Afternoon Delight

 

Yesterday I fell in love with a carrot.

It happened when I picked up my first share of winter vegetables provided by a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm down the road. What a lovely surprise it was to walk into the old barn and see a gorgeous display of unusual vegetables, some that I have never eaten before, such as a black radish and kohlrabi.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to try a shiny, freshly dug carrot. This exquisite carrot was like no other I have ever tasted. Suddenly the world stopped as this sweet carrot catapulted me into a total being experience. All my senses were filled with excitement and joy. (Later that night, I found myself feeling sorry for all the people in the world who would never be able to experience a carrot like this. Then I wished everyone could.)

Laura, the farmer, mentions that the variety is Hercules. Oh. That explains it. A divine, God-like carrot. A perfect infusion of firm, strong flesh, smooth skin and indescribable taste mingled with spirit. If paradise had a flavor, this would be it. Sweet, like heaven! As I devour this carrot, it leaves me wanting more … and more … and more. Carrot, you’re my hero!

The carrot’s sweetness, Laura tells me, comes from the winter’s cold. Do they sit in the soil trembling? Is this why I felt a shiver go up and down my spine with the first bite? Do they store the summer sun and, in their resting state, concentrate energy? Yes! Every cell of my body knows this.

I will toss a few into a Greek salad tonight, to commemorate this awakening. And my body will delight in this incredible gift of nourishment and bounty of blissful sensations.

PS The Latin name for carrots  is Daucus carota and you can get the seeds here:  http://www.johnnyseeds.com/vegetables/carrots/main-crop-carrots/hercules-f1-carrot-seed-2735.html

The Disappearing Bolognese

Over the years, I’ve dialed back my expectations about Christmas and unplugged from all the frenetic rushing around that often accompanies it. Ironically, the more I do this,  the more I enjoy it. I love to create spaciousness around the holiday, which gives me the time and inner peace to notice the procession of simple, quiet pleasures that are plentiful this time of year. Joyful little things such as light in all its softer forms: flickering candles, twinkling lights and sparkling glitter. The darker days encourage me to slow down and this gives me time to notice and savor these small moments.

My favorite holiday tradition is making a double batch of Marcella Hazan’s classic slow-cooked bolognese sauce in my big copper kettle. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/marcella-hazans-bolognese-sauce-50063585. When served over quinoa pasta or spaghetti squash and topped with genuine parmigiano-reggiano cheese, it makes a splendid, easy meal to serve guests. I purchase the parmesan via The Joy of Plenty way at half the retail price and buy the beef directly from the farmer. I use organic ingredients too, which definitely kicks the eating experience up a notch. This is six-star cooking at its best.

My favorite memory of this sauce occurred in 2007. I assembled it in the early afternoon and instructed my then 16 year old son to stir it every 30 minutes while I was at a wine tasting party. William had just purchased the very first iPhone and set the alarm to ring every 30 minutes. So, I left confident knowing that the sauce was going to bubble away in good hands.

When I came home at five, I checked the sauce. It was two-thirds gone!! Apparently every time William stirred the sauce, he ate some. Oh oh. Lesson learned: don’t leave sauce stirring in the hands of a hungry teenager!

I don’t quite remember what happened next. I have a vague recollection of going to the grocery store and buying cooked prawns and cocktail sauce or something.

To this day, this memory frequently drifts across my mind and I still chuckle. Ho Ho Ho.

Merry Christmas to you, dear readers!

 

The Great Stuffed Pumpkin

Most of us know by now that it’s quite difficult to find poultry, especially turkeys, that have been fed organic feed and raised in healthy, spacious conditions. Grocery stores tend to sell only genetically modified turkeys that eat genetically modified food – food that has been modified to withstand large concentrations of pesticides. Ugh. Yet a beautifully browned bird coming out of the kitchen on a platter is a festive centerpiece that’s difficult to top.

My associate, Dianne Ruff, created a wonderful alternative. She calls it “The Great Stuffed Pumpkin.” Like most good cooks, she doesn’t use a recipe but she did manage to write this one down for us. Thank you, Dianne!

Over time, Dianne has contributed many fine ideas to help create The Joy of Plenty. She loves all things food and farming. She’s been the Executive Director of the Portland Farmers Market, founding member of the Oregon Farmers Market Association, a member of the Multnomah Food Policy Council and currently teaches for the Food Matters Program sponsored by the Oregon Food Bank.

Dianne Ruff

Her recipe is an excellent example of the freedom a person can experience when they cook using The Joy of Plenty way. Mix and match the ingredients, use what you have on hand. Improvise and discover the music of food and be a symphony conductor in your own kitchen.

Here goes, in her own words:

This “recipe” makes an impressive centerpiece for a special meal and is a great choice for a vegetarian holiday option. You can find most of the ingredients in your pantry. Use your favorite stuffing recipe or follow my suggestions. If you aren’t serving vegetarians, a pound of browned sausage or some bacon make a great addition. If you want to make it vegan just omit the cheese and use coconut milk instead of cream. I’ve even made it with gluten free bread, but my favorite is with an artisan loaf of peasant bread.

Select an heirloom winter squash. The Rouge D’Etampes or Cinderella squash makes an especially beautiful presentation. I’ve also used Kabocha and Hubbard. The amounts listed here make enough to fill a 5 pounder. If you can, pick one with a stem – it will make a charming cap for your masterpiece. Be sure and save yourself some grief and ask the nice person in the produce section (or the farmer at the market) to cut the top off for you. Cut it just like you would to make a jack-o-lantern.

On the day before you want to make the stuffing, rough cube a loaf of artisan bread. Spread the cubes on cookie sheets. You should have enough to lightly cover two sheets and still have a piece or two to munch while your working. Pop the sheets into a 150-200-degree oven and let them dry out. After an hour, turn the oven off and leave the cubes to continue drying until you’re ready to use them. Just don’t forget and turn the oven on high for some other project (like I did). Your kitchen will still smell like burnt toast the next day when your guests arrive.

Time to get serious – dice a large onion, 5 or 6 stalks of celery, and a poundish of white mushrooms or if you have them on hand, you can use dried. Sauté in a little oil until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms cooked. (Along in here, if no one is looking, I toss in a half a cube of butter.) Add a generous tablespoon of fresh minced sage. Some dried poultry spice is also good.

While things are sautéing chop a cup of your favorite nuts – walnut, pecan, or hazelnut – whichever you have in the pantry – and toast in a dry skillet until they start to smell yummy. Do you have some olives on hand? A cup of sliced olives tastes great in your stuffing. Another great pantry item to add is dried cranberries, a generous half-cup will punch up the flavor. What about some chestnuts?

In a large mixing bowl add the sautéed mixture, the nuts, olives and cranberries. To make the stuffing really special, add 8 ounces of cubed Gruyere cheese. Don’t be shy with the salt, pepper and fresh parsley. Taste and adjust as needed.

Here’s where you need to make a judgment call. The mixture needs to be moistened. You don’t want it mushy, but you do want it wet enough to slightly hold together when you squeeze a handful. Start with a half a cup of stock (and a splash of white wine if you’re inclined) and work your way up.

Before filling your squash, scrape out the seeds and strings. Smear some butter or olive oil around the inside and generously salt and pepper.

At last, you’re ready to stuff your masterpiece. Really pack it in there. Top it off by drizzling ½ cup of cream over the stuffing. Replace the lid and transfer to a parchment covered cookie sheet or low baking dish. Now’s the time to think about how you’ll get the cooked squash to a serving platter. After all this, I want to display mine on a pedestal cake plate in the center of the table. Alas, sometimes the squash becomes too soft and will need to be served from a low bowl or straight from the baking dish.

Bake in the center of a 350-degree oven for ninety minutes (more or less – the time depends on the size of your squash). Poke the squash with a fork and when it offers no resistance it’s done. About half way through baking remove the lid so the stuffing can brown.

Allow the squash to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a serving dish. Replace the cap at a jaunty angle and stand back and admire your handiwork. Mushroom gravy and cranberry sauce make the perfect accompaniments. Anyway you serve your squash, it’s an impressive and delicious dish – and it’s even tastier the next day.

Try it, you’ll like it!

Thank-full

With Thanksgiving and the holidays upon us, I’ve been asking myself what I am most thankful for. There are so many things, it’s difficult to narrow down the list. But one category stands tall above the rest.

It’s the continuous string of divine sensations I experience throughout the day, every day. Who says heaven is somewhere else? Maybe it is, but it’s here and now, too – I experience heaven infused deeply into my flesh.

Heaven is in the velvety fur of Kat’s ears, the soothing purr of her kitty motor, and her warmth on my lap as she helps me write every morning. It’s in the deep, glossy orange-red of my morning breakfast tea as it reflects the light from the lamp, the tea’s sweet and astringent flavors, and the music of the kettle as it lovingly heats up my water.

It’s in the warm tickling of the shower spray as it cascades down the back of my neck and shoulders. Try it. Notice.

No matter what is or isn’t happening in my life, heaven presents itself in these small moments of fleeting, yet continuous pleasure. Together, they knit a thick blanket that warms me with joy and comfort, especially on those days when I feel jangled or out of sorts. I experience one lovely sensation after another and then look forward to the next. For those moments, the whirring busy-ness of life steps back and the richness of the “now moment” steps forward. Love expresses itself this way, baby.

And then there’s food. Who says you can’t eat chocolate for breakfast? Certainly not me! I dip 85 percent organic chocolate into freshly ground peanut butter. The contrast of crunch and creamy is a lovely way to start the day, along with the rush of all that feel-good stuff that’s embedded in the chocolate. And I give thanks for the complex flowery licorice taste of fennel pollen that I sprinkle like fairy dust onto a simple cauliflower dish. This transforms the humble vegetable into a meal fit for a king or a queen. Don’t know any royalty? Maybe you do! Because when you are following the Joy of Plenty way, everyone eats like royalty. So invite yourself or a friend for dinner and be a king or a queen.

Isabel Montclaire

Introducing the Hive Food Network

The first question I get asked about The Joy of Plenty is “If I’m not going to the grocery store to get food, where do I go?” 

Where you go is The Hive Food Network. It answers that question, and I guarantee it will make the whole subject of buying food much more fun. And you’ll look back someday and wonder how you ever got along without it.

The Hive Food Network is:

  • The Joy of Plenty pantry partners and groups connecting with wholesale and  farm-direct food suppliers.
  • A way for farmers to tap directly into organic food markets.
  • A community based on respecting others and sharing connections,        knowledge, and kindness.
  • A way to improve pollinator health by increasing the demand for organic food and decreasing the need for toxic pesticides.
  • An avenue of creative reform for the current food system.

The Hive gives you the ability to leapfrog over intermediaries, and this increases your purchasing power. Buying food via The Hive stretches your food dollars by about 40 percent, so you can afford to buy more organic food. If you are already eating mostly organic, you can use the money you save for something else – or you can just save it! In some cases, the food won’t cost less, but the quality will be much higher. And it’s like going on a treasure hunt  you can sometimes find items that seldom appear in grocery stores. 

When you’re in The Hive, you’ll be able to eat as if you are dining at a five-star restaurant because you will be buying the same kind of food famous chefs buy. Except by doing it yourself, you can kick up your eating experience from five stars to six stars. Think six-star cooking and six-star kitchen. Why not? I have done it – I know you can do it, too. 

Over time, we have experienced inflation in the cost of food. This is the result not only of higher prices, but also of the lowering of the quality of food. Many of us don’t even know what we are missing that incredible sensual pleasure of extraordinarily high-quality, “high-vibe food. The kind of food that not only tastes utterly fabulous, but also feels good to eat. The kind of food that has an aura, which puts a whole other spin on the idea of soul food. And you can be free from worry that the animal you are eating was treated inhumanely and raised in slavery. You can be free from worry that the produce you are eating was heavily sprayed with pesticides that are weakening the bees and that those residues are accumulating in your body.

Protecting the bees is probably the best reason to participate in The Hive. Overuse of agricultural pesticides has been linked to the decline in the bee population, so the sooner we can reduce our society’s dependence on pesticides, the better. The more organic food we buy, the greater the likelihood that there will be bees around to pollinate food for future generations. Or, as Elise B.C. says, “We once grew food without chemicals. We never grew food without bees.”

The Hive Food Network will be built by everyone who participates, friends joining with friends and friends joining with farmers, in a spontaneous and creative uprising. The blueprint for The Hive is in my book, The Joy of Plenty

In The Hive Food Network, food is love. What could be better?

A Dream Come True

Late one evening a few weeks ago, I read the letter I had written to my dear friend Lolita a couple of years earlier when she was on her deathbed. Out of left field, I broke down and cried uncontrollably for several hours. It was the kind of crying that went straight to the jugular, the intensity so great there was no doubt I was fully alive. This wasn’t the painful, bleak, black, broken-hearted kind of crying, but rather the kind that felt like a thunderous, pounding rain.

Over the next few days, I reflected on this experience. Why had I grieved her death more than I had grieved any other person’s, even those whom I had known far longer and who were much closer to me? This didn’t make any sense.

But then it dawned on me. She made my lifelong dream come true. And she gave it to me in grand style, served up on a silver platter. What greater gift can a person give to others than to help them realize their deepest dreams? The tears were the thankful kind, The Joy of More Than Plentiful kind.

The tears were also an ode to that mysterious hand that had so serendipitously delivered the gift to me. Yes, the universe was listening to me – and my dream just got happened. What was my dream? To ride safely with freedom, ease and perfect balance through the countryside with a seat so secure it felt glued to the saddle. I wanted to feel as if my horse and I had dived deep into the beauty of a Monet painting.

And beautiful the countryside was – everywhere. I rode in one fabulous painting after another. Like the day we rode just after a freezing rain. The sun was out and thousands of icicles hanging everywhere reflected shimmering, prismatic light against a cloudless, bright blue sky. The clear, cold air blowing on my face and filling my lungs felt as pure as pure could be.

Or the day when we stopped at sunset after an invigorating gallop around the “big daddy field” and witnessed the sun and the full moon exactly opposite each other, perched on the horizon. It seemed we were caught in the pull of a tender love song, whose title could have been “Come Closer, I’m Here for You.” Quincy, my paint quarter horse, was the drummer. He grew impatient and pawed his hoof in a rhythmic request to get moving.

Then there was the time when a murder of cawing, black crows swirled against a background of charcoal clouds while majestic Mt. Hood, freshly dusted in pristine white snow, held court in the distance. In the foreground, the Hood’s shoulder touched the holly tree’s bright red berries and shiny green leaves. The color palate was beyond exquisite. Monet would have loved it.

Even Quincy was part of the special beauty that surrounded me. He had the most beautiful patches I had ever seen, as if they were outlined with a paintbrush. He had one blue eye and one brown eye, and it seemed as if a highly skilled makeup artist had painted black eyeliner around his eyes. No matter how many times I brushed his face, I always laughed.

Isabel Montclaire

I’ve experienced my ultimate dream – so what do I dream of now? I dream that millions of people throughout the world will join together to repair our broken agricultural system through a face-to-face social network where people will actually talk to each other. I dream that we will join forces to create radiant health for people, pollinators and our planet through affordable organic food. I dream that this network will be created through a spontaneous and loving uprising. I’ve heard this kind of network called a “decentralized autonomous organization.”

I dream of food as life. I dream of better food for a better future. I dream that organic food is the norm, not the exception, and that it becomes our national medicine. I dream of no back-of-mind worries about all the pesticides I am eating or about what those pesticides are doing to the bees. And so on. You get the idea.

I’ve named this network “The Hive Food Network.” If you dream of eating a diet consisting solely of organic food, I’m here to help you because my dream now is to make your dream come true. Just like Lolita did for me.

Let’s dream together and enjoy the beautiful ride.

*Portrait by Eve Holloran

Nirvana in the Real World

My next riding experience offered me the opportunity to witness chemical-intensive agriculture, or stated another way, to repeatedly see the huge amount of chemicals used to grow crops and raise animals.

After rehabilitating injured racehorses, I rode my paint quarter horse, Quincy, with my friend Lolita on her family’s 480-acre working farm. The land had been in her family since 1912 – that’s five generations. According to Lolita, the farm had a lot of stories to tell. At the time, they were leasing the land to a hazelnut orchardist, a grass seed farmer and a cattle rancher. It is oddly ironic that although the farm met the acreage definition of a small farm, large-scale industrial agriculture practices were used to cultivate the crops.

A perfectly manicured trail meandered throughout the farm. Spectacular vistas of Mt. Hood and its rolling foothills framed the farm’s bottomland pastures. A river ran through it. A lone white swan occupied a pond in the middle of a wood and would make a point of spooking our horses by swiftly flying straight up when we rode by. Having lived in England, I often had the feeling I was riding through a beautiful English country estate. Once in a while, Lolita and I would see a coyote and pretend it was a fox and chase it around, minus the hounds. No matter how fast we galloped, though, it would always elude us.

My experience was perpetually the same – on every ride, every cell of my body overflowed with wonderment and gratitude that I was able to ride there. I’d pinch myself and think, This is too good to be true. I learned that nirvana does exist: It’s right here, right now, not some other where on some other day.

While we rode, Lolita and I would discuss the world’s problems and try to figure out solutions. Chemical-intensive agriculture was a frequent topic because we were seeing it firsthand. The farmers used a constant procession of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and it seemed like every couple of weeks during the growing season something or other was being applied. Countless times, Lolita called me to cancel our ride because some big machine was out there spraying pesticides, and we didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire of pesticide drift. Lolita was constantly concerned that the chemicals were damaging the soil. The harshness of it all was difficult to ignore. Death, death, death. There must be a better way, I thought.

I learned the cattle that grazed on the lush grass of those pastures had time-released bovine growth hormones clipped to their ears. Yes, grass-fed cows can be pumped full of hormones. Buyer beware.

My horse went lame and Lolita was diagnosed with brain cancer all in the same year. The letter I wrote to her when she was on her deathbed remains to this day the best writing I have ever done. Someday I may publish it. When I return to the farm for a visit, I break down and cry. The emotions are a potent, soupy mix of sadness, joy, and gratitude, and they are slow to fade with time.

Deep love hides behind the curtain of grief.

Profound Transformation

The city of Wilsonville appointed me to the planning commission because they knew that I was a horsewoman and that people who are involved with horses tend to have a deep respect for the land. I’ve always loved the country and anything related to growing food: farms, ranches, orchards, vineyards, corn mazes, hay rides, harvest festivals, farmer’s markets, and so on. My earliest memories are of eating dirt in my family’s greenhouse and my father pushing me around the garden in a wheelbarrow overflowing with leaves. I feel a deep connection to Earth, and I am in tune with the seasons and the lunar rhythms.

I started riding when I was nine but when I was a young woman, I could not afford to keep a horse. However, I discovered I could get paid to exercise thoroughbred racehorses, so I did that throughout my 20s. After that, I rehabilitated horses that were injured on the racetracks and then found them homes.

My all-time favorite mount was Pete the Greek, a sleek black thoroughbred who raced at the Santa Anita track in Los Angeles. He was a celebrity there and drew a big crowd. Pete broke his leg and had surgery that at the time was state-of-the-art. Sadly, he was making too much money to take off enough time to fully heal, and the leg ended up breaking again in the same place. After another surgery, he mysteriously came to me (it was one of those hard-to-explain, love-at-first-sight things). He was permanently cranky, but it never bothered me because I knew he didn’t really mean to be that way.

I exercised him methodically and with great care, and he healed to the point at which he could take me for quite a gallop. Pete was a true professional, and he seemed to take pride in his ability to carry me with such precise balance, as if I were a fine china teacup perched up there on his back. His speed was both exhilarating and scary. Once in a while, he’d kick in his jet engines and I’d feel as if I were flying. I could feel his joy at being able to run so fast again. Sadly, the time came when I had to put him down. Sometimes I dream I am flying with Pegasus, and I wonder if that might be Pete coming for a visit.

Isabel Montclaire

Throughout my life, I’ve tried to figure out how to get good value for my money, to buy the best there is without paying a fortune for it. I bought Pete for one dollar, and it’s the best dollar I’ve ever spent. I learned how to do this with food, to get the highest-quality organic food possible for prices the average person can afford. That’s the essence of The Joy of Plenty, and I’m excited to begin sharing the particulars of this method with you.

*Portrait by the late Arne Westerman.

 

Introducing Isabel Montclaire

Hello, World

I would like to introduce myself and tell you about this journey I’ve been on, the journey that brought me to The Joy of Plenty way. Over time, I’d like to know more about you, too.

Isabel Montclaire

To start: How do you do? My name is Isabel Montclaire, and I envision a future where people, pollinators and our planet experience radiant health through affordable organic food. Yes! We can join together to make this future a reality. I say, “Why not?” It doesn’t cost you anything to dream – which, by the way, is the title of a song by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

This journey began about ten years ago when I became a planning commissioner for the city of Wilsonville, Oregon, where I live. My job was to advise the mayor and city council on long-term trends and my keen interest in infrastructure, the financial markets and sociology came in very handy in this work.

Wilsonville is unique because it is a suburb that sits on the outermost edge of the Portland metropolitan area, bordered by some of the world’s best agricultural farmland. Plentiful water and a mild Mediterranean climate create ideal growing conditions for a cornucopia of crops: peaches, berries, leafy greens, beets, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkins, hops, plums, grapes, cauliflower, garlic, clover, and cilantro, to name just a few.

Farmland preservation was a hot topic for Wilsonville because development was creeping in from all sides. I decided to specialize in the areas of food and water because they are so fundamental to our quality of life. The city placed a high value on farmland and protected it on the policy level, so our views were in harmony – and I was eager to learn more.

During my tenure as a planning commissioner, the city generously educated me. I attended regional and national conferences and was exposed to bright minds and innovative ideas. I was like a sponge, taking it all in. Over time, I started to piece together what in urban planning speak is called a “food system” – the process of getting food on our tables.

It begins when a farmer plants a seed and ends when a shopper plucks an item off the grocery store shelf in anticipation of preparing a meal. Believe me, there is a lot in between: Academic research. Fertilizer and pesticides, farm labor and machinery, farming cooperatives. Processing plants and warehouses. Containers, ships, ports, railroads and trucking. Refrigeration, food safety, and grocery stores. Regulators and inspectors at almost every step. Add to that the policy-level issues, such as immigration, trade, and subsidies. Understanding the complex workings of this system is called “getting the big picture.”

Unfortunately, this big picture comes with a dark side: the “agribusiness operative” that puts corporate profits ahead of the public’s health. The more of us that become aware of the inner workings of this operative, the better, because its power comes from operating undetected. Together, we can shine the light on this entity to diminish its power. To learn more, please read my book “Supercide Me”.

If you want to get beyond this big picture (minus the operative) to see the specifics, check out the 2015 Food Outlook, a biannual report on the global food markets produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations http://www.fao.org/3/a-I4581E.pdf That a single organization could even compile a report like this made me just about fall off my chair.

Early on in my education on this topic, I came to realize that deep fissures were developing in some of these systems, most notably those involved with industrialized agricultural practices. I wondered where the breakdowns would occur and how they would affect us. Could we continue to eat well? As time went on, that wondering turned into concerns about the future of our food and became a worry that wouldn’t go away. These concerns were the seeds that eventually led to the creation of The Joy of Plenty way, a method for increasing your food dollars so you can include more organic food in your pantry.