Archive for the ‘Products I Like (or Don’t Like)’ Category

Yummy Yammy Salsa Giveaway (Plus Tinky in a New Hat)

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

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I haven’t offered a giveaway on this blog in a while—so this one should be GOOD. And it is!

Yummy Yammy has generously offered to send three jars of its sweet-potato salsa (one Mexican, one Moroccan, and one Tuscan) to a reader of In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

This company, based in Norwich, Vermont, is run by a woman named Lisa Johnson. Lisa’s salsas have no tomatoes in them, but salsa doesn’t need tomatoes.

As readers may recall I have made peach salsa, tropical fruit salsa, rhubarb salsa, and apple-cranberry salsa. I had never thought of making salsa out of sweet potatoes, however, and I was intrigued when Yummy Yammy offered to send me some to try.

Lisa’s salsa lives up to its name. It’s made of real food—sweet potatoes, beans, lime juice, vegetables, spices—and it tastes fresh and yummy. I served some at a cocktail party this week, and neighbors loved it, too.

The salsa isn’t cheap. When I think of what I spend making salsa, however, I realize why. Yummy Yammy is smoother than tomato salsa, which makes it versatile. And it’s low in calories and high in nutrition.

Yummy Yammy is available in the North Atlantic region at Whole Foods Market as well as online at Amazon and Open Sky. If you don’t win the salsa giveaway (I wish you ALL could!), you can go to the Yummy Yammy website and sign up for its mailing list. You will receive free shipping on your first online order as well as special offers in the future.

To enter the drawing for the giveaway, just leave a comment below telling me about your favorite salsa or your favorite thing to do with salsa (or whatever you feel like discussing!) between now and midnight on the morning of Tuesday, September 16. I’ll choose a winner randomly and announce his/her name on the morning of the 17th.

Good luck—and just in case you were dying to see me in a new straw hat (I KNOW you were!), here is my most recent TV appearance. The recipe I make comes from my upcoming book on Funeral Foods and is based on a dish in a mystery novel by Margaret Maron. Just click on the picture below to watch. And if you make the actual recipe depicted (I encourage you to do so!), bake the casserole until the biscuits brown (about 20 minutes) and then cover the whole thing and bake for 10 to 20 minutes longer to make sure everything is warm and bubbly.

Enjoy the glorious almost fall weather….

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Cooking and Thinking in Provence, 1970

Friday, December 6th, 2013

30book "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr.

I review a lot of books for my local newspaper. I can’t remember the last one that spoke to me as Provence, 1970 has.

Subitled “M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste,” the book was written by Luke Barr, an editor at Travel + Leisure and Fisher’s nephew.

(M.F.K. Fisher, in case you haven’t read her, is another great read, perhaps the first American to write culinary essays that were taken seriously by both food lovers and literary critics.)

The book hones in on a few weeks toward the end of 1970 when six food luminaries converged in the South of France. In addition to the three writers in the subtitle, Barr writes about Simone Beck, Julia Child’s friend and the co-author of Child’s pioneering volumes on Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Richard Olney, an American writer and artist who wrote meticulously researched books about traditional French country cooking; and Judith Jones, the influential editor who worked with most of the writers involved.

Jones is the only major character in the book who is still alive. At 89 she is still cooking and writing and is a former judge at my very own hometown’s charity pudding contest, which will return in 2014.

Working from letters, diaries, and memoirs, Barr examines individuals and cultures at a defining moment. Most of his American characters had made their reputations (and built much of their lives) paying tribute to traditional French cuisine. At this point in their lives Child and Fisher in particular were beginning to feel ever so slightly oppressed by the Old World and their old lives in France … and to look forward to a new beginning in the New World.

Barr argues that this moment in food history, the time his characters spent together in Provence late in that year, marked a turning point in the way Americans write about food and consequently in the way we cook. Instead of trying to duplicate classic French modes of food preparation, we began to explore our own culinary possibilities.

Much of the food culture we now take for granted followed—including our renewed interest in local, fresh food; the status of chefs and food writers (although not this food writer yet, alas) as icons of popular culture; our curiosity about new, varied flavors; and what Barr calls the “moral dimension” of cookery in contemporary America.

Barr is careful not to overstate his argument; he doesn’t claim that these encounters in Provence CAUSED the way we cook today. He does convincingly maintain that his characters and their interactions “provide a unique, up-close view of the push and pull of history and personality.”

Provence, 1970 takes the reader on a thought-provoking, delicious tour of a remarkable time, place, and group of people. My favorite moment in the book comes when Julia Child and James Beard are improvising a simple supper in the kitchen at la Pitchoune, the small house built by Child and her husband Paul in rural France.

Julia Child and James Beard in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Julia Child and James Beard  at la Pitchoune in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission from/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

For them, as for most of us who love to cook, the preparation of a meal is a balancing act between the knowledge and tradition they have built up over the years in the kitchen and the demands of the unique foodstuffs in front of them. It is an opportunity for creativity and for camaraderie.

I treasure Provence, 1970 for scenes like the one in the Childs’ kitchen and also for its implicit message that change can come at any age. All the main characters are middle aged, ranging from Richard Olney at 43 to James Beard at 67. Yet all are preparing for new chapters in their lives and new chapters in books.

Above all, I love the book for Barr’s sensitivity to the enduring connections that food can forge between people who care for one another and for the preparation and consumption of meals.

His words about his mother near the end of the book speak to the impulse that made me call this blog In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

It was my mother, who died a few years ago, who taught me to cook. And when I make something she made for me, or with me, I feel her presence—not in any literal or even ghostly way, but in the form of an atmospheric shift, an emotional warmth. It is striking how cooking binds us to the past, and to the people we love, even when they’re gone.

As Christmas approaches, I raise a glass and lift a fork to Luke Barr and to the historical figures he brings to life in his book. And of course to my own late mother—and to you and those you love, dear readers.

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

P.S. If you have already purchased Provence, 1970 for a food lover on your gift list and are looking for other book suggestions, a bookstore, Amazon, or I would be more than happy to sell you a copy of my own Pulling Taffy or Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you order from me, you may get your copies signed—and you will be supporting THIS middle-aged food writer!)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider taking out an email subscription to my blog. Just click on the link below!

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Ready to Eat

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

This post will be a little different from most since I’m not sharing a recipe. I promise to be back soon with something to cook. I always find apple time irresistible!

Today I’m simply describing an eating experience I encountered courtesy of Hurricane Irene.

As readers of my blog about caring for my mother know, my hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts, was hard hit by Irene … despite the fact that she had supposedly been downgraded to a Tropical Storm by the time she reached our community.

The roads in Hawley hew to the tradition of roads in many small communities—particularly hilly small communities. Our byways are built alongside brooks and rivers. Most of the time, this is a great idea. Why carve a road down a hill when you can just follow a stream around the hill?

During a hurricane, however, having one’s roads follow a river seems a lot less smart. Large parts of Hawley (including my own area, Pudding Hollow) were cut off during and after the hurricane by washed-out roads.

As a result, Hawley had its first ever (to my knowledge, at any rate) visit from FEMA. Federal and state officials helicoptered in to plan road repairs, bring medical help to a neighbor in need, and share food and water.

The food in question was a group of MREs—the ready-to-eat meals favored (or at any rate consumed) by our armed forces in the field.

Naturally, as a food person, I was fascinated by these. My mother and I really had no need for food. (Please don’t tell FEMA; this might be some sort of fraud!) Nevertheless, I asked for three of the meals.

The one I actually tried sounded intriguing. One somehow doesn’t expect to find Thai Chicken in MRE form.

A friend reminded me that Hawley is a bit far from Thailand. Even New York, where the MREs originate, is far from Thailand. So I’m not sure why I expected the food to be good. I guess I hoped it would be for the sake of the troops.

It took me a while to read the (very small, very obtuse) directions for heating the MRE with its “flameless heater,” a chemical pad that reacts to create heat when one adds a little water to its bag and then puts the bag in a box. The box is then rested on a rock “or something,” according to the directions.

Even after I managed to decipher the directions, I didn’t quite heat the food correctly. I put both the chicken and its accompanying rice pilaf in the heater bag. Only the one closer to the little pad actually got warm. I resorted to my microwave for the other—not an option open to soldiers in the field.

The chicken and rice proved sadly bland … even when I added a little hot sauce from the enclosed miniature bottle (a nice touch). The dishes’ consistency was off putting as well; both were gummy.

The rest of the meal was pretty darn odd but designed, I guess, to put protein into soldiers. It consisted of vegetable crackers (today’s hard tack) with peanut butter, a peanut/raisin mixture, instant coffee (a tea bag provided an alternative), and chewing gum.

My friend Brett informs me that he and his fellow members of the 379th Engineers subsisted on these meals for weeks at a time overseas.

The whole thing gave me a renewed appreciation for our men and women in uniform. Risking their lives and leaving their families are bad enough. Having to eat bland, boring food … now, that’s too great a sacrifice.

When I learned that National Guard troops and other officials were working on the roads out of town it occurred to me that these men might be subsisting on MREs. I hastened to bake them some butterscotch brownies, and my neighbor Alice and I drove down to the road-construction site (very carefully) to distribute the treats.

I wish I could do the same for our troops everywhere.

Meanwhile, if you would like to help with hurricane relief in our area, please consider contributing relief supplies to the drive at our local elementary school, Hawlemont School in Charlemont. Coordinator Beth Bandy is asking for bottled water, nonperishable foods, cleaning supplies, baby food/formula, pet food, clothing, and anything else that might be helpful. She is also looking for drivers with hardy cars to deliver the supplies. For more information on the drive, call Beth at 413-337-4291.

Beth has also set up a Facebook page for her efforts.

And if you’d like to hear an abridged audio version of my blog post about our own hurricane experience, here’s the link for my commentary on WFCR-FM.

Local Peach Ice Cream (Read It and Crave!)

Monday, September 21st, 2009
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The mixing room at Bart’s Homemade Ice Cream in Greenfield, Massachusetts, isn’t large–just spacious enough for machinery and a few people. Three of them were manning the machines on September 10. All eyes were on “Little Tommy Snow,” the silver-and-blue cylinder that mixes the ice cream for both Bart’s and Snow’s ice cream.
 
On this special day Tommy was blending a new flavor. Into the creamy basic ice-cream formula “he” was whipping air and an orangey-yellow mixture made with peaches from Apex Orchards in nearby Shelburne.

Little Tommy Snow web

 
The other people in the room were Barbara Fingold and Gary Schaefer, the mom-and-pop owners of Bart’s and Snow’s ice cream; their Flavor Maven, Bob Jaros of Shelburne; and yours truly, a longtime fan of both ice cream and peaches (with the hips to prove it!). All eagerly awaited the first taste of Bart’s new CISA Local Peach Ice Cream.
 
Barbara is the president of Bart’s so it was only fitting that she was given the first creamy spoonful. As she sampled the still soft custard she widened her eyes and then smiled. Gary, Bob, and I tasted the next cups. The judges’ unanimous verdict came swiftly: the new flavor was peachy keen.
 
The ice cream’s intense peach flavor hits the tongue right away. The little chunks of peach distributed throughout complement the custard–and reinforce the taste of peaches and cream in every mouthful.
 
After our initial tasting we repaired to Gary’s office with a pint of ice cream. There we discussed the genesis of Bart’s latest product as we noshed.
 
Barbara and Gary explained that both the peach ice cream and the CISA Berry Local Blueberry Ice Cream that debuted this summer stemmed from Gary’s involvement in the board of CISA, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.
 
Gary celebrated the peach ice cream as “a collaborative community event.” The peaches came from Apex. The Franklin County Community Development Corporation food processing center blanched, skinned, pitted, and pureed the peaches.
Barbara and Gary try some peach ice cream. Barbara and Gary try some peach ice cream.
And of course the ice cream was mixed right in Barbara and Gary’s small factory on School Street.
 
The pair have been involved with CISA for most of the nonprofit entity’s existence. “We’re crazy, passionate about local food,” said Gary. If all goes well, he added, Bart’s is “going to think about an apple [ice cream] and then whatever other crazy fruits grow around here.”
 
I asked Bob Jaros about his role at the ice-cream plant. A retired physician, he works on quality-assurance programs for a number of companies. It was clear from his contented demeanor that Bart’s and its products have a special place in his heart and mouth. “You need a palate for ice cream,” he told me. “I’ve learned with the tutelage of my friends.”
 
Gary explained that Bob’s work is important to Bart’s quality and reputation. “If you work in your kitchen and you mess up your cake, you mess up A cake,” he told me. “If we mess up our formula, we mess up a whole batch of ice cream.”
 
“Everything is tested,” Bob Jaros added, “and if it’s not right we find out before it’s sent out.”
Bob Janos

Bob Jaros

 
Like Gary and Barbara, he is a firm believer in local production and supports the idea as well as the flavor of the new ice cream. “In essence the whole circle is one that supports the community in local products and local manufacturing,” he said.
 
Gary interrupted Bob to remind him that the milk in Bart’s and Snow’s is not yet completely local: it is processed in a small farming cooperative in New York State. He said that one of his dreams is to establish a local dairy-processing plant. “It’s this winter’s project … along with our roof,” he remarked with a wry smile.
 
Bob declared that one of the reasons he likes Bart’s and Snow’s ice cream so much is the high quality of the product.
 
“We make it the same way we did 15 years ago, which is not the case with big multinational ice creams,” explained Gary Schaefer. “They’ve all change their formula to make it less expensive.
 
“We didn’t have to do anything to get better,” he said. “We simply had to not change. That’s kind of a symbol of what’s going on in the whole industry. All that corporatizing of America has been really good for us.”
 
Bart’s CISA Local Peach ice cream is available at local stores now–until this year’s crop runs out!
 
Bart’s lists all the locations that sell Bart’s ice-cream pints on its web site.
 
“Not all [of these] will have the peach,” Barbara Fingold told me, “but most will since we’re mentioning it to all our customers and everyone seems very excited about it.”
 
Happy scooping………….

Tinkyicecreamweb

Green Kitchen Tools for Earth Day

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
Lamson & Goodnow's New Green Tools (Image Courtesy of Lamson & Goodnow; garish colors added by me)

Lamson & Goodnow's New Green Tools (Image Courtesy of Lamson & Goodnow; garish colors added by me)

 

I buy all my knives at Lamson & Goodnow—in part because the company is my neighbor in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, but mostly because it makes excellent knives. L&G has a handy lifetime sharpening policy to boot.

 

In recent years the company has branched out into lovely wooden products and a line of silicone kitchen items (I have my eye on its silicone egg poachers for a Mother’s Day recipe!). It also makes high-quality kitchen tools—spatulas, turners, grilling implements, and my favorite potato masher in the world.

 

In honor of Earth Day I thought I’d mention L&G’s most recent tools, a line called “Good Now” that is made as much as possible from recycled materials. The company makes turners of various sizes and a mini masher. I hear that other tools are in the works.

 

The tools’ handles are made entirely from post-consumer recycled paper(!). The blades are 90 percent post-consumer hi-carbon stainless steel. They look and work just like traditional hard-plastic-handled tools; they’re durable, and they are safe in the dishwasher and at high temperatures.

 

The electricity that makes them is generated locally at Lamson’s dam over the Deerfield River. And of course any waste (scrap metal and grinding shavings) is recycled.


Lamson & Goodnow has been a fixture in my area since 1834. It’s nice to see it continuing to stretch its creative wings in the 21st century.

 

 

By the way, L&G has been kind enough to offer to send a Good Now tool to one of the people who subscribe to this blog via e-mail between now and May 3! (This includes current subscribers!) The winner will be randomly chosen on Sunday, May 3. My immediate relatives are not eligible to win–although I certainly hope they will continue their subscriptions anyway. (In fact, I plan to force them to do so.)

 

To subscribe, just click on the link below. Thank you, Lamson & Goodnow! And good luck to all readers……

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