Category Archives: Inspiration in Ink
Mark Bittman published a book back in May called A Bone to Pick. Since then, he’s published another book and left the New York Times to work with a new venture, a vegan food delivery service called Purple Carrot. If you didn’t catch his book when it first came out, it’s definitely worth another look.
If you read the New York Times regularly, or at least before his departure in September, you’ll know that over the past 5 years, Mark Bittman has become a spokesperson for a more thoughtful way of eating. Over the past century, the large industrial complex of agribusiness has created a food system in this country that in many ways is broken and unhealthy for our population, our food supply, and our environment. Bittman is a proponent for ways that individuals can work to change this system and set it on a healthier course. Though all the pieces in this book have been previously published in the New York Times over the past 5 years, the essays are still timely and relevant.
I’ll give you the heads up that this book is not objective reporting. Though research is often cited, Mark Bittman’s essays appeared on the Op-Ed pages of the paper and reflect his strong opinions. I happen to agree with his point-of-view. As a not-so-regular reader of the New York Times who does follow the news about the American and global food system, I appreciated this collection, learned some new things, and found it refreshing to hear the arguments from his voice and perspective.
This book covers a wide range of topics related to both the good and bad aspects of our food system. Here are some of the key takeaways that stuck with me after reading this book:
- A century ago, most American farms were small family farms growing a variety of crops sustainably and organically. “Big Ag”, including both large-scale agriculture growing monocultures with heavy reliance on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and factory farms that are frankly inhumane to animals, is relatively new to our world. It’s not too late to (re)introduce more sustainable practices to the largest players in this industry.
- Given access to fresh real food, each of us can make small changes towards a better food system simply by cooking for ourselves, giving us control over what we eat.
- In addition to cooking, two more easy steps to improve our own health and the health of our food system are: (1) to eliminate hyper-processed foods, which contain an overabundance of sugar, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, from our diets. Regardless of what the marketing tells us, hyper-processed foods are seldom healthy. Eating real food, ingredients that are what they are or can be cooked into what you eat, is much better for you; and (2) to eat more plants. Eating more plants also typically means reducing the animal products, including both meat and dairy, that we eat.
- Government involvement in publishing objective dietary guidelines that are not influenced by the special interests of Big Ag would go a long way towards improving the health of our population. Frequently changing dietary recommendations have resulted in misconceptions and confusion as well as growing rates in the occurrence of obesity and Type-2 diabetes. Home cooking and eating fresh ingredients can counter these epidemics.
- Our food system may be broken, but it’s not hopeless. Thought leaders and other organizations are working for change.
Those who found reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to be a life-changing experience might find this book is preaching to a choir they are already part of. Whether you consider yourself in this camp or not, we are all eaters, and I urge you to become a more thoughtful eater. If you’ll pardon the pun, Mark Bittman’s A Bone to Pick provides real Food for Thought to get you started.
A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 4 plates (out of 5)
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.
In the midst of my personal chaos of this fall, a gem of a book arrived in my mailbox. I was so excited to open up and start reading through Food Gift Love, a new debut cookbook written by the talented Maggie Battista, creator of Eat Boutique, a blog and on-line curated food gift shop.
Food Gift Love is filled with ideas for delicious food gifts to create in your own kitchen. I found myself bookmarking the recipes on almost every page. However, what makes this book stand out from others like it are the elegant, yet simple, packaging ideas that accompany each recipe. I didn’t realize that my drawer of extra bits of ribbon and my box of extra scraps of pretty paper can be elevated from “junk” to embellishments to decorate my food gifts.
Food Gift Love is organized into chapters that group the food gifts into similar preparations or shelf lives.
- The introductory chapter lays out the basics about food gifts, packaging and gift wrap basics, and shipping tips. The basics also include a guide to creating an ingenious Traveling Cheese Tray and other potluck recipe suggestions.
- Fresh Gifts offers food gifts that won’t last long. These recipes are meant to be prepared and shared immediately such as pesto, salad, soup, and homemade dairy products.
- Pantry Gifts can be made in advance and stored for use in your own kitchen or for gifting – such as dried herbs and all manner of infused things: sea salts, sugars, oils, vinegars, and homemade extracts.
- Candied Gifts include all sorts of special sweets including homemade candy, chocolate dipped things, and caramel popcorn.
- Have you ever actually met someone who doesn’t enjoy Baked Gifts? This chapter offers a handful of new cookie, pie, crisp, quick bread, and other baked recipes to add to your repertoire. I can’t wait to try out the instructions for making your own custom gift box for conveying tarts or other pastries. I have way too much wrapping paper, so this looks like a creative use to reduce my stash.
- Preserved Gifts snapshot the flavor of the season for enjoyment later with recipes for canned things such as jams and marmalades. I’ll revisit this chapter next year as we go through summer’s fleeting bounty.
- Finally, Spirited Gifts provide glitter for the home bar (yours or a friend’s) with recipes for flavored syrups, cordials, and other cocktail mixes.
I am a veteran food gifter during the end-of-year holidays – during the year of hostess gifts as well. I always limited my vision of food gifts as something the recipient puts in to the pantry to be enjoyed later. I loved Maggie’s inclusive definition of food gifts which bring food brought to potlucks and other shared meals into the fold. She is so right that these are food gifts even if I previously thought of them in an altogether different category. I feel like this expanded way of thinking gives me license to dress up the presentation next time I bring a dish to share.
To celebrate my enthusiasm for this beautiful new book, I hosted a “Food Gift Love” party. Several of my friends came over for dessert and conversation. I prepared several of the treats from recipes in the book along with some tarts that weren’t. The spread included Sweet and Salty Pantry Cookies (page 152), a mini-ice cream sundae bar: vanilla ice cream topped with Maple Walnut Syrup (page 202) and Salty Dark Caramel Sauce (page 139), fresh fruit, a French apple tart, and a fig-frangipane galette. I made a few “pantry” items, also from the book, as favors to share the love when my guests went home.
All of the recipes I tried from the book are winners. The instructions are clear, and every one I tried worked without a hitch.
- I love the crispy texture of the Sweet & Salty Pantry Cookies as well as the contrast between the sweet cookie dough and the salty pretzels mixed in. I used the called for shredded wheat, but I will vary the mix-ins in the future, making these cookies a great way to use up odds and ends of cereal in a delicious way.
- Maple Walnut Syrup with its touch of bourbon is a grown-up version of the Smuckers jar of wet nuts my mom used to buy for the special sundae nights of my childhood. Toasted walnuts drowning in a thickened maple syrup are perfect on vanilla ice cream.
- Salty Dark Caramel Sauce is another delicious topping for ice cream, or drizzled on top of a slice of apple tart. I’ve always been wary of working with molten sugar. The reassuring tone of the recipe walked me through and, next time, I’ll be confident and approach this recipe without fear.
- I don’t think it matters whether you actually use Citrus Sugars or not. My house was filled with the heady fragrance of lime and lemon for days after I made this. Coming in the door was a joy. Of course, this sugar infused with dried lemon and lime zest can be sprinkled as a finishing touch on baked goods such as cookies, scones, or muffins, or could coat the rim of a refreshing drink.
- On the savory end of the flavor spectrum, Orange-Fennel Salt is a twist on the infused sugar idea based on sea salt instead.
- Homemade Granola, Your Way is my new go-to recipe for granola. I’ve made it twice, with different nut, seed, and spice combinations. Due to preferences at my house, I omitted the chocolate and dried fruit, but as the recipe name indicates, you can make this your own with your favorite combination of ingredients. I’ve tried pecans with cardamom and almond with ginger. For seeds, I like a combination of pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. Usually, my one complaint about making granola has always been the constant stirring or turning as it bakes. The genius of this recipe is that the liquid ingredients are combined and heated, then poured over the dried ingredients which have been warmed up on the cookie sheet. At this point, one good mixing is enough and the granola bakes and then cools on the sheet. I love, love, love this recipe.
As we settled into the living room to enjoy our sweets, I did a “show and tell”, telling everyone how much I’m enjoying this book, pointing out which things we were eating came from recipes in the book. I also passed around samples of the favors.
We talked about how we envisioned using the Orange-Fennel Salt: “on everything” was the prevailing opinion, including roasted vegetables, chicken, and fish. The fragrance of the Citrus Sugar made everyone swoon. The Granola generated some excitement too as we brainstormed ideas on how to best package it to send to the college students whose mothers were among the group.
Stoked up on sugar and good company, guests departed with their favors in hand, and a few Pantry Cookies to share with their families at home.
I’d also like to share the recipe for the Citrus Sugars for you to enjoy at home.
Makes: 2 cups
Preparation Time: 25 minutes
You may juice citrus regularly but perhaps don’t realize what you’re missing: all the flavor from the peel.
Citrus zest brightens so many recipes but if you have citrus sugar in your pantry, you’ve got a wonderfully fragrant gift. Keep it tucked away for sprinkling on cookies, rimming the glass of a tart cocktail, such as my Margarita Mix, or gifting to your favorite baker or mixologist who will delight in the flavors of preserved sunshine.
This recipe is for a lemon-lime version but follow the fruit on your counter. I’ve used many combinations of orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit to great results. (It’s also easy enough to vary with other flavorings: I keep both lavender sugar and rose sugar on hand.) As a general rule of thumb, mix 2 tablespoons of dried zest or culinary grade flowers to 1 cup of granulated sugar, but this is a very forgiving recipe so, have fun with it. The flavorings are so pretty as is, but if using the floral sugars for baking, crush them in a grinder so the flavor blends into your batter well without big textural bits. If you don’t choose organic fruit, just make sure to scrub the peel well before zesting.
2 tablespoons (about 2 large lemons) lemon zest
2 tablespoons (about 3 medium limes) lime zest
2 cups granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 150° F (or the lowest possible temperature; some ovens only go down to 170° F).
Wash and dry the citrus fruit. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Over the lined cookie sheet and with a zester, remove the top layer of the skin of each citrus fruit, taking care to avoid any white pith. Measure the zest into tablespoon-size portions as you work. Once you’ve collected 4 tablespoons of zest, lightly move your fingers (or a fork) across the top of the zest to spread it evenly across the pan. Place in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, until the zest is fragrant and dry but not browned. (Don’t expect the aroma alone to signify your zest is ready; it should be crispy and dry to the touch.) Remove zest from oven and permit to cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and the zest with a fork for 2 to 3 minutes or until well-combined and the sugar, and the air around it, is sweetly perfumed. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Cut a piece of ribbon and wrap around the lid of the sealed jar a few times. Tie in a knot and trim the ends.
Text excerpted from FOOD GIFT LOVE, (c) 2015 by Maggie Battista. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 5 plates (out of 5)
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for being on the Food Gift Love Launch Committee. The opinions expressed about this book are 100% my own.