Archive for September, 2009

The Latest Food News and Adventures in Baltimore

Thanks to the generosity of the Esperance family foundation, Dr. Mark Hyman, and my colleagues at Healthcorps, I received a fellowship to attend an extremely enlightening conference in Baltimore this week. The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) is a cutting-edge organization that holds educational conferences for health care practitioners. Functional medicine is “a science-based, personalized healthcare approach that assesses and treats underlying causes of illness through individually-tailored therapies to restore health and improve function.” In other words, functional medicine treats each person as an individual and relies on very detailed lab tests (beyond what most doctors use) to identify which nutrients and cellular support the patient needs in order to regain health.  Their progressive approach focuses on boosting the immune system by using nutrition therapy and other  treatments in order to actually heal diseases – especially chronic diseases which affects millions of Americans.

It doesn’t sound nearly as exciting on paper as it does in person! I haven’t felt this kind of mental inspiration since I was a grad student at Bastyr University in the mid-90’s. (Jeff Bland, founded IFM and was also one of the original founders of Bastyr University so a lot of the information is similar.) It’s pretty cool to sit in a room with so many like-minded colleagues while we learn revolutionary therapies.

If you or someone you know could use an IFM practitioner, I highly recommend finding a Functional Medicine practitioner in your area (please note: there are still very few out there).  While the health care debate rages on and people continue to suffer from chronic disease, Functional Medicine provides a cost-effective solution that truly heals people and improves quality of life – it is the medicine for the 21st century.

Since I’m spending 9 hours a day absorbing biochemistry (at least trying to!), I don’t have much time to write a post. So, I thought I’d collect some interesting food news for you instead – a lot is happening in the Food Movement lately!

USDA Promotes Local Foods and Farming Campaign

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, announced a new campaign last week called,  “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” They are giving out $65 million to help connect small famers with communities that want (and need) access to local foods. And I am thrilled by the part of the initiative that will help children connect where their food comes from and provide more local foods in school lunches. There will be farm-to-school tactical teams to assist school administers! This means that a movement that has been struggling for years will now receive a major boost from the United States government. The Obama administration deserves major kudos for making such headway in food and agriculture in less than one year.  Very exciting!

New White House Farmer’s Market

The new White House Farmer’s Market was just christened by Michelle Obama. The Washington Post wrote a snarky article about it which I’m not linking to because I much prefer the eloquent and educational piece written by blogger, Obama Foodorama. Obama Foodorama discussed the crucial issues regarding food, families, kids, and local foods that Michelle Obama is bringing to the forefront of American politics. So many firsts: This is the first time that a First Lady and the USDA have forged a partnership – and she is also the “only First Lady to ever have a food policy agenda, a food policy team, and a Food Initiative Coordinator.” Read on to learn about how Michelle Obama is finding clever ways to improve our food system without ever stepping foot into Congress. She is truly a pioneer for the Food Movement.

Two Terrific, Short Videos to Promote Better School Lunches

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is up for re-signing next week (though it’s not clear when it will actually be signed) so two marvelous videos were created to help promote stronger nutrition guidelines in school feeding programs. One is Lunch Encounters, a spoof of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and “Priceless,” a MasterCard parody. Check out the videos and learn more about what you can do to help improve school lunches for American children.

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Family Favorite: Potato Cheese Borecas

I love teaching all kinds of recipes but it always makes me especially happy to share my Sephardic family dishes like I did this past spring at my cooking class at PCC Natural Markets.

“Sephardi” means Spanish in Hebrew. A quick explanation is that Sephardic Jews originally hailed from Spain but were booted out during the Inquisition and moved to different locations all over the world. My maternal great-grandparents’ families landed in Greece and Turkey. The Sephardic culture was so strong, that my great-grandparents still spoke Ladino (a Spanish dialect, our version of Yiddish) hundreds of years later when they ended up in Seattle in the early 1900’s.

Ladino was my Papu’s (my maternal grandpa, born in 1915) first language. Unfortunately, speaking a foreign language was not so cool in those days so he didn’t speak it much unless he wanted to get beat up. So, although I missed out on learning the language of my ancestors, I was raised with lots of terms like “huevos” for eggs and “deseo” for desiring something (usually in reference to food – of course). Sephardic Jews take their food very seriously.

My great-grandmother, Nona, was known for being a fantastic cook and baker. She made borecas and many other Sephardic pastries without following a recipe. According to family lore, she was always in the kitchen preparing something. Since many of the dishes, especially borecas, take a long time to prepare, it was common to make them in groups. It doesn’t happen often these days, but my brother and I try to make them with my mom and his kids whenever we can. It’s a wonderful way for different generations to share an activity together.

Many recipes refer to borecas with a “k” as in “borekas” but for some reason, my Grandma and Papu wrote it as “borecas” on the 1960’s recipe index card that our family still uses today – so that’s why you see me spelling it that way. Serve your borecas with an Israeli salad (diced cucumber and tomatoes), bagels and lox, and some fruit and you have a lovely brunch menu!

Borecas (Potato and Cheese Filled Pastries)

noborecasleft175pxIn Sephardic households, borecas are like gold. They take a couple of hours to prepare so whenever someone takes the time to bake them, they disappear quickly. Sephardic families from different areas of the world have their own versions – some use different cheeses, some add spinach in their filling and many use filo dough. This dough is very easy to make but you have to prepare it right before you use it – it does not keep well – and you can’t alter it or double it.


2 cups russet potatoes, mashed (around 1 pound of raw potatoes)
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon olive oil
3 beaten eggs
2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup feta (or any other strong-flavored cheese – my aunt likes Kashkaval)

4 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
1 cup water

1 egg for brushing
Garnish: 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Filling: Thoroughly scrub potatoes with vegetable brush and water. Cut in half and add to a large pot. Add enough water so that potatoes are fully submerged. Cover pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium so that a soft boil will continue until potatoes are soft (about 40 minutes). To test softness, poke a fork; they should be soft all the way through. Place potatoes in a strainer and cool.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel potatoes (discard skin) and place in a medium bowl.  Mash by hand until smooth. Measure out 2 cups. Add salt, olive oil, eggs, and cheeses. Set aside (or store in refrigerator in sealed container for up to 2 days).

Dough: In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour and salt. Push flour to the side to create a crater in the middle and add canola and water. Thoroughly mix together until moist. Knead gently to combine into a dough consistency.

boreca1_175pxRolling: Prepare flat area for rolling borecas. Roll a small amount of dough into a ball (the size of a strawberry) and roll out with a rolling pin, smooth glass or your fingers. Make sure that the dough is thin – otherwise it will get too thick in the oven.

boreca2_175px2Scoop a small amount of filling into the middle of each dough circle. Fold over into a half-moon shape.


Pinch edges together and press fork on the edge to decorate and ensure full closure.

boreca4_175px1Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or is lightly oiled. Lightly brush each boreca with extra beaten egg. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

Sometimes, I’ll make a bunch of filling and then keep making the dough, one batch at a time, until I run out of filling.

*If you’re worried this looks too hard, note that these pictures were taken in my cooking class where my students were making them for the first time!

Serves 8 to 10
Preparation and baking time: 1½ hours
Recipe adapted from Sephardic Cooking – Sephardic Biker Holim Ladies Auxiliary of Seattle © 1960s (exact year unknown)


The Key to Health is a Refined Palate

This past weekend was a major family event – we gathered together to celebrate the birth of my two new nephews. All three of my siblings and three of my cousins (who are like siblings) were in town with their respective families. As usual, every gathering revolves around a meal. This time it was at my Auntie Janet’s house – who, like most of my family members, is a wonderful cook.

The borecas are in left corner.

After we stampeded the buffet table and piled our plates high with my aunt’s homemade delicacies, I noticed that my 5 year old nephew – who makes most picky eaters look like serious gourmands – gobbled up his borecas (Sephardic potato and cheese pastries – they are in left corner of photo). Even this little guy who could live on just French fries and pizza, already shared the family love of home cooking: at age 5, his palate was already being “trained” to eat the real deal.

Observing my nephew made me think about how we often hear about the importance of introducing new foods to children – but rarely do we talk about refining their palates. Because the truth is, the more refined our palates are, the less likely we will indulge in an unworthy food.

When we regularly consume really scrumptious, superb meals, we are much less likely to reach for a carefully engineered “item,” otherwise, known as processed foods. It can be hard to figure out how to teach kids to be healthful with the rise of childhood obesity – but simply exposing them to quality meals (which happens to be fun for everyone) will minimize their preference for processed foods and set up good eating habits for life.

Turn them into food snobs (without spending a fortune):

1) Many children are naturally picky, which is normal, and will eventually  outgrow it. But if the child continues to be treated as a picky eater and never offered anything new, then their meal repertoire will never expand. I was out to dinner with my 6 year old niece – who is actually a very adventurous eater – but when I offered her soy sauce for her rice, my brother started to say she didn’t like it.  She stopped him and said she tried it at school and liked it. Keep offering new foods – they will often surprise you.

2) When you eat in a restaurant, disregard the kids menu (which is often not as healthful) and instead have them pick something from the main menu. If you don’t see many dishes that are kid-friendly, check out which vegetables and proteins are on the menu – and create your own meal. Many chefs want happy customers and are more than willing to prepare simple dishes like steamed broccoli and cauliflower or plain grilled chicken. Discuss the menu options with the kids and ask them to be creative in coming up with a meal. I’ve spoken to many people whose kids are sophisticated eaters – and a lot of that is because they keep the food conversation going.

3) Find eateries that have naturally healthful cuisines like Asian or Mediterranean restaurants. The Seattle restaurant, Boom Noodle, has wonderful bento boxes for kids that include a protein entrée, edamame, fruit and rice – all “real” food and I watched kids all over the restaurant chow down on them.

4) While cooking at home (or eating out), if your kids still opt for the usual wheat-and-dairy fare, try offering a few side dishes that will provide some extra nutrients like black beans, raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, brown rice, cubed tofu, corn, olives, sliced avocados, or any other healthful ingredients. Offer the most nutritious foods first, while they are hungry, and after they’ve had a few bites, then bring out the rest of the meal.

5) Try to use high-quality ingredients as much as possible and help them learn how to pay attention to how food tastes and smells – to enjoy and savor each bite. Ask them to describe what it tastes like – they are very imaginative. Set up a taste test between a tomato shipped in from far away and a tomato from someone’s garden. And of course, my usual advice: get them cooking!

If we put delicious, “real” food in front of children, they will eat it. And likewise, if we keep putting processed foods in front of them, they will eat that too – so let’s get them hooked on real food that’s full of nutrients as young as possible!

Read this article to find out how it’s never to early to expose children to strong flavors!

Stay tuned for the next post where I will share my family recipe (and photos) on how to prepare borecas.

My brothers, cousins, and the kids eating together.

My brothers, cousins, and the kids eating together.