A Little About Me
I am an Adirondack girl who ended up in Los Angeles after some time in New York City and some time in the Catskills. I live in Venice Beach, where art meets crime, and my days are filled with writing, working, and cooking,
When I'm not busy doing those things I try to live a life I won't regret. I am passionate about real food and indie literature and I'm the kind of person you call when you need to get something done. I've written two novels and I'm working on my third in my spare time.
Author Archives: Wanda Shapiro
Now that summer is here, it’s time to celebrate stone fruit! And my favorite stone fruit is nectarines. I adapted this from a recipe I found in a magazine, decades ago, which sounded great but didn’t come together well. My version has become a family favorite and my husband recently inspired me to write it down so he could learn how to make it. Many thanks to him for testing this recipe and for making dinner!
Ingredients – Salad:
- 2 cups water
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 2/3 cups couscous
- 3 large nectarines (diced)
- 1 cup spinach (coarsely chopped)
- 2/3 cup chickpeas (cooked and cooled – or – canned)
- 2 small scallions (finely chopped)
Ingredients – Dressing:
- 4 Tbsp. lime juice
- 4 Tbsp. honey
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
NOTE: For best results, I recommend using organic ingredients. For this seasonal recipe, be sure to allow the nectarines to ripen fully.
Instructions for the couscous:
Bring water, olive oil and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in couscous. Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Using a fork, rake the cooked couscous out of the pan and onto a cookie sheet. Spread out and let cool. Rake the couscous out of the pan a layer at a time to avoid clumps. Let couscous cool completely before adding to salad.
Instructions for the dressing:
Add all ingredients to a medium bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Whisk again before pouring. You will notice that this dressing tastes very strong but it balances out when added to the other ingredients.
Instructions for the salad:
In a large bowl, mix chickpeas, diced nectarines, and finely chopped scallions. Whisk dressing again to mix thoroughly and add half of the dressing to the ingredients in the large bowl. Mix thoroughly and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. After letting it sit, re-mix the dressing, chickpeas, nectarines and scallions to distribute flavors. Add couscous and chopped spinach to the large bowl and stir gently to mix. Serve immediately as a side dish or as a whole meal.
For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.
People (and companies) talk a lot about a good work-life balance but that phrase has started to annoy me. Sometimes I wish that was all I was striving for, but the life of an artist is not that simple.
First of all, let’s face it. The forty-hour work week is dead, at least for salaried workers in professional service industries. No matter how hard you work while you’re at the office, the to-do list is never done, and most companies expect salaried employees to put in late days and weekends when necessary. Some companies and some industries are less prone to fifty and sixty-hour weeks, but that has become the norm for many, in a lot of different industries.
Second of all, life is a lot of things. The life in the work-life balance is supposed to be time with your family, time with your friends, and time to relax, but no one ever talks about the time it takes to call the insurance company about the claim they just denied, or the time it takes to do your taxes, keep your house clean and cook dinner. And these days, the administrative side of life is more frustrating, and more time-consuming, than it has ever been.
That’s why sometimes I wish it were as simple as a striking a good work-life balance but for artists, we are driven by some inexplicable creative engine and we struggle for more than a work-life balance. We struggle to achieve a work-life-art-sleep balance and frequently the sleep part of the equation gets seriously short changed.
You know your art has a hold of you when it hurts in some way not to do it. Maybe a bad mood creeps up on you when you neglect your art. Maybe you end up distracted by the artistic thoughts which you don’t have time to realize. Or maybe you just hate life when it doesn’t include whatever kind of art drives you. I have stopped trying to explain why I am simply happier when I am making progress on a writing project, but I do believe artists everywhere know what I’m talking about. I have also stopped wondering where anyone’s well of art flows from, but I am constantly trying to balance my art with the rest of life, work included.
At this point in my life, here is what I’ve learned about my own work-life-art-sleep balance.
- I would rather make less money and spend more wisely if it means I have more time to write.
- Sleeping less is okay but there are limits and you have to pay attention to how well your brain is functioning.
- It’s impossible to strike the work-life-art-sleep balance if you don’t make time for your friends and family.
- The early morning is your friend if you use it wisely and actually get up when you alarm goes off.
- If you are going to burn the candle at both ends, real food will improve your stamina and bolster your immune system.
- Taking the time to prepare real food and eat it with your friends and family is as nourishing as the food itself.
- The nine-to-five (or more accurately now, nine-to-six) workday is the death knell of efficiency but it cannot always be avoided.
- Productivity begets productivity if and only if one’s categories of productivity are varied and well-rounded.
- Whether it’s mail, laundry, or dirty dishes, you’re better off not letting anything in your life pile up, even if that means you get a little less sleep that day.
- For me, making time to write is not optional.
- Art includes more than just the creative part so you have to make friends with all the rest of the business and logistics that go into being a working artist.
- The more you do, the more you get done.
- Everything in life takes longer than you thought it would.
Unless you decide some day to give up your art entirely, the struggle to find your own work-life-art-sleep balance will never end. And unless you strike it rich, the best you can hope for is some sort of zen acceptance of this constant battle. Along the way, you can make choices in life which will tip the balance one way or another, forever or only for a time, but that’s a pendulum you have to keep tapping every now and then if you’re going to maintain your happy place and keep a roof over your head.
If you’re like me, I wish you the best of luck finding your own work-life-art-sleep balance. And let’s maybe start calling it the life-art-work-sleep balance because that’s really how we all feel. If you’re not an artist, then I encourage you to call it the life-work balance instead, because shouldn’t we all be working to live instead of living to work?
There was a time when I didn’t think I could live without plastic food storage bags and plastic wrap. But once I figured out how to get rid of paper towels, I figured out how to get rid of all of them. Like paper towels, these are products which many generations of humans lived without and they stuck out like sore thumbs in my less industrial kitchen. I had Ziploc bags in multiple sizes, non-resealable plastic food storage bags, plastic wrap, and I ended up with all kinds of plastic bags when buying produce and bulk dry goods.
I still use plastic trash bags, but I’ve switched to more eco-friendly brands which I buy at my local coop, and I do keep a stash of large ziploc bags in the tool box. However, I only use them for rare circumstances like when I ship food products in glass which if broken and not in plastic would make an irreparable mess.
As convenient as they are small plastic bags are not necessary. You can get rid of them entirely, along with plastic wrap and here’s how you do it.
Buy cotton and silk bags for storing produce in the fridge.
I used to store lettuces, herbs and produce wrapped in paper towels, in plastic bags. Over the years, I learned that plastic was death to vegetables in the fridge, but paper towels, used with plastic bags were my saving grace. Eventually, I found the kootsac etsy store where you can buy the best cotton and silk bags for produce storage. Etsy store owner, Morgen, sells the silk bags for bulk dry goods, but I recommend them for lettuces, greens and herbs which are best stored in the crisper. For sturdier produce, like carrots, broccoli and scallions, I use the cotton bags, also purchased from the kootsac etsy store. I wash my bags by hand with dish soap (which in my house is Dr. Bronners) and I dry them on the fridge using rust resistant magnets.
Buy mason jars and a canning funnel to fill them.
I suggest you buy a wide array of sizes including the classic quart size, the pint size, the half-pint size, and the half-gallon size jars. They are very inexpensive and when the lids get rusty you can easily replace them. The small ones work well for snacks and lunches and the larger ones are great for storing soups, stocks and leftovers of all kinds. I recommend the wide mouth jars because they are easier to clean and fill, and I also recommend investing in a five-dollar canning funnel for filling though it’s possible to live without it.
Buy glass food storage containers with lids.
You can find sets of Pyrex storage containers with plastic lids all over and you can often find them on sale. A couple of these sets will give you enough to store things in the fridge that you would otherwise store in plastic bags. When you go to the farmers market, you can bring these containers with you for easily squashed items like berries and figs. The vendors are usually happy to take back their containers and there’s no better way to store berries in the fridge. You don’t need any paper towels and as long as you don’t overfill the container, your berries will stay fresher than you are used to. I’m particularly partial to Pyrex because it can go from the fridge to the oven. I don’t own a microwave so I reheat leftovers frequently in the same Pyrex containers I use in the fridge.
Use wax paper to wrap sandwiches and snacks.
To keep the wax paper closed you can use a small piece of tape or you can wrap the package in a cloth napkin. You can wrap sandwiches, pastries and breads which stay plenty fresh in lunches when wrapped this way. I also use wax paper to wrap and store cheese though I have to say it some cheeses have a shorter shelf life in the fridge when they are wrapped in wax paper. The softer cheeses seem to fair better in wax paper but the harder cheeses like cheddar can dry out if left for a long time. I tend to use cheese pretty quickly so it’s rarely a problem.
Stop using the plastic bags at the grocery store and the farmers market.
Get in the habit of bringing your cotton and silk bags with you, along with your reusable shopping bags. Tons of people will ask you about them and tell you that’s such a good idea and then you can tell them about the kootsac etsy store I mentioned above. I bring mine to the farmers market and the coop and I keep enough of them on hand so I never run out. I’ve had some that were less durable but I have every single kootsac bag I’ve ever bought. They have never frayed or torn even though I have stained them over the years with things like beets and half cut red peppers.
You can also bring your mason jars to the grocery store and farmers market for buying dry goods in bulk. You can go to the cashier to get a tare weight on the jar so you don’t pay for the weight of the jar and then your dry goods are ready to put away when you get home. Since I buy the majority of my dry goods in bulk, my cupboards are filled with mason jars which stack well and which look beautiful.
Use non-disposable storage containers around the house.
When I decided to finally face my plastic bag addiction, I had to admit it had spread beyond the kitchen. I realized I had Ziploc bags all over the house, storing all kinds of things – from panty hose to extra bars of soap. And when I traveled it was even worse. So I gradually started replacing the plastic bags with different kinds of storage containers that could serve more than one purpose over time, and for traveling I re-appropriated some of my cotton food storage bags which where fraying and not holding up so well (the ones I didn’t buy from the kootsac etsy store). In order to quell my fear of toiletries spilling in my suitcase, I wrap my toiletry bag in one of my chicobag reuseable shopping bags. They are made of nylon so they are more or less water proof, and come to find out, my toiletries don’t leak nearly as often as I worried they would.
If you bake your own bread, buy a large glass bowl and a plate large enough to fit under it.
I know this doesn’t apply to most people, but storing bread was a serious barrier to entry for me to the no-plastic-bag-lifestyle. I used those non-reclosable food storage bags to store left over bread every single day and I couldn’t very well just leave the bread on the counter for days. I tried wax paper but I had to use a ton of tape given the width of the roll, and it never worked well. So I took my largest straight-sided glass bowl and turned it upside down on a dinner plate. It fit perfectly, provided better next day storage than plastic, and that’s how I’ve been storing my homemade bread ever since.
Stop buying plastic storage bags and plastic wrap.
Once you’ve done some re-equiping of your kitchen, just stop. Anything you’re missing in your kitchen to make it work will reveal itself over time and don’t feel guilty about using up what you’ve already bought while you’re in transition. If you’re concerned about the cost of making the transition, think about how much you’ll spend in your lifetime on Ziploc bags and Saran Wrap if you don’t kick the addiction now.
Appreciate the extra space in your drawer or cupboard.
There was a time when I purchased and stored: large ziploc bags, medium ziplock bags, small ziploc bags, non-resealable plastic food storage bags, regular saran wrap, that new fangled saran wrap that sticks to itself, aluminum foil, wax paper, and parchment paper. Now, I only purchase and store two of those nine modern conveniences. My one role of wax paper and one role of parchment paper fit easily and conveniently in one of my kitchen drawers and I’m no longer addicted to the other seven products which humans make in factories, ship to stores, and purchase in bulk for a lot of money, even though they don’t really need them. I weened myself off aluminum foil eventually too and it’s a wonderful feeling.
Giving up things like plastic bags and paper towels is a relatively big adjustment for any household but you’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try. Humans lived for thousands of years without Ziploc and Saran, just like they lived without aluminum foil, paper towels, pasteurization or industrial preservatives. For me, it’s about reversing the process and getting the factory out of my pantry which is a never-ending adventure.
The woman who shared this recipe with me calls them Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls, but I call them Nana’s Cinnamon Rolls even if this lovely woman isn’t my Nana. I’m an inveterate collector of recipes and I will ask anyone to share, including total strangers and other people’s family members. Recipes like this are my reward and many thanks to my brother-in-law’s Nana for this one.
Ingredients – Dough:
- 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
Ingredients – Cinnamon Filling:
- 10 Tbsp. butter, softened
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 4 tsp. cinnamon
Ingredients – Glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- Maple syrup (or milk)
- Maple extract or vanilla (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Instructions – Cinnamon Rolls:
STEP 1: In a large mixer bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of flour and yeast. Stirring constantly, heat the milk, granulated sugar, butter and salt just until mixture is warm and the butter is almost melted (120-130 degrees). You can use a thermometer for this but you do not have to.
STEP 2: Add milk mixture and eggs to the flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl frequently. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. (Dough will be soft.) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball.
STEP 3: Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and turn once. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours). The dough is ready for shaping when you can lightly and quickly press two fingers 1/2 inch into the dough and the indentation remains.
STEP 4: Punch dough down. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough in half and shape each half into a smooth ball. Cover and let rise for 10 minutes.
STEP 5: On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of the dough into a 12 x 10 inch rectangle. Spread with 5 Tbsp. softened butter. Combine cinnamon and brown sugar and sprinkle half over rolled dough. Roll dough from the short side and seal edges with fingers dipped in water. Make a second roll with the remaining dough, butter and sugar mixture.
STEP 6: Slice each dough roll into pieces about 1 inch thick using dental floss. Slide the floss under the dough bring it up and tie it right through the dough. You’ll get perfect slices without smashing the roll. Repeat to slice both rolls of dough. Arrange in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled (about 30 minutes). Preheat oven to 350 degrees when you cover the rolls to rise.
STEP 7: Bake rolls in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Invert immediately on a wire rack. Cool slightly and drizzle with the following glaze.
MAPLE GLAZE: Gradually whisk maple syrup into 1 cup of powdered sugar until drizzling consistency is achieved. If maple syrup is not available milk can be substituted and 1/4 cup chopped nuts can be added to either if desired. If using milk, maple extract or vanilla can be added for flavor.
NOTE: If you want to make the rolls the night before, cover tightly and refrigerate once you’ve sliced them and arranged them in the pan. The final rise will take longer than 30 minutes when you take them out of the fridge and will depend on the temperature in the room. I take them out a couple hours before I want to bake them and bake once they’ve doubled in size.
For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.
I am feeling particularly sentimental this new year and I am feeling particularly grateful to have been born and raised in the tiny town of Johnsburg, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, on the west bank of the Hudson River. I’ve been gone for twenty years, but I recently decided to plant a root back in my hometown, one that will provide nourishment for decades to come. I’ve lived in two big cities and two other small towns, but nothing compares to the village where I was raised.
Covering 200 square miles, the town of Johnsburg is home to approximately 2,400 people who live in approximately 1,000 households. Population statistics ebb and flow a little, but the average population density of 12 people per square mile has held fairly steady during my lifetime. There are two gas stations and one traffic light and nothing is open twenty-four hours. You can walk the full length of main street in twenty minutes or less (depending on how many people you stop and visit with) and there’s one school where approximately 350 students, in grades K-12, are all educated under the same roof.
When I graduated from Johnsburg Central School, I couldn’t wait to leave and there were times, as a teenager, when I was so sick of everyone knowing my name that I wished I’d been born into a more metropolitan family. I named my cat Cosmopolitan but the only traveling I did was in the library and when I did leave, I felt wholely inadequate next to my more urban peers. Little did I know just how well my village had raised me, or how well my childhood prepared me for everything that lay ahead. Little did I know just how lucky I was.
Now, I feel sorry for my more urban peers and now, I feel deeply privileged to have been born and raised an Adirondack girl. But when my husband and I decided to buy a house in Johnsburg, I could not have imagined the well of pride into which I would tap.
I will admit to a moment of panic as I prepared for a flight from LA to NY to look at houses, and when my husband pooh-poohed my house-buying anxiety I did not take it kindly. In fact, I accused him and his entire of gender of infuriating pie-in-the-sky thinking when some things, like buying a house, are famously not easy. Thankfully, my husband diffused what could have been a lovely marital spat when he explained what he meant. He told me buying a house in my hometown would be easy. He told me my town would take care of me. He told me my town would welcome me and there would be people who had known me and my parents our whole lives who would be there to help. He reminded me what it was like when my brother died, how the whole town rallied to support my grief stricken family. And I knew when he said that that he wasn’t kidding. His sincerity dulled my anxiety and thankfully, my husband was right.
Despite everyone’s advice to shop around for the best mortgage, I decided go local with everything. My realtor was a friend of my mom’s who goes to church with my dad. My lawyer was the lawyer I worked for when I was fifteen. And I got my mortgage at the local bank which has changed management many times but has always been the only bank in town. I arrived in town on a Sunday and by Thursday at noon, I had an offer accepted on the first house I saw. And I have never felt like I was in better hands.
I did call my husband and admit he had been entirely right but even on that day, with an accepted offer in hand, I couldn’t have imagined the nostalgia-filled adventure I had embarked up. For most people, buying a home represents a new chapter in life, and it’s often a process filled with strangers. But for me, buying a home was a trip down memory lane.
I reminisced with my lawyer and his wife about when their first son was a baby and I was his first babysitter and before that when he was running for District Attorney. I heard about the parties my lawyer and insurance agent used to attend together when they were teenagers, and before I decided to go with Stevenson Insurance, I called the bank’s insurance company for a quote only to realize I was talking to a woman from three towns over whose children grew up riding my Aunt Wanda’s school bus. Then there was the moment when my realtor and I put two-and-two together and realized my Aunt Marion was a dear friend of hers at the nursing home in the years before she died.
I got the scoop on the drilled well from Davey Wolfe down at Stewart’s and my Dad confirmed his cousin Pinky did a lot of the renovations on the house. Now, Pinky has retired so people told me to call Gerry Knickerbocker who, in my mind, was still just Georgia and Becky’s little brother. Later I found out that Rusty Leigh and his dad put the roof on my house, years ago, with a little help from old George Dunkley. Of course, if you know Rusty Leigh, it’s better if you hear him tell the story.
I ran into endless people in town, many of whom I hadn’t seen in years and I made countless trips to the hardware store with my Dad in tow. I reminisced with the two Kathy’s at Foothills Antiques about my older sister, Beth, and the days back when she was a teenage waitress at the Copperfield Inn and I ran into an old Warren County Sheriff friend from back in the days when I was teenage convenience store worker. The look on my Gramma Volcheck’s face when I told her I was buying a house in Johnsburg was priceless and when I got my first visit from Bobby Austin it made me feel like my maternal grandparents Bob and Bella Dunkley were actually somehow in the room. I was reminded of them again when I brought some bread up to my new neighbors, George and Judy Dunkley. They are our new neighbors but they have been family forever.
I was proud as hell when one of my more recently transplanted neighbors said, “Oh, you’re a real local,” and I was momentarily but deeply embarrassed when another neighbor asked if we were from New Jersey. The plates on our rental car made me realize old prejudices die hard but I couldn’t be prouder to be bringing some more Dunkley blood back to Cleveland Road.
My family rallied to fill the house with all the things we needed and they did it the we always do it in the Adirondacks, when there’s some kind of hole in someone’s life that needs to be filled. They rummaged through attics and basements and cleaned out their own cupboards and closets and surprisingly little money was spent considering the pile of belongings we were gifted upon arrival. My dad gave me back the beds he made for my sister and me when we were kids and I ended up with the Electrolux vacuum cleaner my parents bought when I was seven. It was a major family purchase from a traveling salesman, more thirty years ago, but where I grew up people understand quality and really take care of their things.
Where I grew up, people also really take care of each other and so many people took such good care of me during my first seventeen years on this earth that I could spend the rest of my life writing thank you cards. They didn’t leave me ill prepared. They didn’t protect me from the hard lessons life is bound to teach us all. They didn’t coddle me or fail to teach me the all the things I needed to know in order to venture out into big cities and thrive despite the rat race. They taught me that money doesn’t make you happy and they taught me to make time for the simple pleasures in life like a table full of friends and a home cooked meal on the table. They taught me how to do things and in doing so over and over again, they taught me how to teach myself things when they were no longer around. They taught me to take care of my neighbors and they taught me family is both the family you’re born with and the friends you choose and you bend over backwards for both because we’re all so lucky to have each other.
You don’t get to pick where your born and you don’t get to choose your family, but I got particularly lucky on both fronts. I was born into a family with deep roots in the Adirondacks and the older I get the more clearly I see the fingerprints of my upbringing on myself. I see the village that raised me in the way I live my life albeit now more urban and anonymous. I see the lessons I learned in the decisions I make and I try never to forget what really matters in life. I try to work as hard as my parents did when they were my age and I give them all the credit when someone compliments my work ethic.
Now, I have an opportunity to make my parents as proud of me as I am of where they raised me. I promise to take wonderful care of this little piece of heaven on the Mill Creek and I promise to be a good neighbor. I promise to come home and visit more often and I promise to remember the roots which have always nourished my life, no matter how far I’ve traveled.
Many thanks to the Adirondacks and many thanks to all of the people in the tiny town of Johnsburg who made me the person I am today.
So far in my reversing the process series, I have talked about my mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I have defined real food, which does not include all of the edible food-like substances we regularly call food. I explained how this process was the most positive kind of slippery slope, so now I will explain how I got started on this journey, more than a decade ago.
It was 2003 and I was living with my husband and a close friend in the Catskills. We lived for almost a year in this small town called Andes, an hour outside of Woodstock where we had moved in 2001. We had a beautiful house on a hill in the country and I was spending more and more time in the kitchen. My grocery lists at the time included things like: E.L. Fudge cookies, white bread, Velveeta macaroni and cheese, bullion cubes (the green chicken ones and the red beef ones), ramen noodles, Tropicana orange juice, and Entenmann’s pastries. My grocery lists also included their fair share of kale, root vegetables, lentils, quinoa, free range chicken stock, and organic dairy products, because I had already been living in Woodstock for more than a year and that town was on the cutting edge of the organic, whole food movement.
Even before my first ah-hah moment, my grocery shopping habits were already telling a tale. By 2003, I was splitting my shopping between a big box wholesale club, the local grocery store chain, the local butcher shop, and the local “health food store” which was what we called coops back before Whole Foods was a ubiquitous brand. And while I was buying more and more each week at the health food store, I was still making a separate list for those family favorites which were not available at the health food store. But the difference between the products from the different stores really started to bug me.
At that time, what was really bugging me were the artificial colors and artificial flavors, so I sat down one day to discuss this with my husband and roommate. Had I been living alone, I would have just stopped buying those things, but when you are in charge of feeding more than one adult, you can’t just change the whole routine without getting some buy-in. The guys had to admit they didn’t realize what they were eating, and on principle, everyone agreed artificial colors and artificial flavors are not good. We agreed to gradually stop buying a lot of things but we also agreed to not go crazy all of a sudden.
That was really how it started, with the personal rejection of artificial colors and flavors and from there each subsequent change to our food life was a natural extension of the last. Over the years, we’ve stopped buying a lot of things and we’ve started cooking a lot of things entirely from scratch. We’ve stopped shopping for edible food like substances and we’ve started shopping for ingredients to make real food, which is delicious.
I wish I could give you the exact progression of what we gave up and when, but these were the key milestones along the way, by category:
- Hydrogenated oils like peanut butter and Crisco
- Modern, industrial cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil
- Pasteurized milk and cream
- Dairy products made from pasteurized milk
- Industrially canned vegetables like beans and tomatoes
- Prepared chicken and beef stock (and before that bullion cubes and powdered stocks)
- Industrial raised meat, fish, poultry and eggs
- Factory-made desserts of all kinds from cookies and pies to cakes and ice cream
- Pasteurized juices and pre-made drinks
- Artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn-syrup and bleached white sugar
- Prepared breads of all kinds
- Boxed cereals of all kinds
At this point our kitchen is more or less devoid of all of the above, with a few exceptions. For example, I do break down and buy organic cream cheese every now and then and my husband never gave up pasteurized pomegranate juice. This also all goes out the window almost anytime we eat at a restaurant, but when it comes to our grocery list and the food we prepare at home, we mostly have gotten the factory out of our pantry.
It’s taken more than a decade but only recently did it feel like a mission. For many years, each individual choice was a natural progression and they were simply individual choices which are sadly impossible to order in my memory. We didn’t make changes according to the neat categories above. For example, we stopped buying spray canola oil long before we gave up canola oil entirely and there was a time when I bought half my butter and made the other half fresh. We switched to organic milk before we switched to raw milk. We switched to dried beans years before we started canning our own tomatoes. There were years when homemade ice cream was just a treat, instead of the norm. I do still buy a few cheeses made with pasteurized milk, but less and less frequently, and I do still buy one bottle of light Karo corn syrup per year to recreate the my childhood birthday cake for my own birthday.
Over the years, each change was an individual choice and some changes were harder to make than others but as the small changes accumulated into more obviously categorical change, the remaining more industrial foods in our kitchen started to stand out. For example, the canned tomatoes started to stand out when they were the only thing left in a can I was buying on a regular basis. The canola oil was also hard to defend next to the farm fresh olive oil, the homemade butter, and the beautiful organic pork lard from the butcher shop.
And a lot of the changes were easy to make. Giving up store-bought ice cream really wasn’t that hard once I found the raw vanilla ice cream recipe on page 550 of Nourishing Traditions and the chocolate ice cream recipe on page 26 of The Perfect Scoop. Now, I make all my own ice cream and the vanilla ice cream recipe above is so simple I can make it in less than 30 minutes, including the time in the ice cream maker. And I had a similar experience with bread. I thought it would take years to start making all my own bread but one cook book changed a big slice of my food life in less than a month. With Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, I didn’t need to buy bread, and no one in my family missed the store bought version of anything once I started playing around with the recipes in that book.
Now, the remaining industrial products in my kitchen really do stand out and there are still a few I would like to eradicate. For example, although now organic, I still buy prepared mustard, ketchup and mayo. They look weird to me there in the door of the fridge with their labels and their expiration dates, but this particular category is hard for me to make from scratch because I don’t eat any of them and I gag at the smell of mayo. I did try to make friends with mayo by making it from scratch a while back, but it was an utter disaster and I have not gotten back on that horse since. I will some day but until then, I’ll buy those three things at the coop and I won’t feel guilty about doing so.
I take my food changes one day at a time and one change at a time, and there’s always a list in the back of my mind of the next food challenges I will take on. Next on my list: puff pastry, croissants, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella cheese. Oh, and this Greek soup called avgolemono, which is a good example because sometimes I take on a particular recipe I’m craving while sometimes I take on a whole category of food change. Sometimes I’m driven more by desire and sometimes I’m driven more by disgust, but each small change makes space for the next small change and quite quickly, they add up to a more nourishing lifestyle which promotes thoughtful living and provides an endless history of traditions to explore.
If you look at my food life now, it’s not a modern life. On the face of it, and if you don’t count the meals I eat out, I have given up all kinds of modern conveniences, but I have also found a new kind of efficiency and rhythm with food which is much less time consuming than you would think. But, you can’t just change your life in a weekend. And I can’t tell you exactly where to start because the changes you choose to make should be specific to your life and your taste.
The good news is, whatever changes you choose to make now will be easier than they were when I started on this path. And I will continue to share my story here with my reversing the process series which will hopefully save you some time along the way. Feel free to contact me anytime with questions.
Finally, I would also like to make a note about my mixed use of singular and plural pronouns in this post. That was an editorial red flag for me as I was finishing this post but I decided they were appropriate in this case, and more than that, my use of them reminded me of something I failed to include about this kind of change.
For me, reversing the process has been a personal, individual choice for change, but it has also been a process that my husband and I have gone through together. Sometimes, we take on a particular change together. Sometimes it’s more of a change I tackle myself which we then integrate into our lifestyle. And while I do the majority of the cooking per se, my husband is actively involved in our week-to-week food life from shopping and food prep to actual cooking. For example, I was having trouble getting in the rhythm of making our own whole grain cereal. We would end up running out and I wouldn’t have time to make a new batch for weeks. So, my husband wrote down the recipe I had concocted and now, he is in charge of keeping the pantry stocked with cereal. In some ways, change is easier when you live alone but change is not impossible when you are in a relationship. It does however require some conversation and it will be easier if there is some sort of foundational, philosophical agreement about what is driving you to change.
<really long rant>
This post is for all my friends and colleagues who work in digital. We used to call it the IT industry, but now we just call it digital, and if this industry wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask it to slow the fuck down. I never thought I would miss the Web 2.0 days, but in all honesty, I would do anything to turn back technological time. I wish cell phones were just cell phones again and I wish no one ever invented the cloud.
Now, we build websites and apps. We design software user interfaces and digital marketing campaigns. We create content for more social media networks than I can keep up with, and we have to make sure everything we do works on a bazillion different permutations of operating systems, browsers, devices and screen sizes, not to mention all the audiences, personas and strategies. There are no less than ten competing varieties of every kind of platform and technology, and vendors are popping up every day selling all kinds of different services which are all supposed to provide some kind of marketing miracle for all the poor shmucks who make a living sell things or helping people sell things.
And I am one of those poor shmucks.
Now, we have to figure out how to design and build all sorts of digital things so they work on all sorts of devices and, in the agency world, we have to do that with clients of all kinds breathing down our necks.
I remember when the VP of Creative Services came back from the Internet Retailer Conference one year and said, “If I hear the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ one more time, I’m going to kill someone.” But as a project manager, the Web 2.0 days made me giddy. Finally, finally, we could create in code, almost anything a designer could imagine. We could create rounded corners using CSS and if the designer got too crazy we could always call the flash guys. Finally, I didn’t have to explain to designers (and clients) why we couldn’t do things because coding technology had finally caught up with Photoshop. And this progress was happening in parallel with the platform-ization of the digital landscape. And platforms were great, platforms got installed and customized instead of built from scratch. And if you didn’t get too crazy with the design, you could leverage the platform and limit most of the heavy lifting to CSS. And CSS, we never really thanked that technology thoroughly because we were getting caught up in all the other progress.
But at this point, I really do just want to turn back time. Because how the hell are we all supposed to keep up? I used to joke that this wasn’t rocket science, but I’m tired of keeping up and responsive website design didn’t turn out to be the godsend it seemed like it was going to be. I remember being in the let’s-let-flash-die camp, but now, I can hardly remember why. Oh, right, it was the smart phone. That’s why we needed flash to die. Because those two technologies couldn’t play nice together, or at least that’s what I remember after so much technological water under the bridge.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what point in time I would like to turn us back to, but it was somewhere around the advent of the smart phone. But those early days of the smart phone weren’t too bad. All of a sudden we had all these new projects. Suddenly, companies didn’t need one website, they needed two websites. And no one expected the mobile website to be nearly as cool as the regular website, so it wasn’t so hard. No one minded, the use of really janky “wrapper” technology and those were the glory days of web services and custom API development. Yes, we had problems with data synching and the mobile websites we were cranking out were kind of clunky. But everyone felt so cool with their new smart phones it took them a minute to get hyper-entitled about usability and page load times. Things were starting to get complicated, but at least back then we could easily justify separate, additional budgets for the development and maintenance of mobile properties. And really, the expectations were relatively low, both on the client side and on the user side.
But now, everyone wants everything. They want the website and the iOS app and the android app and they want the strategy for the website and the app. And they want the social media campaign and the search engine optimization, and they want the social media campaign to work miracles while the paid media campaign has a zero dollar budget. They want viral video and cartwheeling menu buttons which all work seamlessly across any device you can think of. They want data of all kinds and they want everything to be integrated with backend systems even if those backend systems are dangerously out of date because the parts of the website no one can see never get any of the budgetary love. Everyone wants to lower their overall cost of ownership, but no one wants to face the pink elephant in the room which is a digital ecosystem which was been taped together over the years by a revolving string of marketing and technology resources who were all just doing the best they could with what they had that month all while racing to keep up.
If you’re lucky, you work at a company which survives by nibbling on one or two relatively isolated slices of the digital marketing budget pie. If you’re kind of lucky, you work client-side where you have to worry about the totality of the digital landscape, but only for one brand. But if you’re not lucky, you work at an agency, that does everything.
Regardless of how lucky you may or may not be, my job and the jobs of my friends and colleagues are appreciably harder than they were eight years ago and the budgets are tighter than ever due to the continued slicing of the marketing budget pies. But there comes a point when marketing professionals must admit that a pie sliced into too many pieces is no longer edible.
And really, people want everything. People want websites that are the most awesome things ever no matter what they are trying to sell. The website needs to work miracles and drive engagement like no one has ever seen. The website needs to look perfect even on the marketing director’s nephew’s android phone when he turns it sideways at dinner to show her something. The website needs to be easy to update and the website needs to look as awesome on your iphone as it does at on your work computer. Never mind that your work computer is running IE8 on Windows XP because the giant corporation you work for hasn’t updated, or can’t update, their software due to some other old technology dependency. Oh, and that website which is all responsive and shit which really does look so awesome on your iphone, the same one that needs to work on your work computer with IE8, it also has to be ADA compliant so a blind person can use it on their ipad, in portrait mode. Oh, and that website, it also has to fit the design sensibility of someone’s boss, whose design sensibilities are stuck in the Web 2.0 days. And worse, the design of that website is going to be performed by committee, and we all know that is never good.
And of course, everyone wants everything yesterday and it’s not just users who want everything. Industry professionals who are well aware of the exponentially complicated nature of what we do, are genuinely surprised when a website built two years ago for less than market value doesn’t work on a first generation kindle fire in portrait mode.
Later today, I will reapply my happy face and I will not let progress get the best of me. But sometimes, I really do wish I could turn back the digital clock to the good old Web 2.0 days.
</really long rant>
I promised this recipe to a lovely woman named Ruth I met at the Santa Monica farmers market. She understood why I was rushing to the Weiser Family Farm stand for the Persian mulberries and her ears perked up when she heard about the pie I was planning to bake.
Many thanks to Alex Weiser, fam and crew for another fabulous crop of Persian mulberries. If you haven’t tried them, I suggest you put them on your bucket list. They look like wet black berries and they have an indescribably strong flavor I wait all year for. They are pricey but they are worth every penny and the rhubarb in this pie keeps the cost of the berries down.
Ingredients – Pie filling:
3 cups Persian mulberries (drained)
2 ½ cups rhubarb (diced)
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Ingredients – Pie Crust:
For the top crust:
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. pork lard
4-6 Tbsp. ice water
For the bottom crust:
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. pork lard
6-8 Tbsp. ice water
NOTE: For best results, I recommend using organic ingredients, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products.
Instructions for the pie crust:
Add salt to flour. Cut butter and lard into flour with a pastry cutter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1-2 table spoons of ice water at a time. Mix thoroughly with a spoon with each addition of water until a ball of dough forms in the bowl. Gently and quickly form the dough into an even ball and transfer to a well-floured surface. Gently and quickly press the dough into a disk approximately 2 inches thick. Wrap the disk in wax paper and repeat this process for the second crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Refrigerate for up to 12 hours and don’t worry if the crust is stiffer when you try to roll it out.
NOTE: I know most pie recipes provide one list of ingredients that is supposed to be used for the top and bottom crusts. However, that way you end up with too much dough for the top and not enough for the bottom crust. After being frustrated by this for years, I re-wrote the recipe to make two more logically proportioned crusts.
Instructions for the pie filling:
Drain mulberries for at least one hour or overnight in the fridge. Slice rhubarb lengthwise and dice into ¼ inch pieces. Place both in a large bowl. Mix sugar, flour and cornstarch until thoroughly mixed. Add dry mixture to mulberries and rhubarb in three or four batches, mixing well with a spatula between each.
Instructions for the pie:
Preheat the oven to 425. Roll out the crusts and place in a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Add pie filling being sure to evenly distribute any sugar mixture which is left in the bottom of the bowl. Crimp the edges of the crust and slice a vent in the crust with a sharp knife. Bake immediately for approximately 1 hour on a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Rotate pie front to back after 30 minutes. If the pie is not browned to your taste after 1 hour, leave it in for another 10-15 minutes. Let pie cool completely before slicing and serving.
NOTE: I know this seems like a high temperature for a pie but a butter-lard crust requires a higher temperature than a butter-only crust or a crust made with vegetable shortening. One of the nice things about butter-lard crust is that the edges of the crust won’t burn before the pie is done. You won’t need those crust covering rings, even at 425. If you use a different pie crust recipe to make this pie, bake according to the temperature and time of the other recipe.
For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.
As I started reversing the process and started getting the factory out of my pantry, I started to think about all the things in my kitchen which people didn’t have before my grandparents were alive. Coincidentally, as I was having these thoughts, I happened to see a documentary film called Greedy Lying Bastards which connected the Koch brothers with commonly purchased products like paper towels. These two diverging trains of thought finally pushed me over the edge and made me give up paper towels.
That was more than a year ago but I’ve done it. I’ve completely given up paper towels and here is what you need if you want to do the same.
Stop buying paper towels.
You can’t stop until you stop. I tried minimizing the use of paper towels, but the household dependency on them didn’t end until I stopped buying them.
Buy more kitchen towels.
If you want to live without paper towels, you are going to need more kitchen towels. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be 100% cotton and if you want to maximize absorbency, you should stop using fabric softener. You may want to keep two kinds of towels, one for cleaning and one for everyday use, but I didn’t do that until after the first year or so. Now, I keep one stack of older, more stained, cleaning towels, and one stack of newer, less stained, kitchen towels for every day use.
Create a place to hang towels in use.
This should be near the sink or near wherever people will reach for when they would reach for a paper towel. I have hooks for three towels which are in use and one is generally sitting on the counter below, ready for easy access and use during miscellaneous kitchen tasks.
Create a place to hang dirty towels where they can dry before laundering.
If you don’t want smelly laundry, you need somewhere to hang towels which are too dirty to use, but too wet to put in the laundry. You will need to train the people in your kitchen to put the dirty towels in the right place where they don’t get used again until clean. Towels which have touched the floor, have cleaned up raw meat messes, or which have been used a lot should be hung to dry but should not be used again. I have three hooks in a prominent location for towels in use and four hooks for dirty towels in a more out of the way location.
Buy cloth napkins.
You may want to buy one kind for every day use and one kind for more formal dinners, but either way, you will need enough to replace paper towels or paper napkins at every meal. How many you will need will depend on the size of your family and I recommend 100% cotton napkins for their more natural feel and for their better absorbency.
Use cookie sheets and cooling racks for draining bacon and fried foods.
I didn’t think of this until I stopped buying paper towels, but a cooling rack on a cookie sheet is actually better for draining fried food than a paper towel on a platter. It prevents condensation and keeps the food much crisper than the paper towel alternative you are used to. I tried newspaper once, but the chemicals on the print grossed me out.
Buy cotton and silk bags for storing produce in the fridge.
I used to store lettuces, herbs and produce wrapped in paper towels, in plastic bags. Over the years, I learned that plastic was death to vegetables in the fridge, but paper towels were my saving grace. Eventually, I found the kootsac etsy store where you can buy the best cotton and silk bags for produce storage. Esty store owner Morgen sells the silk bags for bulk dry goods, but I recommend them for lettuces, greens and herbs which are best stored in the crisper. For sturdier produce, like broccoli and scallions, I use the cotton bags, also purchased from the kootsac etsy store.
Use terry cloth towels for washing windows and mirrors.
Wash off the dirt and mess with a wet cloth and buff dry with a dry terry cloth towel. You can’t get a streak-free clean with a damp towel, but you can buff a mirror or window streak-free with a dry terry cloth towel. You don’t need paper towels or newspaper, and you don’t even need window cleaner.
Use kitchen towels for patting dry meat.
Anyone who cooks meat well knows a dry muscle is necessary for a good sear. So, pat your meat dry with a kitchen towel, just like you would with a paper towel. Hand wash the towel in the sink with some dish soap and hang it to dry with the dirty towels. Red meat will stain your towels but you can keep two kinds of towels to contain the staining.
When you make a horrible mess, sacrifice a towel or two.
Sometimes, you make a horrible mess, and sometimes that means you have to throw out a towel or two. My first real mess after giving up paper towels was a quart jar of sugar-mint syrup dropped from waist-high, right in front of an open fridge. It was horrible, and there was glass everywhere, and there was a house full of people waiting for dinner when it slipped out of my hand. The first words out of my best friend’s mouth were, “I bet you wish you hadn’t given up paper towels now!” I swept up the mess, broken glass and all, with a couple towels and threw them away without a second thought. I did the same when I dropped a jar of honey and I am sure there will be other horrible messes in my future.
Giving up paper towels is a relatively big adjustment for any household, but it is possible. It takes a certain amount of retraining, but humans lived for thousands of years without paper towels, just like they lived without pasteurization and microwaves and saran wrap. You don’t realize how many times a day you reach for a paper towel until you actually stop buying them, but there is something so gratifying about not putting them in your shopping cart ever again. Since I gave up paper towels, I have also given up plastic storage bags and saran wrap and I’ve never owned a microwave. You’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try.
In my first post about reversing the process, I explained that I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I promised to explain what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible. Like I said before, this is a little hard to talk about because I really don’t want to offend anyone but the commonly accepted definition of food now includes what I would call real food and what Michael Pollan calls, “edible food-like substances.”
Humans have been producing food for thousands of years without synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Humans were gathering for elaborate feasts long before scientists were engineering food in laboratories, and still today when you have healthy soil, you can build a sustainable farm. You can raise healthy animals for food, milk and eggs, and you can grow all sorts of food bearing plants, depending on your geographic location. You can grow food for yourself and if you choose, you can grow food for other people. It’s the circle of life and it includes people and animals and seeds and plants and soil and water.
We give scientists credit for all sorts of advances in food and agriculture technology, but we are presuming a lot when we call each new industrial process an advance. Science has given us synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, and farms which can grow an enormous amounts of one thing with relatively little manpower. Science has given us pasteurization, hydrogenation, homogenization, irradiation, and shelf-stabilization. Science has given us food that can be mass produced and stored for long periods. Science has given us factories which produce packaged foods in numerous varieties using very few real ingredients which are highly processed and mixed with a lot of different kinds of chemicals. Science has given us food that is convenient, predictable and loaded with flavor, never mind if it’s frequently artificial. Science has given us food which requires no work if you don’t count the dollars you pay for it or the non-communicable diseases you might develop from eating it. I don’t mean to hate on science, but science has given us food our forefathers wouldn’t recognize as food. Science has given us food that is not real food.
Real food is food someone from one hundred years ago would recognize. Real food does not require chemicals or laboratories or factories. Real food is nurtured by real people living real lives on healthy soil. Real food comes from farms that grow more than one thing. Real food does not come in colorful packages with ingredients listed in fine print. Real food doesn’t require any fine print.
Since real food and not real food have been so co-mingled in our lifetime, I have provided two lists below. The first list includes real food, which I try to eat more of. The second list includes edible food-like substances which are not real food and which I try to eat less of. I’ve eaten all the things on the second list and I used to eat them all with regularity. Now, while I make plenty of allowances out the world, I make far fewer allowances at home, but reversing the process has taken me more than a decade and it wasn’t one single choice I made one day.
Gradually, over the years, I’ve started eating and cooking more real food. It’s not as convenient, but real food is not about convenience, it’s about nourishment. Real food is nourishing not just in the ingestion, but in the preparation and each time we make a choice in that direction we are supporting ancient traditions.
In my next post, I’ll write about my first steps towards real food and my journey down this path, but for now here are two lists which will help clarify what I mean when I say I try to eat more real food. Neither of these lists are complete, but they are a good start and should give you the idea.
Real food includes:
- Organically grown fruits, vegetables, grains, rices and nuts
- Meat and eggs from organic pasture raised animals
- Raw whole milk and cream from pasture raised cows
- Butter made from raw cream
- Oils from olives and nuts
- Naturally rendered animal fats
- Fresh and dried beans
- Home canned vegetables and preserves
- Fish which swam in wild waters
- Bone broths
- Naturally fermented foods
- Cheese and dairy products made from raw milk
Not real food includes:
- Hydrogenated oils of all kinds
- Synthetic trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Hydrolyzed proteins
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Canola oil
- Vegetable shortening
- Artificial flavors
- Artificial colors
- Artificial sweeteners
- Natural flavors (which are not natural)
- Pasteurized dairy products
- Other pasteurized foods
- Chemically grown fruits, vegetables and grains
- Industrially canned food
- Irradiated food
- Meat and eggs from industrially raised animals
- Farmed fish
- Anything bleached, homogenized or irradiated
- Cheese and meat products that require the word product because the aren’t actually cheese or meat
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Preservatives like sodium benzoate potassium benzoate
- Food grown from genetically modified seeds