Hanukkah and Fat – Part 3

On the third night of Hanukkah, we lit the hand-dipped beeswax candles, sang the blessing, and sat down to a latka extravaganza. Latkes are one of those dishes, similar to apple pie, that never comes close to right when eaten outside of your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. I hate to spoil it, but it’s usually not because the recipe really is THAT GOOD. It’s because the flavors and textures of the dish are interwoven with cherished memories and the tastes trigger the feelings. No offense, grandmas!

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a safe and loving environment, I send blessings of courage to be the safe and loving person who breaks the cycle of violence and refuses to pass on wounds to future generations. I also hope that my recipes will become part of your new traditions, especially the latka recipe that I’ll share on the eighth night.

It’s my belief that at least a few of these wounds come from a lack of empowerment and often it begins with the way we spell, or speak. So many of us struggle to make sense of ourselves and our relationships in a society that loves to paint everything in binaries: as A or B, good or evil, man or woman, left or right. Binary thought makes it so incredibly challenging to escape our gender roles, define our politics and make room for creative solutions. Instead, I invite you to use the incantation of many realms by saying “yes, and” instead of  “or/but”  next time you find yourself at what seems to be a crossroads.

How does any of this relate to food?

Bringing back the 80’s will never bring back all those tasty yolks. Photo by BryanSJS

Diet trends are some of the more obvious examples of “or” mentality. Remember the egg scare of the 80’s? Suddenly, eggs went from being great to being terrible. Or the Atkins-inspired carb scare of the 90’s, or the fat scare of the 60’s? We’re still reeling from the effects of that one. Is it possible that a food, or in fat’s case, a family of molecules is totally bad or totally good? This is an incredibly oversimplified way of judging the world, is it not?

Let’s take a look at how to think beyond “good fats” and “bad fats”

Here are some of the oversimplified fat consumption rules you may have come across:

Fats are bad.

Animal fats are bad. Plant fats are good. 

Saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats are bad. Monounsaturated fats are good. 

Omega 6’s are bad. Omega 3’s are good. 

Now let’s get complicated!

Fats are bad. We know that the human body needs fats to perform essential functions and protect us from potential famine. See Fat – Part II for details.

Animal fats are bad. Plant fats are good.  Fats come in a variety of forms and can be sourced from many foods. The reality is that we should be paying much more attention to what our foods are exposed to during growth and processing because nerve-toxin insecticides like organophosphates and heavy metals accumulate in fat. Don’t believe that just because it’s organic, it’s safe. It’s true that organic production standards are constantly changing and unlike Canada, where COG is the governing body created by and made up of organic farmers, the United States has the USDA that is informed by lobbyists for Big Ag, the National Organic Standards Board and the public. Recently, as organics have taken a greater market-share of total food sales, large producers are finding new ways to weaken regulations. Your best bet is to find local sources, meet them and ask how they produce their crops or raise their animals. You’ll not only be able to support your local economy, but you’ll make new friends and eat the freshest possible food available. If all else fails, write an email to your favorite far-away producers and ask them what they use in their fields and farms. Gain the knowledge and get the power to eat fats with confidence.

Saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats are bad. Monounsaturated fats are good.  In my high school home economics class we were taught that trans fats (from lab-created fat alternatives) and saturated fats (from split-hoofed animals and some plants) were bad, polyunsaturated fats (from chicken and some plants) were ok, and monounsaturated fats (from some fish and some plants) was ideal.

There’s nothing I can see worth defending in trans-fats, especially the use of penny romance novel cover star Fabio persuading the (mostly female) household food purchasers that it’s a legit alternative to butter. I avoid them at all costs, meaning I’ll eat them when they’re free but would never spend a dime on them. I’ve yet to see conclusive evidence that there is a benefit to consuming this fat. Since the human body has yet to figure out how to effectively process this lab-created fat, it often stores it or flushes it out. My old adage is to eat  molecules that have been consumed for at least a thousand years.

So let’s take a closer look at saturated fats. Assuming your fat source hasn’t accumulated environmental toxins, recent studies have shown that there’s no proof that saturated fats increase heart disease. They don’t do a tremendous amount of good lowering heart disease, but hey! At least they don’t increase it and they’re recognizable as food in the body and to me they are food for the soul. Monounsaturated fats like omega 9’s like those found in olive oil and some tree nuts oils are fabulous, I won’t argue with Mrs. Hathaway*.

Omega 6’s are bad. Omega 3’s are good.
As for polyunsaturated fats such as Omega 6’s and Omega 3’s, our body can’t make them and it’s essential that we get them from somewhere, to support basic body functions, hence their title, “essential fatty acids”. They’re liquid at room temperature. Without getting too complicated, I’m just going to suggest that foods high in Omega 3’s, 6’s and 9’s are all great in diversity and moderation. I’ll expand on their role as cooking oils in my post, Hanukkah and Fat – Part IV.

If you’ve got a favorite Northwest source for fats, list it in the comments.

https:// www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-05/documents/environments-contaminants-chemicals-food.pdf
https:// www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/is-butter-really-back/
https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24723079

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of my home ec. teacher….in case.

Hanukkah and Fat – Part 2

For all you Jews out there, I hope you enjoyed your Chinese restaurant dining experience. It’s amazing how a tradition like that comes about. If in 100 years from now our decedents are gathered in ritual around a big plate of General Tso’s chicken, we’ll know we’ve successfully left our mark on the cloth of Jewish culture and children will wonder “who was General Tso and why is he so important at this time of year?” just as they now wonder “why do we light candles and who’s Judah Maccabee?”.

Unlike other holidays that were woven into the Torah from more ancient roots, Hanukkah is post-Torah, a minor holiday, but one that has grown in significance as the time when Jews around the world gather with family during the “holiday season”. Candles are lit and the prayer is said to honor the Jews who, when given the option of conversion or death, decided that their worldview was worth preserving and so fought back. I respect the ancestors for fighting for their political autonomy and self-determination. There are many cultures alive today that are fighting for that very same thing. Ones that come to mind immediately are the Secwepemc peoples of southern-central BC, the Tibetans and the Palestinians.

The legend of the oil, how it burned for eight days instead of one, after the eternal flame of the temple was relit upon reclamation, was added to the Talmud long after the original account had been transcribed in the Book of the Maccabees. Regardless of the truthiness behind the miracle, I think oil, and fat overall, is a miracle food and should be celebrated, not shunned. Fat-phobia has gone too far!

By the eighth night you’ll not only have my recipe for latkes but you’ll stop counting calories and start eating fats with confidence and context!

Have you ever wondered what roles fats play in the body?

Fats are lipids, along with oils, beta carotene and other plant pigments, Vitamin E, wax and cholesterol. For the sake of explaining the science, I’m glomming fats and oils together because the only difference is their melting points.

Our body craves and creates fat for many reasons. For one, it’s essential to a life as stored energy in unpredictable environments, like when fascists take over. Our ancestors lived in times of feast and famine, so we evolved to survive in the lean times. Long term stress, chemically showing up in our body as cortisol, triggers our body to store fat as quickly as possible. Fat’s an amazingly efficient mechanism for energy storage. If your body only stored energy in the form of glycogen (the carbohydrate version) or muscle tissue, you’d have to put on twice the pounds to store the same amount of energy.

For another, it’s essential to life in the form of fatty acids – most that our body can make, and a few that it can’t. I hate to be the one to tell you, but the stomach doesn’t break down fat, it’s the liver and pancreas that do the heavy lifting.  Aside from creating fat from excess starches, sugars and proteins and then sending those fat molecules off to be stored for the lean times in places like just below the skin, the liver also breaks down the fat we eat into fatty acids with the help of pancreatic juices, and these fatty acids play a multitude of important roles in the body like creating cell membranes (ours are made of lipids unlike plant walls that are made of cellulose – a starch, and fungi walls that are made of polysaccharides – another starch). Additionally, fatty acids act as messengers in our body’s “comms unit” (the endocrine system) and guide dogs for blind proteins, making sure they get to their destination.

There are at least two essential fatty acids, essential because our body can’t make them, and to keep things simple, we’ll discuss the main ones: Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s. Often they get labeled as “good fats” and others get labeled as “bad fats”. This is a bit of an oversimplification, and I’ll explain why tomorrow.


McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. Scribner, 2004.
http:// www.slideshare.net/vicky14381/functions-of-fatty-acids

On the First Night of Hanukkah… or Fat – Part 1

Today marks the first day of Hanukkah. It’s also Christmas Eve, but as I don’t come from Christian traditions, I’ll leave the waxing poetic on that history to someone else. For the eight days of the festival of lights, or the celebration of the blessed oil that lasted eight days, we’ll be exploring the importance of FAT!

In conversation today, a wise friend pointed out that the Universe, as we know it, is not made mostly of things, but of space between the things. So often we focus on things that we neglect the spaces between. I believe that this is where magic lives – in relationships. I commit myself to tending these relationships in their ever evolving forms. Relationships of all sorts, friendships, loverships, kinships, partnerships sprout, grow and die in their own time and place. All I can do is be present with what is and honor everyone’s path, including my own.

Relationships also exist through the cloth of time. My ancestors called themselves Yehudim, or Jewish, people. Before that, they were assorted clans. The pre-Jewish traditions that shaped themselves into rituals and ceremonies, stories and songs of modern Jewish culture are what resonate most deeply with me. The honoring of the light and the belief in miracles, I’m finding in this year in particular, to be essential to my mental health.

In lighting the Hanukkah candles for the first time this evening, I asked my companions what fuels the light within them. I ask you,

What fuels the light within you?

And as the brilliant Shayne Case noted in a workshop titled “Hearts on Fire” at the Portland Plant Medicine Gathering,

How do we live in a place of nourishing light rather than a constant fire?

I lit the candles and sang the Hanukkah blessing. Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, malech haolam, asher kid ‘shanu b’mitzvotov v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah. 

My answer, for myself, is co-creating a world of abundance and shining a light on the dark, oft neglected spaces in between.  Fat’s role in cooking is to be of the in-between spaces.

I can’t think of anyone who makes fat the center of the dish except Russians who salt pork fat (sala), slice it on bread and call it a sandwich. Fat is most often the mediator, a heat mover between the pan and the food you’re frying, allowing foods to cook way beyond the boiling point of the water they contain*. It’s the tenderizer, working its way in between the dry and tough areas of pie crusts and steaks. It’s the lubricant, causing food to not dry when exposed to heat but to experience crispness, the Maillard effect, or GBD (golden brown and delicious). It’s the butter in the oatmeal, helping you get down all those so-called healthy foods. It’s a force of synergy, enhancing all the flavors in the food that you’re tasting by coating the tongue in a slow symphony of smells and tastes that would otherwise whizz through your mouth. On this day and the following seven, the Jewish people of Earth celebrate FAT!

Fats fuel the light within me. Nourishing, delicious foods full of fats that…. well, I’ll save that for tomorrow’s lighting of the second candle.

*For this reason I strongly advocate against owning a microwave for cooking purposes.


Chestnuts are the Best Nuts!

When’s the last time you ate a chestnut? Probably years ago, freezing your tuchkus off waiting for the Christmas parade or tree lighting ceremony to get going, right? Well, let me tell you, chestnuts need to reclaim their rightful place on the stovetop, not just on an open fire. Surprisingly, not too many folks in my area know how to deal with these delicious, starchy nuts. I joke about them being the best nuts. I love them all equally.

There’s a reason these nuts are so closely associated with winter time. During the month of October, depending on the variety, these trees drop all of their nuts almost within a week. You’ve got to be ready for them or you’ll blink and miss the harvest. In my neck of the woods, I have to compete with deer, turkeys and goats. In urban parts, the main competition comes from Chinese and Eastern European Grandmas who know what’s up.

Let me clarify, just in case you go rushing off to the nearest chestnut tree in your neighborhood, that there are many kinds of chestnuts but for our sake, we’ll focus on two: the edible chestnut and the inedible horse chestnut.

How do you tell them apart?

Horse Chestnut

The husk of the horse chestnut (yes, horses love these!), or Buckeye if you’re from Ohio, has spikes but they’re more spread apart than the edible chestnut. If you can pick up the husk and your fingertips can almost fit between the spikes, do not eat this nut. Do check out some great medicinal herb books, though, because these astringent guys can be used from things like mouthwash to hide tanning.

The Edible American, Chinese and Italian varieties

Decades ago, pioneering families throughout Cascadia planted chestnuts in their yards. Today, there are hundred year old chestnut trees in Portland and other cities and towns across the Northwest. Thanks to the foresight of those land-pillaging settlers, we can collect hundreds of pounds of nuts off of one of these ancient ents. The trick is to pay attention to when they begin dropping and get there early in the morning to harvest. Wear gloves and use your shoe to kick off the husk and collect the nuts therein. Don’t bother picking up the small or flat looking ones. They’re not worth your time but the squirrels will appreciate them.

Chestnuts require refrigeration because at room temperature, they’ll dry up or become moldy within a matter of weeks or else some profiteering mouse will come along and start snacking. Even in the fridge, they won’t last longer than a couple of months. Speaking from personal experience, don’t stick them in a jar and leave them in your collective household for five years. I recommend processing everything that you don’t plan on eating within the first 2 months of harvest.

Boiled chestnuts. Steamed Chestnuts. Roasted chestnuts. Chestnuts fricasee. You get the idea. Bubba and I could probably list off a hundred different ways to prepare them. My favorite way of storing them is to cook them, remove the bitter skin (pellicle) and freeze them in a plastic bag or jar. Once they are cooked, you can also dehydrate them and grind them into flour, which you’ll also want to either freeze or refigerate. The most important points to keep in mind are these:

1. Do not try to cook more than you’re willing to process in a session.

2. Choose your heating method and have a way to keep them warm once they’re done. Whatever method you choose, make sure it’s high-heat or boiling water style temperatures. None of this slow and steady heating is useful for chestnuts.

3. Cut a slit width-wise across the tough brown skin to allow steam out and to give you an indication that they’re ready. When they’re cooked thoroughly, that slit will have expanded by about a half inch or so. Cut the nut in half to learn how to tell when it’s cooked thoroughly. The nut meat should change from a bright white to an opaque/translucent color.

4. Once they’re cooked, transfer them to a crock pot or some variety of heat-trapping device. Take out as many as you can clean within a span of 5 minutes. Your job is to remove the outer brown skin and the inner thin skin, called the pellicle. Give it a taste so you know how bitter it is and how important it is to work quickly to get remove it.

And don’t forget, plant an edible chestnut tree for future generations to enjoy!

Recipe ideas:

  • Winter Stew with Chestnuts
  • Chestnut Stuffing
  • Chestnut Rice (A Japanese Traditional Dish)
  • Chocolate Chestnut Torte
  • Chestnut Granola
  • Chestnut Shortbread
  • Sitting by a fire and roasting chestnuts with friends and family

Are We What We Eat?

Introduction: Are we what we eat?
(excerpt from the book)

Laying on the couch after a long day of school, a cerulean and silver sea of glistening wrappers scattered below me. Snap, Crackle and Pop were my afternoon pals. The big box store down the street had conveniently packaged enough for two days of television fuel – 40 pieces, now with 20 percent more! More what? More puffed rice? More high fructose corn syrup? More boiled cow hooves and horns?

Hoof and horn, hoof and horn. All that dies shall be reborn. (Chant it with me)

I had no idea at the time but the gelatin, made of boiled bones, hooves and horns was definitely the most nutritious ingredient in that absolutely addicting rice crispy square. This is how I spent my teen years. Since the age of eight, I’d been a latch key kid. My older sister could barely fry an egg and she was too busy anyway being boy crazy or working towards that sports car of her dreams to slow down and cook a meal for us. My parents worked. Long, and hard they worked to push themselves from the position of poor immigrants to two-car garage house owning American suburbanites.

In 1988 my family finally got the OK to pack their lives up into several suit cases and embark on a journey whose trek had been worn well by countless Eastern European Jews before them. The Soviet Union had been receiving pressure from Israel, the US, protest movements and NGO’s to allow Jews to emigrate out. According to my family, it wasn’t pleasant. The colleges and institutes where many Jewish families hoped their children would graduate from would not accept them simply because of their last name. There was still hostility against Jews for causing WWII. The dreams of an egalitarian society under Communism were cracking to rubble and someone had to be blamed. Enough Western media had been leaked through the underpants-smuggled records and magazines to give Russians a new dream. My family wanted me to wear Levi’s! And so we packed up and left, along with many others, to the land of milk and honey. (Which, subsequently, turned out to be unknowingly hormone-filled and pesticide laden, but we’ll get to that).

Life wasn’t all bad in the USSR. We didn’t know how lucky we were, yeah, at least when it came to quality of food. Though we weren’t too far from the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, we weren’t that close, either. What we were close to were traditions of food growing and gathering that were indigenous to place. On the weekends we’d leave the city and head out to the datchya, a cabin in the woods that every Soviet had a natural born right to. Thanks to our regular food-focused outings, at three years old, I was already able to identify several edible and poisonous mushrooms. I scouted the ground for wild strawberries. I knew which fish swam in the lakes and rivers. Being a forester, my grandfather would point to various trees and shrubs, animals and insects and give me their names. The act of giving name to our wild relatives allowed for the forest to become my family. I began to know them personally.

The thought of the smell of a pike stew (Ooha) simmering on a simple fire at the shore of the lake still gets my salivary glands working. The threads holding various dried mushroom slices still hang in my mind. The forest was our farm, our larder, our kitchen. Regardless of how long my ancestors had interacted with their landscape, we were certainly recreating the patterns that were set by humans who first wandered into the recently hospitable meadows and forests of the Dnieper watershed after the glacial melts of the last ice age. They watched what the bears and squirrels ate and followed suit. They collected tender greens, trapped furred brothers, followed herds, and waited til the late summer rains awakened invisible fungi communities underfoot to collect prized boletes and chanterelles. They warred with their neighbors over the best hunting and foraging grounds. They healed their wounds with the medicines that grew all around them. And through all that, they developed ceremonies and rituals to pay tribute to the abundance. My Eastern European features are tempered by Mongolian ones, which bring serious doubt to the family story that not a single ancestor married a non-Jew, and so I explore the culture of the Eastern and Central Asian peoples.


Our faces are molded by places. Does hearing this tale make you yearn to connect with the ancients of your past? Good. This is an incredibly important step to cooking with medicinal plants, fungi and lichen. With the internet’s ability to track down your ancestry, embark to do so. Look at traditional and pre-colonial recipes from these region(s). Find yourself a piece of clothing that resembles something your ancestors would have worn or make something yourself. Learn an ancient tale from the area(s). The only reason the wisdom contained herein exists is because people like you and me were willing to sit and listen and then retell the stories of our indigenous experiences.


Traveling across oceans and cultures, my family arrived with little more than a few established relatives in Chicago and a few hundred dollars in our pockets and the smell of McDonalds french fries in the airport. We breathed in deeply. Liberty! Freedom! The American Way! My mother’s parents had lived in the Windy City since the 70’s with her sister who soon following her parents. My father’s parents joined us in the culture shift. My grandmother recalls how she and I were the most reluctant to leave our old life behind. As she walked me to pre-school in the early morning, I’d look up at the moon and announce that my sister, Luna, was joining us on our stroll. One day, I looked up at my grandma with a worried expression. Would Luna find me on the other side of the world? She squeezed my hand and said, of course Luna would find me. She was very good at those kinds of things. A feeling of relief came over me. Maybe life wouldn’t be so different after all.

Our first apartment was provided by the Jewish United Fund. We’d forage the alleys of the immigrant neighborhood for furnishings and toys. We’d walk the parks for critters, trees and shrubs we could recognize. That was the last year that I’d live with my grandparents. I’m not sure why they didn’t move in with us, but my parents worked their tails off and bought a duplex in the slightly less immigrant-rich suburbs. My grandparents were given an apartment right on Lake Shore Drive. We’d still fish, but this time it was off the docks of Lake Michigan or Sarasota, Florida on family vacations. We’d take forest walks looking for mushrooms but the lack of established forests that stretched for miles was out of reach and so were the necessary mycelial networks that produced our beloved mushrooms. The plants we ate were not harvested from neighboring yards for fear of what the neighborhood would think of us. Occasionally we’d head up north to the extremely manufactured wilderness experiences of Wisconsin Dells. The real wildness that I had known intimately was curling up inside me for a long hibernation.

Television became my babysitter and best friend as my parents worked long hours to attain their newfound American dreams. Once a week, my dad and I took time to share a meal together. We’d find coupons and go out for fast food. My mother would prepare a week’s worth of meals on Saturday or Sunday. We got together with relatives frequently and shared in lavish feasts. I’d usually overeat and pass out. When I’d get sick, my parents would call off names of herbs that I should take for this or that, or ramble off some folk remedy of boiled onion skins, potato peels or cabbage leaves. Meanwhile, the TV would show me how pharmaceuticals would pretty much relieve any symptom I could imagine while fast-talking down a list of side effects. Upset stomach? Take the pink stuff. Stuffy nose? Take the blue spray. Sleeplessness? Take the purple pill. After high school, my parents convinced me to get a job as pharmacy technician. It paid well and I had been a foolish teen but wise enough to keep my record clean and so I was deemed capable of counting, bottling and distributing a stunning array of capsules filled with the latest technological advances to the masses. An elderly lady would approach me and at first I’d ask their name and begin looking for their perscription; one package, two packages, three, four, six, ten! Anymore more and I’d have to get a cart for them. Their medicare or insurance would cover a portion and they’d be responsible for the rest. Some would tell me that they had to choose between eating and the medicine.

I had no idea how powerful that statement would become in my life.

I quit that job and decided to pursue my passion, to the incredible lament of my family. “A chef? But why?! We came to this country so that you could be successful! Instead you want to work in a hot, sweaty kitchen being someone’s servant?” All those years of latchkey afternoons cultivated a deep curiosity for food. It was empowering to make myself porridge, just like Grandma. The cooking channel was new and the Chefs I’d watch had the spark of life in their eyes and the light of life in their bellies. They closed their eyes passionately when they’d smell the ingredients. There was an authenticity in their mannerisms that I could not compare to anything else I witnessed in suburbia. I yearned to experience and know intimately the exciting spices I had smelled wafting from the Southeast Asian homes before my family had moved out even further into the culture vacuum of the Northwest Suburbs. One evening, I confided in my parents that my wish was to travel to France and work my way up the culinary ladder. All the great Chefs had done it. Why not nineteen year-old me? They stared at me with embers in their eyes, as if I had just told them I was going to go jump off a cliff. We fought about it but finally came to a place of compromise. I would go to culinary school.

Kendall College was Hogwarts to me. The fish and sauce Chef-instructor was as uptight as McGonagall. The dean was as grey-bearded and wise as Dumbledore. My first Chef-Instructor was a sweet, grandfatherly man who took us little cheflets by the hand and guided our wands…er… knives to brunoise, batonette and tournet like Escoffier and Ferdinand Point. While I had been cooking professionally for a little while before going to school, I was able to work with some of the best Chefs around doing various events all throughout school. This immersed cooking experience taught me to utilize herbs and spices boldly, respect the ingredients through appropriate techniques, combine flavors bravely. At the time, Carlos Petrini, a founder of Slow Food, was making the rounds and was invited to my school to present. As I sat in the audience, everything he spoke to, from the rage he felt at the McDonalds that popped up in the middle of Rome’s square to the support needed to preserve quickly disappearing land-based food traditions against the tide of globalism. This moment stirred the wildness inside.

Unlike most culinary schools, I graduated with an Associates Degree in the Science of Culinary Arts and also with the wherewithal to begin and operate a successful restaurant. I left with a newfound respect for ingredients and the way in which culture and food so seamlessly intertwined. After a year or two of saving money with my then partner, we decided to take a journey around the world. The idea of learning traditional cooking methods from grandmas throughout the different lands that we’d visit, building a repertoire of new ingredients and recipes, having my mouth go “YOWZA” from some fruit not available in my typical American grocery store is what allowed me to work 14 hour long days until we’d each saved ten thousand dollars and gotten our tickets to escape.

We sailed down from San Diego with a lovely crew of men who had the nicest boat in the regata. The reason we were able to crew on their boat was because after finding out that I was a Chef, the owner of the boat challenged me to a test. For $40 I had to prepare a meal for six out in the choppy waters of the San Francisco bay. Had I ever cooked in a galley before? No. Had I any idea of whether or not I got seasick? No, but I was going to find out very quickly. I selected some high quality yet simple ingredients from the local grocery store. It being Marin County, even the local grocery store stocked some amazing international items. San Marzano canned tomatoes served as sauce for some lovely lamb sausage, some high-end parmesan, a fresh, crusty baguette and brussel sprouts. “Brussel sprouts!” The captain remarked. “Oh goodness, I hate brussel sprouts!” My heart skipped a beat and went right on ticking. I bet him the job that he’d like mine. I peeled them lightly and kept on cutting their little leaves off, blanched them lightly in ocean-brine like water and tossed them with toasted pecans and a preserved lemon vinaigrette. As we sat down to eat, he took a bite and warned me that he really hated brussel sprouts. Then his mouth turned upwards toward a smile. “You’ve got the job”.

After making our way down the Baja peninsula and crossing the little sea between Baja and the mainland, we bussed down from San Blas all the way to Costa Rica. It was an epic five day ride but to be honest, there’s only a few parts I remember as I had contacted some kind of tropical bug and refused food and water for the first 3 days of it and simply slept. When I awoke with a ravenous hunger, we had stopped at a gas station with a cafe inside. I got into line and picked up a cafeteria tray. Slowly, we shuffled our trays down the line. A piece of chicken, some potatoes, yes, some salad, eh, I think I’ll pass on that, but I’d take the bun. “Oh and could I please get some butter for my bun?” I’d asked in my kitchen Spanish. Ask any cook from Chicago whether they speak Spanish and they’ll look at you funny. It’s a prerequisite to working in kitchens. The frail-looking young girl on the other side of the cafeteria line glared at me. Not just glared, but burned her look deep into my soul and said “No”. Stubbornly, I said “please, just a little butter.”
“No” she said resolutely. I boarded the bus without the butter and sat still for a minute. Then in a sudden wave of compassionate consciousness I could feel the anger with which she served me. I could see the military juntas and banana republics that my country had installed in hers. The death of family, of culture, of land access all flooded my heart and I sat there dumbfounded in remorse for being a part of the culture that had destroyed hers. Never again, I promised myself. Never again would I unconsciously work for that world.

A chance meeting in a tiny town put me in the middle of a group of four girlfriends who ran a little hostel in Solinas, Columbia. After they found out that I was a Chef, they grabbed my hand, asked my partner to excuse us all, and pulled me along to the mercado so that we may all cook together. Walking down the aisles, they pointed at all the exotic fruits and vegetables, explaining how they did this of that function in the body. After surveying the offerings, I grabbed some beets, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and crema for borscht. They grabbed panela, dics of compressed cane juice and took me back where we began to cook together. A kitchen full of powerful women enchanted me. They brewed the panela with chocolate and explained to me the power of the elixir. They showed me how adding simple herbs or vegetables like celery could create daily tonics. I showed them how to make a proper Ukranian borscht. The medicines were beginning to show themselves.

While traveling in Costa Rica, at another hostel, I had struck up a conversation with a couple of rag-tag hippies. Being in the punk rock subculture as a youth, I had avoided “those people” like the plague. Yet here I was, tens of thousands of miles from the corner of Belmont and Clark, feeling a little guilt about it, yet having an incredibly deep conversation about politics, food and the state of the world. My partner, I thought, was playing devil’s advocate for a bit until l realized that he wasn’t playing. There was no way to ignore the alignment that I felt with this dready lady and her puffy panted man and the misalignment I noticed between my partner and I. This awareness grew more and more as time went on until finally we reached the shore and it was time to decide wether to continue out for another few months at sea or head back to get my career back on track. I booked a flight back to Chicago. He sailed on.

After a month, the promise I had made to myself after the butter incident was coming close to breaking. I had landed a job at the only “local, organic” restaurant in the suburbs of Chicago and yet I felt like I was compromising everything I had learned. In a moment of desperation I wrote to the farmers I had met; both Canadian, the hippie couple in BC and the other hippie couple in Quebec. To my surprise, the BC couple, who had shown me the disparity between my partner and I, invited me to their cooperative farm for a WWOOF stint. I got on the next flight to Seattle and from there, bussed it the sixteen hours to their little town. After that five day bus ride, sixteen hours seemed like a trip to the mall. The bus pulled in at two AM and I was greeted by a handsome billowing white-shirted farmer in a tiny Japanese snub-nosed, right-side driving truck. He set me up with massage table for a bed in the basement and let me know that tomorrow they’d find a place for me. I awoke to a rooster crowing above my head, in the window outside the basement. Navigating my way to the kitchen, the handsome farmer handed me a raw oat green smoothie. I chewed it thoughtfully and held back my yuck face. He walked me around the farm. My eyes hadn’t seen so many shades of green since I’d left the jungles of Panama. I was home.

In the time at Golden Ears, I began building my skill set as a food security and sovereignty organizer in the midst of Native communities who were fighting to maintain their connection to culture and land. I continued working in the culinary field and also farmed daily, beginning my first foray into growing and processing medicinal herbs. I began seeing in systems. Moving on to Left Fields the breadth of mentors widened as I worked side by side with some of the wisest people I’ve yet to meet. The seamlessness with which they blended food, life and livelihood was incredibly inspiring.

Upon returning to the States, I decided to see why Portland was so successful at food security as compared to the rest of North America. To my surprise, the food network that had established itself in Portland had worked its way out of a job (and into many new jobs as maintainers). There was little for me to organize food-wise and so I began focusing on the bioregional story to develop a cultural cohesion that I felt was needed to build a larger movement in response to the devastating effects of greed-fueled globalism and crony capitalism. Cascadia, one of many names used to describe the network of west coastal salmon-filled watersheds, was the term I adopted to begin to tell this story. Cascadia not only has a very significant population of Native communities who still live in their traditional territories and practice the cultural traditions of their ancestors while fighting against the genocide of their peoples that colonization has brought. It also has has a long history of organizing through Bioregional Gatherings and Congresses. It already has a symbol, the Doug Flag, and it has many passionate groups who really identify with and fight for the story of a land where ecologically-oriented, culturally rich and cooperative communities  are held close to the heart and actively being worked towards. It was time to offer this story as an alternative.

After several years of organizing, I found myself yearning to escape the bustle of the city and return to land tending. My friend chanced upon me and invited me to help him out on his urban farm acres. His wide grasp of healing plants and ways of integrating them into cooking (though not always deliciously) fully captivated me and I agreed to be his farm partner for the following season. The hunger with which I approached this new way of relating to food and medicine, the potential to heal ourselves and our world in a wild way fully awoke the slumbering giant inside me.

The vision, skills and potential that was unleashed by my Native and Cascadian brothers and sisters I will forever be grateful for. It is these qualities that I bring to every project that I endeavor and hope some of their lessons come across within these pages so that you may carry them forward.


Witchn Kitchn Food Rules

My Food Rules

  1. Cook: Cook with single ingredient foods as much as possible. Cook for and with others. Cook it all. Cook for the body and the soul.

  2. Have a relationship with your ingredients: Grow food without synthetic fertilizers or commercial pesticides or source from someone who does. If the bugs eat it, then you can, too. Harvest from healthy lands and with permission of the land and land tenders. Use the grocery store as a back up for what you can’t find in your community.

  3. Waste not: Preserve the bounty through fermenting, canning, drying, freezing, smoking, and pickling. Save scraps for stocks, animal feed or compost.

  4. Use 2-3 times as much spice and herb as recipes (besides my own) call for.

  5. If a recipe doesn’t include spices and herbs, improvise.

  6. Pay attention to the way in which food moves through your body. If it’s uncomfortable, take note. If you feel great, take note, too.

  7. Give thanks and support to all that sustains you, especially water.

It’s All or Nothing: A Crowd-Funded Book Grant

For the past 5 years the people around me have asked “When are you going to write a cook book?” I kept telling them that when I’m snowed in on a farm for a winter, that’ll be the time. Now is that time! It’s turning out to be a manifesto, a cook book, a description of my way of life. This book yearns to be born and needs your support to do so. This campaign is all or nothing. I want to devote my winter and early spring to bringing it to life. I need your support to make it happen. If I don’t make my goal by Valentine’s Day, this book idea will go back on the shelf until next winter. So, are you with me? Do you want to see it happen now? Then donate to the campaign today!

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