Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In search of inspiration, I ran across a few web sites that have proven to be helpful in building upon the food and family tradition within our household.
The first,, focuses on offering kids aged 7-10 the tools needed to improve their health and the health of the planet. Created by The Rodale Institute, whose mission it is to work with people worldwide to achieve a regenerative food system that renews environmental and human health working with the philosophy that Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy Planet, the site offers information on fun and fitness, food and nutrition, easy to make recipes, gardening information and inspiration, activities and a host of resources for both parents and educators.

The next, is a fun site that helps you create a cookbook filled with family recipes, personal photos and stories. offers interactive and creative ways for family and friends to preserve the recipes they were raised with. The personalized cookbooks can be created individually or through groups online and can be filled with recipes, dedications, and photos. The web site also offers food related resources including product reviews, informative articles and links to interactive blogs. I love the idea of gathering together favorite family recipes all in one place (in a beautiful bound book), although the cookbooks seem a bit expensive -- however they can be a wonderful gift - for a wedding shower, graduation gift, etc. The site may even provide you inspiration to create your own collection of recipes.

Finally, the May launch of Imbibe Magazine is almost here. I got a sneak peak at the first issue of this magazine that highlights drinks as a culinary category. The magazine covers all kinds of beverages from wine, beer and spirits, to coffee, tea, water and beyond. The articles focus on the history, ingredients, preparation and consumption of beverages, offering readers information to make more informed buying decisions -- ultimately for their enjoyment at home. The premier issue includes articles on the beverages of Oaxaca, organic wine, coffee and Trappist ales. It is very well written - offering a lot of great information. The magazine will be available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books a Million, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Tower Books as well as select independent grocery stores, wine, beer and spirit shops. Check out the web site for more information:

Until next time, enjoy your time with Food, Family and Friends

Monday, April 17, 2006

This past weekend, a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle "America's mean cuisine: More like it hot," discussed how spicy flavors are all the rage from junk food to ethnic dishes. The American palate's move from mild to spicy foods is attributed to a variety of things - from increased worldwide travel to the growing number of immigrants who bring their traditional foods to the U.S. I always like to add the 'Starbucks effect' as a reason-- i.e. Starbucks has helped raise mainstream consumer awareness of different taste profiles of one of the most popular beverages in the States. As a result, consumers are becoming more attuned to their taste buds, and seeking out new flavor profiles and exciting new flavor combinations.
For those of us who have been brought up on so-called 'mild' foods, with meals generally consisting of meat, veggies and potatoes that have been 'spiced' up with salt and pepper, the transition to more exciting taste profiles can be a bit trying. The same is true for children. From early on, they grow accustomed to certain taste profiles, and unfortunately, too often it is a sugary taste profile. (I cringe as I see the joy with which my children gobble up their Easter goodies, and wonder how I can get them to eat broccoli again).
My husband and I are adventurous with foods. By adventurous, I don't mean insects and foods that might be necessary to eat if I were on Survivor. By adventurous, I mean, with flavors. Different flavors. Layers of flavors. Spicy, sweet and everything in between. This comes more from a desire to enjoy foods, make them an adventure and not just a way to fill my stomach. As a result, we are constantly introducing our children to new foods - those foods that are often coined as 'adult' foods. Sure, my kids love their hot dogs and mac and cheese, but my soon-to-be three-year-old loves shrimp, broccoli, asparagus. He's even tried, and somewhat liked, brussel sprouts. He's had his share of Italian, but also enjoys a bit of Asian, and has even enjoyed a mild curry.
The Chronicle article does touch on the growth in ethnic food consumption, citing how Boomers are experimenting with other cuisines, which may include Thai or sushi. And, of course restaurants are cashing in on the fact that American palates are a bit more adventurous, but the worrisome thing is that the majority of consumers will enjoy these bolder flavors in junk food form. The article listed several recently introduced foods that fill the 'bolder' taste profiles. They include Coca-Cola's new Blak fusion beverage of Coke and coffee; Frito-Lay's sensations line of potato and tortilla chips seasoned with chiles, crushed red pepper and black peppercorns' Blue Diamond's Bold line of almonds which include Wasabi and Soy Sauce, among others. As well, the Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich, Carl's Jr. spicy barbecue burger, Cheetos, sauces, condiments, mints, candy and chewing gum blah, blah blah.
It was probably about 10 years ago, when the Fancy Food Show was filled with so companies promoting hotter than hot, ass-kickin' hot sauces. The challenge was to create the hottest version around; and only a partial droplet could be used when cooking. This trend eventually died down and morphed into hot sauces that had some depth of flavor. And, that is what it should be about. Tasting taste. Not making it so powerful that there is only one sensation: hot, or whatever it might be.
Tasting is such a wonderful thing, and all too often the foods we eat, whether we prepare them ourselves, or purchase prepackaged foods, there is one overriding flavor.
I enjoy, and of course want my children to do the same, tasting a variety of different flavors and textures, enjoying the entire sensory experience of eating. Unfortunately with the run on spicy and bolder flavors in many junk foods or fast foods, what many are experiencing are flavors that are created in the lab. A salsa verde powder that is sprinkled over chips, an artificially flavored habanero sauce spread over a chicken sandwich.
There are so many opportunities to experience the true flavor of a food made with fresh ingredients. I've hidden all the Easter chocolate from my kids - partly because they don't need the temptation and I don't need the headache of their constant asking, but I want them to experience great tasting chocolate, not the variety that is made mostly of fillers. I want them to grow up appreciating what the pure taste of chocolate is, to understand the role flavor has in eating; whether it is a treat, a snack, or a meal.
For those timid in the kitchen, a cooking class at the local kitchenware store, is a great way to start. In just a few hours, you'll learn how to create flavors that will enhance, not mask, the overall eating experience. At home, experiment with different spice blends, maybe even crushing your own spices in a mortar and pestle to create a home made curry, or secret spice blend. When you do purchase a sauce that claims to be 'bold' or 'spicy' try to taste-test it first before using. If it tastes processed, or the flavor is one-dimensional, opt to make your own - I marinate chicken in a hot and sweet tomato sauce that has honey, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper and tomato sauce -topped with toasted sesame seeds. It takes only a few minutes to put together and I always get compliments on it.
Best of all, at least one of those compliments comes from my son.
Until next time, enjoy food, family and friends.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I just returned from the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America conference and exhibition. The show’s exhibitor list ranges from producer country associations, importers and roasters, to companies offering coffee- (and tea) related products to the retailers who sell them. As has been the case in the past few years, the industry is focusing more on the issues related to coffee prices. Basically, the unfortunate downward trend in coffee prices has left many farmers in a crisis. The money they receive for the product they produce is much less than the cost to produce it. As a result, many are choosing alternate crops or, if they continue to produce coffee, they choose to produce a greater amount of lesser quality coffee in an attempt to sell volume over quality.
To help turn around this devastating downward spiral, many companies are creating relationships with farmers in source countries, working with them on a face-to-face basis, to help them through this crisis. The result has been many successful programs in which farmers receive a decent wage for their work, and in turn are given the incentive to produce better quality coffees. Programs like this have helped build schools, health care programs and the like in farming communities around the coffee-growing world.
So, as you enjoy your morning (or afternoon) cup of coffee, think about where the coffee came from. Think about the community where it was grown – the people’s whose lives depend on it. Think about your future coffee purchases, and hopefully they will be made with the sustainability of their lives, and the environment’s in mind. If you don’t know, ask your local retailer about labels you see on the packaging – Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Utz Kapeh, etc. - and learn more about how your purchasing decisions can affect change not only in producer countries, but in your own backyard.
Ok, I’m off my soap box . .

Aside from this broader social issue . . . and on a much lighter note, exhibitors offered up some great new beverageware designs so we can enjoy our cup of coffee (or tea) in style.
One of my favorites since they came to market has been the Miam Miam line of coffee mugs (see below). These whimsical mugs are truly eye-catchers when they sit on your desk. To view all styles, visit the Miam Miam section of the following website –

With continued trend in drinking chocolate, La Cafetiere introduced the La Chocolatiere drinking chocolate maker. Perfect more creating frothy hot or cold drinks from wither chocolate flakes or instant chocolate, the maker also includes matching mugs. (

On the tea end, Pacific Cornetta presented the Aletta Tea-zer tea infuser vacuum bottle. Featuring a double-wall plastic construction that retains heat, the Tea-zer has a stainless steel removable brewing basket for brewing loose-leaf teas as well as tea bags. The sip lid has perforated holes to prevent swallowing stray tealeaves. (

Until next time, enjoy Food, Family and Friends