Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?"

    Painting by Paul Gauguin, 1897. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston*  

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?  

The title of Paul Gauguin's masterpiece poses questions which have concerned Homo sapiens  for millenia, perhaps ever since our evolution 200,000 years ago in East Africa. A brilliant and engaging book which examines these questions has recently been published.

Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, Ph.D.  (Harper Collins, 2015).

From the book jacket:

"In Sapiens, Harari delves deep into our history as a species to help us understand who we are and what made us this way. An engrossing read." -- Dan Ariely, Duke University Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics.

"An encyclopedic approach from a well-versed scholar who is concise but eloquent, both skeptical and opinionated, and open enough to entertain competing points of view... The great debates of history aired out with satisfying vigor." -- Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

"Harari's account of how we conquered the Earth astonishes with its scope and imagination... A bravura retelling of the human story... brilliantly clear, witty, and erudite... It really is thrilling and breathtaking; it actually does question our basic narrative of the world." -- Ben Shephard, The Observer (London)

* * * *                                         

Professor Harari has created a fascinating video lecture course based on his book which "... surveys the entire length of human history, from the evolution of various human species in the Stone Age up to the political and technological revolutions of the twenty-first century." The series is available on You Tube via the link below.

A Brief History of Humankind

"D'ou venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou allons nous?" 

* Public Domain

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mallow: Not Just A Common Weed!

If you live in San Francisco, you've walked past wild mallow plants growing out of cracks in the sidewalk, in neglected gardens and other untended patches of urban land. A hardy plant which appears early in the spring, the common mallow is one of the many members of the botanical family Malvaceae which includes hibiscus, okra and cotton.

All parts of the mallow are edible; roots, leaves, seed pods and flowers. Mallow has been foraged for centuries for use as a highly nutritious food and and as a versatile medicinal herb. It thrives in poor soil and requires little water, and thus has been a valuable resource in times of food shortage.

Young mallow leaves are tender and mild, with no hint of bitterness. They can be used like any other leafy green - raw in salads, steamed, sauteed or even blended into smoothies.  Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooks add them to traditional stews; the large mature leaves are used as wraps in place of grape leaves. The seed pods are high in protein and healthy vegetable oils.

Our prehistoric ancestors survived for millennia on their impressive ability to gather and hunt wild foods. Many edible plants thrive in urban settings, though they are usually dismissed as nothing more than nuisance weeds. Learning about wild plants provides us with a valuable connection to our ancient origins and an appreciation for the vast changes in our food supply and the manner in which it is procured.

Foraging should always be undertaken with caution. For those who wish to learn more, there are many informative web sites devoted to the topic. Here is the link to one such site:


Mallow Seed Pods


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Almost Spring: Citrus - Mango Smoothie

Plum blossoms, blood oranges, Minneola tangerines, Ruby Red grapefruits and Lunar New Year signal the arrival of Spring in San Francisco. Farmer's markets are flush with colorful fresh citrus fruit, perfect for creating delicious smoothies like this citrus- mango combo, which can be made in a minute or two.

Dried mango slices are a versatile all- season pantry staple. When re-hydrated and blended into smoothies, they add velvety texture, valuable nutrients and a subtle tropical flavor. To re-hydrate, place a handful of mango slices in a glass jar and add water to cover. Mangoes will be soft enough to use in about an hour but can be stored in the fridge for up to three or four days in the jar of water.

Citrus - Mango Smoothie

2 or 3 medium blood oranges or Minneola Tangerines
3-4  mango slices, re-hydrated
1/2 cup mango soaking water

Use any combination of citrus.
Remove peel and seeds, slice into chunks.
Place citrus, mango slices and water in blender and process on high until smooth. If needed, add a little more water.  Serve immediately.  (Yields about one serving).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Wakame + Watermelon Radish = A Super Salad

This is a dish to create when time is plentiful and distractions are few. It involves some meditative chopping, slicing and a little toasting, all of which can be done ahead of time. The sweet, sour and spicy flavors of the salad are enhanced if it is allowed to rest for a few hours or even a day before serving. Yield: About four portions, but if you really love sea vegetables, you might want to double the recipe.


1 ounce dried wakame sea vegetable*
4 medium watermelon radishes
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
fresh juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon hot pepper sesame oil 
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
3- 4 tablespoons sesame seeds, freshly toasted


Rehydrate wakame by placing it in a bowl with enough cool water to cover. Let it rest for about five minutes, then drain and squeeze out excess water with your hands. Using a sharp knife and clean cutting board,  slice the wakame into thin strips. The tough center ribs of the plant can be set aside for later use in soup, or simply slice them very fine and use in the salad.

Scrub and trim radishes.

Slice radishes into rounds.

Julienne rounds into matchsticks.

Toast sesame seeds in a heavy skillet until just fragrant, then pour into a ceramic plate to cool.

Combine vinegar, lemon juice, maple syrup, sesame oil and sea salt in a bowl and whisk together briefly. Add the sliced wakame and radish and toss gently to coat the vegetables. Sprinkle with about half the toasted sesame seeds, reserving the remainder to use as a garnish at the table. Salad will keep well in a clean glass container for up to three days.

* Wakame sea vegetable is sold dried, often in one ounce packages. 

Variation: Add one good quality crisp apple, sliced into matchsticks. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Must be the Season of the Root!

Long before the era of Pop Tarts, Cocoa Puffs, Twinkies and Big Macs, our ancestors lived exclusively on wild food which they gathered and hunted. Anthropologists state that the average gatherer/ hunter walked five to seven miles daily in search of food. Depending on climate, season and geography, roots, leaves, berries, nuts and seeds were among the main sources of nutrients. Wild animals, fish and insects supplemented forager's diets.

For the majority of human existence we grew no grain, raised no meat, milked no cows. Our food had no labels, packaging or advertising campaigns. At times food was scarce, at times it was abundant. Our daily occupation was to find enough to eat. Somehow our species succeeded in feeding itself well enough through the millenia to reproduce and survive without benefit of a single manufactured food product.

The first rains have begun to fall on Northern California and the produce landscape at farmer's markets has undergone a dramatic shift. Roots and tubers are everywhere; hairy, bumpy, lumpy and decorated with dirt from the fields.  

Often overlooked and under appreciated, roots are nutritious, affordable and simple to prepare. Most roots can be baked, steamed, roasted or stewed; just scrub and apply some sort of heat until tender. Roast a selection of cut up roots in a baking dish, or mash steamed roots with a little sea salt, olive oil and herbs for a delicious meal.  Create flavorful, healthy soup by simmering beets with carrots, celery and onion.

When shopping for roots and tubers, look for those which are organically grown. Specimens without breaks in the skin are preferable but superficial blemishes will not affect quality. Not all roots are beautiful, but they have sustained human life for generations. Winter is the ideal season to return to our roots!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ode to The Tomato: "Star of Earth"

Locally grown tomatoes will soon disappear from Northern California farmer's markets, as autumn apples, pears, persimmons and winter squash take the place of summer produce. Each season has its delights, but saying goodbye to summer favorites is never easy.

There is still time to celebrate "the tomato, star of earth" as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda refers to it. Now is the time to stock up on the last of the crop.  Dry- farmed tomatoes are a good choice; they are hardy and flavorful and their low water content makes them ideal for storage. Select those which are deeply pigmented and still firm.

Make sure that the tomatoes are not damp or bruised. Place them in a paper or plastic bag, leaving it partially open to allow some air circulation. Properly handled, tomatoes will keep in the fridge for two or three weeks. Check them daily and select the ripest ones for immediate use.

Freshly blended tomato juice is a nutritious, simple and delicious way to make use of ultra ripe tomatoes. A handful of dry- farmed tomatoes will make one generous serving of juice.

Autumn Fresh Tomato Juice

4- 5 ripe tomatoes, washed and quartered
optional garnishes: lime juice, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Place tomatoes in blender and process until smooth. Serve in a glass, with or without garnish.  If the day is chilly,  briefly heat juice in a saucepan over a low flame until just warm.

Ode To Tomatoes  by Pablo Neruda (excerpt)

"...and, on
the table, at the midpoint 
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile star,
displays its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude 
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Almonds ~ An Ancient Super Food

Ours is an era in which "super food" trends come (and go) with startling rapidity. In recent years we have learned the nutritional value of acai berries from the tropics of the Amazon, quinoa from the mountains of the Andes, chia seeds from the Aztecs and coconut water from the tropical Caribbean.  If you haven't noticed camel's milk yet in the freezer of your local health food store, it will be there soon.

An ancient though less exotic food which has been a prized source of sustenance for much of human history is the almond, Prunus Amygdalus. First domesticated in the Middle East during the Bronze age (3,000- 2,000 BCE), the almond tree's agricultural roots have since spread far across the globe, from North Africa and South Asia to Southern Europe, Australia and the United States, where California now produces eighty percent of the wold's supply of almonds.

Rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy oils and fiber, almonds are densely nutritious, versatile and delicious. Few foods surpass the almond's health giving properties or convenience. The ultimate in snack foods, almonds travel well; a handful on the hiking trail, while aloft at 30,000 feet or at your desk will stave off hunger for hours.

Store raw almonds  in clean glass jars in a cool place or in the fridge; they will keep well for months, available for immediate eating with no waiting.

If you're not quite ready for camel's milk, home made almond milk is refreshing, energizing and nutrient rich.   For a simple almond milk recipe see blog post titled "Raw Almond Milk, Creamy and Delicious".