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We have been home now for almost 8 weeks.  A lifetime in some ways, and in others just a moment.  I hit the ground running, jumping right into all the exciting food and food systems work happening in Minnesota. I found that the activism around food, justice and sustainability is even bigger and wider than when I left.  It continues to give me great appreciation for what a progressive, aware, and rich community we live in. I feel lucky to be a part of this incredible movement, especially when I know that in many parts of the world such luxuries are distant dreams, if anyone thinks about them at all.

I have been struggling a bit to ‘re purpose’ my blog now that I am no longer in South America.  While I love reading food blogs, and looking at beautiful pictures of fresh, colorful, and artfully prepared food, ultimately  it is not the direction I choose.  I LOVE to cook, and I LOVE to eat, and I LOVE to share these with others; to teach people how to access, cook and eat wholesome, seasonal, beautiful and delicious food for themselves and their families,  about building an equitable and accessible food system, where people can utilize basic cooking skills to contribute to a healthier life for themselves and for the planet.  I am lucky enough to be able to do this work every day.  I want to continue to explore these issues and questions within this progressive food community, knowing that while there is plenty of great talent around, there is still lots of important work to be done to build a system that represents every part of our community-every tradition, every flavor, every taste and every ingredient toward good, clean and fair food…

At the very same time, I am thoroughly enjoying this beautiful, and bountiful fall in Minnesota!  The gigantic greens, juicy tomatoes, vibrant squash and extraordinary cheeses are keeping me busy in the kitchen.  I will continue to design delicious meals, and offer stories and recipes, but I also hope to bring insight, exposure and hopefully connections to our growing, and diverse food community.  We have much to learn from one another, I am ready to stir the pot.

Speaking of cooking….Tuesday was a scorcher.  90 plus degrees thickly hanging in the September air.  It was most definitely a cold food evening, and I happily combined every Minnesota ingredient I had into 3 flavorful, colorful and COLD bowls of yumminess.  Every vegetable in every dish was a local ingredient.  I LOVE this time of year when it is possible to do this.  I made a simple salsa (OK, it had avocado), a potato and broccoli salad with fresh dill, and finally, a Russian kale, cabbage, carrot, sungold cherry tomato and feta salad with just a hint of toasted sesame oil and maple syrup.  That one really knocked my socks off.

SUMMER KALE SALAD

1/2 bunch russian kale leaved, chopped

1 cup red cabbage, chopped

2 medium carrots, sliced thinly

1 cup sungold cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 red onion, sliced thinly

4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup  olive oil

2 T. toasted sesame oil

2 T. brown rice vinegar

2 T. maple syrup

1 T mustard

1 tsp salt

Combine dressing ingredients separately, and pour over salad

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Globally Aware part 4

Hello friends,

It has been a while since I posted….settling in and trying to get a sense of what to talk about.  I did however, write an article that is finally up on the simple good and tasty blog.  It is about some powerful nutrition and health related experiences I had while traveling in Peru.  Please take a look, and pass along!

http://simplegoodandtasty.com/2012/08/30/globally-aware-learning-about-food-issues-from-another-hemisphere-part-4-1

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Tasting the Andes

We just returned from our year of life and adventure in South America.  For the last 6 weeks we were traveling around La Paz, Bolivia, and throughout the Sacred Valley in Cuzco, Peru.  There is so much to say about food, and culture in this part of the world, it will take many posts, recipes and stories to cover it all. Here is my first attempt….

It would be impossible to talk about Bolivia and Peru, without talking about potatoes and corn.  I LOVE these two starchy vegetables and generally eat them with glee.  However, there is a blessing and and a curse to these varied and colorful carbohydrates. They offer sustenance, texture, color and a blank canvas upon which to build delicious and filling meals.  On the other hand, they lack the nutritional complexity and variety to sustain healthy bodies, teeth and land for the larger community, yet they provide the bulk of calories for many people in these two countries.

The impressive size of the Andes is clear upon arriving to a city like La Paz, whose million plus people sit nestled in the base of a bowl below a circle of 4, 5 and 6 thousand meter peaks.  What is also clear is that many of the inhabitants of La Paz, and the surrounding countryside make their living selling any number of things in the streets.  Each morning this city begins to awaken with the hustle of people pushing, pulling or hauling on their backs bags often two or three times their size, full of food products.  These products range from potatoes and corn, to other vegetables, citrus fruits, peanuts and peanut products, or a ubiquitous snack made of sweetened, puffed wheat, corn or pasta.  By 9 AM, the streets are loaded with vendors spilling out over the sidewalk and onto the streets making it almost impossible to walk without stepping in front of a mini van full of passengers. The visual experience of this chaos is stunning.  Most of the food vendors are indigenous women, (about 50% of the population of  both Bolivia and Peru are indigenous) sporting the colorful and elaborate costumes, braids and bowler hats of their tradition, and the colorful cloth tied across their backs, frequently holding a baby. They also often wear a very serious expression betraying the challenge and hard work of their daily lives.  The juxtaposition is at once fascinating, and sad, offering a sort of time warp between old and new, modern and traditional.

As for the diet, for better or worse, the potatoes and corn have maintained their place at the center of the Andean plate.  This has provided for the development of classic regional cuisine, representing some of the most commonly available foods together in dishes such as papas a la huancaina, Peruvian potatoes with a bright yellow sauce made of aji, the traditional vibrant orange Peruvian pepper, and fresh local cheese.  The saltine crackers are a surprising, but crucial ingredient as they add a subtle salty and starchy finish that brings a different character to the sauce.

PAPAS A LA HUANCAINA (adapted from a recipe from http://www.acozykitchen.com)

12 oz. queso fresco (check your local Mexican market, or coop, and if you can’t find it, substitute a soft mild cheese, or even feta)

2 aji amarillo peppers- (1 habanero or banana pepper if you cannot find aji), cut and deseeded

5 oz. evaporated milk or milk of your choice

1 T. turmeric (mainly for color)

1/3 cup vegetable or olive oil

4 saltine crackers (for gluten free use rice crackers)

1 tsp salt

Cut the cheese into cubes, blend in blender or food processor with the peppers and milk.  Then add turmeric if desired.  Add vegetable oil slowly. Add the crackers and salt last, and blend until well combined.  If sauce is slightly thick, add a spoonful more of the oil, and if it is thin add an extra cracker.  You can also adjust the heat by using half spicy pepper and half sweet pepper.

The sauce is traditionally served over boiled quartered potatoes and hard boiled eggs on a bed of lettuce and garnished with black olives.  It also makes an interesting dip for vegetables, and I had a lovely variation with Yucca in place of potatoes.

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Lunchtime Meltdown

No, I´m not talking about my kids….I´m the one who lost it the other day, and yes, it was about lunch!

We have been traveling in Bolivia and Peru for just over a month.  We have seen incredible sights, met interesting and lovely people, slept in many different places, and eaten out every day, sometimes 3 times.  Heavenly right?  Hasn´t everyone dreamed of this luxury?  No need to shop, cook or wash dishes.  Simply sit down, make a choice, and viola, the meal appears.

Here´s the thing.  I LOVE to cook.  Every day, I think about my next meal….what I crave, what I need, and what is available.  I often go to sleep planning tomorrow´s scones, or creating my shopping list for the week of meals.  I relish the opportunity to use a local cheese, a seasonal vegetable, a favorite whole grain, or tasty nut in a compelling new flavor combination, or even in an old stand by.  I barely finish one meal before I am thinking about the next.  I know my body, my rythm; these thoughts, these feelings are my constant companion.

And the truth is, I like my routine.  I miss my routine.

It doesn´t help that here, in this part of the world, and at this time of year, people eat copious amounts of potatoes, corn and white rice.  While I love the more colorful varieties, they are starting to make me feel sluggish.

Yesterday, I just wanted simple, green food.  Salad, broccoli, brown rice kind of food,  I wanted it NOW, and I didn´t want to worry about what anyone else was eating but me.  Simple, maybe, but within minutes I was in tears! (and not long after, so were my kids).  In any case, I had to let go and feel the sadness.  The joy and nourishment that comes when you have a relationship with your food is life sustaining.  While I am incredibly lucky to have the means to travel, and feed myself and my family, there is really nothing like getting messy making simple food, fresh from the source, and then sitting down to eat it.

I got some vegetables, and they were green, and tasty, but my heart is still waiting to get back into the kitchen.

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Blessings on our Meal

We are traveling through the Sacred Valley in Peru.  It is home to numerous Inka ruins, and an extraordinary history of culture and farming.  There is an abundance of incredible agriculture here, stunning terraces with varied crops.  We are tasting many flavorful traditional dishes representing everything from quinoa and amaranth to potatoes, yucca, peanuts, fresh cheeses and vegetables.  Ironically, there is also still a presence of excessive amounts of white bread and rice, and plenty of sugar-seems there is always this contradiction.  I will describe many flavorful experiences and post pictures soon, but for now I want to share a simple blessing that we learned, which for me says so much more than any recipe could, and really represents the meaning behind sharing a meal:

HOLDING HANDS AROUND THE TABLE, IN SONG

ESTAMOS AQUI (We are here)

JUNTOS DE LOS MANOS (Together holding hands)

CANTANDO LA CANCION (Singing the song)

LA CANCION DE CORAZON (The song of the heart)

ESTO ES FAMILIA (This is Family)

ESTO ES UNIDAD (This is Unity)

ESTO ES CELEBRACION (This is Celebration)

ESTO ES SAGRADO (This is Sacred)

And another we learned from our pre school:

EARTH WHO GAVE US ALL THIS FOOD

SUN WHO MADE IT RIPE AND GOOD

DEAREST EARTH AND DEAREST SUN

WE´LL NOT FORGET WHAT YOU HAVE DONE

BLESSINGS ON OUR MEAL

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There are many interpretations of the meaning of ‘slow food’.  Some think it is simply cooking slowly, which really describes the concept well-you really can’t prepare whole grains quickly, or rush the making of cheese, the rolling of fresh dough or the filling and baking of empanadas.  Each of these things takes as long as it takes.  Slow food however,  is more than just a measurement of time; it is a way of relating to one’s food and food system.  It may represent growing and eating one’s own food, or using the food nearby in your cooking.  It definitely involves supporting producers in your community or region, planning and eating meals according to your local calendar, nurturing the earth in return for being allowed access to what she provides. It is also taking part in making wholesome, real food available to all people regardless of who they are, where they live, or what they have.  Ultimately, it is quite simple.

Good.  Clean.  Fair.   For everyone.

We were traveling for the last 10 days in the Salta and Jujuy region of Argentina, just below the Bolivian border, where the Andes are high and vary between cactus covered plateaus, dense and thick green cloudforest, and richly colored, marbled rock.  Here they call mother earth “Pachamama” and seem to maintain a reverence for her that is visible in their lives and their wares.  Nestled within these massive and dramatic landscapes are small communities-people living  off the abundance of the region.  Spinning and knitting sheep and llama wool, and preparing their meats for meals, drying red peppers to be ground into paprika, preparing salads and stews from the local quinoa, amaranth, goat cheese, eggs, oranges, peaches, figs, walnuts, spinach, carrots and squash.

In the town of Tilcara, we were lucky enough to be introduced to a small restaurant “El Patio” offering ‘comida tipica’, which included all of the above prepared in simple, creative and delicious ways.  I knew we had found kindred spirits immediately upon arriving to the sign in the front of the house:

What was exciting about the cafe (besides the obvious)  was the creativity and uniqueness of the offerings.  While we have had many tasty regional versions of empanadas,  Mercedes, the owner and head chef offered the most unusual and delicious version I’ve ever had.  Quinoa and goat cheese empanadas!!  I had never heard of, nor thought of such a simple and delicate thing.  Fresh and warm out of the over, they were moist, with just soft quinoa, slightly melted and not too goaty cheese, flecks of red pepper, garlic, onion and fresh herbs.  I would have been satisfied to fill my belly with these (and the lovely roasted potatoes next to them), had it not been for the other enticing menu items.

In all of Argentina, it has been a challenge to find food without meat.  While I am happy to enjoy the occasional Asado (grill with several meats) and particularly the local specialties, I have been somewhat disappointed with the limited use of the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables here.  This made the specials on the menu that much more appealing.  It was clear that Mercedes had enjoyed creating these dishes as much as any others on the menu.  It was a difficult choice, but we went with two ‘budins’ or timbales (a molded dish, often made with eggs or other sticky ingredients).  The first was a budin of Amaranth surrounded by fresh stir fried vegetables including spinach, carrots and red peppers.  The second was a budin of broccoli with grilled vegetables and complemented by a fresh peach chutney.  Each was presented beautifully, was colorful and a perfect balance of flavors, textures and colors.  I love the use of fruits together with vegetables, and the Amaranth was a tender, savory and sweet mixture that was full of flavor.

And, of course we had to try the Llama meat. Again, while I personally am not a big meat eater of any kind, it makes complete sense that this is the local meat.  It is very lean meat. You don’t see any fat Llamas around-while they are not wild, they are free roaming, and are simply not raised like feedlot animals. They are quite mild, with a great texture for sauces.   We tried two, one was baked with a dark and rich  orange gravy, and the other grilled with green onion and local potatoes. Both were satisfying and rich, without being heavy and again presented with creativity and care.

Besides enjoying a delicious, regional and seasonal meal served lovingly and thoughtfully, the space seemed to represent the community, and the history of good local food, and the kitchen, filled with jars of grains, herbs, spices and other delights, spoke to me as a chef.  I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Mercedes, the owner, and found, not surprisingly that she was a kindred spirit.  We shared our love of working with food from our community, and crafting menus that honor and highlight that food.  She is committed and passionate about slow food, and actively building a network in her small corner of the world.  I continue to find inspiration in places like Tilcara and it refuels my own passions and commitment to building a world that is Good, Clean and Fair.

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Power Breakfast

I used to think that breakfast was all about cereal and toast.  Something simple, maybe including fruit or orange juice  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love this type of breakfast and enjoy it many times a week. Home made whole grain breads, nut butters and granola, fresh seasonal jams and honey, a good creamy yogurt-each offers a delightful, energy-giving and satisfying start to the day.  However, when I have a little more time, or a lot more appetite, I enjoy something else entirely.  This breakfast will last the whole day, and is a colorful, flavorful, protein filled feast. It is also a unique and tasty way to get your whole grains.  Once you have the basic formula, you can adapt this recipe to whatever is available seasonally, and/or whatever you have in your refrigerator.

POWER BREAKFAST  Serves 4

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small sweet potato, squash, beet or other tuber, peeled and diced small to make 1 cup

1/2 bunch broccoli, stems included, peeled and chopped roughly

4 large leaves (or enough to make 2 cups) chard, kale or spinach or other greens, cleaned and chopped

1 1/2 cups cooked grains (any combination will work-I particularly enjoy quinoa or brown rice alone or combined with wild rice)

4 large eggs

1/2 cup of your favorite cheese (fontina, gouda and swiss are delicious, feta and goat cheese make great variations), diced into small pieces

1 tsp salt

1 tsp thyme, dill or other favorite herbs

water for steaming

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and about 2 Tbsp of water in a large skillet-cast iron is my favorite for this.  When hot, add sweet potato or squash, and cover to steam.  After about 2-3 minutes, check them.  They should be soft, but not mushy.  Add another Tbsp oil, and stir in onion and garlic, and saute 2 minutes.  Add broccoli and another Tbsp of water again to steam and mix well with other vegetables.  When broccoli is just bright green-about 2 minutes, add grains, and greens and combine well.  Add another Tbsp of oil, and crack eggs over the top of the vegetables.  Add salt, herbs and greens, and combine everything with a spatula, making sure to mix together well.  Sprinkle cheese on top, and cover for 1-2 minutes.  The cheese should begin to melt slightly while the eggs cook.  Flip egg mixture over in segments to cook the other side.  Cook for another minute or so, but try not to over cook.  The texture should be firm, and all the vegetables should be tender, but moist. Allow to cool for a few minutes and enjoy.

Tip #1 :  I generally prepare a large batch of whole grains early in the week, and keep in the refrigerator for various uses.  This makes cooking time from anything from stir fries and salads, to this breakfast considerably faster and also helps with meal planning.

Tip #2:  This recipe can be adapted and varied for any season.  In spring, use early spring onions and greens, asparagus, and fresh goat cheese or feta.  In summer, go crazy with different seasonal vegetables including carrots, peppers, cauliflower and a rich gouda, in fall enjoy the variety of tubers including squash, parsnips, and beets, and in winter warm up with potatoes, swiss cheese and late season brussels sprouts, collards or kale.

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Shopping

As our year is coming to a close here, I have been thinking about what I have gleaned from our lifestyle here.  While some things food-related have been challenging (lack of availability of certain foods, and general lack of awareness/culture around whole and healthy foods), other things have been refreshing and fun.  Here are some reflections

In many ways, the food situation here represents both ends of the spectrum, and very little in the middle. I wrote extensively about this in my series of articles entitled “Globally Aware” at www.simplegoodandtasty.com  In the grocery store, I can buy much of what I need, from brown rice, whole wheat bread and lentils, to oil, butter, yogurt and even produce, but the quality and freshness of those items is questionable at best, and the amount of packaging is disturbing.   Meanwhile, I can walk 5 blocks to the Mercado Central and find many bulk items, from spices, to grains like quinoa and millet, to bulk cheeses and cured meats and fish and chicken and to top it off, I have interactions with the folks who sell these items.  These interactions often include advice on the flavor and texture of a certain type of fish (ever heard of “white salmon”?), which type of paprika is available, or what cheese will be best before dinner tonight.

While in Minneapolis, I can find the best quality foods, and the biggest variety of foods in one location (my local food coop) the one thing that I love about shopping here it the interaction with proprietors.  These shops are small, the people who own them are the ones handing you your bag, or explaining where something comes from.  This is their livelihood, and the day-to-day interactions are their venue.  I love this.  Shopping is a very personal and often a very solitary activity.  I can spend half an hour in the grocery store, and not exchange a word with anyone.  There are times when this is exactly what I want-a break from everything and a time to stare at the bulk nuts and contemplate the week’s menu (or sometimes, something entirely unrelated to food!).  Other times however, the interaction, the activity and the contact is a part of the shopping experience, and also adds to the joy of preparing the food.  It becomes a window into the path of the food, much like the feeling of coming home after shopping at the farmer’s market in Minneapolis.  I have met someone who produced or procured the food, and who takes pride in bringing it to the public.  The business of feeding people is no small task, and doing so with enthusiasm, and creativity is another thing altogether.

The truth is, I am still unsure of the path of some of this food, and it is still difficult to get any information about chemicals and growing methods.  That said, I am certain that I am buying this food from someone who has taken the time to choose the best of what they can find, and to present it in a way that celebrates the joy of cooking and eating.

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(OK, a little shoe shopping while we’re at it never hurts…….)

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Hello friends,

I have written a series of articles entitled “Globally Aware” for the local Minnesota food blog “Simple, Good and Tasty”.

The third in the series is now up and ready for comments.  Please read, forward along and comment if you wish!

http://simplegoodandtasty.com/2012/05/03/globally-aware-learning-about-food-issues-from-another-hemisphere-part-3-with-recipes

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Our apartment has a flat screen television with about 200 cable channels.  We rarely even turn it on, but every once in a while I like to peruse the many Argentinian cooking shows.  I love to watch professionals cook.  Even if they are not preparing anything I think I might want to make, I find that it often inspires me to get into the kitchen and start creating.  It is a great example of why attending cooking classes is such a great idea.  And, sometimes you find something new, or a new version of something old that is worth trying.  Such was the case the other night when I caught the tail end of a demonstration of an intriguing version of what I call chicken pot pie.

I remember the Swanson’s chicken pot pies of the 70’s.  I LOVED them.  Not only were they warm and comforting, with a flaky crust, creamy sauce and just the right mixture of potatoes, peas, carrots and chicken, I also felt like I was actually cooking something!  It was a start….

This recipe is sort of a grown up version of the pot pies of yore. It is a great use for leftover chicken, and almost any vegetables you happen to have on hand.  I used mostly green cabbage, which in this recipe worked great. The Asian curry seasonings and coconut milk give it a really unique flavor and the nuts are a surprising and flavorful addition.  The version I saw on television uses phyllo dough, which is a great idea.  I happened to have a puff pastry dough that is commonly used here for tarts, and it worked great.  You can also use your favorite pie crust recipe.  Whatever you use, have fun, get creative and enjoy this grown up comfort food!

CHICKEN POT PIE

Oil or butter a 9 inch pie pan and place half your dough over the pan. Dough should be big enough to drape over the sides of the pan.  If using phyllo, use about 5 sheets and butter or oil each sheet before adding the next.  Reserve the rest of the dough for the top.

3-4  cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded

1 T toasted sesame oil

1 T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 inch ginger, peeled and minced

3 cups chopped vegetables of your choice (if using potatoes or other tubers, par boil first)

1 T ground cumin

1 T ground turmeric

1 tsp ground chilis or red pepper

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup orange juice

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup toasted nuts, roughly chopped

Heat olive and sesame oil and saute onions for 3 minutes until tender and translucent.  Add garlic, ginger, vegetables, spices and make sure vegetables are well coated.  Add orange juice and simmer for 2-3 minutes before adding coconut milk.  Mix in chicken and nuts and cook until heated through, about 2-3 more minutes.

When mixture is ready, place in prepared pie pan and top with remaining dough.  Again, if using phyllo, butter or oil each layer.  Seal as desired-a ‘rustic’ look is perfectly acceptable with this pie.  place slits in the top and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until crust is nicely browned.  Enjoy

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