriate for vegans). I doubled the flax seed meal and brewer's yeast nutritional boost. I can safely say that these really are very nutritional, with much less sugar. And they have been universally loved! They look like brownies, too, which always helps. These are great for breakfast on the go (or in the store), healthy snacking, or lunchbox treats. I think they'd work well with nuts, dried fruit, seeds, or any number of variations as well.

  • Lactation cookies 3 ways

    One of the aspects I love about being a caterer is simply catering to people's needs. I really enjoy making something special for someone, especially if they're having a hard time finding what they need anywhere else. Often, this leads to creative experimentation -- another favorite activity. This happened this week at the bakery. Yesterday, a local mom came in wondering if I could make her a batch of lactation cookies. She's had packaged ones, and didn't love them. She's tried mixes, too. I had never heard of them! We spoke, and I quickly got the idea: nutritional cookies to help boost lactation. I'm a mother of 3, and I happily nursed all 3 for as long as they'd let me. It wasn't always easy, but it was so rewarding. So, I definitely sympathize with moms' need for a little nutritional support while nursing. This mom asked me to find a recipe I liked and give it a try. After a little searching, I saw a pattern. Most recipes for lactation cookies are a variation of oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, with brewer's yeast and flax seed meal added. There are various versions to meet other dietary restrictions -- something I always consider here at the bakery. I found, however, that at it's heart, these were really cookies, meaning lots of sugar and butter. Now, I love sugar and butter as much as the next baker (probably more so, if we're being honest), but if this mom is going to chow down on these in any great quantity to increase milk supply, she may not want all those empty calories. Plus, the amount of brewer's yeast and flax seed meal was pretty small -- little more than a serving in the entire batch by these recipes I was seeing. And the batches were large. So, I decided to play around a bit to boost the nutrition and minimize the fat and sugar. In the end, I came up with 3 cookies, and made them each with slight variations to see what we like best. I used the same 4-tablespoon serving each of brewer's yeast and flax seed meal in all 3 versions. First, I made a vegan, gluten-free savory chickpea cookie, flavored with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt-free seasoning. I used oat flour for the dough with no rising agent. I did add a little agave and some salt in the end. Some I rolled in salted sesame seeds and flattened very thin, and others I made a bit thicker with no seeds. The thin ones are nearly like crackers, and very tasty. The thicker ones are more like biscuits, but also very tasty! These could be adapted with a variety of flavors, and they make a great savory cookie for vegans, as well as everyone else! The second recipe was a variation of cheddar shortbread, made with a mixture of whole wheat and white flour. I added egg and reduced the butter by half. A more traditional recipe would have tasted very good as well, but I was going for lower fat. I flavored these with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Again, I rolled some very thin like crackers and others I left a bit thicker. Both results were good. These could easily work with all whole wheat flour for more nutrition or with gluten-free flours. Omitting egg and cheese and substituting olive oil would give a nice vegan cracker. In this case, I'd add more of the brewer's yeast to get more flavor. Finally, I made the oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, because nursing mom's need more than just nutritional support. They also need a little pampering and a special treat. I boosted the yeast and flax seed meal a bit and added some blackstrap molasses for more minerals. I decreased the sugar just a hair, but added a little more vanilla and some extra chips, because, really! They're delicious. And in the end, a bit healthier than traditional cookies with a little less butter. I made them into bars (which are a little chewier) and cookies. Mom came by to get her cookies today, and tried the cheddar shortbread, which she liked very much. I hope she enjoys the rest of them, too!

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