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Awake at the Whisk: April 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Green & Easy Trick for Planting Seeds with Kids

I celebrated Earth Day by planting seeds with kids from a local school. My friend Carmen taught me a wonderfully green trick that was fast, easy, and cheap. The method is shown below. So easy!

My favorite part of this activity was playing with the parents, who seemed just as excited as the kids to grow their own veggies, herbs, and watermelon. So grab a kid--of any age--and plant something tasty today!

Supplies Needed:
Old newspaper torn in vertical strips
Empty aluminum can (soda pop, whatever you have)
Potting soil
Hand trowel


1. Take a strip of newspaper. Lay it on a flat surface.

2. Set an aluminum can at one end of the newspaper, leaving about 2 inches of newspaper free. Wrap the newspaper around the can by rolling it tightly.

3. Turn the can upside down so that the newspaper side is facing up. Gather the loose ends of the newspaper and pinch/fold them inward, sealing off the can. You now have a sealed newspaper container.

4. Gently remove your newspaper container from the aluminum can. Turn it upright so the open end faces up. You now have a tiny seed cup.

5. Using a hand trowel, fill your seed cup with potting soil. Poke a hole in the middle, place a seed in the hole, and then cover the seed with potting soil.

6. Plant your newspaper planter directly in the ground. It will decompose naturally.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Food, Inc. Acclaimed Film Airs on KVIE Tomorrow Night

Last July, I wrote a review for a documentary that has been sweeping America: Food, Inc. The movie has even enjoyed its moment in the limelight on Oprah. Food, Inc. is required viewing if you buy or eat food. Yep. That’s pretty much everybody. So, tune in. Trust me. You want to know what’s going on with our food system. And Food, Inc. leaves no question unanswered.
Thanks to our local PBS station, KVIE, you won’t even have to pay the $9 ticket price to see it. Just turn your TV dial from the comfort of your home. It airs twice this week: Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10:00 P.M. and again on Sunday at 3:00 P.M.

I recommend hosting a gathering of friends to celebrate Earth Day and watch Food, Inc. together. This is the kind of movie that generates conversation, so make sure you have people around you to converse. You’ll all be ready to take action when the movie ends, so plan for that, too. For starters, you can use my handy guide to the farmers’ market. I have a feeling you’ll be shopping there more often.

You’ll probably come up with other great ideas to improve the way you eat. Write me. Comment on my blog. Share your views with all the locavores who gather here. We want to hear from you!

This incredible film moved my meat-eating husband to start ordering veggie burgers at our local brew pub. I can’t wait to hear how it inspires you.

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Monday, April 12, 2010


My Reality TV Experience in Extreme Gardening

Tonight on the DIY Network, this happy blogger faces the biggest gardening challenge of her life (thus far) in a show called Turf War. Tune in to watch the muscle-aching work, the dirt, and the drama. (In an Awake at the Whisk twist, there might even be cake!)

This is reality TV at its most real, as my husband and I battle our neighbors to redesign our dream back yard in a mere two days. As I'm sure you can guess, our final design provides us with plenty of room for outdoor dining.

Tune in at 7:00 PM Pacific tonight on the DIY Network (cable). It will air nationally, so if you're not in Cali, check your local listing for Turf War show times.

Here's a sneak peak.

Let me know what you think! I haven't seen it yet, so I'm anxious for the big reveal. And if I embarrass myself, it was all in the name of a beautiful back yard. (The adjacent photo shows me getting set up with my mic.)

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Clandestine Pie Buying

I belong to a super-secret pie list. Therefore, I’m going to write this in a hushed whisper…

Once a week, I receive a top-secret email announcing one or two pies of the week. There are a limited number of delicacies being baked, so if I want one, I have to respond quickly. They’re only available on a first-come, first-served basis. This is serious pie. If you’re lucky enough to beat the others to the pie-punch, you are sent a secret code, which is used at a local, clandestine pie pick-up point. The tart is handed over in a nondescript, plain white box. Only once tucked securely inside your car do you have a moment to open the box and peer inside at the mysterious wonder that is your hard-earned prize.

My favorite part of being on this super-secret pie list (other than the fact that I’m actually on the list) is reading the descriptions of the desserts. It’s like reading tiny poems:

Rich, flavorful and zingy, it’s even better when served with a big pouf of barely sweetened, softly whipped cream.

The juice of blood oranges, Meyer lemons, pink grapefruit and Pixie tangerines are cooked gently into a creamy curd, then snuggled into a dark chocolate crust.

These mesmerizing words would send even the most passé of pie tasters on the hunt for these treasures. I’ve been hypnotized myself by the enticing pie call. So, without special occasion or other good reason (other than sheer intrigue), I signed up for one of these ethereal treats. And lucky for me, I won the pie race!

After receiving my secret pie code and exchanging cash for prize, I became the proud owner of a “winter citrus curd in a dark chocolate tart shell.” I tucked the unrevealing pie box under my arm, obstructing it from view like a thief in a night as I ducked out to the parking lot and locked it securely in my trunk. I even caught myself glancing around for obtrusive eyes.

Once safely at home, I slowly lifted the lid to my prize, squatting down low to bring myself eye-level like someone opening the lid to a container filled with baby kittens they don’t want to escape. Inside sat my glorious pie, glowing golden and orange in a halo of chocolate crust.

The cocoa crust had all the rich flavors of a brownie matched by the elegant sophistication of a sturdy, chewy tart. The crust alone would make a divine dessert. Paired with the clean, tangy, velvety citrus curd, there wasn’t a bitter moment to be had. This was bright, smooth, rich, and oh-so satisfying. I ate it slowly, licking my spoon thoroughly after every creamy bite. For a fresh moment, there was a twist of tartness in the tiny speckles of candied citrus peel dotting the very center of the pie. This pie is rare, divine creativity.

With every bite, I understood more deeply why these treasures must be kept secret. If word got out, there just wouldn’t be enough to go around. There would be lines up and down the streets, stopping traffic. Nobody would go to work; they’d be waiting for pies. Like any illicit substance, these pies need to be controlled. Their wondrous flavors are meant to be reserved, savored. This is serious pie.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Sugar Plum Cafe

If June Cleaver opened her home for business, it would probably look like Sugar Plum Café. This white picket-fence lined café is actually a converted home, and that’s exactly how you feel as you approach. Except for a tiny banner waving precariously in the wind, you wouldn’t even know there was a business presiding inside.

The warm, homey feel will trick you into believing that those pies and cupcakes you’re seeing in the petite display case were baked by June Cleaver, too. Pretty cupcakes billow high with clouds of vanilla frosting topped with freshly cut pink flowers in the shade of a baby’s cheeks. The pie crusts puff, ready to burst over mountains of high-piled fruit. And the savory smells wafting from the kitchen warm your nose and tickle your tongue, like walking into the house as mom is pulling dinner from the oven.

You may still believe you are at June Cleaver’s home as you are greeted by a cashier dressed sweetly in head-to-toe vintage. Have you entered the 1950s?

No, you are certainly not in June Cleaver’s home. The moment you meet the chef and read the menu, you know you are indeed planted firmly in 2010.

On a recent visit, as I step up to the counter to order, I inquire about the Whoopie Pies. The chef, hearing me make my purchase, emerges from the kitchen, dreadlocked hair pulled back neatly in a pony tail, beard bobbing as he speaks. He tells me with a literal "Whoop!", "You must pronounce it 'WHOOP!-ie pie!'" So, I do. I’m sure that sound was never uttered by The Beaver himself, let alone June.

The tone has been set. I’m in vegan territory. The diet comes with a culture: communal; earth, plant, and animal-friendly; outside the norm; and utterly inviting. Please check all snobbery (and rules about keeping elbows off the table) at the door. June Cleaver does not work here.

Not yet ready to decide my order, I ask about all the pastries, which are gleaming with halos in their little pastry case. The cashier walks over and describes everything to me individually. "Those are really good," she says genuinely after describing each item. I gather I can't go wrong no matter what I choose.

So, I choose them all! Well, almost. I take a red velvet cupcake. A 'WHOOP!-ie pie!'" A maca-roon, and a cupcake topped high with vanilla icing and an edible poof of pink flower.

With pastries tucked safely inside brown paper bags, I am now ready to order my lunch. This is easy. I let the smells wafting from the kitchen and the overflowing plates in front of the other diners guide my decision: nachos.

As I wait for my order, I chat with the busy chef, whose restaurant/house is full, but who is happy to talk to an interested customer. He hands me a brunch menu from last Sunday's Easter brunch: pineapple cashew quinoa, rolls, pastries, salads, and on and on. The price? $12! I ask how he can afford to have such a reasonably-priced menu. I gather from his answer that it is as much about the philosophy of vegan eating as it is about being a business man. He explains that his mom raised him on a vegetarian diet, and that any time they met someone who was hungry, she would invite them into her kitchen and pile their plates high with delicious, healthy food.

As for the food... I take it to go. I am currently munching madly on my bursting to-go box of nachos. The vegan cheese and sour cream taste just like the real thing. The chips are plentiful and loudly crunchy. I'm half-way through the pile and my stomach is already content. This is a hearty helping! But I just keep eating. I can't stop. They're too tasty. Just one more. Just one more. Just one... oops! They're gone.

I’m not a huge proponent of vegan-friendly faux foods. I like real cheese. And I don’t miss eating real meat, so I don’t crave products that pretend to be it. But on a philosophical level, vegans certainly share many of my own food beliefs about treating our planet with a gentler hand. Any food that is prepared with these values in mind is bound to produce quality fare.

Despite its use of faux chicken in my nachos, Sugar Plum Café is serving up quality fare. The ingredients are fresh, the flavors delightful. My favorite (so far) is the vanilla frosting-topped cupcake with edible flower. The frosting is creamy, sweet, and smooth. Underneath, the moist, white cupcake has a hint of cherry-bright almond.

I’m not crazy about my “Whoop!-ie Pie.” The creamy filling, like the frosting on my cupcake, is superb! But the chocolate cakey cookies are a little dry. My thoughts on the red velvet cupcake are exactly the same: good frosting, but the cake is too dry.

But don’t let that stop you from enjoying a delightful meal at Sugar Plum Café. There are plenty of wonderful items to choose from, and the prices are reasonable. I paid $11 for my nachos, and I could have easily split them with someone. Other lunch items include a roasted vegetable Panini for $9, house made vegan burgers for $11 and salads for $8. The pastries range from $2.50 for a cupcake to $3.50 for a slice of pie.

Whatever your political persuasion, if you like good, fresh food, you’re bound to enjoy Sugar Plum Café. But tell me if you spot June Cleaver. I’m sure she’s hiding around there somewhere!

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Saturday, April 3, 2010


Showing Off!: Pretty Dyed Quail Eggs

This pretty dish isn't filled with chocolates. These are quail eggs! I dyed them like an Easter egg in hot water, vinegar, and food coloring. In fact, I tried some natural dyes by using ground turmeric for the yellow eggs and paprika for the orange eggs. I tried using chard from my garden to make the pink eggs, but the color wouldn't set. I've heard of others who successfully used beets to dye red eggs, but alas, I had no beets in the house.

However you choose to do it, I highly recommend dyeing some quail eggs. They're pretty!

If you're wondering how to use the eggs later, here's a great appetizer that's easy to make. If you want to know how to hard boil a quail egg, here's my recipe. You can buy quail eggs at the farmers' market for a mere $1 for 10 eggs.

Happy Easter!

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