Tuesday, July 28, 2009

POM Wonderful Juice

Am I the best person to taste test POM Wonderful juice?

Pomegranates are my favorite fruit. I think it's genetic, because pomegranates are a hallmark of Armenia. Maybe it's because of their tough skin. Once you get past the nearly impregnable skin there are the bright red, juicy seeds shining like jewels. The pomegranate has been a symbol of fecundity since ancient times and in my lexicon creativity.

I get really excited in the fall when pomegranates start to appear in the stores. I'd love to take a whole crate home. A few years ago, I made up a refreshing pomegranate and grapefruit salad that appears in the Spatulatta Cookbook. When pomegranates are in season, I eat the salad for breakfast and dessert.

Their crisp refreshing flavor is something I hunger for year round so I was glad to see POM Wonderful appear in the refrigerated cases at the grocery store. Seeing the bottles refrigerated, rather than sitting on the shelf with the other juice, signaled that there were no preservatives.

Plus, I've been hearing wonderful things about the ability of pomegranate juice to reduce accumulations of plaque on artery walls. Big issue in my family.

Okay, so I was really looking forward to my first taste.


Then I detected a slight undertaste from the white membrane that surrounds the bright red seeds. It was hard for me to overlook and it never diminished as I continued to sip.

I wound up pouring soda water into the POM Wonderful and squeezing in a bit of lime. Yum!

So I tried POM Wonderful out on other people. I started with Joe, the 9-year old taste tester from Spatulatta. Joe's immediate reaction was a scrunched up face. "It's tart!" And then after another sip he said, "And sweet!" After the initial shock (he was expecting it to be like cranberry juice) he did indeed drink the whole 6-ounce bottle.

Next taster was Farrah, a visiting peace advocate from Iraq. Pomegranates are a favorite fruit in Iraq and Iran. Farrah took a sip and decided to add soda water as well. Likewise, my film editor friend, Jan who is a connoisseur of non-alchoholic beverages.

The last taste tester was my 14-year old nephew Max who was visiting from Japan. Max loved the POM Wonderful. He sucked down every drop he could get his hands on.

So my analysis? It was tasty. Not a flavor you come across everyday. My adult friends found it lovely in a mixed non-alcoholic drink, kids who like tart things really get into it, and hide it from your teenagers!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Little Chefs Race to the Taste in Ireland

I just got the cutest e-mail from Julie Kane at Cactus PR. Julie's doing public relations for the Belfast Taste and Music Festival. Julie writes:


Little chefs Jake O'Neill (aged 7), Daniel Catterson (aged 11), Matthew Catterson (aged 8) and Jasmine O'Neill (aged 9) race to welcome Team Spatulatta which will be making their UK and Ireland debut at the Belfast Taste and Music Fest which runs from 6th to 9th August 2009.

Team Spatulatta is really looking forward to meeting our Irish friends in person. It's been months in the planning and soon we'll actually be getting on the plane. We'll be doing cooking demos and activities for kids during the Festival in the Belfast Botanic Gardens.

I'll be blogging from the festival so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Small Plate Diet

A couple months ago, my nano-tech engineer brother-in-law, Matt came up with a great new diet and he lost 15 pounds with one simple trick.

He started serving meals on smaller plates.

He'd figured out that he could trick his brain into not noticing that he was serving himself smaller portions. And it worked!

So I got excited when I came across a cookbook Small Plates: Appetizers as Meals by Marguerite Marceau Henderson, published by Gibbs Smith. Henderson has a around 200 recipes for appetizers that pass as very, very satisfying entrees.

The first recipe I made was Calamari with Fingerling Potatoes and Fennel. I picked that it because I just happened to have all the ingredients in my refrigerator. You scoff. Don't.

My husband is such a stickler for following recipes to the "n" degree that we had an extra bulb of fennel languishing around from something he'd made the week before. We had kalamata olives from a Spatulatta cooking demo and fingerling potatoes looked so good at the farmers' market that I had to get some. So all these great ingredients were hanging around, waiting for an opportunity to be turned into something wonderful.

And then I cheated. It was 6 PM. I'd just come back from a meeting downtown and I wasn't about to go out to the store for calamari. So I thawed out some talapia instead. But that's the joy of cooking for me, improvisation.

I baked the talapia separately with a little olive oil and spices. At the same time I was roasting the potatoes, fennel and olives.

The potatoes came out toasty brown, the fennel nearly carmelized, the olives added a salty hit, and the red pepper flakes gave a little heat here and there. My new favorite dish!

Henderson includes some tapas and traditional recipes from Italy. There are all-vegetable dishes, seafood and meat small plates. Inventive salads like Two Melon and Cucumber Mint Salad really peaked my interest.

And I have to applaud her, she not afraid of spices. She uses plenty of herbs, giving one's taste buds a lot of exercise. I find if a dish is spiced well, its richness will satisfy me in a way that mere volume won't.

Take for instance, Coffee and Spice Lamb Kebabs. What a concept! The coffee and spice rub, which includes cinnamon, cumin, allspice and fennel, gives the lamb a wonderful exotic flavor.

So why not try the small plate diet with a little help from Small Plates: Appetizers as Meals?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chip and Dale they are not!

This is only the second year we've had chipmunks in our garden. Cute little devils.

One busies itself with snatching seeds when they drop from my neighbor-to-the-south's birdfeeder, running across my yard and diving into the shrubbery on the neighbor-to-the-north's yard. There's another who's dug a hole until the cement pad my garage sits on.

My husband, Roger and I were sitting eating dinner on the patio and watching the comings and goings. I'm the type of person who observes, Roger is the type of person who grabs a book and researches.

So he goes into the house and brings out a book on animal behavior. He reads that chipmunks make burrows that can by up to several feet in diameter and hide gobs of food for the winter. Hmmm. Does this mean our garage floor will cave in at some point? Not good.

But then he reads that they also eat slugs and other nasty critters in the garden. What nice, little creatures!

They can stay as long as they want. They have a smorgasbord going on out in our garden with all the hostas. Let them at the juicy slugs that I have been trying to get rid of by drowning in beer!

Some mornings I open up the back door and standing there, looking up, ready to dash is my charming garden mascot. I make some ridiculous noises at the chipmunk trying to be friendly. He or she looks at me like I'm insane, then bolts, tail in the air, bounding down the steps like an animated cartoon character.

My yard has become like a scene from a Disney film: sparrows chirping, doves cooing, and chipmunks, with their little cheeks filled with seeds, scooting by. They are very busy little characters and I assume they are gobbling up lots of slugs between trips to the birdfeeder.

But no.

The slugs are out of control. They have eaten huge holes in my hostas and my rhubarb. They never touched the rhubard before.

Where are those chipmunks?

My cherry tomatoes are just starting to set after our long cold spring. And yesterday I was out in the garden admiring the clusters of green fruit on the Sungold tomatoes, calculating how long before I can pop them into my mouth. They are sweet as candy and I usually eat them out in the garden, still warm from the sun.

Tonight, I went out to look at them again and half the tomatoes are gone, just the stems are left. Roger says, "tomato horn worms." I doubt it's horn worms because they usually eat the leaves, leaving the left stems behind. We have raccoons but there is no sign of any tearing of of the plant that clumsy coons would manage trying to get at the green tomatoes.

My suspicion?

Cute, little, light-footed devils dancing out on the branches to pluck the still green fruit.


I wouldn't mind losing a few tomatoes to a chipmunk that eats its weight in slugs everyday. But this is too much!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Real Dirt on Farmer John's Cookbook

I met John Peterson AKA Farmer John years ago through my friend Taggart Siegal. At the time, Taggart was working on a film called "The Real Dirt on Farmer John." Let's say John travels to the beat of a different drum, so I was interested to see what his cookbook would be like.

I have a habit of opening a book up in the middle and just starting to read from there. I happened to choose a page that featured a quote from Rudolf Steiner. It reminded me of a Doctor Bonner's soap label, lots of lofty, but odd connections between food and philosophy. John is a follower of Steiner's theory of Biodynamics and his farming is aligned to the guru's philosophy. This was more than I bargained for.

So I went back to the beginning and read Farmer John's preface. "I've been farming for over forty years on the same farm. I stated in 1956 when I was seven, taking care of the chickens. By age nine I was milking seventeen cows a twice a day." Kid + farm and I was hooked. And I loved the page of acknowledgements where Farmer John gives credit to all the people who helped in the collaborative effort.

The recipes are arranged by season and then by the vegetables available in that season. Early Season ranges from Mid-June to Late July and includes things like sugar snap peas, beets, radishes, cucumbers and cooking greens. Mid season is celery, eggplant, peppers, fennel and sweet corn.

I'm a big fan of bitter greens and I use them a lot in cooking. The cookbook had interesting combinations that I would have never thought of. I hate cutting off the lovely greens of radishes and sending back to the compose. I find them little hairy to eat raw in salads but throw them in anyway. The cookbook has a recipe for radish greens with miso sauce. Cooking, what a novel concept!

The book is vegetarian without making much, if any, mention of it until page 320 where Rudolf Steiner's theory about the three kinds of food: milk and milk products, plants and meat, is discussed. The vegetables are spiced and cooked in a way that you don't miss the meat. And that's the point. Some recipes use eggs, some milk products but the majority are vegan.

If you have trouble identifying some of the more unusual vegetables mentioned, there's even a chart of line drawings of each variety. It's printed in a soothing green that is echoed throughout the book. The overall feeling of the book is of freshness - of ingredients and ideas.

The book is full of sidebars. There are notes on how the vegetable grow (Corn will grow 6 inches a day in hot, humid weather) and quotes from Angelic Organic shareholders - a testament to the community that has sprung up around this farmer and his farm. There's also these funny "overheard" comments that give you a perspective on how little some people know about their food and where it comes from.

Although the book seems dense, it's full of wonderful information. It's not a book to read cover to cover, so take your time exploring. You'll uncover something new every time you pick it up.