Chautauqua: Haven for Learning and Culture

My husband and I have become evangelists—for the Chautauqua Institution, a unique and wonderful community in the westernmost county of New York, between Buffalo and Erie, Pa.

It’s a combination of college campus, music festival, writers’ workshop,  arts enclave and summer resort, with a little more than a hint of the religious movement that gave it its start 143 years ago. One person we met called it “summer camp for the adult brain.”

And it’s nestled into a picturesque small town chock full of Victorian-era houses, gardens galore and quiet streets. Walking and biking are the primary means of transport (though shuttle buses are available).

Training for Sunday School teachers

Originally called the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, the institution was created in 1874 as a two-week program for Methodist Sunday School teachers. The assembly took place following a revivalist “camp meeting” held annually on the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Founders John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller thought religion teachers needed more than revivalist spirit. They brought in speakers on a variety of academic subjects and provided music, art and physical education opportunities. It wasn’t long before the assembly totally eclipsed the revival meeting.

The Chautauqua idea caught on quickly, attracting the general public as well as religious educators. Soon there were numerous “daughter Chautauquas” and traveling Chautauquas throughout the country.

The founders’ vision still drives the institution, which now has a nine-week season every summer, from the end of June to the end of August.

Every week has a theme, and every weekday morning there is a lecture from a nationally known speaker on that theme. Every weekday afternoon there’s a lecture on a related theme in the “interfaith” lecture series. And every evening, six days of the week, there is fabulous entertainment: from the resident Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, from the music school’s orchestra, from the opera program or resident ballet company, or from top-notch visiting artists.

In between there are more lectures, book reviews, movies, discussion groups, recitals, art exhibits, nature walks and other activities – more than any one person can do.

For an additional fee there are three productions by the resident theater company and  a whole catalog of “special studies courses” on a wide variety of topics. There’s a golf course, tennis courts and indoor pool, and a lake with small beaches and boat docks. There are reasonably priced day camp programs for children from 3 to 16.

Religious life at Chautauqua

In deference to its history, Chautauqua provides many avenues for religious expression, including daily Protestant services with visiting clergy in the large amphitheater and a Sunday evening “sacred song service.”

Quite early in Chautauqua’s history, various Protestant denominations began operating guest houses so their congregants could stay at Chautauqua for a reasonable fee. Catholics and Jews weren’t particularly welcome in the early days, but now both groups have residences among the “denominational houses” on the grounds – and a Muslim house is in the discussion phase.

The newest of the denominational houses is the Everett Jewish Life Center, which opened in 2009. My husband and I started staying there for a week at a time in 2014. Last year we learned that they were looking for a new “host couple” and we jumped at the opportunity.

This year we spent 10 weeks at Chautauqua. Our duties included welcoming the guests to the Everett Center’s five guest rooms, shopping for food, preparing and cleaning up from breakfast, helping set up seats for the weekly films and speakers, and general trouble-shooting. Others handled the cleaning and maintenance and the programming.

In return, we got to enjoy almost everything Chautauqua had to offer. We heard incredible speakers, including Dahlia Lithwick, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Lewis Black, Jacques Pepin, E.J. Dionne, Bill Moyers and Stella Rimington, the former head of British intelligence and the model for Judi Dench’s “M”.

We saw fabulous entertainers, including Jay Leno, the Capitol Steps, Garrison Keillor, Sheryl Crow and the Beach Boys.

Visitors can stay at one of the 15 denominational houses with  guest rooms, the beautiful Victorian Athenaeum Hotel or at a rental house, apartment or room. There are also less expensive hotels and cabin communities a few miles away.

A word to the wise: The denominational houses get booked up fast! The Everett center has only a few openings left for 2018. The United Methodist House starts taking reservations October 1 and continues until the rooms are filled. The Catholic House has a lottery: get your application in between November 1 and November 30 and they’ll let you know soon afterwards if you’re “in.”

All of the denominational houses welcome people of all faiths, though some give preferences to church members; some allow you to become an official member of the tribe by paying a small membership fee.

Like any good evangelist, I’m willing to “testify” for Chautauqua! If you have any questions about the program or about the Everett Jewish Life Center, please contact me.

The recipe below is for one of the breakfast casseroles I served to our guests at the Everett center. I got it from It would be a great brunch or potluck dish. Be sure to plan ahead, because the recipe calls for the dish to sit overnight in the refrigerator. You can probably get by with letting it sit just a few hours, but I don’t recommend baking it right after you mix it up; the bread needs a chance to soak up the eggs and milk.


Food innovation at Kalamazoo Valley college

.Today’s piece is by Kathy Jennings a freelance writer and editor who is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave, where this article originally appeared.

The innovation at Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Food Innovation Center is not about correctly calculating the size of the next best freezer waffle. To understand what kind of learning is going on here you have to imagine how most of us get our food today.

Think about big farms, big processing plants, and products that travel long distances, sometimes all the way around the globe.

“What we’re trying to do, is innovate within the space of local and regional food systems,” says Rachel Bair, director of Sustainable and Innovative Food Systems at the Food Innovation Center.

This innovation is the beginning of rebuilding Southwest Michigan’s local and regional food system, finding new ways to get food from farms to markets to consumers.

“A lot of the processing infrastructure from Southwest Michigan’s local and regional food system is still standing, but there’s not as much as there used to be,” Bair says. Instead, we now have global supply chains that can get us any kind of food we want, any time we want. “What we know is that’s not good for the Southwest Michigan economy,” Bair says. “A lot of money is leaving our state because of those global, international supply chains. It’s not necessarily good for our environment, either.”

That’s because of food miles. The farther a given food travels from where it’s grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed the less sustainable and the less environmentally sound that food is.

“What we want to do here at the Food Innovation Center is help to rebuild a local and regional food system that will support our local economy and help local food businesses grow, so that there are more jobs and better-paying jobs, and so that we have food security here in our region, so that there is fresh food available for everyone, and we have control of our food supply.”

A very big goal

“This is a long game. We’re playing a long game here,” Bair says.”I have no hesitation to talk in terms of five- to 10- year plans, because that’s how long this is going to take.”

And the work is still in its early days. “There are so many needs and opportunities in our food system, and we’re doing our best to respond as well as we can to build the networks and relationships that will help us all as a community move forward together,” Bair says.

The foundation underlying it all is sustainability.

“When students leave the program the goal is for them to have a firm understanding of sustainability. It’s the basis of everything we’re doing. It’s about limiting our draw on natural resources and ecosystems while increasing quality of life. That’s how we see sustainability.”

Two sustainable growing systems being explored are an indoor garden with very high-tech, intensive food production and hydroponic technologies that use very little water and lighting that requires little energy. For traditional organic gardening, there raised beds on the property.

Testing new systems

In a greenhouse, a number of new growing systems are going to be tested. HydroStackers are a vertically stacked system where the plants are planted in perlite, a volcanic rock that’s very porous. It holds liquid and it provides structure for the roots. The plants get all the water and nutrients they need dripped through the roots. “They grow a lot of plants in a very small area and because of the way they’re stacked. They’re really efficient to harvest.”

In an aquaponics system, they will be raising tilapia in tanks. The waste from the fish will be converted into a fertilizer that in turn feeds lettuce plants. “The cash crop in that system is actually the lettuce, not the fish,” Bair says. “But it’s a really interesting model of a closed loop system that mimics what really happens in nature.”

A Dutch bucket system is also planned. “You basically plant tomatoes in these increasingly small buckets, and then trellis them up to the ceiling of the greenhouse so that they’re growing on vines 10 feet high, and they’re irrigated and given nutrients. We’re getting ready to install that system. It’s pretty complicated to build.”

For those who want to learn about farming, there currently are two practicum classes – one in the winter and one in the summer. In the winter class time is spent in the greenhouse and grow room. In the summer, students are in the field on the campus and in the greenhouse. They also spend a third to half of their time in farm placements.

“We have partnerships with local farms and students who go in groups of three to eight. They went to the same farm week-to-week and worked there for two to three hours. It was a really great partnership with those farmers because they got some good, semi-trained, reliable help. And it was the students’ favorite part of the class. They really loved the experience.”

There are further plans to turn what is now lawn into another place to grow plants and produce. Those plans are moving slowly by design because the land is a brownfield and while it has been capped to contain contaminants any plans to raise plants on the property must be carefully considered.

“The whole site is covered with a barrier, and then a layer of clean fill, and then grass on top of that to keep it in place for now,” Bair says. “As we move forward, we will be looking at things we can plant in a way that’s healthy for our community. ways that we can grow food, and pollinator crops, and fertility crops (plants grown to be used as compost for fertilizer) in this soil. We don’t want to take any chances.”

Innovations in food distribution

Exploring innovations in the production piece of the food distribution system is an equal part of the work being done. The plan for the next five years or so is based on extensive market research to determine what is needed and what will be valuable to local businesses. “But that said, if five years from now, it turns out it’s not viable,” Bair says, “the facility is built so that we can retool and do something else.”

Till then, the school is proceeding with light processing. “What we will be doing is buying fresh whole produce from local farms and lightly processing it. So we’ll wash it, we’ll peel it, and chop it. We can get as far as freezing and making some sauces that can be frozen. And then we’ll take that fresh produce in this lightly processed form and sell it to our local institutions. So it goes to Bronson Hospital, our culinary school, and some of the other school systems, universities, and healthcare settings in the area.

“The idea there is that those institutions have huge purchasing power, and if they can direct that into the local food system, that’s a huge boon to local farmers and our economy in general.

“They’re also looking to provide more healthy food. Either they have a customer demand for it, or in the case of Bronson Hospital, they have the moral imperative for it. It helps their bottom line too. They see fewer readmissions when folks are eating healthier food. But they are also under budget constraints and labor constraints, so receiving the food from us in the lightly processed form that they’re used to getting it from their current distributor will make it easier for them to integrate local into their menu.”

What that means for farmers is the college will be working with growers who are successful at the direct market scale, who have a CSA, or have been selling at the farmers market and are looking to take the next step, into wholesale.

“That’s a really risky jump,” Bair says. “It’s planting two acres of basil and trusting that someone’s going to buy it. We can help them with that by being the person who’s willing to buy it. We’ll either find a customer for it fresh, or we’ll figure out a way to process and preserve it so we can sell it throughout the winter and extend the season.”

Eventually, about 1,000 students are expected to work and study on the Healthy Living Campus, of which the Innovation Center is a part. The Food Innovation Center opened in January 2016 for students in the Culinary Arts and Sustainable Food Systems and Sustainable Brewing programs. Classes included Food Safety Essentials, an introduction to Sustainable Food Systems. Bair works with two teammates, Russell Davis, who is developing a Food Hub for the region, and grower Ben Bylsma, who oversees the experimental plantings.

The innovative ways of growing plants, processing and distributing them are “the basis, the living laboratory, for our educational programs,” Bair says. “We have these businesses. They function. They’re open to the public essentially, but the students are active participants in running them, the primary participants in running them.”

Towards degree programs

Classes currently being offered are all part of the culinary program. Over the next three to four years, KVCC will be developing independent degree programs in both food production and food processing and distribution.

“We’re trying to look out into the future as much as we can as we envision these programs in food production and food processing so that we’re creating programs that are going to be relevant in ten years from now instead of five years ago,” Bair says. “And that’s pretty hard to do, so we’re really calling on industry to help inform that. We’re looking for folks in industry to tell us what they think their needs are going to be in the future.”

The school has been in close conversation with various businesses as it decides the types of programs to offer. “We have a great conversation going with folks in the retail sector right now, for example, about what the needs are in produce management. There is a huge increase in consumer demand for local produce and that requires a complete revision of the supply chain for produce. There’s not a lot of training for staff in those departments.”

The discussion has covered the kinds of skills retailers need for employees to have if they are going to increase the amount of local produce sold and what they might be able to pay an employee with those skills.

“We have to determine if it is going to be worth someone going through a two-year program or does it need to be a six-month academy that’s not for credit? We are looking at what kinds of training programs can we develop that give someone the skills that are going to benefit the industry and help land them in a good paying job because that’s really what we want to do.”

Further, the hope is that, especially for the culinary students, that they take away the concept of a commitment to local sourcing, and a new understanding of where food comes from and what it takes to get it to their restaurant’s delivery door. And that they use that knowledge as they plan their menus and plan their businesses, by including a garden out back where they grow their own herbs, for example.

Training a new generation

“We’re training this generation of farm-to-table chefs,” Bair says, “and we also have a certified dietary manager program as part of the culinary school, so there’s a real focus on training chefs for the institutional setting as well. They can take that farm to table mentality into the institutional setting and have even more impact because they’re really making the food choice for the people in a facility like a long-term care facility.”

Just how unique is the Food Innovation Center? KVCC believes it is the only program of its kind in the nation. “For a community college to get into this kind of agriculture is pretty unique, and especially the combination of the culinary school with this kind of programming, and then on top of that, the partnership with Bronson Hospital is a whole other layer of uniqueness. It’s incredibly exciting.”

Developing a program that could prove to be a national model is something that Bair has experienced before. She came to KVCC from the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program (described in Feed the Spirit June 8, 2015) that allows those who spend their SNAP Bridge Card dollars at the Farmers Market to receive an equal amount in food bucks. “I started that job in 2010 when it was a pilot in Detroit and I grew it to a statewide program. It was starting to be franchised nationally when I left that position in 2015 to come here.”

She also was coming home. Bair grew up in the Kalamazoo area, attended KAMSC and graduated from Portage Northern. Her family did not farm, but her parents always had a garden in the back yard.

Sustainability is something she grew up with, too. Her grandfather, Joe Chadderdon, was recognized with a Rachel Carson Award in 1983 for his work improving the quality of the wastewater treatment plant. (Chadderdon also is known as the author of the History of The Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company and the City of Parchment.)

Her family has always been conscious of the need for sustainability. “So I just have a strong sense of environmentalism and sustainability and the importance of our role as stewards of this planet.”

Nobody knows for sure what the future of transportation systems or the political system will be– two reasons local food systems need to be rebuilt. “That kind of thinking is inherent in rebuilding local food systems. You do it so that  your own community and region is resilient if something happens to our transportation systems as we know it, or if something happens to our political systems as we know them.

Today’s recipe combines kale, which is plentiful now, and apples, which are just starting to become available. If you can’t easily find sumac, a Middle Eastern spice, you can leave it out without losing much. Ditto for the pomegranate seeds, though they do add a lot of nice color to the salad.


A broccoli cheese salad for Shavuot

This week the Jewish community is getting ready for Shavuot, the “Feast of Weeks” because it takes place on the 50th day (a week of weeks) after Passover. On the Christian calendar, it often coincides with Pentecost.

The holiday has a double meaning. Primarily, it celebrates the giving the Torah, the central document of the Jewish faith, at Mount Sinai after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It marks the occasion where a wandering tribe became a nation governed by God’s commandments.

Shavuot is also the spring harvest festival, which is probably one reason it’s customary to read the Book of Ruth. This lovely story shows how Ruth, a Moabite, followed her mother-in-law Naomi to Israel after the death of Ruth’s husband, uttering the famous words, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

The story takes place at the time of the spring harvest, when Ruth goes out to the fields to glean; one of the Torah’s commandments was to leave the corners of the field uncut during the harvest, so that the poor people in the community could gather grain for themselves.

A good time to study Torah

Another tradition is to study Torah (the first five books of what’s commonly known as the Old Testament) all night. At my synagogue, they start around 9 p.m., with 40-minute to one-hour study sessions on a wide variety of subjects continuing through the night and ending with morning services at around 5:30 a.m. No one is obligated to stay all night, but a few hardy souls do so every year, fueled by ample refreshments and lots of fresh coffee.

The other big tradition is to eat dairy foods, but no one knows why. One scholar found the first letters of the four Hebrew words in Numbers 28:26, which describe sacrifices to be offered on Shavuot, spell mei halav (from milk). Others feel dairy foods symbolize the status of the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai: they were as innocent as infants, whose primary food is milk.

Eat cheesecake!

Yet another theory is that once the Israelites received the Torah, they realized they had to follow the laws of kashrut, which meant meat had to be prepared in certain ways before it could be eaten. Since this would take a bit of time, it was easier for the first meals to be dairy instead of meat.

Whatever the reason, it’s a good excuse to eat blintzes, cheesecake and other dairy-rich delights.

My friends and I have been celebrating the second day of Shavuot with a potluck picnic since our 30-something kids were toddlers. Today’s recipe is a great potluck dish. In fact, I first encountered it at a workplace potluck. Everyone was raving about it, but because the original recipe calls for bacon, which I don’t eat, I didn’t try it then.

I found this recipe, which I have altered a bit, on a site called BellaOnline. The original recipe calls for 4 slices of bacon, which we obviously don’t use in a kosher kitchen. It also calls for mozzarella cheese, which I found rather tasteless, so I substituted cheddar. And I use about half the amount of dressing called for in the original, which is plenty (my quantities are what I list here). If you’re concerned about the sugar, you can substitute Splenda, which I have done with no ill effect.




Seeds to Table helps feed a neighborhood

Urban farming is all the rage in many cities, and Detroit is no exception. Detroit may actually be out in the forefront because we have so much empty land here as a result of lots being cleared of houses so derelict and/or burned out that they’re beyond repair.

There are many blocks of Detroit with only a handful of occupied homes. Enterprising residents put the empty space to good use by growing garden crops in the summer. Some have added greenhouses to extend the growing season.

Some “urban farms” actually fill a whole city block or more. Others make use of just a single empty lot, maybe two.

Eden Gardens on the east side of Detroit is one of the smaller ones. It’s a cooperative effort of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS) and the Eden Gardens Block Club.

A synagogue known for urban outreach

The Downtown Synagogue was established in the 1920s. For many years it was a haven for people working in downtown Detroit who needed a quorum of 10 to say the daily memorial prayers.

As people and jobs moved away from the city, the synagogue was neglected. It was in danger of closing about 10 years ago when a group of young adults, representative of the Millennials who were moving back into the city from the suburbs where they grew up, discovered the tiny synagogue and revitalized it.

The congregation has become known for its community outreach and social justice programs like the Eden Gardens partnership.

For three summers, synagogue volunteers and Eden Gardens residents have joined to maintain a large community garden on two empty lots. The varied produce goes home with the volunteers or is used for the regular Sabbath dinners and  lunches at the synagogue.

In 2014  they added a rain catchment system to irrigate the crops. Previously, they had to haul water from nearby homes in wagons.

On January 24, the eve of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “New Year of Trees,” the congregation rolled out a new project called Seeds to Table.

Nurturing seeds into plants

A small group of volunteers took home seeds, containers, growing medium and instructions for transforming the seeds into plantlets; they’ll report back about what works and what needs to be tweaked before the program’s official rollout later this winter.

Noah Purcell, 36, of Detroit, co-chairs Seeds to Tables with Erin Piasecki, a fellow at Repair the World: Detroit. They came up with the idea while cooking together in the synagogue’s kitchen one evening.

Synagogue and Eden Gardens partners regularly meet for meals called Building a Bridge Over Dinner. Seeds to Tables materials will be distributed at the February and March dinners.

In the spring the program coordinators will invite the seed growers to a “transplant day” at the community garden, encourage them to care for “their” plants through the summer, and bring them back to the Downtown Synagogue in the fall for a harvest dinner.

“How wonderful will it be when we invite those same folks to IADS to eat meals featuring the plants they nurtured from seeds?” asked Noah, an energy analyst for EcoWorks, a Detroit nonprofit. “We think it will be pretty special.”

What kind of recipe would go well with this article, I wondered? Well, my recipe for Massaged Kale Salad last July went over pretty well, and kale was a major crop at Eden Gardens, and it’s available in stores all winter, so here’s another yummy kale salad. Massage the kale in this one too; it makes the kale much easier to chew.


Sorry, Charlie, we don’t like tuna much anymore!

The information in this blog comes primarily from a longer article  by Roberto Ferdman in the Washington Post in August, 2014.

When my daughter was in school, she took tuna sandwiches for lunch almost every day. But later, when she was pregnant or nursing, she had to give it up except on very rare occasions: Her doctor told her it contained too much mercury, which was a threat to the baby. She’s a perfect illustration of a national phenomenon.

For five decades, from 1950 to 2000, canned tuna was America’s favorite seafood. It was a staple in 85 percent of American households. One of the first dishes I learned to cook in junior high cooking class (along with many American girls of the era) was tuna-noodle casserole, that all-American classic combining a half-pound of egg noodles (cooked), a can of tuna (drained and flaked) and a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, topped with canned French-fried onions and baked till bubbly. You can be fancy and gussy it up with frozen peas, fresh mushrooms or the like, but say “tuna-noodle casserole” and just about everyone will know what you mean.

But since the 1980s, tuna has become increasingly unpopular.

A 20th century phenomenon

Tuna peaked and faded within the 20th century. Americans didn’t even know what tuna was before 1900, says Andrew Smith, author of American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Fish.

Americans didn’t eat much fish at all, consuming a per capita average of only seven pounds a year, compared to nearly 60 pounds of beef, more than 60 pounds of pork, and more than 15 pounds of chicken, according to US Department of Agriculture estimates. Most of what they did eat was fresh or cured, a bit of it was frozen, and most of it was salmon.

In the early 20th century, new fishing technologies enabled fishermen to catch 40-pound tunas, and canners found a way to remove the excess oil, creating a product that tasted more like chicken than like seawater. It was high in protein, low in fat – and low in price.

Annual per capita consumption of canned tuna jumped. Except for the World War II years, when nothing was available from Japanese fishermen, Americans ate more tuna every year. For those of you who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, here’s a vintage Starkist Tuna ad featuring the inimitable Charlie Tuna. …

Then, between 1999 and 2013, canned seafood sales (of which tuna is by far the leading variety) fell by 30 percent, and accounted for only 16 percent of all US fish and seafood consumption.

A variety of factors

What happened? The decline can be blamed on a variety of factors:

  • Health concerns: Tuna absorbs  methylmercury, and consuming it can have a negative affect on many aspects of health. In 1970, after testing canned tuna and finding unsafe levels of mercury, the US Food and Drug Administration recalled almost 1 million cans of the fish. The National Fisheries Institute blames misreporting of the 1970s data and points to the nutritional benefit of canned tuna. But many  groups, including the Environmental Protection Agency, recommend limiting tuna intake.
  • A concern about dolphins: Tuna fishing, which uses nets, can kill dolphins, sharks and other fish that share the same waters. In the late 1980s, consumers began boycotting tuna out of concern for dolphins. Some canners began buying from fishermen who didn’t  harm dolphins, labeling their products “dolphin safe,” and the USDA created a legal definition for that term. The US also prohibited importation of tuna from countries whose fleets killed more dolphins than US fishermen did. The “dolphin safe” label does not entirely satisfy many American consumers, who remain leery about buying tuna because of the danger of tuna fishing to dolphins.

  • Expense: Tuna isn’t as cheap as it once was, partly due to a declining supply. Canned tuna is now more expensive than canned salmon. If the price of the tuna brand you buy has not gone up in the past few years, you can bet the size of the can has decreased.
  • A preference for fresh food: Americans are less interested in canned foods of all kinds, and instead prefer fresh.
  • A distrust of imported food: Many people don’t trust animal products produced in Asia or South America. Starkist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea control nearly three-quarters of the US canned tuna market, but all three are foreign-owned.

Market monitors expect canned seafood sales volumes to dip by an additional 3 percent by 2018.

Me, I still love a nice tuna salad made with celery, scallion and mayo with lettuce and tomato on multigrain bread. The tuna salad recipe below includes macaroni, so it’s not for sandwiches. It’s a great picnic dish, but also good for potlucks and school or office lunches.



Just for the kale of it

When it came time to plant our garden last year, we considered lettuce.

We changed our minds, though, when we realized that lettuce is cheap to buy in the supermarket, and even more importantly, it has a very short growing season; to have lettuce all season long you have to keep planting more seed.

Better we should plant kale, I said, because it sells for about $4 a pound and the plants keep producing until well into the fall, even after a frost.

Indeed, enjoyed fresh kale until late November!

We still like kale, even though it seems to have passed its peak as a trendy vegetable.

A few years ago you couldn’t turn around without bumping into food columns about kale and kale dishes galore in restaurants. Someone even invented kale chips by baking kale leaves; you can still find these in high-end food stores at hugely inflated prices.

This year’s “it” vegetable seems to be the humble cauliflower. Cabbage and brussels sprouts are also increasingly popular. One of the trends that’s bumping kale out of hipness is “kalettes,” a hybrid of kale and brussels sprouts, which produces clumps of small, curly leaves.

They’re all related members of the “cole” family, descended from wild cabbage, a group that also includes broccoli, kohlrabi and collards.

I thought I’d say something about kale before it totally disappears into mundanity.

Nothing new about kale

Until the end of the Middle ages, kale was among the most common green vegetables in Europe.

Kale was introduced into Canada and then into the U.S. by Russian traders in the 19th century, says Wikipedia.

Britain encouraged home cultivation of kale as part of the Dig for Victory campaign during World War II. Kale was easy to grow and provided important nutrients for a diet constrained by rationing.

When I was growing up, when the only lettuce we knew was iceberg and dinner vegetables came from a can or the freezer, no one ever mentioned kale!

Kale has lots of beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and it’s rich in calcium. Kale is also a source of lutein, zeaxanthin and su lforaphane, a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties.

So what do you do with it?

First of all, remove the tough stems. Then chop or shred the leaves.

You can stir fry it in a little olive oil, then add a splash of balsamic vinegar just before serving. Or, as in the photo above, add a handful of raisins and some toasted pine nuts.

Like cabbage and spinach, kale cooks down to a fraction of its raw volume so you’ll need a big bunch of it to serve just a few people.

Raw kale is very popular for salads, but it’s can be hard to chew and also somewhat bitter.

I like this salad recipe for “massaged” kale salad. Rubbing salt and lemon juice into the leaves softens them. Adding honey to the dressing and mango to the salad counteracts the bitterness. The result is a very attractive and healthful dish.


A love affair with beets

A Note from Bobbie Lewis: Here’s another wonderful guest blog from Isaac DeLamatre, head of the kitchens at Antioch College. Personally, I don’t like beets, even though I’m a big veggie fan and I’ve been tempted by many beet dishes that look delicious. I think it’s genetic, because my dad, who also loved veggies, wouldn’t eat beets. Someone once said beets taste like dirt smells; that about describes it for me! But my husband loves them, and I know lots of my readers do too, so enjoy Isaac’s offering.

Velvety, blood red, roasted and peeled. Beets resemble recently removed hearts floating in post-op flotsam. It would be grim if they were not so delicious.

The voluptuous tuber of this particular beta vulgaris (known colloquially as the “beet root” or in days gone as the “blood turnip”) absorbs from the earth esoteric wisdom and is an apothecary of vitamins and medicinal applications. Carbohydrate sugars and amino acids abound; you will not tire of the copious amounts of beets coming in from markets and gardens throughout the fall and winter months.

When roasted, cooled, peeled and sliced, the beet root acquires the soft, velvety texture of sashimi. It slithers as it is chewed, releasing its flavors, and happiness, and satisfaction.

Beveled, slender, scarlet and fuchsia stalks burst upward towards the sky elevating and supporting deep green, red veined solar snares. Each leaf perfectly able to use raw sunlight as a catalyst to transform UV rays into plant energy and edible carbohydrates. Each tuber perfectly able to harvest minerals from the soil and make them available for human consumption. Each plant perfectly succulent.

In search of the inherent wisdom of beets and the truths that they seem to embody, I have come to realize that the beet is the personification of truth itself. I cannot yet define how or articulate why, but slice open a fresh beet and gaze at the infinite fractal display of beauty within. Then count yourself lucky, as the universe has just shown you its face.

Sweet and juicy, the peppery citrus-flavored leaves of the young beet are fantastic eaten raw. As the plant matures, gentle-heat cooking methods are suitable for preparing the green tops.

Steam the greens and season them with salt, pepper and a little vinegar or toss them with a little tamari and sesame oil for a basic dinner side. Sauté them and fold them into an omelet or scrambled eggs to get your fiber and energy; beets are high in B vitamins, making them great vegetables for which to break-fast and start your day.

Innumerable ways to cook them

The beets are of such outstanding virtue they have lent themselves to be prepared utilizing any culinary preparation currently employed by human beings. The humble beet has graced my palate as deep-fried roasted beets with schichimi togarashi at Austin’s famed East Side Kings food truck,as lacto-fermented beet kvass from Fab Ferments in Cincinnati, and as raw slaws shredded up at home.

One of my mother-in-law’s favorite preparations is beets cubed, tossed in salt, pepper and oil, and roasted with other root vegetables of the season like sweet potatoes and turnips. Everyone I know has a grandmother with a recipe for borscht, each one different from the other, like so many snowflakes.

If you decide to take a stab at growing beets yourself, beware. The deer and bunnies love the tops of beets and will appreciate the imprudently guarded garden. They will thank you by mowing them to the ground.

When selecting beets, choose those that are very firm, with stout, crisp, intact greens and stems. They should shimmer and glow when halved, revealing the complex patterns and rich colors inside. Old or low-quality beets will appear dry, ashy and limp. Do not bring these beets home with you. Reject the beets that are soft and doughy or misshapen.

Below is a recipe that will deliver satisfaction to the most novice or senior beet aficionado. You will have no problem creating a worthy dish with even the most elementary of techniques and preparations.