Menu of the Week: A Taste of Jerusalem On Our Plate


Jerusalem: if there is a city with a a more dense and layered history, and a more contested and drama-filled present, it is hard to imagine what city that would be. Symbolic center of Judaism, third holist city of Sunni Islam, and according to Christian belief, the place where Christ died and ascended, it would seem to be almost more than one city can bare. And yet today Jerusalem is a vibrant city with a diverse population of nearly 900,000. And according to Jerusalem A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, it’s a city with a rich and diverse food culture as well. The two authors, business partners in a handful of well-regarded London restaurants, both grew up in Jerusalem. Tamimi is a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, Ottolenghi, an Italian Jew from the western part of the city, but it wasn’t until they were both living in London that they met. And a creative collaboration it has turned out to be. I don’t get excited by many cookbooks, but this one has really captured my imagination. And so, inspired by Jerusalem, the city and the cookbook, I wanted to create a menu for our Monday night dinners which would capture a bit of the flavor of that ancient city. On the plate above, you can see what we came up with. I didn’t get pictures, but there was also a chickpea soup flavored with the spice mixture ras  el hanout, and an almond cake over which I poured a syrup made with orange juice concentrate, brown rice syrup and maple syrup.  More pictures and a recipe for baba ghanoush after the jump.


Photos: Top–This is the plate we created to celebrate Jerusalem. Clockwise from center top: Whole wheat pita bread, baba ghanoush, chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, green beans and green onion, mixed baby greens and arugula salad with a citrus dressing created by Susanne, roasted sweet potato and red onions, rice with lentils and caramelized onions.  Photo above: Susanne prepares the rice and lentil dish for take out volunteers Kate and Judy. In the foreground, other components of the meal in various stages of preparation.

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Kushi Summer Conference Is Upon Us…

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A number of years ago, I had the good fortune to participate as a volunteer at the annual Kushi Institute (KI) Summer Conference.  I spent a lot of my time in the kitchen, of course, but also was able to attend a number of classes given by some the country’s leading teachers in the fields of natural cookery, healing and macrobiotics. I particularly remember a cooking class with the always-enthusiastic Christina Pirello. That conference was held on a college campus near Providence R.I., and was memorable because in addition to the hundreds of slim conference attendees, also on campus were the bulky members of the New English Patriots football team who were engaged in their preseason training camp. The contrast could not have been more stark!

This year’s conference, which runs from July 26th to August 9th, is being held at the Kushi Institute itself, at their 600-acre site in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.The folks at the KI have told me that registration is still open and you may attend all, or any part of the conference, and they will offer a 10% discount to MacroChef readers. Time at the conference could be a refreshing and inspiring way to spend a vacation, and a great place to make new friends. Full info is here.  If you do attend, could you  tell MacroChef readers about your experience in the comments section of this article?  Thanks, and I hope you are having a great summer!

Robyn’s Two Week Adventure at the Kushi Institute

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Editor’s note: Robyn Swanson (pictured above), prep cook and sous chef for our Monday night dinners in Palo Alto, recently traded two weeks in sunny California for the snowy Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. What drew her there was an immersion course in macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute.  This is her report:

I have been interested in macrobiotics ever since I became a vegetarian, back in 1995. I never cooked a lot of truly macrobiotic meals, since I enjoy simple things like taste and flavor, but I was still interested. I had always wanted to attend a program at the Kushi Institute  (K I) in Massachusetts, but living in California all of my adult life, I just never found the time. I finally decided that it was an easy enough thing to cross off my bucket list (unlike, say, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro), and so off I went. The K I is housed in two main facilities: the North Hall and the Main House. The Main House has cozy rooms and shared bathrooms, while more dormitory-style rooms and bathrooms are in the North Hall. Classes are held in both. I was housed in the Main House and was quite happy there. The place is old, as are the beds and pillow—the Four Seasons this is not—but there is both heat and wifi, so I was content. The Main House  (photo below) is old and rather spooky looking, but there is an air of calm and peace that prevails throughout both the house and the rest of the facilities. I went in March, and when I arrived, there was still a good amount of snow on the ground. Spring was waiting around the corner however, and by the time I left, much of the now had begun to melt. Main+House+in+the+snow

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The Life of An American Family Farm: A History In 33 Pictures

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People who know me, would probably agree that I’m a city kind of guy. I’ve lived in cities all my adult life, New York and Tokyo among them. At the age of four years, I think I’d already become a city kid, happily living with my parents and baby sister in a cozy apartment in south Minneapolis. So, imagine my surprise when, one bleak November day, I found myself moving with my family to a dark and drafty  farm house, in what seemed the middle of nowhere. I later learned that I had landed in Sharon Township, Le Sueur County, about sixty miles south of Minneapolis.

Our neighbors likely wondered who were these city folk, who thought they might try to make a living out of a not-very-prosperous-looking farm. It was true, neither my mother nor my father had grown up anywhere near Sharon Township, but my mother’s mother’s family, the Joneses, could trace their history there back to the 1850’s, even before Minnesota became a state. It was my mother’s great-grandfather who emigrated from Wales to take up farming in Minnesota, and it was his son, D.W. Jones who in 1884 bought the farm where we were to live, and who in 1895 built the compact, plain and by now run-down house which became our home. By 1948, the farm had been rented out and rather neglected for a couple of decades after my great-grandparents retired from farming and moved to town. My father, who grew up on a marginal farm in central Minnesota, came to farming with a great set of practical skills, including carpentry, mechanics and plumbing. He would need all those skills and more, as he learned that farming was and is a tough way to make a living.

A great deal has changed in American agriculture in the more than sixty-five years since our family returned to the farm. In the 1940’s, 160 acres was considered a good sized farm and most farms were diversified, growing crops such as wheat, barley, oats, flax, alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and sometimes peas and sweet corn on contract for canning companies. Many farms also maintained a small dairy herd, raised hogs, and nearly all had at least a few chickens. And not incidentally, many farms still lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. Like so much else in America, everything has gotten larger: the fields, the tractors, the equipment, the inputs of costly fertilizer and insecticides. In the 19th Century more half of all Americans lived and worked on farms, now between one and two percent of us do. And those few farmers produce more than ever.

My father did modestly well as a farmer, but he started to do better when he began building houses in nearby towns. He continued farming, however, until my brother John took over in the late 1970’s. John acquired an additional 105 acres, built himself a new house, and eventually decided in 1999 to give up farming and devote himself to what had been his hobby: restoring classic cars and dealing in old car parts and memorabilia. John tells me that while he liked being his own boss, the uncertainty of the weather, and volatility of commodity prices made farming stressful. And so, the farm land is once again being rented out, the farmstead  decaying. Likely, in the not distant future, the farmstead’s remaining buildings will be knocked down, the land plowed, and, as has happened countless times, another family farm’s history will be erased.

Farming has changed profoundly from something families did together employing human and animal labor, to become an industrial-scale business where management skills are primary. Yes, there is a bit of a trend to small, intensively-planted organic farms, but for most farmers “get big, or get out” is still the reality.

So, here in 33 pictures, mostly taken from slides my father made in the 1940’s-1970’s, are highlights from the 130-year history of one family farm.  Thanks to Steve, our family historian, and to my mother for their help with this project.

————- get-attachment.aspx Photos: Top, My great-grandparents, D.W. and Jane Jones. In 1884, they bought the farm where I was reared, and built the house eleven years later. Photo above: the farm house around the turn of the 20th Century. Note the huge wood pile. This was not only for heating the house, but was a source of income. The farm was in what had been known as the “Big Woods,” and a lot of trees still remained. So, D.W. and a hired hand chopped wood and took it to market in the nearby town of St. Peter where it was shipped out west where wood was scarce. 18Alind-R1-E015 The house was little changed when we moved to the farm in November 1948. 18Alind-R1-E020 My dad got his camera out to record this frost-in-the-trees display in the 1950’s.   Continue reading

Faces & Places: More of My Father’s Color Photos of Southern California in the 1940’s




Three years ago I posted a dozen or so images digitized from 35 mm colored slides my father made in Southern California in the 1940’s. Those photos were viewed by far more people than anything ever on MacroChef, and a number of commentators asked if there might be more. Having looked through hundreds of slides, I’ve found another batch of photos evocative of that long ago time and place. I hope you enjoy them.



Photos: Top, a day at Santa Monica Pier, a destination for fishing and amusements since 1909, and more recently, also a historical landmark.  Above: Los Angeles Union Station, built in 1939 in a modernized Mission revival style, is still in use today. Amtrak, commuter rail, and Los Angeles’ new subway lines combine to make it the busiest rail station on the West Coast. (Click on any photo to enlarge it)


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These 10 Tips Will Make Life In the Kitchen So Much Better!




Editor’s Note: Recently I was reminded of  this post which I wrote several years ago, and as MacroChef has added many new readers, it seemed worthwhile to post again. Enjoy!

Although I’ve been cooking professionally for thirty years, sometimes I still feel like a beginner. The culinary world is so vast that what I’ve learned is just a fraction of what there is to know. Aware as I am of my limitations, I hesitate to offer advice–but sometimes I do anyway! So, here is my list of ten tips which, if you take them to heart, could help make you a more confident and polished cook. Much of this, frankly, I’ve learned the hard way, and I pass these suggestions along to you in hopes that you can avoid some of my missteps. Also, I’d love it if you’d offer some kitchen tips of your own. What kitchen wisdom have you discovered which you’d like to share? Comments welcome.

1. Start with a good knife. You really don’t need most kitchen gadgets if you have a good knife. I like the all purpose chef”s knives made by Wusthof or Henckels. While these knives can be pricy, they’re a good investment as they can last for decades. Try out various models to find the size and handle shape most comfortable for you. Shop around and you’ll probably find a deal. Also, invest in a diamond steel to keep your knife sharp. If you have an old, dull, but quality knife, have it professionally sharpened and then maintain the edge with a steel.

2. These are also essential: a roomy cutting board, a micro plane grater, kitchen shears and an instant read thermometer. The later is especially useful if you cook meat, fish or poultry, but an instant read thermometer will tell you if your food is heated through, no matter what it is. From a food safety standpoint, food should be heated to 140˚ F or more. I prefer the nondigital thermometers because they don’t need batteries.

3. Maintain a properly-stocked pantry. By that I mean, stock the essential ingredients you constantly use: salt, soy sauce, miso, vinegars, oil, stock, canned tomatoes, pasta, whatever those are, for your cooking style. Also, herbs and spices. Buy these in small quantities in bulk, if possible, and toss away those more than a year old. Read seven more kitchen tips after the jump…

Photo above: Chef Chuck Collison constructs a vibrant salad, last summer at the Saratoga Springs Retreat Center.

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Two Years On, My House Becomes More and More My Home




Those of you who have followed this blog may remember that in addition to cooking, one of my passions is interior design. So when I bought my first house in April of 2012, I was finally able to begin to create a home that was completely mine. Back then I promised I would occasionally update you on my progress. I’ve been remiss on keeping that promise, alas. Today, I hope to make up for that, with photos of my living room, dining room, and my new guest room, which I’m calling the Moroccan room. In another post, very soon, there’ll be photos of my kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. Thanks for your patience. Comments, good, bad, indifferent, are indeed welcome!



Photos:  Top–The platter in the niche above the fireplace was found by my friend and decorating co-conspirator, Frank Melanson. It is believed to  be Tunisian.  Above: The living room as seen from the foyer.  I originally painted the living room and dining room gold, but that proved to be too dull, so I repainted it a brighter, yellowy cream (many more photos after the jump). See what my home looked like in December 2012 here.

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Inspired By A Trip to Spain, We Celebrate a New Year

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I think it was my grandmother who first told me that the older one gets, the faster time goes by.  Back then, it didn’t mean much to me, but it surely does now. It seems like we’ve barely celebrated the start of one year, when the next one slaps us in the face. For twenty years, I’ve marked the beginning of each year with an open house, inviting friends and acquaintances to come for food, drink and conversation. Perhaps it is my hope that through this ritual we can, if only for a moment, quiet the forward rush of time. Also, I love the idea of  colorful characters from the many parts of my life coming together, and getting to know one another. This year, on the second Sunday in January, upwards of forty people dropped by mi casita. Having had the privilege of spending two weeks in Spain last fall, and taking a cooking class in Barcelona,  a Spanish theme seemed inevitable. And so, inspired by the food of Spain, I created a menu, not authentically Spanish perhaps, but rather my impression of a few Spanish dishes, cooked in my style. So, here in pictures and words, are the dishes I served, with a couple of recipes and the complete menu following at the end.

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Photo at the top–Vegetable Paella. Medium grain brown rice sautéed along with diced onion, garlic, tomato and a pinch of smoked paprika and of saffron, cooked in lightly-salted vegetable stock. When the rice is nearly done (about 5o minutes later), I added in diced, steamed  carrot, butternut squash and  sweet potato, and continued cooking for about ten minutes. At this point, I seasoned the paella with a generous sprinkling of umeboshi vinegar (find this in a good natural food store, or substitute a bit of lemon juice and additional salt). Just before serving, I stirred in thawed frozen peas.

Photo above: Seafood Salad.  Surprisingly, I found an exceptionally nice seafood mixture (raw shrimp, scallops, calamari and cooked mussels) at Costco. A day ahead, I briefly steamed some diced fresh fennel and then marinated it in a mixture of orange and lemon juices (along with the zest), mirin, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper (save the feathery fennel leaves for garnish). Separately, I marinated thinly-sliced raw red onion in a similar mixture. The morning of the party, I quickly cooked the shell fish (when the shrimp is firm and thoroughly pink, the seafood is ready). Then I combined the briefly-cooked shell fish with the marinated fennel and red onion. The marinade from the vegetables was almost enough for the entire dish, but I did add some more orange and lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. This can be served chilled or at room temperature.


All photos by Robert Starkey

More photos and descriptions after the jump… Continue reading

Q: What Would You Do If You Had Only One Afternoon In Paris?

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Paris, ancient as it is, has endured a great plenty of violence, war and revolution. But given the relative peace of recent decades, bloody scenes from the Charlie Hebdo shooting have been shocking indeed. Once again we are reminded that even in one of mankind’s most civilized places, primitive horror can still strike. However, all that was far from my mind on a glorious day last autumn when at the tail end of a European holiday I was privileged to spend a few hours in Paris. I’d been to Paris before and taken in the obligatory sites, so with no agenda, I set out to explore once again a city which never disappoints. Paris really is as gorgeous as the postcards portray. My day ended perfectly too, with a dinner at the atmospheric Left Bank home of my friends, Annette and Robert. So, here are some photos from one afternoon spent wondering the streets of Paris…

___________ P1090901 Photos: Although millions of tourists traipse through the Cathedral of Notre Dame every year, most seem to miss the lovely park just behind the Cathedral, seen here in two views. There are many more of my photos after the jump.

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Michio Kushi Dies at Age 88




Sadly, I’ve received news that  Michio Kushi died in Boston on December 28th, at age 88.  Those of you familiar with macrobiotics or the history of the natural foods movement in America, will surely have heard of Mr. Kushi. Beginning in the 1960’s, he was a leading advocate and teacher of a way of eating which was then controversial but now has become almost mainstream.  Back in the early 1970’s, when I first encountered macrobiotics, little had been written, and what little there was came mostly from Michio. So, although I didn’t always agree with his teachings, he certainly influenced my life in ways I may not have yet even realized.

Living far from Boston, the center of his teaching, my association with Michio and the Kushi Institute was at a distance. I’ve heard him lecture a few times, and once had the privilege of meeting with him at the family home in Brookline, Mass.  Although it was nearly 30 years ago, I remember that day vividly. On a chilly Sunday afternoon in January, Michio invited 8-10 gay men to have what turned into an hours-long discussion of how macrobiotics could impact the then rapidly-growing AIDS epidemic. I will always appreciate how Michio gave of his time and hospitality that day.   I should note that he had been working with AIDS patients for several years by that time, even in the early days when many feared that the disease could be spread by casual contact. For his courage in advocating early on for AIDS patients, I salute him.

The New York Times obituary is here:

Photo: via Wikipedia