A truly frugal outlook has a long view.

I’m delighted to welcome to the blog today Cathleen Hockman-Wert, the co-author of Simply in Season, one of my favorite cookbooks!

It’s always a pleasure to connect with people who share my interest in good food, food that is good in every way: food that tastes good, food that is good for our health, good for the environment, good for local communities and good for people worldwide.

Rachel asked me to share a little about the story behind Simply in Season, a cookbook that I co-authored with Mary Beth Lind to celebrate good food. It encourages people to choose seasonal, locally-produced and fairly traded foods, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Simply in Season is the third in a series of cookbooks produced by the international relief and development organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The first, More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, was first published in 1976. This was a time when global food shortages loomed, and in response MCC asked its constituents to eat and spend 10 percent less on food. More-with-Less explained how to do that – to eat less meat and more rice and beans, for example – but even more importantly made a persuasive argument: that faith and food are deeply connected. And that, moreover, eating more simply was not about “cutting back.” Rather, it meant “living joyfully, richly, creatively.”

Fast forward 30 years.

I grew up with More-with-Less, and it strongly influenced my values. I believed that “eating justly” meant two primary stewardship issues: health and cost. I wanted food that was good for me, and cheap. The intention was that by spending less on food, I would have more to share with others.
Frugality is part of my Mennonite DNA; my people tend to believe thriftiness could give cleanliness some solid competition for that place next to godliness. But my perspective was also shaped by broader culture. Compared to other nations, we Americans don’t spend much on what we eat, and we like it that way. We feel entitled to cheap food.

My perspective began to change as I learned more about the stories behind my food and realized that as a consumer with purchasing power, I am a part of these stories. One tomato might look like another, but because of the way they are produced, they may have wildly different stories in terms of economic justice, environmental impact, and so on. The stories are in fact so different that I came to see that food choices are not morally neutral.

When I choose which tomato to buy, this action has ramifications beyond my own pocketbook. It takes place in the context of a community, human and nonhuman. I am participating in systems that make life better for others, or worse. Grocery shopping is in fact an exercise in ethics.{a well-worn page from More-with-Less}

In Simply in Season I wanted to continue the conversation that began in More-with-Less about faith and food, and how our everyday actions reflect our values.
I still value frugality! But now my view is a little more holistic. A truly frugal outlook has a long view. Even the most devout penny-pinchers know it doesn’t save money to buy something cheap if it’s so flimsy it will have to be quickly replaced; it’s better to spend more at the outset and use it for a long time. In a wider sense, likewise, a frugal approach to grocery shopping – to any shopping, really – takes into account the hidden costs: the costs of cleaning up our environment, the health care costs for farmworkers sickened by pesticides, the military costs of protecting access to cheap oil. And our Christian calling to care for “the least of these” makes us ask, who is bearing the real costs?

It isn’t always easy to move from “spend less” to “spend for a better world.” When I shop, sometimes I repeat a little mantra: “cheaper is not always better.” I also like to repeat a prayer from Blessed Be Our Table, a collection of graces from the Iona Community: “Let me not seek a bargain that leaves others hungry.”

I’ve found it helpful, too, to view eating/shopping as a spiritual discipline. To me this reflects several things. First, as with the discipline of charitable giving, there’s an economic impact: choosing good foods can cost more. Equally significant is the impact on time. Amidst busy schedules, it can be hard to find the time to buy and prepare fresh food. Framing this practice as a spiritual discipline honors that reality. Spending time in worship or prayer requires making these things a priority. So does cooking a meal.

Finally, seeing food choices as a spiritual discipline speaks to their ordinariness, their daily nature. In contrast to a big decision like buying an electric car or choosing a house within biking distance of work, choices about food are small, and we make them constantly. We might make one choice today and a different choice tomorrow, but there’s always another chance to move toward greater consistency in matching our values with our actions.

A spiritual “practice” speaks to both the noun and verb meanings of “practice”: it’s an enactment of our beliefs as well as something we’re working on – like practicing the piano. We do it over and over again and get better.

I hope that idea is helpful for people when they ask about how they can afford to choose good food. Each of us has a different situation. Choose a place to start: maybe one local meal per week, or switching from regular to fair trade coffee. After a while, change something else.

Practice.

Like our spiritual journeys themselves, this journey with good food choices is gradual, partial, imperfect, and ongoing. And ultimately, I believe, that is good news indeed.

{thank you, Cathleen! It’s a pleasure to have you at Eat With Joy today!}

{It really is a great cookbook! Try it!}

In Which I’m a “Good Girl”

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has a classic recipe for French pots de crème [say “po de khrehm”] a delicious, airy, not-too-sweet chocolate mousse. I made it for Mr. and Mrs. S a few weeks ago and again on Saturday as the finish to a meal of green beans and pasta with meat sauce.

Actually, despite what Fannie says, I think these are not true pots de crème–according to the Wikipedia article, pots de crème are baked in a water bath, like a custard. These are, I think, mousse au chocolat. Oh, well. Fannie was not necessarily known for her command of French cuisine.

Any Francophiles want to weigh in on this? Nora?

Whatever you call it, this stuff is good. Fair warning, though: they contain copious amounts of raw egg. I’m pretty comfortable eating raw stuff–provided that I know it has come from a clean environment–but I don’t feed it to my kids.

Which means more for me, hooray!

Oh, yes. And the “conscience” part. Mousse au Chocolat or pots de crème or whatever you call them typically call for melted chocolate. Yes, I could buy fair trade chocolate bars (see yesterday’s post) but I didn’t have any on hand. What I do have is some lovely fair trade organic Dutch-process cocoa, which we use for making chocolate birthday cakes and hot chocolate.

{here are some cocoa farmers in Uganda who are able to make a living wage selling their beans for a fair price.}

And it can be used to make mousse au chocolat, too!

Maybe not the classic recipe or technique, but it sure was good, especially with super-fresh farm eggs. Be sure your cocoa is Dutch-process–it makes a big difference; it’s milder and much, much smoother.

[Mrs. S. said: “This was delicious. You’re a good girl.”]

Well, shoot. Just when I think I’ve given to someone who can’t repay, she goes and does just that.

Here’s my recipe:

Melt together over low heat:

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons fair-trade Dutch process cocoa powder

6 tablespoons sugar (fair trade!)

2 tablespoons water

Meanwhile, separate:

4 eggs

Beat the whites until stiff and glossy and set aside.

Beat the yolks until very thick and lemon-colored, and then beat in the cooled, melted chocolate mixture. Beat in:

1 teaspoon each of vanilla extract and rum or brandy

Gently, gently, gently fold in the whites. Spoon into small cups or glasses (about 1/2 cup in each). Chill, covered, for 12 hours.

Serves 4-6

Michelle Obama’s Cookbook

So here’s Michelle Obama on the cover of her cookbook, forthcoming in April:

And here are the ingredients for a Michelle Obama recipe:

Michelle Obama’s “No Cream” Creamed Spinach

2 pounds baby spinach, washed and cleaned

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Here’s a picture of Martha Washington from the National Portrait Gallery:

And here are the ingredients for a Martha Washington recipe:

Martha Washington’s Cake Recipe (makes an 11 pound cake)

2 3/4 cups golden raisins
2 cups dried currants
1 cup orange zest
6 ounces candied lemon peel
3/4 cup chopped candied citron
1/3 cup candied angelica
1/3 cup red candied cherries
1/3 cup green candied cherries
1/2 cup brandy
4 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
10 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup sherry
1 cup sherry

Yeah, so cooking has changed a bit since Mrs. Washington’s day. I don’t, however, understand why creamed spinach has to be made with no cream. Cream is wonderful and goes wonderfully well with spinach! So if that recipe is any indication of what’s going to be in the book, I’m nervous.

Plus?

I’m nervous that the press release says this:

“Mrs. Obama will describe how her daughters Sasha and Malia were catalysts for change in her own family’s eating behavior…

because Mr. Obama already once said this:

“A couple of years ago — you’d never know it by looking at her now — Malia was getting a little chubby.”

and because more than once I’ve heard something like this:

“My [6, 7, 8, 9] year old was talking about ‘fat’ and ‘obesity’ and worrying about what we were eating…because of something she heard Michelle Obama say.”

I’m really glad that Michelle Obama started the first edible garden on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt’s WWII victory garden. And I’m glad that she is working to bring attention to and eradicate food ‘deserts.’

no, not desserts. deserts.)

But this book, quite honestly, looks like it’s going to be a pretty coffee-table piece of political advertising, not a cookbook that’s going to inspire a new food culture.

{And I hope it’s not going to add to the fat anxiety already too prevalent in this culture.}

Well, that’s enough speculative judgment on a book I haven’t read. (!)

Anyway, change never comes from the top down. It starts where the inspiration for this book came from anyway–at the grassroots.

As in, next spring, why not pull the grass up by the roots and plant some strawberries or potatoes or lettuce instead? Forget the obesity epidemic: gardening is joyful work.

{Oh, and forgive me, but do those hair-scrolls atop Mrs. Obama’s head remind you of the ribbons on Mrs. Washington’s cap? They do me–HT Sarah–tee-hee.}

And Now For Something Sweet (with a Recipe)

I do believe yesterday’s post ruffled a few feathers out there.

It’s true that my primary allegiance isn’t to the Republican party, or the Democratic party, or even to these United States of America. When it comes down to it, my primary identity isn’t “American,” even though that’s what my passport says.

My primary identity is “Christian.” As a Christian–a follower of Christ–my sense of justice for “the least of these” is offended by such things as giving advertisers unfettered access to impressionable children.

End of story, for now. On to something much less controversial and much, much sweeter.

Caramel apples.

Oh, yes. It is apple season. Just after went apple picking some weeks ago, we had an occasion that demanded some dessert. I too tired to make another apple pie, and was all set to make brownies and THEN! Then I remembered that an easy, fun apple dessert could be had by slicing up some apples, tossing them with lemon juice and serving them alongside some caramel, like so:

Salted Caramel Dip

(adapted from a recipe by Chef Claudia Fleming)

Place in a large saucepan:

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup (no, it’s not the same as HFCS)

Cook over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until mixture turns a dark amber (about 10-15 minutes.)

Carefully whisk in (the mixture will hiss and bubble–be careful!)

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/8-1/4 tsp. sea salt

and whisk until smooth.

Allow to cool. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Oh, come on. You’re not going to tell me that this is unhealthy, are you? What about all the apples?

Besides, look at those ingredients again. Do they look a little better than this?

HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SKIM MILK, CORN SYRUP, PALM OIL, SUGAR, BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), MODIFIED CORN STARCH, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE),TBHQ (ADDED TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS), ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS.

{I love that they call it “old fashioned.” Because anything old-fashioned clearly had to have TBHQ–a form of butane, by the way–“to maintain freshness”}

That’s what I thought.

Enjoy!

Comfort the Afflicted

So my friend Mr. S–who is in his nineties–is in a great deal of pain. He has been in pain for most of his life, in fact, because he fought in the Pacific during WW2 and received a wound that has remained open, painful, and constantly infected ever since. But now he’s got some kind of affliction (cancer, maybe?) on his face and he is almost completely blind. When I saw him on Saturday night, he was in so much pain that he would pause, close his eyes, and be silent for a moment before continuing to speak.

this has very little to do with the post except that my son’s dinosaur/dragon drawings really do make the kitchen a happier place to cook and blog!

He’s never been a complainer. Not ever. Maybe that comes from being an old-fashioned Yankee; maybe from being part of the Greatest Generation; maybe that’s just who he is (and maybe some of each.) But lately, he has been more willing to admit that he is in pain. He has even mentioned some of his war experiences–something I’ve never known him to do. He feels very alone and forgotten. (Mrs. S is there, of course, but staying in a nursing home can still be pretty depressing and lonely)

Bringing dinner on Saturday nights, then, feels like much too little. It can’t take away the pain. In fact, he’s in such pain that he can’t manage to eat much anyway.

We keep going, of course. With food. Because even if he gets down just a few bites, it’s a few bites of something that tastes good and, hopefully, brings just a bit of comfort.

(I should add that Mrs. S has no problem enjoying her food. She eats quietly, deliberately, and heartily.)

This week, I was going to make a variation on the Tuna Noodle Casserole in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook (11th. ed.), substituting canned wild Alaskan salmon for the tuna. However, I forgot to put the salmon in, so it was simply Noodle Casserole. It was, if I may say so, quite good. But it wasn’t much like the recipe in the book. (I’ll share it soon. Spoiler: is topped with crushed potato chips, which you leave off at your peril.) Mrs. S. loved it. Mr. S. took only a few bites, but pronounced them ‘good.’

these are LOCAL potato chips! makes them healthier; I’m convinced of it. Oh! And another delightful monster drawing.
can’t believe I forgot the salmon. my mom wisely pointed out that having salmon in might’ve filled us up too much and cut into our appetite for chocolate mousse.
fresh mint and “french dressing” (a vinaigrette)

I wanted to start the meal with some kind of salad that would be seasonal and easy to eat, so I pulled a few beets from the ground, plucked some fresh mint and made a beet and mint salad with vinaigrette. (I don’t even like beets that much–except for beet cake, of course–but this was good, too.) To my surprise, Mr. S. ate almost all of his. Beets can be comfort food! Who knew?

beets are such a great color.

Of course, I had to make something chocolate for dessert because Mr. S. loves chocolate and because a creamy noodle casserole just calls for some kind of chocolate pudding as a finishing course. So we had a French chocolate mousse, made with the help of my beautiful new Kitchen Aid mixer that my mom got me for my birthday. Oh, yum. I made it with Dutch-process cocoa, sugar, butter, brandy, and eggs. (Mr. S. ate a good bit of this. Mrs. S., who is very quiet, gave a hearty “yum!” after her first bite and scraped the dish clean.)

I love this kind of cooking: it’s comfort food–soft, easy to swallow, creamy–from real ingredients. And when you’re cooking for old people and sick people, what can sometimes be comes a liability when cooking for others (for example, lots of cream and butter) is actually an advantage (calorically-dense foods are often just what sick folks with poor appetites need.) I love cooking for my old friends.

I’ve known some kids whose doctors prescribed that they drink this stuff straight. I have to use coffee as an excuse to drink it myself. #loveheavycream

I don’t kid myself that this food is going to work any miracles. Sometimes, for Mr. S., at least, hunger for food is obviously a distant second to hunger for company. This past week, I was pretty sure he would’ve preferred a dish of pain meds to the dinner I brought.

But maybe the comfort is not just in the food. Maybe it’s in the fact that with the food I bring hot, black coffee–his favorite–into a nursing home where the coffee is weak and tepid. Maybe it’s the way my mom insists on helping him cut his food and tells him that he’s not allowed to argue about it. Maybe it’s that we bring cloth placemats and real china and make a big fuss over them in a place which provides quality care but no extra touches.

Maybe we can’t eliminate pain in this broken, hurting world. Actually, I’m sure we can’t. But maybe we can offer each other comfort–the temporal comforts of hugs, puddings, hot drinks–that points to an even greater Comfort–the hope of One who shared our brokenness to the point of allowing himself to be broken, but rose again, securing our healing and wholeness and that of this whole broken world.