Working on the Local Thing

Farro Salad

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I have to say that I found it inspiring. Her mantra “Eat Locally” is like an earworm, making me read those obnoxious stickers on produce to see where its from and get up early on Saturday mornings to shop at the Hastings Farmer’s Market. And that’s not all bad. I’m not really complaining here. I’m just glad I’m reading it now instead of back in the ‘80’s. I’d be digging up the back yard to plant squash and looking into raising goats. I was highly impressionable and full of zeal.

Now I embrace Julia Child’s attitude about moderation, and that’s why I could prepare my favorite farro salad for dinner last night.

The salad is problematic for “localvores” unless you live in both Italy and Spain; you see I have only been able to find farro made in Italy and Manchego cheese made in Spain. But I compensated by getting the red peppers at the local farmer’s market and the basil even closer – my own backyard. I can live with that trade off for now.

Farro, by the way, is a nutty grain. The internet tells me that it was the staple of the Roman Legions. Wikipedia says that it’s also known as Emmer Wheat and that it was one of the first domesticated crops.

I adapted this recipe from one in the beautiful Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rogers.

Here’s how to make it:

1C farro
1 Red pepper, diced – a bit bigger than the farro*
2/3 C Manchego cheese, diced — a bit bigger than the farro
1/4 C fresh basil en chiffonade (shredded)**
3-4 T Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Boil about 3 cups of water in a med. saucepan. Add a few pinches of salt.

Add I C farro to the boiling water. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes until somewhat tender, but not too firm.

Drain cooked farro, as you would pasta, and then spread it out on a baking sheet to cool.

When the grain is cool, combine red pepper, cheese, and basil in a large bowl. Add olive oil, a tablespoon at a time (while gently tossing the salad) until everything is thinly and evenly coated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I will eat this salad anytime, even for breakfast! But now that I’ve read the Kingsolver I would feel badly to purchase basil in February. I’m not saying that I won’t ever, but I’d feel really badly.

*Rogers’ recipe calls for tomatoes. I’ve also used roasted red peppers when I’m not in a hurry.
** A chiffonade is done by stacking all of the basil leaves on top of each other, rolling them up like some kind of strange cigar, and then slicing thin thin horizontal cuttings (say, from the tip to the base).


In Case You Missed This - or - Food is Political

Here's NY Times Reporter Nicolas Kristof's update on Beatrice Biira. For those of you who haven't teared up over the picture book Beatrice's Goat, I'll give you the back story. Beatrice and her Ugandan family received a goat from Heifer International. The goat was the leg up that her family needed to become more self-sufficient and enabled Beatrice to attend school. Kristof, who persists in telling the stories that aren't always on the 24/7 news radar,shows how individuals (like you, like me) can change the world. I'm not kidding.

Printed from the July 3, 2008 New York Times:

The Luckiest Girl


This year’s college graduates owe their success to many factors, from hectoring parents to cherished remedies for hangovers. But one of the most remarkable of the new graduates, Beatrice Biira, credits something utterly improbable: a goat.

“I am one of the luckiest girls in the world,” Beatrice declared at her graduation party after earning her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College. Indeed, and it’s appropriate that the goat that changed her life was named Luck.

Beatrice’s story helps address two of the most commonly asked questions about foreign assistance: “Does aid work?” and “What can I do?”

The tale begins in the rolling hills of western Uganda, where Beatrice was born and raised. As a girl, she desperately yearned for an education, but it seemed hopeless: Her parents were peasants who couldn’t afford to send her to school.

The years passed and Beatrice stayed home to help with the chores. She was on track to become one more illiterate African woman, another of the continent’s squandered human resources.

In the meantime, in Niantic, Conn., the children of the Niantic Community Church wanted to donate money for a good cause. They decided to buy goats for African villagers through Heifer International, a venerable aid group based in Arkansas that helps impoverished farming families.

A dairy goat in Heifer’s online gift catalog costs $120; a flock of chicks or ducklings costs just $20.

One of the goats bought by the Niantic church went to Beatrice’s parents and soon produced twins. When the kid goats were weaned, the children drank the goat’s milk for a nutritional boost and sold the surplus milk for extra money.

The cash from the milk accumulated, and Beatrice’s parents decided that they could now afford to send their daughter to school. She was much older than the other first graders, but she was so overjoyed that she studied diligently and rose to be the best student in the school.

An American visiting the school was impressed and wrote a children’s book, “Beatrice’s Goat,” about how the gift of a goat had enabled a bright girl to go to school. The book was published in 2000 and became a children’s best seller — but there is now room for a more remarkable sequel.

Beatrice was such an outstanding student that she won a scholarship, not only to Uganda’s best girls’ high school, but also to a prep school in Massachusetts and then to Connecticut College. A group of 20 donors to Heifer International — coordinated by a retired staff member named Rosalee Sinn, who fell in love with Beatrice when she saw her at age 10 — financed the girl’s living expenses.

A few years ago, Beatrice spoke at a Heifer event attended by Jeffrey Sachs, the economist. Mr. Sachs was impressed and devised what he jokingly called the “Beatrice Theorem” of development economics: small inputs can lead to large outcomes.

Granted, foreign assistance doesn’t always work and is much harder than it looks. “I won’t lie to you. Corruption is high in Uganda,” Beatrice acknowledges.

A crooked local official might have distributed the goats by demanding that girls sleep with him in exchange. Or Beatrice’s goat might have died or been stolen. Or unpasteurized milk might have sickened or killed Beatrice.

In short, millions of things could go wrong. But when there’s a good model in place, they often go right. That’s why villagers in western Uganda recently held a special Mass and a feast to celebrate the first local person to earn a college degree in America.

Moreover, Africa will soon have a new asset: a well-trained professional to improve governance. Beatrice plans to earn a master’s degree at the Clinton School of Public Service in Arkansas and then return to Africa to work for an aid group.

Beatrice dreams of working on projects to help women earn and manage money more effectively, partly because she has seen in her own village how cash is always controlled by men. Sometimes they spent it partying with buddies at a bar, rather than educating their children. Changing that culture won’t be easy, Beatrice says, but it can be done.

When people ask how they can help in the fight against poverty, there are a thousand good answers, from sponsoring a child to supporting a grass-roots organization through globalgiving.com. (I’ve listed specific suggestions on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, and on facebook.com/kristof).

The challenges of global poverty are vast and complex, far beyond anyone’s power to resolve, and buying a farm animal for a poor family won’t solve them. But Beatrice’s giddy happiness these days is still a reminder that each of us does have the power to make a difference — to transform a girl’s life with something as simple and cheap as a little goat.

[Kristof invites you to comment on this column on his blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and join him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof]


Iron Chef Maurice Delivers - or - Takin' It For Gratin

A present-for-no-reason arrived at my door the other day. Iron Chef Maurice gave me a copy of one of his favorite cookbooks: Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells. It’s a beautiful book, and Maurice pointed out the gratin section, especially a gratin dauphinois with blue cheese.

I was in the mood for a gratin myself, but something a bit more summery. She had the perfect recipe: tomato and zucchini gratin. It reeks of summer, though it does take a bit to get the oven turned on to 400 degrees.

We ate it outside with some grilled chicken and some bread to mop up all of the juicy goodness. I thought it had a kind of pizza flavor, what with the tomatoes and cheese.

Here’s how I made it:

Zucchini, sliced very thinly into disks
Tomatoes, cored and also sliced thinly
Fresh thyme
Olive Oil
Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (ouch!)

I lightly salted the zucchini disks and let them sit on some paper towels to keep them from being too watery. After about 20 minutes I turned them once and then about 15 minutes wiped the salt off.

Wells has you rub a cut clove of garlic in the au gratin pain, something I learned from the French to do in my salad bowl as well.

Then you place one layer of zucchini on the bottom. Follow that with a single layer of tomatoes. Repeat with zucchini and tomatoes until you run out or you reach the top of your dish.

I put a few breadcrumbs on the very top. I don’t know why. I just did.

Sprinkle the fresh thyme on the top along with about 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil.

Bake for about 20 minutes. I knew mine was done with the veggies seemed a little soft and it was making lots of noise (think a soft hissing sound).

Grate a fair amount of Parmesan on top, and put the dish under the broiler (keeping a good eye on it) until it lightly browns.


Date Night

National Date
, Indio, California

Fairway had fresh dates yesterday, the kind still on the stick. They are so beautiful and have the appeal of the wild. Brussels sprouts on the stalk are like that, but only the cook gets to appreciate pulling the sprouts off the stem. These aren’t the shiny, sticky dates that look like insect exoskeletons (the fruitcake kind). These are smooth and the color of caramel—divine.

Evan is away visiting his parents, so I thought tonight’s dinner might be something plain and simple: prosciutto, figs, Machengo cheese, some quinoa salad, and fresh dates. But I think of Evan and a trip we took to Joshua Tree back in the early '90's. We were in date country and saw signs for date shakes . We were too chicken to try one then, but now that we are older and wiser I know we would have sprung for one.

Photo used with permission from


Time for More FotC - The Marvin Gaye Way

Back on the Farm

It’s time for Farm Camp again. My Girl, her best friend, and a gaggle of other local kids get the chance to frolic on the farm at Stone Barns (collecting eggs, herding sheep, picking berries, pulling weeds, harvesting veggies, making healthy snacks, and weaving lanyards). Yesterday was especially wonderful, according to My Girl, because they climbed up the compost heap and then slid down. She was the dirtiest she had ever been in her life, so beautiful I wanted to capture her grimy shins on film.

Stone Barns is exactly where she needs to be. Even though we moved to the suburbs three years ago, she’s a city girl at heart. Yes, she has come to love playing on the grass, can spot poison ivy from a good distance, and knows the names of most of the local songbirds. But what’s wonderful about Stone Barns is that just being there teaches us to consider where our food comes from. It’s different to see the chickens at Stone Barns than the ones in the Children’s Zoo in the Bronx Zoo. The chickens at the farm are just cute and funny as those at the zoo, but fact remains that they’re going to be food. This is an important lesson if you eat meat because it reminds us of our connection and perhaps makes us a bit more grateful for what we have.

Stone Barns grows wonderful fruits and vegetables, teaching about the patience and care it takes to sow, nurture, and harvest plants—that food is seasonal, and that fresh food is a joy. When the kids pick pea pods off the vine and pop them into their mouths it teaches them that the Earth provides for us and that we, in turn have a responsibility to it.

Yes, it’s terrific to have these lessons literally “farmed out” for my daughter, but I have to ask myself how well I am modeling these principals for her. We celebrate food, but until recently when prices began to go up noticeably, I took the full grocery cart for granted. Evan and I have a kind of running joke with some leftovers. We put them in the fridge almost ironically, and then a couple of days later we clean it out asking, “Is this done?” Tonight I threw out two slices of steak, a little bit of broccoli rabe, the remains of a delish strawberry tart, and some mozzarella cheese—and that was a low night.

Perhaps I need to go to farm camp for a couple of weeks too.


A Confluence of Summer and Nostalgia

I had some strawberries from the neighborhood farmer’s market going begging in the fridge. That’s a phrase my grandma would use when something worthwhile was being ignored. These strawberries were definitely worthwhile (little bright red ones), but they had been sitting around for a couple of days. They were past their prime.

The night before I had found a thread about memories of Berkeley in ‘70’s and 80’s, and it was like going through an old scrapbook. They wrote about all of my favorite places (The U.C. Theater, Edy’s, Monterey Market, Café Roma and on and on) and helped me remember my first espresso (Caffe Med), buying my first album (Cat Stevens’ “Teaser and the Fire Cat”), my first job (selling bagels at The Bagel Works on Telegraph). Another memory crept in too, sitting in the sun on a surprisingly warm afternoon drinking a coffee frappé. I don’t remember the name of the café (except that it was in the same Northside complex as The Melting Pot and Top Dog), but I do remember being very happy with a book, the sun, and this icy drink.

The two came together: the strawberries and the memories of Berkeley; I made strawberry frappés.

I crushed some ice in the blender, added some milk to make it a liquid, then added the edible parts of the strawberries (it seemed many had gone begging too long). I poured them into tall glasses, and we sat in the sun sipping. We had to return to the kitchen for an adjustment, sugar. Even the red, red strawberries need a little boost.


I say "Frittata"

If you plan on coming over to my house for brunch, odds are you’re going to be served a Frittata, quiche without the guilt or bother with the crust. I often serve it with asparagus and cheese, but last night’s had some of that leftover (pricey) Madrange ham and tiny-diced potatoes (and some sautéed onion). I grated some Parmesan cheese on top and sprinkled some torn basil for a festive look.

San Francisco Mom of One
served me my first Frittata years ago. It was a hot summer day in the South Bay, and she whipped up this fine dish. Hers had some pasta inside, which even Alice Waters gives permission to do.

Here’s how I made mine last night:


Some red onion, diced and sautéed

About 3/4 C boiled potatoes, diced small

About 3/4 C diced ham

6 eggs, well beaten

Salt and pepper

1-2 T Vegetable Oil (quantity depends if you’re using a non-stick pan or not. Sometimes I use oil and butter together)

Preheat oven to 350.
Heat a good size sauté pan (that can go in the oven) over medium flame and add the oil. Once oil is fairly hot pour in eggs. Briefly let eggs set, then add the onion, potatoes, ham, a few grinds of pepper, and some salt (depending on how salty your ham is). As the eggs set, push the edges in, letting runny parts move to the edge to cook more. This can take about 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, how many eggs you’ve used, how much filling you have.

Be sure to watch your flame because you don’t want the bottom to overcook.

When all is cooked but the top, put the pan in the oven for about 2-3 minutes more.

When it is cooked through (but not overly dry!), take it out of the oven and loosen the frittata from the pan. Invert it onto a large serving plate. Garnish and serve.

This can be good hot from the oven or at room temperature, and while I was eating ours last night I began to think of an artichoke frittata. Doesn’t that sound good?