Friday, September 1, 2006

Mollie Katzen comes to Madison

Renowned chef and cookbook author brings her vegetable love to Madison’s Food For Thought Festival
By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach

In ANEW Magazine, September 2006
Column: Around the Table

Recipe: Apple-glazed Acorn Squash Rings
Recipe: A Sparkling Sweet Potato

Ah, food, glorious food. The flavor! The aroma! The justice!

Justice? What’s that got to do with food?

A lot, in a world teeming with side-by-side surplus and famine, where a few agribusinesses boom while thousands of family farms go under, where most of what we spend on food goes not to farmers but to middlemen and merchandisers, and the average morsel travels thousands of miles from farm to plate, even in this day of soaring petrol prices. How extreme can the situation be? Recently several Florida produce growers were convicted of forcing hundreds of workers into “involuntary servitude” – slavery.

So if you like to eat and care at least a whit about the thousands of humans (and other beings) who help you do it, the eighth annual Food For Thought Festival off the Capitol Square, held during the Farmers’ Market Saturday morning, Sept. 16 (plus panel discussion the night before – details at, is for you.

This year’s theme is “Just Cooking," with the double meaning intentional. “It’s a way of looking at food that considers the health and wholeness of all the people and systems who produce and consume it,” says Miriam Grunes, executive director of REAP, the group organizing the event. “It also means making healthy, local ingredients available so everyone has access to foods that are fresh, minimally processed, locally and/or sustainably produced, flavorful and nutritious.”

Of the two world-class keynoters slated to speak, give free cooking classes and sign books, one is Anna LappĂ©, whose most recent book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, encourages readers to “joyfully and deliciously embrace our responsibilities as world citizens,” says Grunes.

The other is veggie cookery superstar Mollie Katzen, one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. Mollie’s first book was 1977’s instant classic Moosewood Cookbook, followed by The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and many more cookbooks. Her achievements include a long-running cooking show on public television, awards for illustration and design, a seat at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Roundtable and a place in the Natural Health Hall of Fame.

In advance of her upcoming first trip to Wisconsin, Mollie spoke with us from the Berkeley, Calif. home where she’s lived for 21 years.

VVK: You helped put vegetarian cookery on the map. But you’re not a vegetarian yourself?

MK: If you go through my books, I never made an argument for vegetarianism. I said, if you want to eat less meat, here’s what you can cook.

I love low-on-the-food-chain food – nut butters, grains, beans, fruits, lots of vegetables. But being a vegetarian? To me it’s completely a nonissue. I don’t agree or disagree; it’s a very personal choice. But it’s irrelevant to your health. It doesn’t answer the question, what are you nourishing yourself with?

I think the early health foods movement was a lot about not eating this or that. People would say, “I’ve stopped eating meat.” And their friends would say, “Oh, good, you’re healthy now!” And that would be the end of the sentence. You’d wake up healthy the next day. It was a culture of denial. I don’t want to eat remorse food. I want fresh, delicious food. Food that’s about, “How can I make this as delicious as possible?” It doesn’t have to be fancy.

I’ve witnessed many vegetarians who are simply non-meat-eaters, without a single vegetable or fruit in their day – who subsist on high processed-carb diets with very little or no protein and very little or no fiber or fruit. And some meat-eaters are incredibly fit and healthy. It depends on what is actually eaten – not on what is not eaten.

VVK: What about the ethics: can meat to fit in with a just way of life? Can there ever be a regular place for bacon and burgers on the ethically aware table?

MK: Absolutely. There is sustainably raised meat. Humans have been omnivores all the way back in time.

VVK: Natural foods has become a big-money industry, but much of is in processed foods supporting the American lifestyle of prepackaged meals and quick-access snacks, not fresh ingredients that people take home to prepare lovingly.

MK: It's the result of people's perceived time-crunch issues. Nobody says, I don’t have time to watch my favorite TV shows, or surf the Internet. They just do it. Some people spend more time watching the Food Network than actually preparing food. I don’t know what that blockage is about. But a lot of that goes away when you fall in love with cooking.

VVK: Fall in love?

MK: I don’t want to make it sound like I’m talking about some mystical thing. I mean making a commitment, devoting time to your relationship with food. Love is manifest by making time for someone or something, make space for that in your life. That’s almost a working definition of love. When you love someone, what do you do? It’s the same as with any hobby, or a love for literature.

That’s really the key to dealing with a lot of our issues around food. Get closer to it, learn the craft. People who come to my classes, it’s the main barrier that keeps them from cooking more vegetables. They don’t have a comfortable relationship with a knife. I tell people, make friends with the knife. Keep it sharp. Practice.

Look on this as a craft, a really fun craft. Walk away from your kitchen. Then make it into a place that’s pleasant for you to be in and reconstitute that relationship in your life. Get a couple of really good tools. Find a knife that you really bond with – that you can have fun with.

Unfortunately, time to cook and focus on healthy and organic cooking has become a luxury. If you’re a harried mother, broke, with three children under age 5, and you pass McDonald’s with a chicken sandwich under a dollar, I’m not going to lecture that person. Although the irony is that for many people there’s a huge savings cooking at home.

VVK: Your cookbooks for children are so helpfully written and laid out, and the food is real eating, not kiddie novelty stuff. I think they’re ideal for anyone, any age, who wants to learn to cook. But if you’re an adult trying to cook with kids – how do you stay patient?

MK: Cook with children for fun, not for a meal or for a goal. "Process over product," is my motto for cooking with young kids. Children become more interested in fruits and vegetables when they get a chance to encounter them pre-plate, as in the garden – ideal! – or the farmers' market. Children also are attracted to things they get to prepare themselves, so let them make a tasty sauce to dip vegetables in, and you'll be amazed how their relationship to the vegetable will improve.

VVK: Do you have any words of encouragement or support or inspiration for moving to a more fully engaged relationship with food?

MK: Go to the farmer’s market and get things that look beautiful to you, whatever it is, and just bring it all home. Then put it all out. Get your tomatoes and strawberries and arrange it all in little bowls. Just stare at it. And just eat it. Plain. Cut up some tomatoes and maybe tear up some basil leaves on them. Do as little as possible. And that’s cooking.

Thirty years ago, when Mollie Katzen published her first, groundbreaking, cookbook, meatless meals tended towards “big, heavy entrees” with “thick sauces that would bury or mask” the veggies, she recalls. Today there’s “more flavor, less fuss, more subtlety.”

“The produce is better,” says Mollie. “Cooking knowledge is more sophisticated. People are into drizzling a little of this or that rather than concocting something. You can get high-quality toasted nut oils, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, Meyer lemons, fresh herbs.” Simple preparations can be dazzling and delicious, especially when they’re made with top quality ingredients: just choose a veg and roast, grill or braise it. Then finish simply – drizzle, glaze, make a reduction from the cooking liquid or sprinkle on some coarse salt.

How easy can it be to create a fresh and fabulous dish this way? Check out these recipes (edited for space) from Mollie’s latest, Eat, Drink and Weigh Less (Hyperion, 2006), co-written with Walter Willett, M.D. of the Harvard School of Public Health. Then get down to the farmers’ market on the Square on Sept. 16, and pick up these autumn ingredients in peak season on your way to the Food For Thought Festival. [See top of this article for links to the recipes.]

Apple-glazed Acorn Squash Rings

Related article: Mollie Katzen Comes to Madison

“Simple and sweet” – Mollie Katzen

1 acorn squash
3 Tablespoons (or more) apple juice or defrosted concentrate

Slice one (unpeeled) acorn squash into 1/2" rings. Remove seeds. Arrange on a foil-lined, lightly sprayed, baking sheet. Bake at 375° on oven center rack. After 15 minutes (or when squash is fork-tender), remove from oven and drizzle or brush with apple. Heat broiler to 500° and move oven rack to highest position. Broil just a minute or two, until squash tops begin to brown. (Watch carefully – they can burn quickly.) Remove from oven. If desired, glaze with a touch more apple. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

A Sparkling Sweet Potato

Related article: Mollie Katzen comes to Madison

“Utterly divine” – Mollie Katzen

A Sparkling Sweet Potato

1 sweet potato (about 6 oz.)
1–2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (or to taste)

Microwave sweet potato 3 minutes on high. Turn over and repeat. Insert fork into center to check for doneness. Cook more if needed. (Or oven-roast at 375° until fork-tender, about 1 hour.) Remove and let cool. Peel. Transfer to a bowl and mash with a fork. Mash in 1 tablespoon of the lime juice and taste. Add more lime juice as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature – or reheat in microwave and serve hot.

Floors that say “I love this planet!”

Walk lightly upon the earth with environmentally friendly flooring
By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
In Anew Magazine, September 2006

Whether you're building a home or remodeling, your choices of what to walk on are better than ever, and better for the Big Blue Marble, too. Today it's easier than ever to choose from a wide range of environmentally sound flooring materials that look great, feel good underfoot and are easy to clean – not to mention that they don't bring formaldehyde and other nasties into your household. Several flooring sources in the Madison area offer a wide selection of “green” flooring, and the trend is only going to increase, according to national industry sources. How to decide which material to use where? What's the right look and feel for you? Here's an overview.

Grind up the leavings from bottle stopper production, press them together into flooring tiles or planks, and you have the ultimate sustainable floor: a good-looking, durable surface made from the bark of the cork oak. That's right, bark: no trees were harmed in the production of the hippest flooring in kitchens today. It's soft and springy to walk on, watertight (it can be sealed with polyurethane or wax, or used “unfinished”), and a natural sound insulator. All this makes it a nice choice for living rooms, dining rooms, and basements too. It's friendly to folks with allergies, as well as insect-resistant, antimicrobial, and even fire-resistant. Not so practical in very wet areas, say a kid's bathroom. Cork can be stained dozens of shades ranging from blond to dark brown. Cost: about $2.75–5/square foot.

You want a traditional wood look, and also to be nice to Ma Nature? Do the math. It takes hardwood 40 years to mature for flooring harvest. Bamboo? Five. And then it grows back. Hey, it is grass, after all. Tougher than oak, more stable than maple, bamboo flooring comes in wide planks, ideal for glueless floating floors (less glue = less toxins). The most popular green choice these days, it's water-resistant, long-lasting, easy to keep clean and just plain lovely. Available in several colors and grain patterns, bamboo can play to an Asian decor style, a parquet look, or many other styles that favor clean lines. Cost: about $4–5/square foot.

Coconut palm
One of the newest sustainable flooring options is made from the trunk of 80-year-old coconut palm trees that have stopped producing nuts in their Southeast Asia orchards. Though these were customarily thrown away, it turns out they make ideal flooring: the color is rich and dark like cherry, but with a dramatic, unusual grain pattern. It's as hard as maple and stands up to five sandings. Cost: about $10/square foot.

Say what? Doesn't getting teak involve ripping off the rainforest? Not if it's plantation-grown harvest from a reputable source. In good conscience, then, enjoy the beauty and benefits of this luxuriously dark, oil-rich wood, so resistant to water that sailing ships were once built with it, so durable that teak park benches 150 years old are still in use, and looking good. Cost: about $4–6/square foot.

Not that newfangled vinyl would-be stuff! Linoleum, in use since the 1800s, is a natural brew, made by mixing together linseed oil (hence the “lin”) with pine rosin, limestone, pigments and powdered wood and cork. This mixture forms granules that are then pressed into sheets against a webbing of jute yarn and hung to cure into a tough, flexible product that nowadays is available in a rainbow of dozens of bright colors and muted tones, too. Tougher than cork – or vinyl, for that matter – true lino stands up to stresses like chair wheels and is great for the hard use that a home office or rec room gets. Cost: about $5/square foot.

Natural stone tiles
You can't get much more back to nature than by bringing stone tiles into your living space. Each square reveals the history of millions of years through its unique patterns. Shadings range from subtle to spectacular, with fine grains or wild whorls of vanilla, gold, rose, charcoal, peach and more. Limestone, slate and and sandstone are fast gaining popularity in mudrooms, foyers and even bathrooms, where slip-resistant finishes make them more practical than you might guess – and no, they're not icy to the toesies! And with its heat-retaining properties, it's a natural choice for sub-floor radiant heat. Easy-cleaning and durable, slate is a growing trend in kitchen flooring. Another good stone site: around the hearth. Caution: some stones are tough to clean. Cost: about $6–7/square foot.

Reclaimed wood
Follow the footsteps of history – install flooring once used in old Wisconsin barns and warehouses and re-milled into tounge-and-groove planks, available from Eco-Friendly Flooring on Madison's West side. Douglas fir, yellow-heart pine and maple are the most commonly available, but you never know what unique treasure might turn up. Cost: $4.50–15/square foot.

Recycled glass or aluminum tile
Glass tiles add shimmer and style to tile floors, as well as backsplashes, walls, bar fronts and more, and are available in over 100 patterns and colors. Cost: $22–100/square foot, but you can also purchase them by the piece. Aluminum's sheen is attractive and oh-so-moderne on fireplace surrounds and kitchen and bath fixtures and backsplashes. Lacquered aluminum tile makes a dramatic choice for a bathroom floor as well, coming in smooth and nubbly finishes. It's durable and low-maintenance, but lining the you-know-what with, well, old cans, is probably the priciest pun you'll ever play. Recycled brass, bronze and copper tiles are available, too. Cost: $25–60/square foot.