Get Connected

Last night, we made our usual end-of-the-weekend pilgrimage to the Plaza here in Healdsburg, only this time we were joined by dozens of others participating in the Eat-in organized by Slow Food USA in an effort to change school lunch policy. Like a big picnic potluck, tables were filled with bowls of salad, local bread and cheeses, fruit fresh from the trees and vegetables both roasted and straight out of the garden.


I’d known for a while what dish I wanted to bring: Pollo en Jocon. My friend, food writer and cooking instructor Sandra Gutierrez, sent me this recipe so we could bring the tastes and scents of Guatemala, our daughter’s native land, into our own kitchen. Somehow it seemed an appropriate dish to share. I also made it in honor of Ana Maria and Mayra, a Guatemalan mother and daughter who have become as close as family despite being thousands of miles away. Our paths first crossed through Slow Food, and I wanted to bring something from their country so they’d be with us in spirit at the plaza.

One dish. And yet it connected me to Sandra, who was kind enough to share the recipe, and Pedro, the farmer who grew the tomatillos we used. It connected us to our daughter’s birth country and others we love dearly there. It connected us to the people who dug into it at the Eat-in, and even to the hope of a healthier future for our children.

Food is about so much more than just feeding ourselves. This week, be aware of how many ways it connects you.

Sweet Sips for the End of Summer

I remember the first time I sipped an agua fresca in Mexico I felt like I’d stuck my head inside a watermelon. It was that refreshing. Agua frescas, like a mellow punch bearing the essence of fruit flavor rather than being overly sweet, are ideal for sipping on long, leisurely weekends like the one we have ahead of us.


True to their name, agua frescas are made with a water base and are the epitome of cool and refreshing.  But they can be fun, creative concoctions too. When I stroll the farmers’ market, I consider fruit not just for its potential in a pie, but as a possibility for an agua fresca. Think mango and mint and ginger, think honeydew and blackberry, think watermelon and basil like the one below.

For a sweetener, I’ve become smitten with agave nectar. As much as I love honey in cooking and baking, I find it imparts too much of its own flavor to drinks. And simple syrup, while fine and good, takes time to dissolve over heat and chill. Agave nectar is a natural sweetener that comes from the same plant that gives us tequila. It’s neutral tasting and blends super easily even with cold liquids. Calorically-speaking, it’s a bit more dense than sugar (60 calories per tablespoon versus 45), but because its more concentrated you’ll end up using less and net out about equal (no, not that Equal) in the end.

And if you want to make agua frescas a bit more, ahem, adult make two batches and spike one (save the other batch for the kids); they make a great base for cocktails.

Basic Recipe for Agua Frescas

4 cups super-ripe fruit (melon, berries and stone fruit work beautifully), cut into 1-inch cubes if necessary
2 cups cold water
½ cup leafy herbs and
2 tablespoons citrus juice (lemon, lime or orange)
2-3 tablespoons agave nectar, depending on sweetness of the fruit

Blam everything together in a blender until it’s smooth. If using fruits with skins, like plums or peaches, you may want to strain through a not-too-fine strainer before serving.

Makes 6 cups, roughly 4 servings