Readers to Eaters

Make Food, Make Memories

My oldest child's fifteenth birthday has come and gone, and for her special day she requested the meal she always requests: Soy Sauce Chicken. In cookbooks you may come across this as "Red-Cooked Chicken," but let's be honest--it's more brown than red, and the brown is the brown of soy sauce. I'd include a picture here, except that Soy Sauce Chicken is not particularly photogenic. I remember bringing it to a potluck once, and another of the guests commenting, "I'm guessing it tastes better than it looks."

The reason I bring up my daughter's homely favorite is that I'm a big believer not only in family meals, but also in family recipes. Specialties that only mom or dad or grandma or Aunt So-and-So make properly, and that we have only eaten in the context of family. There's a reason that, every time I visit my mom, I beg and wheedle for her pot stickers, chow mein, and scallion pancakes. There's a reason that, whenever we visit my in-laws, Rita produces her macaroni salad and Jell-O salad and even Navajo tacos.

Not Rita's Navajo Tacos, but the same idea []

Along these lines of family foods and memories, I just read a wonderful memoir that will be debuting on August 14:

Having very much enjoyed Flinn's The Kitchen-Counter Cooking School, I was anxious to get my hands on this one, and it did not disappoint. Flinn's big, adventurous family didn't have it easy, but what they lacked in money they more than made up in love, joy, and food. I never thought I'd come across a family grandpa who did worse than my husband's--a fellow who abandoned a wife and six children during the Depression--but Flinn's grandpa actually one-ups good old Ray! The author recounts stories from multiple generations and both sides of the family, each chapter ending with a family recipe. Humorous,wistful, and moving, I highly recommend this book and am hoping Philip from Readers to Eaters will carry it in future. (N.B., Philip will be there this Thursday Market, with his wonderful display of food-oriented books! Ask him for his current favorites.)

One curious thing that has happened in our country, and that happened in Flinn's own family, was that, as money and convenience foods became more readily available, the putting-by of food and home-cooking-to-save-money practices fell by the wayside. Flinn's family canned and preserved like Armageddon lay ahead--mostly because the summer bounty of their Michigan farm was free or almost free, and it was expected to feed the family as long as humanly possible the rest of the year. And now to think that these economical stand-bys now equal the most expensive of foods! All because canning and preserving are becoming lost arts, we are now willing to fork over $8-10 for a jar of jam or pickles! (I include myself in that number, since I neither can nor preserve but love when someone else does.)

The good thing about family food traditions is that it's never too late to start one. Family favorites are no more, after all, than food everyone in the family enjoys having on a regular basis. Taco Tuesdays count. So do Pizza-and-a-Movie Nights. But how much more special and irreplaceable are those memories when the foods are cooked by loving hands from the best and freshest ingredients?

My daughter's beloved Soy Sauce Chicken is still my mother's recipe, but I've added my own variations, replacing the mass-market chicken with pastured Market chicken, the vegetables with Market vegetables, and the eggs with Market eggs. Because why not be comforting, delicious, and wholesome? (As always, Market ingredients marked with an asterisk.)

Soy Sauce Chicken
4 scallions,* chopped
1 cup sherry
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 whole chicken,* cut into pieces 
1 bunch radishes,* stems removed
3 carrots,* cut in chunks
6-8 eggs,* boiled and peeled 

Combine sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Add chicken and vegetables, return to boil. Then cover, reduce heat to Low, and simmer 45 minutes. Turn chicken occasionally to color. After 45 minutes, add eggs, pushing them down into the sauce to color. Simmer another 45 minutes.

Serve over rice or noodles. 

Favorite 2012 Reads for the Foodies in Your Life

According to Goodreads, I read eleven food-related books in 2012, not counting the couple I tried and abandoned. If you find yourself on December 19th (or later), with no ideas in the pipeline for the foodie in your life, consider a book! (Or, alternately, if some of your recent kitchen-gift concoctions have gone woefully awry...)

You may have seen some of these at the Bellevue Farmers Market, those times we hosted Readers to Eaters. They can also be found at the wonderful University Book Store Bellevue, which gift wraps in the loveliest papers and ribbons for free. They also ship media rate gratis, so if your recipient doesn't mind lateness, that option is still open for you. For friends with ereaders, these books can be found in the usual cyber places, and University Books now sells Kobo ereaders.

And now, without further ado, my 2012 favorites:

Best Memoir

Le Billon undergoes food culture shock after moving to France. The book combines memoir with cultural studies with parenting. I can't say it changed what I fed my family (though it did cure us of car snacking for about three days), but it made me wish I could start over with my kids, food-wise. I posted a more complete review here.

Best History

Granted, I only read three food histories this year, but this one was the most consistently informative and fascinating. Pretty self-explanatory. Pair it with your favorite peanut butter and you're set! As promised, here is my extensive Goodreads review of it.

Best Exposé

An astonishing, informative, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful book about the tomato in general and the conventional tomato industry in Florida, in particular. Halfway through I was vowing that, should I ever find myself on the East Coast, I wouldn't touch a single conventionally-grown tomato, in protest of the dreadful working conditions; rampant lethal pesticide and fungicide use; and--let's face it--awful hardness and lack of flavor. By the end, however, Estabrook had me feeling optimistic about the dreadful working conditions, at least. Not only had major fast-food chains and Whole Foods signed on to pay a wee bit more for fairer worker treatment, but nonprofit private groups were improving worker housing and job conditions. With the momentum going that way, I imagine the other grocery store chains will follow eventually. The things may still taste like big, watery NOTHING, but at least no one would be poisoned, enslaved (not kidding) or dying, so that I could have chunks of the big, watery NOTHING in my winter salad.

A couple interesting facts I learned about tomatoes in general:

1. They were declared a "vegetable" by the Tariff Act of 1883 to protect American farmers from Caribbean imports.

2. "All varieties of cultivated tomatoes that have ever been bred contain less than 5% of the genetic material in the overall tomato gene pool" (p.12). Yes, all those different sizes, colors, shapes, and flavors found even at the best farmers markets are very similar at the DNA level--inbred, feeble, and vulnerable to just about everything.

3. An acre of FL tomatoes receives 5x as much fungicide and 6x as much pesticide as a CA tomato.

Your best bet? The local farmers market. If you didn't know already, tomatoes grown in soil and picked when ripe have the best flavor. And you can ask the farmer himself about how he treats and pays his workers.

Best Scary Book

This one doesn't really count because it's not available until December 27. I suppose Lustig and his publisher figured no one wanted to hear this news before Christmas. Per my earlier post, this is quite the book. I swore off sugar for all of two days before succumbing to Christmas cookies and some kind of almond cake, but I vow to try again in January.

In other news, I roasted my Skagit River Ranch turkey, and we're taking on the 13-Meal Challenge again. The tally so far:

1. Fancy turkey sandwiches.

2. Turkey a la King.

No post next week, but do enjoy your holidays!

New Things at the Market!

Wonderful, wonderful, to find ourselves at the start of another Market season! And although I could only grab half an hour between kids' sports and another kid's pick-up time, it was a half-hour well-spent.

There were plenty of familiar and new faces, as well as familiar faces with new offerings or ideas. A quick run-down:

  • Hedlin Farms had whole wheat flour for sale. 2 lbs for $4 or 5 lbs for $9.25. Can't wait to try this, especially since I've discovered my kids will eat biscuits made with a mix of graham and whole-wheat flour. Kai also had brussels sprouts plant starts and says they grow pretty well here.
  • Itala of Willie Green's  recommends pulsing some baby bok choy into your smoothies (!). A favorite combo of hers: frozen raspberries, baby bok choy, apple or pear, and fresh ginger. Somehow I see my children hesitating over this one, but I'm game to try.
  •  New-to-us vendor Hooting Owl Granola sells a wide variety of tasty cereals, including gluten-free options. All fruit is either unsweetened or sweetened with apple juice, honey, or agave. Had to rip the second-grader away before she chowed down all the samples...
  • Speaking of samples, we also hit up new House of the Sun "raw organic vegan cuisine." If you haven't worked up the energy to make your own kale chips, give theirs a try. Delish. Light and crunchy and perfectly seasoned. House makes entrees and sides and desserts. Have no idea what the "Incan-Goji Torte" tastes like, but it looks very tempting. Not only do they sell at the Market, but they also offer a raw food delivery service to home or office. Check out for more information.
  • Finally, Philip Lee of mobile bookstore Readers to Eaters had a great table set up, including many books I've read and written about for this blog. He carries cookbooks, children's books, foodie-type memoirs. Good stuff. If you've got children's birthday parties up the ying-yang this time of year, think what a great gift a picture book and a food item would make. My second-grader, for example, got wildly excited by all the "baby" vegetables, with Willie Green's baby turnips sending her into squeals of delight. Move over, stuffed animals!

If you didn't make it opening day, plan on coming by this Thursday. Parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue (1717 Bellevue Way NE) from 3-7 p.m. The forecast is for sunshine!