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We have had a whirlwind of travel, life and food lately.  I continue to be thrilled about the organic farmer’s market where I can buy incredibly fresh and local dried fruits, nuts, vinegars, grains, fruits and vegetables.  We took a little trip to San Rafael south of Mendoza where there is a stunning river canyon, and lots of fresh cool air, where we happened upon a lovely little cafe serving locally cured meats, cheeses and home made salads with regional ingredients and creative twists like poppy and flax seeds, and we tried to keep cool at home with yogurt and fresh fruit.  We are beginning to find our rhythm here with food, as we get to know who to talk to, where to go and what to pick.  Now, as the heat shoots up into staggering highs, we are heading South to travel by bicycle in the cooler climates of Northern Patagonia, where lakes and forests meet the mountains of Argentina and Chile.

We will be traveling unplugged for two months!  I am looking forward to the solitude, the beauty, the time with family and of course, the food.  I will post when able, probably infrequently but hopefully with reports of interesting and creative new experiences in our continued family and  food journey.

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The contrasts of living in the Southern Hemisphere are highlighted right now as we approach the heart of the holiday season.  It is pretty tough to try to get into the mood of roasting chestnuts and lighting candles when the air conditioner is running on high and our skin is peeling from the sunburn (I know, it’s rough).  Additionally, while I am used to planning lovely warming meals like squash soup and roasted potatoes, instead I am scarfing down unbelievably sweet melons and nectarines and craving things like fresh salsa, and cold Torrontés.  By all accounts back home, this isn’t exactly a typical December and most of our winter loving friends are lamenting the lack of snow.  However, I am still trying to create an ambiance of traditional family celebration and nothing says that better than latkes and sufganiyot.

Latkes, or potato pancakes are the most traditional Chanukah food there is.  Potatoes are grated and combined with onion, flour and egg and then fried to create the ultimate crispy, crunchy, starchy delight.  To make it even better it is traditionally served with sour cream and applesauce.  My kids are pretty content to call that dinner.  I am not far behind, but I usually add a salad for my daily serving of  greens.  Jews have an incredible knack for developing yummy, and relatively unhealthy food traditions in the name of commemorating some important event.  In this case, it is traditional to eat fried foods on Chanukah as a way of celebrating one day’s worth of  oil that unexpectedly kept the reclaimed temple’s lamp burning for 8 days. Besides latkes, another favorite fried treat is sufganiyot-jelly donuts! Initially,  I was lukewarm to this tradition but since discovering the joy of making them from scratch, I have come to enjoy them immensely.

As I prepared the dough this year, I contemplated the numerous fruit options around me that could serve as filling.  While I do enjoy fruit desserts, suffice it to say that every year I wonder how sufganiyot would taste filled with warm dark chocolate.  Then, it  occurred to me that we are living in the land of dulce de leche. The creamy milk caramel that is enjoyed in everything from cookies to ice cream and is as easy to find in Argentina as cheese in Minnesota.  Everyone was thrilled with my idea, and it did not disappoint!  Rolling, cutting and filling the dough is also a fun project for kids. These may have been the best sufganiyot ever

Sufganiyot:

1 cup lukewarm water

1 T. yeast

1 T salt

½ cup honey
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 cups cups whole wheat  flour or a combination of whole wheat and unbleached
Egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)
Combine water and yeast.  When bubbly add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Knead dough for about 5 minutes, wlow to rise for 30 minutes,  then place in refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour.
Roll out and cut into circles about 2 inches across.  This is enough dough for approximately 40 circles, or 20 donuts.
Place a spoonful of filling in the middle of one circle, then top with the other and pinch the edges to seal. Brush with egg wash.
Place donuts in 1-2 inches of hot vegetable oil.  Brown for about 2 minutes, then flip over and brown the other side for another minute.
Place on paper towels to drain, sprinkle with powdered sugar or get creative with chocolate, sprinkles or other toppings.
Enjoy

Globally Aware

Please read and share this article I wrote for a local blog about food and sustainability-it is the first in a series of 3:

http://simplegoodandtasty.com/2011/12/11/globally-aware-learning-about-food-issues-from-another-hemisphere

Summer sweet

Those of you who have been following along with me this year know that the seasons in Argentina are reversed-we are entering the intense heat of summer now, where the mid day sun is painfully hot and nights are not much cooler.  I am craving cold food and water to submerge in, and the fruit, oh the fruit!  It is high desert here, so unlike Minnesota where strawberries and blueberries are the ultimate taste of summer, in Mendoza it is stonefruit.  I returned from the organic farmer’s market this weekend with a bounty of apricots, cherries, and 2 kinds of plums, and from a friend’s house yesterday with nectarines from her tree.  Needless to say, despite the sun beaming into my kitchen, I couldn’t help but bake like crazy.  There was the obligatory cherry, apricot, plum crisp (yeah, amazing!), the nectarine scones (delish) and last, but not least, PIE.  I had to do it.  With all those juicy nectarines, and a few peaches too, I created a classic taste of summer.

Roughly chopped, ready to heat

with a little 'blonde' sugar and honey

freshly baked and ready for filling

Deliciousness

baked and browned

Ready for some summer sweet!

BASIC PIE CRUST

1 cup unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

4 T. butter, softened

1/4-1/2 cup ice water

Combine flour and butter in bowl until mixed well like coarse cornmeal.  Add water slowly and mix until dough pulls together and is soft but firm.  Knead into a ball.  Roll out on floured surface.  Place in pie pan and prick with fork.  Bake for 5 minutes before filling. Makes 2 pie crusts

FILLING

10 cups cut fruit

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp flour

Heat saucepan and combine fruit with sugars, cinnamon and flour.  Mix and heat through, just until some liquid forms-about 8 minutes.  If using berries, drain very well before heating.  Pour into prepared pie shell.  Cover with crust if using.  Bake 25 minutes in 375 degree oven.

Running

Crossing the finish line with Frances

I have been a little busy lately, which is why I haven’t posted in a few weeks.  For the last 10 weeks or so, I have been seriously training.  On Sunday, in Viña Del Mar, Chile, I completed my first marathon!  The experience, both the training and the marathon itself were many things-mostly good, and some difficult. I know this blog is about food and cooking, but one of the things that I have learned is that in life and in our bodies, all things are connected.  One cannot prepare the body for an intense physical undertaking such as this, without also considering what she eats, how she sleeps and generally everything having to do with movement.

I have always loved to run, and have been doing so recreationally for over 30 years.    I decided that if I wanted to experience a marathon, and to take the time to really do it right, this would be my year.  And, so it was. I began running with a group of semi competitive runners in Mendoza in August.  They meet 3 days a week with a coach, and work out hard.  At first, I couldn’t believe how hard they ran, and at the same time, how much fun they were having.  These are men and women between their mid 20’s and mid 50’s who are passionate and committed.  I was incredibly lucky to have joined them.

I knew about this marathon but took about 6 weeks to commit and actually sign up.  What really inspired me was the variety of body types, and personality types who had run, or were training for marathons.  I realized that it is as much a mental process as a physical one, and I was finally ready to take it on.

My training began in earnest right around the time it really started to heat up here in Mendoza.  Of course, this group of working professionals meets during the siesta at 2 PM, when most people are having a leisurely lunch or a nap.  This is the hottest 2 hours of the day, when the sun is directly above.  On top of that, running here is not like running in Minneapolis.  In Mendoza, you are either running up toward the mountains, or down from them. Needless to say, I got my workout in all possible ways.  The best thing however, is this group of energetic, strong, and fun loving people made running even more joyful.  While most of the time I was simply listening-trying to chat in Spanish while also trying to run uphill is a tough combination of skills-the conversation was generally upbeat and enthusiastic.

As I got closer to the race, I really began to focus more on all aspects of preparing my body.  There is the running, but there is also the eating, the sleeping and the mind.  Each of these, in my opinion, contributes equally to the overall success of the experience, and the recovery.  As for sleeping, I really tried to commit to getting close to 8 hours of sleep a night.  Those of you who know me know that I can function pretty well on much less, but with the number of miles I was logging, I really couldn’t do that to my body.  It actually felt really good, I noticed the difference.

My diet is generally pretty clean, so there weren’t huge changes to be made.  I did increase the amount of complex carbohydrates in my daily routine-really just bigger portions of my home made granola, whole wheat bread or cooked grains like quinoa and brown rice, and slightly more protein, mostly in the form of cheese, fish and beans.  In Argentina, they don’t really eat much of a breakfast-mostly sweet breads and coffee and then a really big lunch and a late dinner, but that doesn’t work for me.  I prefer a good mixture of whole grains and fruits or vegetables fairly early in the day followed by a hearty lunch or early dinner and a snack later on.

There are so many theories out there about small meals, big meals, protein, carbs it can make your head spin.  My opinion is that in order to run a marathon, or complete any major physical feat successfully, we need to be connected to our bodies and plugged in to how we feel enough to know what is best for us.  There is NO ONE RIGHT ANSWER about how to eat.  There are definitely some basic rules-eat real food, eat whole, unprocessed foods, if possible, eat clean (pesticide/chemical- free) food, and I would add, engage with your food at the table without the distraction of a computer or television.  Food should make you feel nourished, provide energy and sustain you.  It should go through your body relatively smoothly, and come out relatively easily.  I believe that when you are nourishing your body well, it is obvious, just as it is when you are not.  Whether that translates to 5 small meals or 2 large ones, or something altogether different is a personal decision.  If you are not in a position to figure that out, I am not sure that running a marathon is such a good idea.

That said, I had a good time eating during the last month of training.  It felt like replenishing and I could tell that my body really needed it-and I indulged in my share of good Argentinian ice cream and chocolate too.

The last, and possibly most important thing about this process is the mind. Without a doubt there are the ups and downs of it.  I had a few twisted ankles, some very sore muscles and a few days of poor digestion too.  And I was very nervous.  However, the pleasure of building up the strength and endurance, and realizing that I could succeed and even enjoy myself while running a marathon was an extraordinary feeling.  The day before the race, a friend and amazing runner back in Minneapolis posted this advice on my facebook page “smile every mile and also laugh, you’ll be amazed at the instant energy”.  This is not only advice for a marathon, I think it is pretty good advice for life too.

Running mates at the finish line

Lots of great support!

Family!

Aaaah yes, the post race massage!

Cherry season

As I get used to the weather  here and try to understand which fruits and vegetables are actually in season right now, I realize how tuned in my body is to the cycles of a Minnesota year. Right now, I would  be readying myself for months of sweaters, wool socks, root vegetables and hearty soups.  I would be anticipating breakfast and dinner in the darkness and slippers around the house.  Instead, I am barefoot all day (although this is considered quite unusual to Argentinians, who always wear shoes) and weary from the heat, and I am craving crisp salads and cold drinks.

Because the fruit and vegetables markets carry produce from throughout Argentina which is an enormous country, I am still unclear exactly what constitutes local or regional food in Mendoza, or where it all comes from (not to mention what chemicals are on it). That said, I did find some tart spring cherries in the organic market last week.  As I watched a toddler chew on them and bright red juice dripped down his face, I realized that this was a treat not to be missed.  Of course, what better way to enjoy them than in a fresh fruit crisp.

This was a simple mixture of apples (granny smith), pears and cherries, cooked with a little sugar and a orange juice.  The topping combined oats, whole wheat flour, sugar and the liquid created from cooking down the fruit  A last minute added touch was shredded coconut and coconut milk.  It was simple, delicate and delicious, and disappeared before I got a second piece!

Fruit Crisp

1 cup apple juice or cider or 1/2 cup juice and 1/4 cup sugar

10 cups mixed fruit such as apples, peaches, pears and even berries

1 tablespoon vanilla

In a separate bowl combine:

3 ½ cups regular rolled oats

½ cup butter or oil

½ cup apple juice

1/2 cup sugar, honey or syrup

3 to 4 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a saucepan over low heat, cook the juice/sugar, fruit and vanilla. Start with the chopped apples or other stone fruits and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. If you’re using berries, add these now and continue to simmer on very low heat for another 10 minutes until very thick and sweet smelling.

While the filling cooks, in a separate bowl combine the oats, butter or oil, juice, sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon. The dough should be moist, but still slightly crumbly. If it is too wet, add more oats and if it is too dry add more liquid. Pour fruit into a 9 by 9 baking pan and sprinkle and dab the dough on top of fruit. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes until browned.

Serves 8 to 10

Cooking with Kids

I have long been an advocate of cooking with kids.  The cookbook I recently published (see the link to the right) strongly emphasizes getting kids into the kitchen, even if only to sprinkle a spice or stir the pot.  I believe that the simple act of being a part of the process of preparing food gives children an appreciation of the energy, the time and the ingredients that go into a good meal, and also an appreciation of the person who prepares the food.  There is no guarantee that this will improve kids’ diets-my kids still prefer pizza, pasta and pancakes, but at least they are content with the whole grain, home made varieties.  Possibly the most common question that I am asked is “how can I get my kids to eat _____ (fill in the blank)”.   I am not sure how satisfying my answer is because I basically tell people that I don’t know.  What I DO know however, is that engaging children in planning, preparing and sharing a meal is a sure way to build awareness and appreciation, not to mention basic skills that will serve them (and their family and friends) throughout their lives.  And perhaps, they will end up loving (fill in the blank) too!

Recently Solana had a friend over who was thrilled at the opportunity to make a pizza from scratch.  They made the dough and rolled it into stars, cut the onions, sprinkled the oregano, grated the cheese and assembled their pizzas…..and they ate every drop!

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Pizza Crust:

2 1/2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons dry yeast

1/8 cup honey

1 tablespoon dry basil

2 teaspoons salt

5 to 6 cups unbleached or whole wheat bread flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

 

Place water in bowl and add yeast, honey and salt. Let mixture begin to bubble (approximately 5 to 8 minutes), then add basil. Add flour one cup at a time and mix until doughy. Dough should be firm and pliable and not sticky. Knead for about 10 minutes, cover bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl. Cover with moist towel and set in warm place to rise. After approximately 40 minutes, punch down and rise again. After the second rise, cut into pieces about the size of a tangerine for individual pizzas or triple for large pizzas. Roll out on floured surface with rolling pin. Prick with fork or knife and bake 8 to 10 minutes at 375 degrees on a cookie sheet.

 

PIzza Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/8 cup sherry vinegar

3 cups canned diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried (See Growing Green Flavor, page X)

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup tomato puree

 

In a saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil, add the diced tomatoes and seasonings, and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the tomato puree and simmer another 10 minutes.

Makes 5 cups of sauce–plenty for the lasagna recipe, with a little left over to keep in the refrigerator (up to 1 week) or freezer.

I just returned from Buenos Aires on a whirlwind 3 day visit.  There are many ways to describe Buenos Aires-big, old, busy, classic, but one thing I cannot say is that the food is any more inspired or unique than what I have found in Mendoza.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, it is easy to find an empanada, a pizza or a parilla (traditional meat grill) but beyond this it remains a limited and oft repeated assortment.  As with any meal, I believe the challenge lies in doing something creative with what is available.  Such is the theme of regional, seasonal cooking.  Ironically, I still don’t know much about the flavors of where I now live.

Luckily for me, I crossed paths with someone who told me about a place in Buenos Aires called “Casa Felix”(click here for a link to their website).  It is the home of the Felix family, Diego the chef and his photographer wife Sanra.  They spend much of their time traveling throughout South and North America researching regional cuisine, culinary techniques and indiginous ingredients and flavors.  Then they take this information back to Buenos Aires where they create  extraordinary 5 course vegetarian and fish meals for guests in their lovely gardens.

Diego spoke with me at some length about his frustrations with Argentinians attitudes and understanding of food and culture.  He said it is virtually impossible to attract locals to his dinners because they don’t include meat.  He explained that people are so narrow that they won’t even take a chance at a meat free meal.  He also expressed disappointment in the culinary locals for their lack of depth and breadth in utilizing regional ingredients and methods. In general, he said, there is little understanding or attention to the concept of a  ‘food system’ at all, much less attempts to build a regional and sustainable one.

Meanwhile, Diego was full of knowledge and excitement about the rich traditions and flavors of South America like arrope de tuna– a sweet syrup from a local succulent plant, kind of like a cross between maple syrup and agave nectar, or mote-a dried hominy corn that is soaked in calcium oxide or ashes to remove the outer hull and tenderize the grain. He employed incredible creativity and talent in transforming these ingredients (and many from their own garden) into flavor and texture explosions.

These pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of the presentations or certainly not to the flavors, or the ambiance, but they give a glimpse into the possibilities when one is passionate about local food and willing to use their imagination!

Fontina wrapped in chard and quick fried in Arrobe de Tuna

Grilled artichokes and beets, almonds, greens from the garden, guava dressing

Corn arepas with "guacamole suisa" including green apple, cucumber and spices from the garden

Patagonian white fish over mote prepared wheatberries with a spring fig and cocoa mole

White carob spice cookie with fresh peaches and lemon verbena merengue

My mom is visiting us right now.  Bless her heart, we sent her a huge list of things to bring with her, most of which she squeezed in to the two allotted 50 (!) pound suitcases. Among the various socks, fleeces and sheets was perhaps my most beloved and most missed thing of all: Maple Syrup.

When the locals here read through my cookbook, many of them comment on the predominance of this same particular and unfamiliar ingredient. I LOVE MAPLE SYRUP. The deep amber color and smooth, slightly  sticky texture mirror the dense brown forests from whence it comes.  The earthy, sweet and woody flavor works in everything from a savory stir fry, to a spicy chicken dish to perfect granola, handles both heat and coolness with finesse, and complements the entire flavor spectrum without ever losing it’s structure or depth. Thus far, I have baked cookies, made three batches of pancakes, prepared a simple salad dressing, a lovely stir fry and a wicked sauce for salmon.

It is an interesting experience to be without a familiar food that you have come to know and love.  I am sure my relationship with this particular ingredient is well beyond the normal user’s, but I find it’s versatility endless and my palate continuously pleased. There is beautiful local honey here, something I also love, and I have found it to be a reasonable substitute for most things, but my allegiance to the valuable sap will not wane….it will only grow in it’s absence. My mom brought 1 quart-barely enough to get me through a week.  At home, I buy the stuff by the gallon, really!  An expensive habit perhaps, but I’d consider swapping Syrup for Malbec on many a night-though I have yet to drink it straight out of the jar.

In any case, as a proud Minnesotan, our  liquid gold is an absolute treasure, and I am happy to been enjoying it on this side of the world.

The following recipes are all from my book, and are great for this late fall season.  Although I am currently experiencing spring-70-80 degree days and hot sun right now, believe it or not, I miss fall cooking and this time of year!

Polenta with Tomato Jam (vegan without the cheese garnish)

In my family, polenta is as loved as chips or crackers. It can be firm or soft, cut into any shape, and topped with just about anything—and it’s corn! I use corn grown and ground by Greg Reynolds of Riverbend Farm. It is unlike any other cornmeal I have had. He uses a combination of a few heirloom varieties, it is grainy and corny, while also as soft as flour. The tomato jam is sweet, spicy, and tangy all at once, and provides a perfectly balanced finish to the delectable polenta.

Polenta:

3 cups water

1 ½ cups polenta or coarse cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

Bring the salted water to a boil, then slowly add cornmeal, whisking regularly to remove lumps. Simmer mixture and continue to stir for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and spread ½ inch thick in a 9 x 12 inch oiled pan. Let cool. When cool, cut into desired shapes using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass.

Tomato Jam:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapenos, deseeded and minced

1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

¼ cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil and sauté onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeno for about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, syrup and salt and allow to simmer on very low heat until very thick, about 30-40 minutes. When cool, spoon onto cut polenta, and top with a small dollop of chevré and a sprig of thyme or pinch of micro greens.

Greens with Miso Dressing and Toasted Almonds  VEGAN

This is the recipe that I use in cooking classes to prove to anyone that I can get them to eat leafy greens.  People love this combination of sweet, spicy, savory and sour. The toasted sesame oil is balanced by the rice vinegar, which is complemented by the miso, and tempered by the maple syrup, which works perfectly with the mustard, all of which are topped off with the crunch and flavor of the almonds. The dressing also is delicious on just about any vegetable, and even on proteins like tofu and fish.

The Family Kitchen: Crushing almonds can be fun. You don’t need to use a knife or a tool at all. My favorite way to do it is under the bottom of a jar. So far it is the most efficient method I have found for crushing toasted nuts.  Kids can also use a rolling pin.

2 pounds assorted  greens (arugula, mustard, spinach etc), well washed and dried

2 medium onions or 2 washed leeks sliced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch ginger, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 cups sliced or crushed almonds, toasted

Miso Dressing:

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons stone ground mustard

½ cup miso paste

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1/3 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons tamari

Heat oils in saucepan, add onions and sauté for 2-3 minutes until soft, then add garlic and ginger. Add the greens handful by handful, stirring constantly. Sauté until all the greens are added and they have wilted into a bright green—about 2 minutes. Remove immediately from heat and place in a large bowl. Allow the mixture to cool, add the toasted almonds. In a small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients, then toss with vegetable mixture. This sauce is also excellent on fish or chicken.

Serves 8 to 10

Greek Squash or Pumpkin in Phyllo Casserole

This is a very unusual and delicious way to use pumpkin or squash. The pumpkin meat is sautéed with leeks and garlic until creamy and tender, then combined with feta cheese and layered with phyllo. It is at once traditional and very modern. This dish is hearty on a cold evening, and filled with color and flavor. Phyllo dough is delicate and can be very tricky to handle. It’s best to buy it frozen and allow to thaw slowly. Unroll it gently and have a moist cloth handy. Keep the sheets flat, and keep them covered with the moist (but not too wet) cloth while assembling this dish. Remove 1 to 2 sheets at a time. If the sheets get gooey, your cloth is too wet.

The Family Kitchen: Although the phyllo needs to be handled with care, it is a fun ingredient to use. The kids can unroll the large sheets, and have a try at putting a layer or two of this dish together. They certainly can be at hand ready with the oil to brush on top of the layers of dough. If you need to cut the dough, a pizza cutter can be an effective way to get a fairly straight line.

2 large squash (butternut or kabocha are nice) or 1 medium pumpkin, cut in half and seeds removed

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced into rings

6 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon pepper

4 eggs, beaten

1 pound feta cheese, crumbled

1 package phyllo dough

Bake squash at 375 degrees face down in 1/2 inch water in a deep baking pan until very soft. Remove from the oven and cool, and then remove the squash meat into a bowl and mash. In a large skillet, sauté the leeks and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft—about 3 minutes. Add the leeks and garlic to the mashed squash, add the eggs and feta cheese. Season with salt, pepper, add the maple syrup and combine evenly. In an oiled 8 x 10 inch baking pan, lay one or two sheets of phyllo to fit the pan, brush with olive oil, add another one or two sheets of phyllo. Then cover with half the squash mixture. Layer with one or two sheets of phyllo, brush the top sheet with olive oil, and layer with yet another one or two sheets of phyllo. Spread the rest of the squash mixture over these layers and top with a final two sheets of phyllo. Poke several holes through the top layer of phyllo (I find that a small paring knife works well for this) and brush with olive oil. Bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes until the casserole is firm and nicely browned.

Serves 6 to 8

Nut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies   VEGAN

I am a cookie fanatic. I love them fresh out of the oven, so I rarely bake more than I can eat at one time (I won’t say how many that is).  I also like to keep them simple, and I find that ever since I started using these recipes, which are mostly maple syrup-sweetened, and egg free, my tastes have changed. Standard butter, white and brown sugar crunchy cookies no longer suffice. These cookies are dense and moist—the cookie qualities that I love, and hopefully you will too.

Note—If you want to be frugal, you can extend these recipes to 3 dozen

½ cup oil or butter

1 cup maple syrup ( or ½ cup maple syrup and ½ cup sugar)

1 cup nut butter-almond or cashew

½ tablespoon vanilla

3 ½ cups pastry flour

2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Combine wet and dry ingredients separately. Add dry to wet Mix well and place on an oiled pan. Flatten with hand. Bake 8 to10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Makes 2 dozen

Monica's colorful weavings made from old clothes

The first time I met Monica Hom, as I put out my hand to say hello, she said “eso es tan frio” and leaned over and kissed my cheek.  This was my first visit to the “bioferia”-the organic market in Mendoza.  Monica is a cooking instructor who sells various handmade goods at the market while promoting her classes.  I was drawn to her warm smile and glowing skin, her colorful clothing and her savory whole grain crackers immediately.

Each week when I visited the market, I would talk more with Monica about her philosophy, her cooking, her classes and students.  I gave her a copy of my cookbook and the following week she explained that she sat for hours with a dictionary pouring through the recipes AND the text.  She had many questions about everything from public health to wild rice.  I was impressed and flattered by her thorough interest not only in the recipes, but in understanding the philosophy behind them. Finally, we found a time that worked for me to attend one of her classes.

I rode with Monica and her son León to their house a half an hour West of Mendoza, in a river valley below the foothills of the Andes. “Rincon Suissa” was originally a Swiss colony, but has since become a collection of Argentinians who prefer to live closer to nature.  Monica’s house reminded me of cabins in Northern Minnesota.  A rustic stone and wood building nestled in a grove of pine trees and situated about 500 yards from the stunning desert canyon of the Mendoza river and just below the rust and green foothills of the Andes.

Before her students arrived, she prepared a quick lunch of pasta with sauce of her own preserved tomatoes, a side of roasted beets and simple salad from the market.  We also ate her hummus on her own whole wheat crostinis.  We discussed food, comparing what our kids eat, she described all the different ways Argentinians prepare potatoes, and I talked about the typical American breakfast.  It was very clear to me that we shared not only a love of food and cooking, but an understanding of the joy and the richness of preparing good, clean, whole food for ourselves and those we love.

The class I attended was the last in a series called “Cocinar con Conciencia” or Cooking with conscience.  Monica begins the course with whole grain breads and baking, continues with grains and vegetables, gluten, soy and other proetiens, seeds and dried fruits and concludes with alternative milks.  I was impressed with her breadth and depth of knowledge, her insights on creative ways to introduce family members to new and different foods, and her discussion of simple and creative ways to prepare tasty, healthy meals.  What really hit home with me was her comment that “cooking is a privilege” and we should feel honored to partake in it, and to have the opportunity to feed ourselves and others in this way.  It resonated so strongly with my own feelings about the importance of this act in our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the ‘bioferia’ (organic farmer’s market) has been both thrilling and surprising.  Thrilling because I can finally fulfill my desires for some of the same amenities I am lucky enough to have in my corner of the alternative food system in the US; and surprising because it is a small and very obscure segment of the culture of food here in Argentina.  While finding Spinach or Apples is as easy as a walk down the street, I have come to understand that the likelihood that any of the food I buy here is raised in a manner that is safe for the land, the people growing and harvesting it, or the consumers is virtually non-existent.

I am gaining more and more appreciation all the time of the hotbed of sustainability activism we live in, and also aware of the disparities and lack of understanding of these issues in much of the rest of the world.  Monica, in her small way, is finding a way to spread some awareness through the joy of cooking, and eating great food!