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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.


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.


Teaching outdoors in beautiful Urbana

Urbana-Champain? Champain-Urbana? One of the participants in my class at the Common Ground Food Co-op told me folks say it either way, but that Chambana covers it all. We had about 10 people on a gorgeous spring day outside the co-op. I was a little concerned about the distractions from the fire station across the street and the occasional Harley in the parking lot, but all went very well. What a delight to be outside talking about delicious food with such a lively group.

A question came up about freezing food as it does in nearly every class. If that's a question you have too, please check out my freezing food primer on the site.

The Common Ground Food Co-op is in a bright & airy space, with spring-green walls and colorful displays of produce and bulk goods. Just eighteen months ago, they were in a church basement on campus, with irregular hours and limited parking. Front End Manager Rachel Hess told me how far the co-op had come in a short time, with regular hours, plenty of parking in lovely Lincoln Square Village, and record-breaking sales month after month ... even through the winter!

What sets Common Ground apart? Rachel told me she is especially happy about the partnership they have with local farmers. The farmers' market is in their parking lot every Saturday. The co-op opens at 7 a.m. so folks can get coffee and use the bathrooms. "A farmer who runs out of basil will tell customers, 'I sold a bunch to Common Ground yesterday. Go on inside and get some.'" She's also glad that, being in a university town, they get a fresh crop of customers every year to introduce to the joys of fresh and healthy eating.

I felt right at home in Chambana and knew it would be a great place to live after following Rachel's advice to get dinner at Mas Amigos. Excellent Mexican food with great service and lively music. I hope to come back soon.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about the magical time we had in Fairfield, Iowa, and about today's adventures in Denver.