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Friday, July 27, 2012

Lovely Bones

I used to think that only great-great-great grandmothers were susceptible to hip fractures, and that menopause was so far away from me as the Earth from the Sun. I eat my veggies, my salmon, my dairy I do yoga... I don't smoke, I drink very little and I cook with quinoa, kale and organic blueberries. Osteoporosis was a worry other people should have, not me... 
What has been my main concern for some years already, is my skin. I've had basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, which thankfully were detected and removed on time, but they scared me, or better put, warned me of the importance of staying away from Mr. Sun. I've actually developed a bit of a phobia (or paranoia) to our closest star, and a beach vacation is more stressful to me than no vacation at all. I always read about the best and latest sunscreens, UVA, UVB, I wear big hats, stay in the shade and I'm vigilant about my appointments with the dermatologist. Did I mention also that I'm pale as a ghost and sprinkled with a zillion moles?
Well, so it happens that despite being a rule follower, and a very obedient patient, not everything is all right, and my primary care doctor, pointed out the need to get a bone density test.
Within the last 15 years, a lot has been discovered about Vitamin D. It is way more important for our well being than anyone had ever thought. For along time, this fat-soluble vitamin had been related to bone health, and it was known to be obtained from our exposure to, yes, the Sun. Unfortunately, the same sunblocks that are saving our skin from burning and eventually developing skin cancer, are preventing our bodies to synthesize vitamin D, and a silent epidemic of the deficiency in this nutrient started, and has become the most common medical condition in the world.

As I said, there's been plenty of recent research regarding this compound. It's been found that vitamin D isn't only a vitamin, but more like a hormone that takes part in many metabolic pathways and cellular functions. It is indispensable to protect our bodies not only against osteoporosis, but also from at least 16 types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even depression. It supports our cognitive function and our immune system (it might be helpful even against autoimmune diseases) and lowers the risk of inflammation.
Basically, we need vitamin D for EVERYTHING!

The other day I received a call from my sister-in-law, who is an accomplished sleep (and pulmonary critical care) physician, and 11 days younger than me. She suffered a couple of toe fractures recently, and after testing her, her doctor found that she has osteoporosis. Thankfully, it was detected before menopause, which is a much better time to deal with it. She's now taking a nice dose of vitamin D supplements and she asked me to post about bone health and food.
I don't mean to mention her story for gossip, but just to show how common it is, and she's not the only one. I have osteopenia (kind of the first step into osteoporosis), and my pal Gwyneth (as in Paltrow) does too. Unfortunately, the problem is rarely detected before you break something (often more than once), because as I said above, vitamin D deficiency it a silent epidemic, and apparently, we need way more of it that it was originally thought. So, what has been started to be recommended by some health practitioners is moderate sun exposure (about 20 minutes/day for 2-4 days/week with NO sunblock), although since our needs of vitamin D are individual, depending on our exact geography, genetics, meds we take, time of the year, body frame, weight, skin color, and age, this should be tested and determined by your own physician.

Wild salmon, whole eggs (yes, the D is in the yolk), shiitake mushrooms and enriched products (like juice, cereal and I'm sure many more to come as the D issue becomes more popular) are a good sources of vitamin D, but even if I'm a huge believer in getting our nutrients from whole foods, not supplements, the foods that contain high concentrations of vitamin D, don't have enough to completely and realistically fulfill our needs, and since moderate sun exposure is on the tricky side, I do take supplements for it (which should be in the form of vitamin D3, its the most active form). What I'm suggesting is to spread the word about it, and that you check with your own doctor for your own particular case and needs.

But... don't think that if you're exposed to moderate sun rays and/or take vitamin D supplements you're off the hook from osteoporosis, as a diet full of wholesome foods is still necessary. To form and maintain bone mass you also need calcium (of course, you knew that), which you can find in dairy (including goat milk products), canned fish with bones (which unfortunately don't do the trick with my family), but also in vegetables such as kale, broccoli, collard greens, seeweed, and in nuts and seeds, mainly in almonds, chia, and sesame. We also need enough protein, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, fluoride, manganese, copper, boron, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C and B vitamins. It does sound overwhelming, but that's when the beauty of fresh ingredients and cuisine come to our aid. A squeeze of lemon juice can add the vitamin C, which make calcium and iron more digestible, dark leafy greens also  provide vit K, nectarines vit A, that will get absorbed even better with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some nuts, pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds for crunch (and minerals like iron and zinc) and a some sesame and chia for the calcium and plenty of other nutrients. There you have a pretty nice salad. Cuisine, just like our body, leverages the interactions of all it's components. Just remember to add as many fruit and vegetable colors in your plate as you can, and you'll be adding a pretty good variety of nutrients. Some herbs, spices, or other things that enhance flavor, also maximize our body's absorption and use of certain minerals and vitamins. Add some cheese, organic tofu, eggs, tempeh or fish like sardines or wild salmon and all you need is a fork and a tiny bit of sunshine (or a pill with about 2000 I.U of vitamin D3) for some lovely bones!

Try my antioxidant salad here. You can substitute pomegranate for berries during the summer.
I've also been making this super easy and delicious herbed salmon from the Barefoot Contessa that I totally recommend (I didn't have scallions so I just used extra dill and parsley).

For more information about vitamin D, click:
Here which is very complete and includes references; or for a simplified, but good version, visit my BFF's little blog (goop) here. Dr. Andrew Weil also covers the topic (and will be willing to sell you supplements) here.


This recipe is a personal achievement. I'm a huge biscuit and scone lover, but despite many attempts, I was never satisfied with my wholesome versions, until this one I made yesterday. I'm really proud and I hope you like it as well. The biscuit is dense, but has a lovely consistency and is charged with nutrients from the seeds, protein and calcium from the yogurt, is made with whole grain spelt flour (which although it has gluten, is easier to digest even for some people with wheat sensitivities) and a little extra virgin olive oil. I couldn't stop eating them, but my husband found them a bit bland, if you feel that way, feel free to add 1-2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup when you add the yogurt. Don't forget to freeze the olive oil for the dough!
Last note, I did roast strawberries and tomatoes. I loved the combination and so did everyone who tried it. Only my daughter was able to decipher the identity of the tomatoes, but that didn't stop her from loving the sauce. If you feel weird by using them in a sweet dish, first remember that tomatoes are technically a fruit in botanical terms, but if that doesn't do it for you, just substitute the 1 pound of tomatoes with an extra pound of strawberries.


1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon hulled raw pumpkin seeds
8.7 ounces (1 3/4 cup) whole spelt flour
2 teaspoons non-aluminum making powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons mild extra virgin olive oil, left in the freezer 3 hours to overnight
8 ounces (1 cup) organic Greek plain yogurt (preferably not fat free)
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup, optional

1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in halves
1 pound beefsteak tomatoes, hulled an cut into 3/4-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon mild extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
squeeze of fresh lemon juice

8 ounces (1 cup) organic Greek plain yogurt (preferably not fat free)
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Grind each tablespoon of seeds in a coffee or spice  grinder and place them into a large bowl. Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend.

Add the chilled olive oil to the flour mixture.

Pressing the whisk against the mix (not spinning it) or using a pastry blender, or why not? your hands, rub the oil into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles sand.

Add the yogurt and 1 tablespoon maple, if using, and stir just until a moist dough forms. Don't overmix.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1-inch in between each biscuit.

Flatten each a bit with your palm and brush with the remaining maple syrup. 

Bake until the biscuits are lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes. 
Let cool a bit, slice in half and fill with strawberry-tomato sauce and a dollop of maple-vanilla yogurt.

Preheat oven to 400 F (you can use the oven at the same time as the biscuits). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place cut up strawberries and tomatoes on prepared sheet and season them with salt, drizzle them with maple, balsamic, olive oil and vanilla and mix them all together with your hands. Spread them into one layer and bake for 15 minutes, until some of the juices caramelize and the fruit softens.

Place warm fruit into a large heat-resistant bowl and try to scrape as much of the cooked juicy goodness as possible and add it to the bowl. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice into the fruit and use when ready...

If you bought a 16-ounce container of yogurt, just use what you have left after using the 1 cup for the biscuits, there's no need to even take it out of the tube. Otherwise place yogurt in a medium bowl and whisk it with the vanilla and the maple.

Serve it by the dollop once you are ready to assemble the biscuit, strawberry-tomato, yogurt sandwiches.

PS: I apologize for some of the pics being in the wrong direction. For some reason that, I of course do not understand, blogger turned them and if I were a tiny bit more adept in technology I could fix it, but it's me...Please let me know if you have any suggestions.
Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Soy it isn't so

Almost every time I teach a cooking or baking class, invariably a theme comes up: SOY.
Students usually want to know what my take is on this legume rich in protein, that has been elevated to amazing super healthy food status for some years, but that lately, has been falling out of grace in some groups. The issue has become a bit polemic and there's no streight answer. There's scientific research, rumors and urban myths about it. However, nothing is conclusive.
In earlier decades, soy became the wonder child of mother nature in the Western world (of course, it's been a staple in the East since ancient times). It became the symbol of health and eating tofu all the time, every day in every meal was the right thing to do.
Food manufacturers got the message and started processing it and turning it into everything (including profit): soy milk, hydrolyzed or isolated soy protein (the one people add to smoothies), vegan mayonnaise, margarine, oil, granola, flour, soy nut butter, supplements, condiments and additives. You can get "foods" that look like chicken and taste like chicken, but they are actually made out of soy, and the same goes for burgers, turkey, ice cream, cream cheese, chips and hot dogs, etc, etc... All these products promoted as vegan, perceived as healthy and targeted towards an audience that thought they were making a smart choice.

With the high protein diet craze booming, this versatile crop has been added into everything in a way that we don't even know it's there unless we carefully read the ingredient labels. Chances are that, even if you are not vegetarian or not even interested in eating soy, if you buy any processed food products these days in the middle aisles of the supermarket, it will certainly contain some sort of soy-derived ingredient. 
Soy has been claimed to help prevent certain kinds of cancer, alleviate menopause symptoms, and be beneficial for the heart. This plant is rich in phytonutrients (phytosterols in particular), complete protein and fiber and is low in fat.
However, recently, there have been some other studies that have linked the high consumption of soy with other forms of cancer, infertility and dementia. There's even a popular believe that men who eat lots of soy can get enlarged breasts due to the hormone-like effects of the phytochemicals present in soy. But don't buy your man a bra just yet...
To this day, there's no conclusive information about the consumption of soy, or if it's potential benefits and nutritional composition are more important than their supposed adverse effects. It's all very confusing. But I think it's important to state that often, the type of soy consumed and studied (as a fresh unprocessed product; in fermented form; or commercial, genetically modified soy forms of meat-like products) isn't specified, but generally grouped as "soy."
And here I think lays the most important issue: I don't personally think that a hot dog made out of hydrolyzed soy protein or a tablespoon of tofutti "cream cheese" (made with no cream nor cheese, but hydrogenated soy oil--trans-fats-- and hydrolyzed soy protein) can be compared with naturally fermented organic miso or fresh non-GMO edamame. The former ones are industrially processed products from which the main nutrients of the legume have been removed almost entirely and other mysterious additives and processes have been included in their recipes. The latter are traditional foods used for thousands of years in the Far East. They are processed, but not by industrial methods, but by natural means, mainly, fermentation by good fungi, bacteria and yeasts, that turn them into even more nutrient-dense products.
That's why, and this is my own opinion, I do believe that in MODERATION (aka: don't make these the only components of your diet), they are a great addition to home menus, without forgetting, that soybeans can be an amazing and natural source of umami, which can definitely make a dish more delicious:

- Miso is rich in protein, fiber, manganese and zinc and incredibly high in phytonutrients (both from the soybean and as a product of the fermentation process the legume goes through in order to be prepared). Despite being quite salty, miso is beneficial for the heart, and I don't see why we should avoid it, unless there's an allergy. Miso can act as a prebiotic and is quite delicious in many recipes. It comes in different varieties (with different degrees of pungency) and is very versatile and lasts for a long, long time in the fridge. It goes well in Asian dishes, but it's also a match made in heaven with tahini. My favorite is white miso, and you can spread it on toast, turn it into a salad dressing, flavor fish with it or even add a bit to your dessert.

Other forms of soybeans that keep their nutritional characteristics and even improve on them through natural and traditional processes are naturally fermented soy sauce (shoyu if it contains wheat, or tamari if it contains less or no wheat, so make sure it's states "gluten free" if that's an issue for you). Tofu (acid-coagulated whole soybean milk pressed into cakes, although it's not always fermented), tempeh (a traditional Indonesian product made of soybeans mixed with whole grains and that is then fermented by good bacteria) and edamame

Fermented products are fascinating and more and more research has been linking them to health benefits. The microbial process that takes place, breaks down the original components and turns them into nutrients that can be beneficial for the immune, digestive and cardiovascular systems. I'll soon post about fermentation to share more details without boring you to death! But in the meanwhile, and since it's time sensitive, let me tell you about edamame, which, although is not fermented, is in season:
As a fresh form (as opposed to dry) of the soybean, edamame is a delicious, fun and nutritious food that is fast and easy to prepare. However, for a while I have stopped purchasing it in frozen packages. Why?:
- Soy is one of the most genetically modified (GMO) crops. So I only buy ORGANIC SOY products (and that goes for soy sauce, miso, edamame, and tempeh), to guarantee no genetic engineering.
- I haven't found any prepackaged edamame that doesn't come from China, and in that country, unfortunately, the food laws, production and supervision are currently not trustworthy and I rather not take any risks, for more on that click here. Even if it's certified organic edamame, if it comes from China, I don't purchase it.
The good news, is that summer is edamame's season, so the legume can be purchased fresh and grown in American soil at farmer's markets (I just got some this week at Union Square). You can blanch the pods in boiling water for 2 minutes, rinse them with cold water and freeze them in plastic (BPA-free please) containers for the months to come. Or you can boil them fresh for 7 minutes and enjoy them sprinkled with some coarse sea salt right away. You'll see how buttery and flavorful they are!

Bottom line (my thoughts):
- Consume whole forms of soy, not industrially processed soy-derived products. Miso, tofu, edamame, tempeh, natto and naturally brewed soy sauce are great to keep around.
- All those products should be ORGANIC and NOT imported from China
- It's good to add those forms of soy into the diet, but remember to include a VARIETY of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes (fish, organic eggs and meats if you are not a vegetarian), grains, seeds, nuts and oils. Don't make soybeans your only source of protein, There's much more you can eat, even if you are vegan.
- Don't buy soy products just because they are sold packaged and labeled with a plethora of beneficial health claims.
-Purchase soy sauce that states "naturally brewed" and all-natural  (or "no artificial" ingredients) on its label, and make sure it doesn't list any "caramel" or other colorings in its ingredients, as those are hints of a soy sauce that hasn't been fermented.


Since I had gone to the farmer's market and had bags full of tempting fresh summer veggies, and a single sweet potato hidden in the dark, I decided to use them all at once, served over a bed of red rice. You can use this recipe as a marinade for roasted fish. It works amazingly, and it's really fast to put together.
I love the fact that it's like a Far-East meets the Middle-East recipe.
It makes a dish bursting with flavors, textures and most importantly, nutrients. It's a super dish!


2 1/2 pounds assorted vegetables (I used rainbow carrots, Japanese eggplant, sweet potato and zucchini)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
2 tablespoons coconut nectar or honey
2 heaping tablespoons organic white (sweet) miso paste
1 teaspoon sumac**, or to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste, optional

Preheat oven to 400F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Wash vegetables and pat them dry. Peel the carrots and sweet potato.

Cut all vegetables in rough chunks (about 1/2-inch thick).

In a small bowl, whisk in olive oil, pomegranate molasses, coconut nectar, miso and half the sumac. Add 2 teaspoons of water (warm or at room temperature) and whisk until completely incorporated.

Place cut carrots, eggplants and sweet potato on the prepared sheet and sprinkle with the remaining sumac and drizzle on half of the dressing.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Add in zucchini to the sheet pan, and mix with a wooden spoon with the rest of the vegetables.

Bake for 10-12 minutes more.

Drizzle veggies with remaining dressing right after they come out of the oven.

Let cool for 2 minutes and eat warm or let cool.

Dish keeps well refrigerated for up to 2 days (serve it as a salad!)

Makes 4 servings (as a side dish)

*If you can't find pomegranate molasses, buy pomegranate juice concentrate in a health food store
**sumac is a sour spice. You can get it at the spice section in most supermarkets of specialty stores.


Again, a brainchild of my market's visit. This light dish can be a whole meal by itself. Feel free to substitute for other herbs. I just happened to have parsley and sunflower greens at hand. Although, if you can get hold of the golden flower's greens, I recommend you do so. They have a lovely crispy texture and are full of goodness.
This recipe is fresh, nicely textured and nutrient and umami-charged.

10 ounces edamame in shells
10 ounces baby potatoes (the tiniest you can find)
4-5 small radishes (I used French breakfast)
1 bunch (about 2 ounces) sunflower greens (or any other greens), washed
fresh herbs (I used about 2 tablespoons parsley), washed.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to roast the potatoes
3 teaspoons shoyu or tamari soy sauce, separated
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon brown rice vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium sauce pan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil.

While water starts boiling, preheat oven to 400F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Wash and scrub the potatoes, pat them dry and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle them with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce.

Coat evenly and bake for about 25 minutes, until potatoes are done (easily pierced with a fork).

While potatoes are in the oven, rinse edamame very well (with several changes of water) and cook it in the boiling water for 7 minutes.

Once edamame is ready, drain and rinse with cold water, to stop cooking process.

When potatoes are ready, let them cool.

Shell the edamame, discard shells and place beans in a medium bowl.

Wash and scrub radishes and slice them as thin as you can. Add them to the bowl along with the edamame and place potatoes in there as well.

Add into bowl remaining olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, and vinegar. Mix with vegetables and taste for seasoning. Adjust by adding a bit of salt, pepper and maybe vinegar or soy sauce.

Incorporate greens and herbs and enjoy.

Serves 4

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Feeling hot, hot, hot

Kids are asleep. Husband is at a business dinner. I'm going to jump into the shower for the second time today. This heat is no joke. It's a total disaster, actually. And I'm not talking about Global Warming (which is evidently terrible), but about me, cooking in my own broth as I make my way through the frying sidewalks of New York City. 

I walk under the shade, wear a gigantic sunhat (that I got for $9.00 at my current favorite store: Joe fresh), I smear myself and my kids with sunblock made with ingredients that sound more like the components of an atomic bomb than a topical cream. I drink plenty of liquids and I try to skip baking as much as I can. Still, after a minute out, I look as if someone had done tie-die on my face. My clothes are soaking wet is hot, hot, hot.

Many summers ago, right after I graduated from my MA at NYU, I had to walk a couple of Downtown blocks to return my purple cap and gown. It was another miserably hot summer day and I thought I was going to pass out. Then, I had to join my fellow graduates at the Food Studies department for a small gathering. There was food made by the students taking the catering class, and right out of the elevator, we were greeted by them with little shot glasses  with a bi colored chilled melon soup (half orange and half green). It was gloriously restorative and refreshing. It was unforgettable for how good it felt to drink it. 

Once home, I found the recipe online and it became a summer staple in our home ever after. I tried getting the link for the original recipe, but neither nor have it any more, so I'll give you the recipe, originally printed in Gourmet magazine in a bit, but in the meanwhile, please let me tell you about my latest obsession...

For the last couple of weeks, I have been making GRANITAS, first developing a recipe for a watermelon version (soon to be published in, and later, because when my daughter tried the one I made for the newsletter, she told me that I was "amazing, the best" and that I would be famous someday, all due to the granita.
Do you think that after that I could ever stop making her granitas (call them slushies, Italian ices or whatever you please)? She comes back from day camp hot, exhausted, starving and happy, and I serve her the granita du jour (whatever fruits I have handy or leftover) to great her, and she's happy and cooled.

We had guests over yesterday, when the temperature reached 100F. I first thought I would make the NYU two-melon chilled soup, but at the end, I tweaked the recipe a bit (organic strawberries were on sale, and I cannot resist a sale, ever) and turned it into a granita that I served as an appetizer. The children were thrilled to have "ices" for lunch, and I was happy I was feeding them pure fruit with fresh mint.

Here are some other food tips to keep cool:

- Rehydrate with coconut water, an excellent, no-sugar added, natural way of restoring the body with liquid AND electrolytes (yup, way better than Gatorade!).
- Munch on high-water content produce: cucumbers, radishes, watermelon, strawberries, melon and citrus are great to keep our bodies cool. They are in season, so they are at their tastiest, most nutritious and least expensive, plus since they contain fiber, vitamins and antioxidants (beta-carotene, vitamin C, mainly), they don't leave your body as fast as plain water does.
- Fresh mint; often used in aromatherapy, this herb's smell and taste are refreshing and soothing, plus it's full of antioxidants. Just throw it into all sorts of dishes: salads, desserts, smoothies, salsas, chilled soups, or make iced tea with them. Everything will taste fresher, brighter and will be more cooling. 
- Green tea and coffee: A great iced version of these could actually be helpful during these sunny days. It's been found, that the catechins (antioxidants) in green tea, protect the skin by absorbing the damaging UV rays. And, a researcher from the Harvard Medical School found that the caffeine in coffee might reduce the risk to develop skin cancer by stimulating UV-damaged cells to naturally die off. However, both tea and coffee are diuretics, so make sure you stay hydrated through other methods (like the ones suggested above).

You can use any kind of melon in this recipe, just make sure it's really ripe and sweet to avoid the need to add any sweeteners, although a couple of tablespoons of raw honey, agave or coconut nectar work well. I've tried granitas with watermelon, honeydew and "sugar kiss" melon. They were all delicious.

You can add strawberries, blueberries, and/or figs (I had some very ripe figs left from last week's post, and they added a wonderful sweetness and unctuous texture). Dried lavender, fresh mint, or rose water, they all worked great in different versions. I'm sure thyme, rosemary, hibiscus, lemon verbena and/or basil would be amazing additions as well. Citrus is key, and I threw in the zests for even more flavor. Have fun with it!

1 small honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
8 ounces (1 small container) organic strawberries, stemmed
2 limes, zest and juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, or to taste

 Purée melon, strawberries,  lime juice and zest and mint in a blender or food processor (or immersion blender) until smooth.

Pour mixture into a 9x9 or 10x10-inch metal baking pan (DO NOT USE GLASS!) and place in the freezer. The pan's measurements don't have to be exact, you need something large (could be shallow), that fits into your freezer.

After 1 hour, run over the ice with the dents of a fork, scraping the ice to form flakes.

Repeat fork scraping after 1 and again after 2 hours to turn ice into the consistency of snowflakes or shaved ice.

Serve in individual bowls or glasses; or cover with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 days.

Makes 8-10 portions

Adapted from Gourmet

1 small very ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 very ripe honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced, or to taste (plus additional sprigs for garnish)

In a food processor or blender, puree the cantaloupe and lemon juice (in batches if necessary), until very smooth. Pour into a bowl or large pitcher and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
In the same processor or blender (no need to wash it), puree honeydew, lime juice and mint. Pour it into another bowl or pitcher and chill as well.
To serve, pour equal amounts of both purees at the same time into the serving bowls. Using two measuring cups (or the pitchers) is helpful to do this easily. Garnish the soup with mints sprigs and serve.
Serving variation: For a more modern look, place a round cookie cutter on the soup bowl and fill in the center (inside the cutter) with one of the soups and the outside of the cutter with the other one. Remove the cutter and the two circles will stay in place, making for a beautiful presentation.

Makes 6 servings

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Flowers and Dinner

My husband (yes, the workoholic carnivore) just turned 40, and to commemorate his four decades on Earth, a great miracle happened: he took the day off.
We packed some bagels (the patriotic thing to do in NYC) and brownies I'd baked (if you were wondering... They did have beans in them) and the four of us rode the train to The New York Botanical Garden. We'd never been there, and a beautiful day with gorgeous surroundings, delicious scents and the most marvelous views welcomed us and made us very happy to be there and then.

To be honest, I don't really like frogs, but it was pretty cool to hear them (they make a sound of a bass cord being played) and eventually find them

My daugter and I got a bit carried away photographing the flowers (she used my phone, which is currently saturated and barely working) and I used the camera, which is in the same situation. Somehow I got obsessed with the bees in action and I kept chasing them as I repeated over and over to my kids about pollinization, honey, hives...until my five year old told me: "I know. I know," and ran away from my lecture.

It would have been amazing to try a bit of the honey from the Garden's hives...
When our little one was about to freak out from exhaustion, we understood the not very subtle hint and came back to the City.
Our baby sitter came and my husband and I headed to Brooklyn (Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn...all in the same day, oh my, we're so cool!) to eat dinner at Pardes restaurant.
I know we were celebrating my other half, but this half doing the typing, had an amazing time as well...
Let me first mention that I was not raised in a religious family and that my kosher observance was a gradual process that kept changing (and becoming stricter) throughout the years. Therefore, I can say that I've tasted pretty much everything. Both of my parents loved eating, and I was raised to love food.
When we moved to NY and I did my Food Studies master's, worked at James Beard and attended pastry school, I still ate at non kosher restaurants. I didn't eat any meat or shellfish, but I would have ovo-lacto-vegetarian dishes or kosher spicies of fish.
I have incredible food memories of meals past. I've kept notes from dinners I attended to and I would read restaurant menus as if they were Russian novels. I loved looking at a beautifully plated dish and I would try to guess what the ingredients were. It was thrilling to taste sauces and discover combinations I'd never tried before. I found it so amazing to be able to engage my sight, smell, taste, touch and even hearing when eating and enjoying. 

Then, about eight years ago, I decided I'd only eat in kosher restaurants. Do I miss eating out? You bet!!! Do I regret it? Not for a second. I'm convinced of what I'm doing, and I believe in it, but it's not easy.
What I miss the most is the real dining experince.I miss being surprised, intrigued and impressed with food in an interesting environment where the plates work as vessels for something pretty, full of flavor and different textures, where the dish tells me about the season and satisfies what I crave depending on the weather.  I miss meals worth of interrupting the conversation to enjoy completely and coment about them.

I know I shouldn't complain because there are a couple of nice kosher restaurants in Manhattan, but it's hard to find places with their own soul where food is loved, and admired. That's what I loved so much about Pardes.

At the end of our meal, where I alone had eaten enough food for a family of 10, I approached the chef (and owner), who was handing out every single dish out of his open kitchen. I mentally first thanked G-d for Sara Blakely's existence, as her Nobel Prize-deserving invention--SPANX-- kept my body from bursting into a million pieces due to oversaturation after the glorious meal I had shared with my husband. Treviso salad, fried sweetbreads, fried chicken with liver mousse, waffles and berries (INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS, crunchy, unctuous, sweet, sour!), a bite of my husband's huge steak and the peach-bacon crisp for dessert. Ah! Did I mention his beet amuse bouche with CHIA???? I owed this man a couple of words (and if we were in another world, those would have been hugs!).

Once I approached this super gutsy individual (who else would ever open such an innovative restaurant for the most traditional of crowds?). C'mon! He changes his menu often, he uses fruits, vegetables and grains most people have never heard of (on the table next to us, a diner ordered fried okra, thinking okra was fish), he's there making sure every single dish comes out exactly as he conceived it. You do taste his passion, and yes, it's not diet food as he loves his fryier, but he uses it with plenty of creativity (and shmaltz).
So, once I got near him, I told him: "Chef, I stopped eating out about eight years ago," he looked at me. "I thought my dining experiences were dead," I said. "But you just resucitated them. Thank you!" He gave me a sweet big smile, as if he understood exactly what I was talking about.

Here's a salad inspired by the one we had that night, although I added a bit of ground dried lavender and chamomile to celebrate our day at the Botanical Garden and its incredible blooms. This is not Pardes' recipe (that one, as appears on the menu is made with fresh Mission figs, honey dew, Treviso (radicchio), vanilla/fig vinaigrette, and almonds), but my interpretation of it. So they are different, but both are delicious and gorgeous!

The bitter, wine-colored radicchio paired with the unctuous, sweet and crunchy fresh figs, which are making their seasonal debut, is an intriguing combination. I had a couple of blackberries in the fridge and I threw them in for more texture, more color and even more antioxidants, vitamins and fiber. The caramelized almonds add a nice, sweet crunch, more fiber and a bit of protein.

  • Vegan
  • Free of: dairy, gluten, eggs, soy
  • Super ingredients: radicchio, figs, blackberries, almonds

1 medium head of radicchio rosso (purple)
5 fresh figs
½ cup blackberries, blueberries or chopped honeydew
1 cup sliced almonds (preferably skins on)
1 tablespoon coconut nectar (or honey or pure maple syrup)

1 teaspoon ground dried lavender and chamomile flowers (culinary grade)
1 tablespoon coconut nectar (or honey or pure maple syrup)
1/2 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon roasted walnut oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place on it the almonds and drizzle in 1 tablespoon coconut nectar. Mix with a spatula (or your clean hands) until almonds are evenly covered and spread them all on one layer.
2. While oven warms up, wash, and pat dry radicchio, figs and blackberries.
3. Break the radicchio leaves apart and quarter figs. Place them in a serving platter along with the blackberries.
4. Roast almonds for about 5 or 6 minutes (if you are using coconut nectar, which gives an amazing flavor, make sure you're vigilant, as it can burn faster than the other sweeteners), until golden.

While almonds cool, prepare dressing:
5. Grind dried lavender and chamomile in a spice grinder until they become a coarse powder.

6. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds with the back of a knive. Place in a small mixing bowl.

7. Add ground flowers, 1 tablespoon coconut nectar and lemon juice, in to the bowl with the vanilla and whisk. Add in walnut oil slowly, while still whisking. Season with salt and pepper.

8. Sprinkle salad with the almonds and then drizzle in the dressing.

Serves 4