Sunday, August 8, 2010

Julia and Monika. Kindred Spirits??

OK, sounds far fetched, but let me explain. Not the first time this dawned on me but guests this morning pointed it out to me so I felt compelled to write about it. At breakfast we were chatting about the fact that I had watched Julie & Julia again for the 10th time last night and they said, from reading our bios they weren't surprised because we had so much in common. This is true and let me tell you how.

1) Julia didn't cook until she met her husband and was introduced to food. I didn't begin cooking until about 12 years ago, after we got married and I had been introduced to all kinds of ethnic foods by Jeff.

2) Julia was passionate about France and French culture. I have a bachelor's degree in French and lived in Paris for 6 months for the same reason.

3) Julia and Paul never had children, only a cat. Neither do we and of course we have Couscous.

4) Julia would never have been Julia without the support and assistance of Paul. I would never be who I am without the support and assistance of Jeff.

5) Julia travelled all over the world and lived in many different places as have I.

6) Julia was a liberal and a democrat as am I.

7) More than anything, Julia wanted to teach people how to cook and demystify it. She wanted to make it easy for anyone to do what she does by showing them how and having fun with it. My approach to teaching cooking classes as well. It isn't brain science. It's supposed to be fun.

8)More than anything, Julia loved to eat good food, drink good wine and do it with the best of company. DITTO.

9)Julia desperately wanted to get a book published and to become a household name. I'm at that stage right now and hope to do the same, although it's a little different world now.

10) Julia was stubborn and opinionated about things she was passionate about. As am I.

11) Paul was 10 years older than Julia. Jeff is 10 years older than me.

12) Julia was a work horse. I guess I am too.

Obviously I am about a foot and 2 inches shorter than she is and I started my journey approximately 10 years ahead of her, but I identify with the love, the dedication, the passion, the laughter, the relationships and the hard work that exemplified her. Now, if only I could ever achieve even a smidgen of the notoriety she achieved and affect others in even a 100th the way that she did. She is absolutely a role model for what all of us in the culinary world should strive to achieve. I make it my mission every day to make her proud and to live in her light. I will forever place her on a pedestal that she shall never be replaced from for all that she accomplished and the legacy she left on this world.

Happy birthday Julia. I love you.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Obesity an Epidemic in the U.S.

In a recent article posted by the NY Times NY Times, the topic of the increasing obesity epidemic was at the forefront. Obesity is rising at an alarming rate, particularly amongst children. Much of this is blamed on sedentary lifestyles and diets high in sugar and fats and low in vegetables, fruits and lean proteins. The unfortunate end result that will likely occur is a generation of young individuals who will die prematurely of obesity related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Statistically speaking, this is the first generation of children that will not outlive their parents. First Lady Michelle Obama is doing her part to try to increase awareness of this epidemic with her "Let's Move" program and there is some talk of legislation to help make school lunch programs healthier but it isn't enough.

Education has to begin at home. Yet what I find is that parents are at as much of a loss as to what to eat themselves and are constantly yo yo dieting as the kids are. We have become a society of overly processed, overly convenienced foods that are killing us but are cheaper and more readily available than fresh foods are. People cannot continue to be bombarded with these mixed signals and be expected to make the right choices for themselves and their children without some help.

I have been teaching cooking classes for 5+ years and there are two constants in all of my classes. One, adhering to a Mediterranean cooking style using spices to flavor foods, low fat olive oils and lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Two, eating local. These two go hand in hand to developing a healthy lifestyle.

Notice I didn't say healthy diet, but healthy lifestyle. I don't believe in diets. They don't work and they leave you wanting for something that cannot be sustained eventually leading to binge eating. You have to develop lifestyle choices that are common sense, easy to follow and don't leave you feeling deprived. Learning to eat a Mediterranean diet rich in locally grown foods will do just that.

The following are just a couple of recipes I will be using tonite for a cooking class I am hosting featuring local farms. They are prime examples of exactly what I'm talking about. Delicious, light, fresh and healthy. Enjoy!

Roasted Pepper and Olive Salad

Yields: Approx. 6 Servings

2 Red Peppers, Roasted, Peeled, Seeded and Chopped
2 Green Peppers, Roasted, Peeled, Seeded and Chopped
1/2 cup Spanish Olives, Pitted and Chopped
2 Tomatoes, Sliced
2-3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
2 tsps Hungarian Paprika
2 tsps ground cumin
2-3 Tbl Olive Oil
2 Tbl Red Wine Vinegar

Toss peppers, olives, tomato and garlic with oil and vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, cumin and paprika to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Roasted Potatoes

Yields: 4 Servings

8 Small New Potatoes Cut in Half or 4 Larger ones Quartered
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
2 tsps Smoked Hot Hungarian Paprika (Austin Parker sells great spices or you can order the one I use from
2 tsps Garlic Powder
2 tsps Herbes de Provence (Austin Parker or Make sure you get the one with lavender in it. My favorite spice. I use it on everything, especially steaks or pork)
2-3 Tbl Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Tzatziki-Cucumber and Yogurt Salad/Dip

Yields: Approx. 6-8 Servings

2 English Cucumber, peeled and seeded
13 oz Greek Yogurt or Whole Milk Plain American Yogurt, Drained
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
3 Tbl Mint, Chopped
2-3 Tbl Fresh Dill, Chopped
Pinch Salt and Pepper

Shred the cucumber and place in a colander lined with paper towels. Salt generously and allow to sit for 30 minutes to an hour to pull out most of the moisture. Combine cucumber with yogurt, garlic, mint and dill. Season with Salt and pepper to taste.

Yogurt Parfaits with Orange Blossom Water, Honey, Cinnamon and Vanilla

Yields: 6-8 Servings

16 oz Natural or Greek Yogurt
2 tsps Pure Vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbl Orange Blossom Water
1/3-1/2 Cup Orange Blossom Honey

Combine and sweeten to taste. Layer yogurt, organic granola and fresh fruit in a wine glass. Chill 30 mins before serving.