Growing up in Des Moines Iowa has left indelible memories such as summer baseball, swimming in sand pits with cold springs which made warm summer days bearable, drive-in movies and eating Eastern European specialties. It wasn’t Brooklyn but it wasn’t merely cornbread and BBQ either — dishes I also came to adore. Friends are often surprised about this biographical fact of my background suggesting I have changed since moving away from the cornfields of Iowa. Perhaps, but these memories are warm and comforting for every child. Of course many of my memories center around my grandmother’s culinary specialties. She didn’t speak English very well; in fact, she barely spoke at all. She was a very quiet woman from Lithuania. But we communicated well in the kitchen.
Gitle was her name. She helped take care of me, fed me and taught me many culinary lessons like how to make pickled Kirby cucumbers. Soups and meats she boiled way too long were an important part of her world and soon to become ours. Whenever I see crocks, that is ceramic jars at flea markets, I am reminded of her pickles with dill and vinegar, peppers, herbs and spices. The pickles were delicious and memorable. Her soup recipes were wonderful — especially her cold beet soup which I later discovered was a classic called Borscht throughout the Bylo-Russian region in which our family lived. When I added a tablespoon of sour cream I thought I had gone to heaven. Potato and Lentil soups were also enjoyed by everyone. Grandma liked to serve her borscht and potato soup cold.
One of my favorite food blogs these days is “Clean,” written by Alejandro Junger, MD. He is an internist, cardiologist and functional physician who is having a profound impact on healthy eating that focuses attention on relieving inflammation in the gut. His first book called Clean has been a big hit, and his second published earlier this spring is called Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health. Used copies are less expensive on Amazon.
Dr. Junger has also helped support a delightful newsletter on healthy eating that I have enjoyed for over a year. (See Junger’s colleague Dhru Purohit to register for their free newsletter at www.cleanprogram.com or merely visit my blog at www.zoxkitchen.com for other food articles and recipes.)
Remember when you heard that you should eat brown rice because it was good for you? But even your mom preferred Minute Rice or some other quick cooking rice over the crunchier brown rice. And the white rice seemed to look better on your plate. Now you’re cooking for your own family, your parents, or for yourself, and you are wondering … what’s the best tack to take? The data shows us that most people eat white rice. And rice is the most popular grain in the world. Does this mean we should follow the leader? Do what most others do? Or is there another story to consider? The fact is that brown rice is terrific tasting, filling and more nutritious than any white version you have been taught to eat. You just need to cook it long enough with tasty aromatics.
In a recent workshop I compared white Arborio, also called risotto rice, to brown basmati rice prepared risotto style. I discovered that the workshop attendees didn’t have a favorite. They enjoyed both types equally. The Arborio was a bit creamier because of the nature of the rice itself — very absorbent- and because it had more starch but the brown rice was excellent as well in its own way. Further the brown rice is dramatically better for you.
Bastille Day is the national holiday of France on July 14. Formally called La Fete Nationale, the day commemorates the 1790 first anniversary of the storming of Bastille fortress-prison on the Champs-Élysées Avenue in Paris. Many cities in the United States celebrate the holiday including New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Seattle, St. Louis and Minneapolis among many others.
My French friend Theo does not celebrate Bastille Day but others in his family do, including his sister and mother. But truth be told, the holiday is just another excuse for his entire family to cook and eat well. It’s always delicious and more than enough for everyone. Years ago I joined Theo and his family for Christmas. I was told a French Christmas was an even more festive occasion so of course I accepted the “moveable feast” — including an elegant dinner on Christmas Eve, and an all-day feast on Christmas day. The French like to eat. And Bastille Day is barely less elaborate. Since it’s a summertime holiday, bouillabaisse is considered a classic warm weather occasion and one that is generally low in fat and memorably delicious — especially for seafood lovers.
My father once traveled with me to Spain for business and pleasure. It was wonderful being with him but more eventful than I had expected. We drove from Madrid to a small village south of Barcelona that a friend had recommended to us. The trip held few surprises until I discovered my dad did not feel limited by the language barrier. Upon returning from parking our car near the café where we stopped for lunch, I found my dad trying to speak in sign language with the café owner. The owner didn’t speak a spot of English but told me (in Spanish, because I speak it) that he found my father totally charming.
An hour later we arrived at our hotel south of Barcelona, where we leased an inexpensive room on the bay. Our breakfast was included and consisted of cheeses, eggs, olives, Greek yogurt and coffee. After getting settled in our room we decided to stroll down the avenue along the beach where we discovered several cafes that specialized in a dish called paella with chicken and shellfish and another called fideos with seafood. My dad loved paella and I had heard that one particular café specialized in seafood with fideos Andalucian style that I enjoyed. We took pleasure in a bottle of Rioja and our entrees while watching the local fishing boats return to their moorings with the day’s catch as the sun set over the water. Eating alfresco is sublime and enjoyable.
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