Relandscape Your Kitchen

Lately, as I’ve been getting my garden into shape, I’ve been reflecting on how some outdoor techniques can apply in the kitchen to create a healthier landscape to cook in. Here are three ways to relandscape your kitchen (and, unlike most landscaping projects, they won’t cost you a cent!):


  • Get Rid of What Doesn’t Work– When we first put our yard in, Christopher and I were on the lookout for ground cover. We saw one we liked—a euphorbia—and I bought a bunch of seedlings hoping they’d take root and spread. And oh did they spread. That particular type of euphorbia, it turns out, spreads by underground rhizome, and although the tag had promised it would max out at eight inches tall, most of our plants were bushy 2-foot monsters.What had seemed attractive at first ultimately threatened to choke out all the painstakingly placed plants in the yard. There’s a parallel here with our pantries. I used to pack my pantry with pretzels because they seemed attractive as a “low fat” choice. Over time, though, I discovered that I was always at battle with them. I wanted the pretzels to make me slim, but instead I’d feel sluggish and bloated after eating them. Sometimes, we just need to admit that something needs to come out.
  • Move Things Around– My mom’s yard is always in flux; in a good way. If a hosta becomes stagnant, she’ll relocate it under another tree. If a clump of lilies becomes too dense, she’ll dig them up and replant them throughout the garden. The lesson I’ve gleaned from my mom’s technique is that location does affect whether or not something “takes.”I think of this every time I open my cupboard and see my grains on the shelf above my head. I say I want to eat more whole grains—both in quantity and variety—and yet they’re essentially out of sight and in a place that takes effort to reach. By moving my grains to a more accessible location (on my project list), they’ll have more of a chance to take root in my family’s daily diet.
  • Try Some New Things– Some of my greatest triumphs in the garden have come from experimentation. One year, we became smitten with Padron peppers at a restaurant and decided to give growing them a try. Since then, they’ve been hands-down the most productive plant in the garden every year. Little delights like that can happen in your kitchen too, and you don’t even need to buy anything new. If you bought a jar of cardamom for a coffeecake recipe six months ago, give it a shot in a curry. If you have some dried chiles lingering on a shelf, throw a few in a pot of beans.

This week, seek out ways to relandscape your kitchen so it will better nurture you.

My Kid in the Kitchen

Moms ask me all the time if my daughter is a good eater, and I’m happy to say that she is. Part of the reason is that I put her to work in the kitchen (from an early age … see the video below). I’ve said before and I’ll say again that the more kids get involved with their food, the more likely they are to eat it. Here are a few ways that Noemi (4-1/2) and I cook together in the kitchen.

  • kid in the kitchenWe snap beans and peas together, and husk corn … often at the table outside or on our front stoop (I think God made front stoops as a place to husk corn and eat popsicles).
  • Noemi “zips” greens for me. She loves, loves, loves doing this and is so proud of what a great job she does.
  • She cuts soft vegetables and fruits like mushrooms and strawberries. I bought a couple of plastic serrated knives from Curious Chef a couple of years ago and we’ve never looked back. Noe puts a cutting board on her her little “stove,” picks up her knife and goes.
  • Noe loves pounding garlic in my mortar and pestle. Last night, as I was pulling together a pasta with zucchini and pesto, she perked up and asked if she could help out. So I put her to work on the pesto (what she’s not so fond of is mommy hopping up to get her camera and then making her hold a pose …).
  • A different season, but Noemi also loves getting pomegranate seeds out of the pod, and little things like rolling cheese in breadcrumbs and shaping mounds of dough.

The point is, the kitchen is a really fun place for kids if you invite them to do things that they can excel at and enjoy … no matter what their age. Start them young and your kids will become naturally curious towards food, rather than looking at it as something foisted upon them.

Last night after making her pesto, for instance, Noemi was enthusiastic about sitting down for dinner. And, yes, she did eat the zucchini.


The Language of the Kitchen

I know I’ve been writing a lot on Guatemala as of late. But, hey, there’s been a lot to write about. Like, for instance, the fact that I recently got into the kitchen to cook side by side with Ana Maria Chali Calan this week.

kitchen-language-postMany of you know that Christopher and I support Ana Maria’s daughter Mayra in her university studies, and I’ve written about what that means to me. But when we first became connected with the Calan family, I never imagined that Ana Maria and I would be teaching a class together here in Healdsburg.

A couple of months ago, although it seems like days, a few of us had a little planning session in my garden about how to bring Ana Maria back to the states. Slow Food Sonoma County had brought Ana Maria here in November 2008, as the leader of the indigenous women’s association AMIDI, to exchange ideas about farming and foodways in Guatemala and America.

One concern that Ana Maria voiced in 2008 was the proliferation of poorly ventilated stoves, which are both a safety and health hazard. As a result of Ana Maria’s diplomacy here, our organization was able to raise enough money to donate 41 fuel-efficient stoves shortly after her return, one to each member of AMIDI. But it didn’t stop there. Guatemalan officials heard about the stoves and went to the village to see them in action. They were so impressed that they decided to install over 6,000 of them throughout highland villages, improving—and likely even saving—numerous lives.

Fast forward—and I mean fast forward (the generous Bowmans sprung for Ana Maria’s ticket and Marilee mobilized everything expertly)—to Thursday, the day after Ana Maria arrived here in the U.S. I’m standing side by side with Ana Maria, I in my chef’s jacket and she in her huipil, and we’re preparing to teach a class together on using stone tools.

She teaches how to grind corn on a metate and hand-pat tortillas. I talked about making salsas and sauces in molcajetes (you all know I’m smitten for mortars and pestles) and then put everyone to work making their own. I even made Sandra’s Pollo en Jocon and got a thumbs up from Ana Maria herself.

This year, Ana Maria’s village faces even graver issues: the village was hit heavily by mudslides after a recent tropical storm. The water system was destroyed, houses were heavily damaged, and crops and fields and livestock were washed away. But she, they, will persevere. And we will be there to support them (if you’d like to help, click here on the donation page we’ve set up).

The language of the kitchen is universal (of course, it helps to have Marilee there translating). It never ceases to amaze me, whether in Mexico, France, Guatemala, Greece or right here at home, how strong and natural the bonds become when people are elbow to elbow washing leaves or shredding chicken or pounding herbs. Bodies relax. Divides disappear. Conversation flows freely … even when spoken in a foreign tongue.

MacGyver Moves in the Kitchen

By Alison Ashton

Remember the TV show “MacGyver,” in which the hero adapted whatever was at hand to save the day like using a paperclip to diffuse a bomb? At NOURISH Evolution, we’re all about making full use of ingredients, and the same goes for equipment. Nothing brings out your culinary MacGyver like working in a professional kitchen, as Jennifer Schaertl, learned as a chef in four-star restaurants, where kitchens typically are cramped, and there never seems to be enough equipment to go around. Many strategies common to the restaurant kitchen can help space-strapped home cooks, too, and Shaertl shares her tips in her new book Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens (Health Communications).

macgyver-postShaertl puts a practical, cheerful spin on cooking in “CLKs” (crappy little kitchens), and her strategies can help even if your kitchen isn’t so tight. A well-organized CLK is a remarkably efficient and pleasurable place to cook–everything is close at hand, and you have less crap to clean up at the end.

The key is to pare down your equipment and choose items that can multitask. For example, Schaertl says you only need three knives: A good-quality 6- to 8-inch chef’s knife, a serrated bread knife, and a paring knife. (Though Kurt contends–and I agree–a boning knife is nice, too, but it’s optional.) One of Shaertl’s favorite tools is an easy-to-store stacking 12-quart stockpot with a strainer and steamer basket, which you can use to make stock, cook-and-strain pasta, and steam vegetables. The pot’s steamer basket also can double as a colander.

In the CLK spirit, here are five specialty tools you can easily improvise with items you probably already have:

Microplane/mandolin. A four-sided box grater as a versatile tool that can stand in for both a microplane and a mandolin, says Schaertl. Use it to grate cheese or veggies for slaw, as well as finely grate lemon zest, garlic, ginger, and chocolate, or thinly slice mushrooms. The more often you use it, the more uses you’ll find for it.

Meat mallet. This is one of Shaertl’s space-wasting “CLK Saboteurs.” Instead, pound that veal cutlet for scallopini with the bottom of a heavy skillet or saucepan, and use a fork to tenderize meat.

Panini press. These things are terrible space hogs. If you love panini, make them on the stovetop in a grill pan or regular skillet and weigh down the sandwich with another heavy skillet, saucepan, or Dutch oven.

Sifter. “This thing is the epitome of the one-trick pony,” Shaertl writes. I agree, and use the $5 fine-mesh strainer I bought years ago at Walmart to sift flour, sift powdered sugar over baked goods, and strain sauces.

Double boiler. This is a gizmo in which one pan nests inside another; the larger pan holds simmering water to gently heat whatever is in the top pan. It’s just a fancy version of an old-school bain-marie (water bath) that you can create with any saucepan and heatproof bowl, as we do here with our Kitchen MacGyver Lemon Curd.

Now that I think of it, making better use of fewer tools instead of cluttering the kitchen with lots of random gadgets is the very spirit of sustainability. How do you make your kitchen equipment pull double, triple, or even quadruple duty? Let us know!