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Visit the Cook for Good blog for wildly good cooking tips, money-saving ideas, book reviews, and more from Linda Watson and guest bloggers.


Small actions, big changes over time

I'm taking a few days off mid-tour to hike in two spectacular areas: the redwoods of northern California and red-rock country in Utah. The ancient trees and the wildly formed arches and canyons may seem to have little in common, but they both show the effects of small changes over time.

Redwoods seem to have more personality than other trees: straight or spiraling, huge columns or mini-forests unto themselves with side branches the size of full-grown East Coast trees. Many redwoods show evidence of recovering from fire or lost bark or even tops from wind, lightening, or the falling of other giants.

The canyons, rock fins, and arches in Utah show dramatic results from erosion and shifts in the planet's layers.

And the people on the trails and at the overlooks show the effects of diet, exercise, education, and other means we have to shape the bodies and minds we were born with.

Personally, I'm very glad to be carrying about 15 pounds less on the trails this year. I lost weight gradually by eating the Cook for Good way most of the time. As a patch of sunlight may bend a tree over time and drops of water may carve a canyon, small eating and not-eating choices create the Future You.

And on this Mothers' Day, I'm glad to look back on our family tours when I was growing up. Thanks to my folks for never saying what I heard one mother say to her daughter in response to a question about skunk cabbage:

I don't know what it is and I don't want to find out.

But that's a rare response here in the park. For the most part, everyone keeps up a lively conversation about the glories of our world.


Getting the groceries home

This week in the Cook for Good newsletter, I write about Sherrie, a woman I met during a Cook for Good class at the Sacramento Food Bank:

One of the class participants nearly broke my heart by saying that she's always wanted a kitchen scale but couldn't afford to get one. Sherrie said, "I'm feeding five mouths and I only have two spoons. Food isn't enough. I need pots and pans."

Sherrie, who had three young children with her that day, talked about another big problem with cooking healthy food.

I'll be waiting for the bus with the kids and bags of groceries, but the buses won't stop. They don't want me with all my kids and all my stuff on the bus. Two, three buses will pass before one will stop.

The night before, she said, it had been nine o'clock before she got home.

Dawn Dunlap, the Program Administrator for the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Collaborative, talked with Sherrie and the class about other barriers to healthy eating and promised to contact the transit authority about the situation.

After the class, Sherrie and I talked about the many problems she faces in getting good food on the table: money for food, access to food, child care, ways to cook and serve the food, and the skills to make tasty, nutritious meals. We didn't even get into health care or a place to live.

Our conversation reminds me that recipes, cooking plans, menus, and shopping lists are only part of the solution. They are the part I can focus on, but I'm so glad others like HEAL and the Community Food Security Coalition are working on the others.


Deborah Madison and "duty fruit"

The presentations at the International Association of Culinary Professionals were good to the last drop. On Saturday morning, Deborah Madison (founding chef of my favorite restaurant, Greens, and author of eleven books) led a discussion with Anthony Boutard, owner of Ayers Creek Farm in Oregon, who grows amazing fruit and produce.

Deborah painted a vivid picture of the problem with much grocery-store produce, shipped hard and underripe:

I watch people at the grocery store buying fruit and they never bring it to their nose. They never smell it, just pop it into the plastic bag. It's duty fruit. The government told us we should eat so many portions. It's not because it's a a wonderful, senuous experience.

Anthony talked about how taste varies so much from person to person:

Loganberry: people love it or hate it. You can see it in their faces when they taste them. It's the acidity. The best fruit has the acidity up front.

Kids love acidity; it sparkles in their mouths.

So try giving your kids loganberries, tomatoes, and other acid foods instead of Smarties and Sourballs.

If you want a jumpstart on making your summer as wonderful and senuous as possible, check out Deborah's new book: Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market. She said she'd considered calling it "Desserts for the Pastry-Impaired." The photos are inspiring and I'm sure that the recipes are as clear and rewarding as in all her previous books. Seasonal Fruit Desserts would be a great Mothers' Day present for a baking mom.


Talking with high-school seniors in Fairfield Iowa

I promised you more on my amazing day in Fairfield, Iowa. Until I got there, I didn't really understand why Steve Boss kept saying, "We've got so much to show you!" But this small, rural town is home to many practitioners of Transcendental Mediation. Driving through the main streets, you'll see many restaurants and stores supporting a sustainable lifestyle. After a delicious lunch at Revelations Cafe and Bookstore, my guide Rose took me to speak to a class of high-school seniors about thrifty, healthy eating away from home and about the options available in life.

What a terrific class! About a dozen healthy, slim young women greeted me at the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment. While their green plaid uniform skirts and the girls-only class reminded me of Catholic high school, the open windows and encouraging quotes on the wall seemed to encourage creativity and exploration. No nuns with rulers! On the way out, they gave me a bag of fresh salad greens from their local CSA.

The community greatly prefers to cook all food fresh, so my Cook for Good style of cooking ahead and making "planned overs" didn't appeal to them. But the rest of the concepts did, and discussed how all the Cook for Good recipes could be made in smaller quantities and eaten the same day. It just takes more time. And as one young lady said, "If it's the choice between eating at MacBurger or eating beans I cooked yesterday, I'll go with the beans."


Great fun & food at sold-out class in Fairfield, Iowa

The most intense class on this tour so far has also been the most fun. Steve Boss convinced me to do an actual cooking class with recipe samples for an evening at the At Home Store in Fairfield -- and I'm so glad he did! We made Double Asparagus Pasta, Spicy Peanut Sauce with Spring Vegetables, and Pears with Cinnamon Sauce. With Steve's great addition of a lentil salad and an appetizer of walnuts and raisins, we made dinner for 25. Since this was a Slow Food event in a community already sold on fresh, seasonal food, the menu featured restaurant-quality dishes you can make quickly on a budget.

One of my favorite comments came from At Home's owner, Rosie: "I expected the food to be starchy and sort of boring, given the budget. But it was so light and delicious. Full of vegetables and fruit!"

Ryan, who runs a local CSA, provided all the amazing local veggies and also good information during the class. Afterward, he asked me about the percentage of the Cook for Good budget that goes to fruit and veg (more than 1/3). He concluded that the Cook for Good budget would work for his CSA subscribers ... great news!

Tomorrow, I'll tell you more about Fairfield, including my talk to a group of high-school seniors. But for tonight, thanks to Steve, Rosie, Ryan, and all the great folks in Fairfield.