T’is the Season to Be Baking!!

Our CakeFa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Time to turn up the ovens and pull down the Betty Crocker; cook book that is.  I suggest flipping to the dirtiest, stuck together pages you can find and start mixing together those copious quantities of sugar, butter and flour that make all our holidays ‘Oh So Yum!!’

I can smell it now, cuz t’is also the season to be smelling. I see it now. It all starts with a lone cinnamon or vanilla scented candle.  Then the cider on the stove kicks in with its whole cloves and slices of orange peel spinning and dancing in the heated swirls.

Cookies!! Oh the cookies, fresh from the oven. Chocolate chip, oatmeal and my all-time-favorite: Snickerdoodles!! “Why is it we only make snickerdoodles at the holidays?”  you ask. “Siiliness,” I reply “Pure silliness.”  Banana breads and fruit cakes begin showing up in the mail while food writers around the nation share their bestest recipes for turkeys and hams, potatoes and green beans, and sweet potatoes oh my!!  (Tune in next week for my tips on how to roast a perfect Thanksgiving turkey.)

And homemade candies like fudge and peanut brittle and those crispy little peanut butter balls my former mother-in-law used to make.   (I should have gotten that recipe.)  All dressed up on those pretty little plates that grandma keeps wrapped up and locked away all year because, “They are not for every day use Tommy, only special occasions ”   And hard candies and Nuts!! Lots and lots of nuts.  Bowls, chock full of nuts and chocolates and, and, and (breathless) . . . bliss.

And Bells!! Those little holiday bells that jingle outside, everywhere, in the cold crisp air. And that one Farmer’s Market vendor, 5 miles away but worth the trip, selling Chestnuts that were roasted on an open fire.  Ah, the holiday season is here at last.

The last weekend I didn’t need to ask, “For Whom the Bells Tolls” the “Belle’ tolled for me. The Belle being my charming niece Lindsay who got it in to her pretty-little-head to bake a 3 level, tiered cake for a dear friend’s 40th birthday.

cake 2“Want to come bake a cake with your favorite niece?” she asked. When she asks like that, what am I supposed to say?

“No, and don’t forget to leave my respirator plugged in until you are completely certain that I am brain dead. And NO, just because I watch the Simpsons that doesn’t count as brain dead, just brain . . . ”

Of course I said yes and we made quite a day of it.  MY bad it started off slowly. I forgot to set my alarm and not only did I arrive an hour and a half late I forgot a bag of newly purchased decorating supplies.  (What a putz of an uncle I am . . . Don’t answer that.) After I arrived we decided to make the cake larger than I had anticipated so we sent Lindsay’s charming, handsome, patient husband to the store to purchase 5 more boxes of cake mix and 4 more pounds of confectioners sugar. Oh! And 1 more pound of butter.  You can never have enough butter.  Now I do have a ‘Binder Full’ of cake recipes but sometimes it is quicker to use the packages.  The only difference is the pre-measured dry ingredients, everything else we added fresh. 3 cake pans, 8 boxes of cake mix, 2 dozen eggs, 5 pounds of sugar, 3 pounds of butter, 2 pounds of fondant and 1 special ordered, custom cut, cake-stacker later we had our mini masterpiece. (Please stay tuned for the Partridge-in-a-Pear-Tree recipe . . . What?? It could happen.)

Lindsay and her friendAll credit for the decoration goes to my lovely niece. Her friend is an avid Raiders fan so ‘Black and Silver’ was the theme. Beyond honorable mention, super hubby Mark gets my vote for MVP.

The holidays are a fabulous time of year.  There is nothing like the cacophony of football and cooking, laughter and loving, too many cooks in the kitchen and lots and lots of leftovers!!  Many thanks to Lindsay and Mark for kick starting this season’s baking frenzy for me. Note: I won’t be posting any current pictures of myself until March of next year.  (You know why.)

Eat Well and Smile Often!!




p.s. T’is the season to add poundage.Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

p.p.s. Count ’em, they’re all there.

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Organic IS Marketing Hype!!

I’ve put my foot in it now.My Garden

I recently listened to a debate on Intelligence Squared “Organic Food is Marketing Hype“.  I feel the need to take a stand and say, Yes it is hype. This is arguably a very broad based and simple statement about a topic that is anything but simple. Throughout the debate the one thing that became clear to me is that the topic/label ‘Organic Food’ is about as clear as mud. I venture that if you put 5 people in a room that you would get 4 different definitions and 3 people who agree on them. But the truth is that there is no ONE definition to the term Organic and it is this ambiguity that marketers literally capitalize on.  Organic farming is good in many ways and not in many others. But as it stands now the use of the term is only employed to sell you a product not to describe its fitness.

To Explain: One faction supports the notion that organic food supplies the body with more nutrients. Yet a study in England proved there was no difference in nutrition between organically and traditionally farmed produce. Another faction worries about the damage being done to the soil and ground water.  They measure remainder pesticides and nitrogen and promote manure fertilizers and Till farming. The rebuttal is twofold: Tillage promotes soil erosion by allowing fertile topsoil to run off; and secondly, manure based fertilization does not provide as much plant available nitrogen as does chemical fertilizers  From here the argument continues with the facts that Nitrogen is Nitrogen, whatever form it comes in and that if we were to use only manure as a plant food source we would need 5 billion more cows on the planet to produce enough. Can you imagine how much more land we would need just to produce the silage need to feed all these cows!!  Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, published a report stating that “For every kilogram of high-quality animal protein produced, livestock are fed nearly 6 kg of plant protein.”  That 6 times that amount.

No-tillage farming, farming that does not turn the soil, on the other hand, uses Monsanto products to reduce costs and increase yields. Now this creates it own set of issues as the USDA will attest to: Damage to the soil and the creation of Super Weeds – weeds resistant To Round Up.  Can’t argue with science.  But here is the rub.  World population is growing exponentially with the current count at over 6 billion people. United Nations Estimates place it at 9 billion by the year 2030.  How will we feed all these people?  A study referred to in this debate said that in a side by side field test, the first year yields of organic compared to conventional farming were equal but over a 5 year period they were only 60%.

Problem: We will need half again as much arable land by 2030 to produce enough food to sustain our population growth.  If we were to go entirely organic we would need an additional 40% to maintain yields. That  means in just 20 years we would need to double the acreage we currently use just for farming and this doesn’t include the acreage needed to produce more food to feed 5 billion more cows.  How many rainforests do we cut down?

Squash BlossomWell, I have an answer!!  We in America are lucky in that we have such an abundance of arable land right in our own back yards. If this discussion equates to a war on hunger and stopping the abuse of our planet then it’s time to reinstate the call for Victory gardens.    Let us each lower our carbon footprint by not buying produce that travels all the way from some-where-else. Let us each manage our own soil conditions and employ traditional crop rotation methodology reducing the need for commercially raised products.  We MUST increase the amount of arable land in order to feed the world.  So let’s start using our walls, our roofs and our backyards rather than cut down any more forests.

The picture above is my very first squash blossom of the season.  I do not use Round Up, I weed by hand but I do use Miracle Grow in combination with manure and my yields are tremendous.  My garden currently utilizes only a 20′ by 20′ section and I will have enough produce for many meals to come.  I have even re-purposed old building materials to create planters for more tomatoes.  If all you have is an eave overhang then get yourself a Topsy Turvy and grow your own or create an Edible Wall.  Each of us can make a difference and be just as Organic as we want to be.


Eat Well and Smile Often,


p.s. I am so looking forward to stuffing these blossoms with organic goat cheese!


Weekend in Review!!

I hope you all had a lovely weekend, I did! I was up like a bunny, on a sunny Easter Sunday, woke my pal Suzanne, of Cooking By The Bay, and we hopped over to the Marin Farmer’s Market. What a treat to go early on Sunday morning. No crowds; warm, waking sunshine; and so, so, many savory sweet smells coming from all the vendor’s booths. At Suzanne’s wise suggestion, we strolled the market first, greedily tasting samples of butters and chutneys and pestos. It was fabulous. By the time we made it to the end my hunger was in full, raging force and I swear I couldn’t have taken another step if it wasn’t for . . .

The Taco Guys!! These guys, in addition to being great cooks, are a hoot first thing in the morning. Both Jason Hoffman and Justin Close jumped to attention at our approach and handily whipped together a Kahlua Pork Taco for my Easter breakfast. Trimmed with julienne of mango and daikon greens, that sweet little beasty made me a happy man. Suzanne, declining more than a taste, was emphatic is stating, “Eggs, I need eggs, not piggy for breakfast.” Ho hum . . . more for me.

Next stop, Donna’s Tamales for breakfast burritos! Suzanne immediately tucked into the rich, egg filled tortilla stuffed with salsa, peppers and more. I decided to change things up and opted for their Vegan burrito. Hers was delicious and warm, and egg-ily satisfying. Mine was good but I felt it needed more . . . zing. I chose from the salsa condiments they had available and popped them to the top. It spiced it up some. I would certainly eat their food again and look forward to the next time, as Suzanne’s breakfast was, and I quote, – Scrump-dilly-icious! – unquote.

Always a sucker for a sample, this pleasant woman at McClellands’ Dairy tempted me with a bit of butter on a bread stick. YUM!! I was fully intent on not breaking stride (more of a slow amble really but still a stride) but the creamy rich taste of this butter halted me in my tracks. Always hawkish when it comes to paying premium for a commodity I happily dug into my wallet to pay for a half pound of this bit of ‘Oh So Golden’ heaven. What has two thumbs and loves this butter? This guy!

All in all it was a great day to be out with my buddy Suze. Happily sated, we returned promptly to the sofa intent on doing nothing more all day. Nice Sunday . . . zzzzzz . . .

Eat Well and Smile Often!


May I have a side of whipped cream with my bunny please?