Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Story Of A Fruitcake

The Tale Of A Well Traveled Cake And The Hand That Keeps On Giving

Fruitcake has its origins in ancient Rome where it became popular to mix pomegranate, pine nuts, raisins and barley mash into cakes that could  travel.  By the Middle Ages fruitcake became popular in England as a wonderful way to preserve native plums and cherries as well as heretofore unavailable fruits, such as exotic citrus peel, pineapple, and dates, which began to appear from the Mediterranean and other regions of the world as candied fruit or fruit glace.

The ability to preserve fruit by boiling it in sugar and then drying it created a new product that was not only prized but portable.  Inventive cooks quickly began finding uses for this new product and some form of fruitcake soon proliferated all over Europe.  The traditional English Christmas fruitcake has a wonderfully compelling complex flavor.  Traditional Christmas Cakes are often fed healthy doses of brandy and spirits which during the Middle Ages was an important preservative in the dark winter months.  During the Victorian Era (think Dickensian Christmas traditions) Christmas Cakes began to be embellished with beautifully rolled marzipan icing and other decorations.  The Scots version of fruitcake is simpler.  I might delve into the storied aspects of fruitcake and the fascinating conjectures about why the Scots version of fruitcake does not include dried cherries, for instance, in a future blog post - suffice it to say the Scots version of fruitcake is the more delicately flavored Dundee cake with its compliment of dried currants, orange peel and blanched almond.  In Germany fruitcake is a yeasted bread called Stollen which is eaten during the Christmas season and sold at local Christmas markets.  In Italy Panforte is the dense, chewy Tuscan fruitcake which dates back to 13th-century Sienna.  In Romania Cozonac is a fruitcake that is featured at every holiday including Christmas and Easter.  The Swiss make a dense sweet fruitcake from candied fruits and nuts called Birnenbrot.

Carrisa and I together in my kitchen created a collaborative and perhaps commemorative fruitcake for the year 2010 (yes we did check our calendars - keep in mind we have been perfecting fruitcake since December - and it is only spring break folks)  Carrisa and I consider this cake to be our crowning achievement.  The exquisite regionally inspired cake is loaded up with all of the traditional California dried fruits such as currants, raisins, dried apricots, and prunes - all organic.  Did I mention California walnuts?  What gives this gluten-free cake it's particularly pleasing and distinctive character is the local farmer's market honey which I infused with aromatic Buddha's Hand Citron for well over two weeks.  I also threw in a healthy handful of Buddha's Hand Candied Citron which I prepared last month from the same Buddha's Hand that infused the honey.  I was careful to preserve enough of the fruit glace for Christmas Cakes I intend to bake this coming October or November (Is there a 2012 commemorative cake in the works?) when I will, no doubt, be moved to declare that it is again "fruitcake season."

The Buddha's Hand Citron which I bought at the local Ojai Farmer's Market in February truly has been the hand that keeps on giving.

I baked the fruitcake pictured above - which is about the size of two hands held palms up - as well as myriad smaller cakes baked into individual rounds no larger than a muffin.  This particular pictured cake - appropriately wrapped up in parchment paper like a little present - traveled back to Utah with Carrisa in her suitcase.  Carrisa split the cake in Utah and the remainder traveled on to Maryland in the suitcase of Brett and Charlotte.  The little cake, indeed, lived up to its historical expectations and became a well traveled cake - a veritable moveable feast.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I have been working as a volunteer to help gather signatures to put a GMO Labeling Initiative on the November 2012 California ballot and to share important information about GMO foods.


A genetically engineered food is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered by genes from other plants, animal, viruses, or bacteria, in order to produce foreign compounds in that food.  This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature.  Today, as much as 85% of corn, and a majority of soy in the U.S. is genetically engineered to either withstand increased amounts of pesticides or to produce its own pesticide.  Some of our most important staple food crops are being fundamentally altered, but without proper labeling.  We have no way of knowing which ones are being altered.


Watch a movie:

The Future of Food

The World According to Monsanto

Read a book:

Jeffrey Smith, Genetic Roulette and Seeds of Deception

Dr. Kenneth Bock, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies


Today in the United States, by the simple act of feeding ourselves, we unwittingly participate in the largest experiment ever conducted on human beings.

Before being added to our food supply in the 1990's genetically engineered food (GE or GMO) had NO INDEPENDENT RESEARCH done on the long-term multi-generational effects on HUMAN BEINGS!

If we are going to be treated like guinea pigs, then at least give us labeling so that accurate health data can be collected and analyzed.  We want to exercise our right to choose whether or not to participate in this experiment, and invite the consequences.


Look for and sign petitions to put the labeling initiative on the November 2012 California ballot.

Vote YES to label Genetically ENgineered Food (GE or GMO's)


Spread the word in your company, school, and church

Email/Facebook your friends


All 27 countries in the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other countries (50 in all) require mandatory labeling of biotech's proteins since no long-term human studies were conducted to prove that they were safe.

I cannot stress enough how important it is that we as citizens get involved and act now.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Carrisa's Simply Delicious Breakfast Mochi

Raisin Cinnamon Mochi

Mochi makes a wonderful quick breakfast food. Traditionally mochi was made from glutinous rice that was steamed and then pounded with wooden mallets.  It was often prepared and eaten in Japan as part of the Japanese New Year Festival.  Today the glutinous rice is ground by machine and then extruded and the art of making mochi by hand has been all but lost.

Both Carrisa and I are fans of mochi.  Our favorite raisin cinnamon mochi is made by a company called Grainaissance.

The ingredients are organic sweet brown rice, filtered water, raisins, cinnamon, and sea salt.

Grainaissance also makes many other flavors such as sesame-garlic mochi, original plain mochi, cashew-date mochi, super seed mochi, chocolate brownie mochi, wheatgrass/mugwort mochi and pizza mochi.

Mochi is easy to make.  Cut the mochi into little squares.  We like our mochi about 3 inches square. Bake the mochi in a pre-heated toaster oven at 450 degrees for about 8 - 10 minutes.  The mochi is ready when it puffs up.  It will be crispy and brown on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.

This morning Carrisa split her mochi open and stuffed it with walnuts and local farmer's market blueberries.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fresh Local Eggs - Taste The Difference

Fresh Local Eggs
I buy my eggs from a little girl named Jade who raises chickens in her backyard and is beginning to turn her love of chickens into a thriving cottage business.

I have seen the chickens and how they are raised. They are a lively brood who live and flourish in what I consider an ideal backyard environment.  It is a backyard that I enjoy being in and the chickens seem to be happy there too.  It is fun to watch them scratch around in the dirt.

I believe it pays to make an effort to get the highest quality eggs that you can find.

Eggs from the store just don't compare to home grown eggs.  Notice the lovely variety of shades and colors of the eggs from Jade?  Eggs that range in color from blue to sage-green come from hens that are called Araucanas or Americanas.  I am told that the Americanas have a warm personality.

I have eaten many varieties of store bought eggs as well as home grown eggs from a variety of sources. I have found that home grown eggs taste better. Home grown eggs are fresher too.  To tell if an egg is fresh - break it onto a plate.  If the round yolk really pops up from the viscous egg white - you know the egg is fresh.  While you are at it - examine the color of the yolk.  The yolk of eggs produced by hens who have had a nutrient-dense and varied diet will be deep orange-yellow color.

Studies have shown that the eggs from backyard hens, that have access to sunshine, bugs, and worms, are more nutritious than eggs from commercially farmed hens.  Chickens that are fed a varied diet and who are pasture fed - which means that they can scratch for bugs and worms - produce eggs that have a better fatty acid and nutrient profile.  Backyard and pastured eggs have less cholesterol and saturated fat and more vitamin A, vitamin E, beta carotene, and omega-3 fats.

Chicken's are omnivores.  That means that they eat plant and animal foods.  Jade's chickens are fed a lot of root vegetable tops and salad type greens as well as meat scraps from the table.  I am told that this type of food variety is one reason that backyard eggs are so superior. 

Though eggs have been much maligned the past several decades - eggs are one of natures most perfect foods.  Eggs are one of the important traditional foods our ancestors ate.  They are a rich source of important sulphur containing protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, EPA, DHA, choline, and lecithin.  In China eggs are considered such a premier brain food that pregnant women are encouraged to eat as many eggs as they can.

Without going into too many gruesome details - store bought eggs come from places where hens are not able to live the life that nature intended for them to live.  I am happy that I eat eggs that are produced by healthy hens that live a good life.  I am happy that I can help support my local economy and Jade's new business venture.  I know that the eggs I get from Jade will be nutritious, tasty, fresh, and colorful.  What more could I ask for?

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

While Mums Away, Carrisa Comes Out To Play!

Mum is away at her calligraphy class and I thought I'd steal away on her computer for a bit.  If anyone saw me right now I'm sure they'd laugh!  I've got a heating pad on one side of my neck because I woke up with a kink in it, and I have an ice cold towel (fresh from the freezer) wrapped around my face like a bandit would tie a bandana in an old western.  The ice cold towel/bandana is an attempt to calm and pacify the unsightly rash-like inflammation that suddenly appeared on my face/neck after using sunscreen that had PABA in it.  So here I am, hoping no one will peek through the window and see me in my high-fashion, straight-from-the-runway style.

Excuse me, as I elegantly sip my fresh strawberry banana milkshake and enjoy the tunes of Loreena McKennitt, while imagining I am one of those stylish hip bloggers that people secretly envy.

But, why am I here on Mum's computer writing about how ridiculous I look?

Don't worry, I'll get down to business.

I flew in on Saturday to visit Mums for Spring Break.  I am free from the university for one whole week! Huzzah!*enter applause and throw confetti*  Food in our family is serious business, even more so, since we began to incorporate the dietary teachings of Weston A. Price into our lives. But, while most families make memories by going to museums, the beach, camping, or traveling to exotic locales, my family makes most of their memories in the kitchen.  Most often we start a conversation with "Remember when we cooked...", "Remember that time we made....", or "Oh yes! I remember now, that was the summer we baked..."  Our memories aren't marked by the vacations we took or the places we visited, but by what we cooked, baked, and most important, what we ate.

So it is only natural that the first place we stopped on the way home from the airport was...*enter drum roll*... you guessed it... a local health food store!  As we shopped Mum asked me what I usually eat so she would know what food to buy.  When she asked I would shrug my shoulders and say "whatever." My blasé attitude lasted only long enough to get me to the dairy section of the store where I saw white beams of glowing light.  My heart raced and fluttered, and I believe I may have even heard faint tones of angelic trumpets, as I walked hypnotically toward the sacred light.  Blinded to all else that lay upon the shelf I was overcome with joy when right before me was a beautiful jug of Organic Pastures Fresh Raw Whole Milk!

*Glowing not Shown
Oh! what joyous raptures and praises were uttered -  comparable only to Shakespeare or the 100 Love Sonnets of Pablo Neruda.

We bought the milk.

As soon as we arrived home I immediately ripped off the lid and poured myself a glass.   

I delicately put the glass to my lips and daintily tasted the milk, savoring the full flavor of it.  This delicacy did not last long.  Soon I was guzzling it. 

As a side note, I purchase raw milk from a local source in the state that I am from, but nothing, and I mean nothing! Compares to milk from Organic Pastures!  I think it is the best raw milk I have EVER tasted!  Mark McAfee, if you're reading this, I am a big fan!

Seriously, if you haven't given Organic Pastures milk a try, WOW, you are missing out!  Best milk ever!  It can turn frowny faces upside down, and create sunshine on a cloudy day.  Run to the store, fellow Californians and drink up!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cooking Class - Celebrate Spring

Don't Miss This Cooking Class With Lisa Valantine

Poached Salmon
Celebrate Spring
 Saturday April 21st from 9 - noon

In this class we will focus on the flavor of spring - creating a menu from the finest and freshest organic produce from local farmer's market.  If you have ever wondered what to do with vegetables once you get them home - this class is for you.  We will discuss what to do with farmer's market produce and how to enhance the subtle delicate flavor of each vegetable using simple preparations of fresh herbs, olive oil and cultured butter and cream.    We will discuss how easy it is to prepare homemade mayonnaise in the traditional French method as well as how to make creme fraiche.  Vegetables will never taste quite the same once you have learned these wonderful techniques.  We will also learn how to eliminate the fishy flavor from salmon using fresh herbs and lemon.  Finally we will finish a memorable meal with the most velvety luscious chocolate mousse imaginable.

French Herbed Cheese Spread with Crudites and Fresh Local Fruits

Creamy Asparagus Bisque

Poached Salmon with Fresh Herb Sauce
(There will be deviled egg option for vegetarians)

Dilled Potato and Green Bean Salad 
with Dijon Dressing

Chocolate Mousse with Candied Violet Garnish

The class will be held in Lisa's Kitchen.  Cost $50.00.

Reserve your spot today by contacting Lisa Valantine at

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Two Fruitcakes Meet For The First TIme

Utah Fruitcake Meets California Fruitcake

I woke up at 2:30 a.m. too excited to get much more sleep.  I picked Carrisa up at the airport this morning.   She is on spring break and we intend to spend the next eight glorious days together.

We gathered supplies, mostly organic produce and some organic pasture's raw milk, on our drive back from LAX with a stop at Maddy's Market in Agoura. Imagine Carrisa's surprise, coming from snow covered Utah, to find the hills green and fattened by spring rain.  The temperature, in the 70's, feels downright luxurious.

Back on the home turf Carrisa got settled into the guest bedroom which I affectionately dubbed "the nest."  One of the first items that Carrisa unpacked from her suitcase was a mysteriously wrapped parcel of parchment paper and aluminum foil.  I held it and hefted it in my hand for a moment and, with a quizzical look on my face, asked "fruitcake?"

Yes, indeed, it was a lovingly wrapped and preserved slice of fruitcake - special delivery from Utah.

I dashed into the kitchen and from my own freezer brought out my own version of the same recipe carefully wrapped in parchment in the style Mimi taught me.  Wrapped like a little present.

After our hike today the two fruitcakes met for the first time.

It was extraordinary how different each cake tasted.  Carrisa's version which was made with sprouted wheat flour has a buttery-caramel flavor with a hint of graham cracker.  The texture is sturdy and dense.

My version of the fruitcake, made with rice flour and tapioca flour, has a sprightly fruity flavor with hints of pineapple and the tropics.  The texture is light and crumbly.

Needless to say we both enjoyed every bite, fully appreciating the individual difference of each cake, and mopped up every crumb from our plates.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Yesterday while gathering signatures for GMO labeling here in California someone recommended Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.   I had already been investigating various seed companies in search of safe non-GMO seed sources for my summer garden.  I was delighted to be introduced to Baker Creek.  As soon as I arrived home I took a look at the Baker Creek Seed Company online catalog.

I found them on the internet at

As you all know I am a sucker for trying something new - especially if that something new has an interesting name or pedigree to go with it.  I promptly placed my first order with Baker Seed Company.

Galeux D Eysines
A warty, witty yet uniquely beautiful heirloom squash that hails from France.

Black Futsu
A rare Japanese squash with a flavor reminiscent of hazelnut.

Butternut Rogosa Violina Giola
An Italian butternut squash that has ribs and wrinkles.

Candy Roaster
This colorful Georgia favorite has pink banana-shaped fruit with a blue tip.

This rare Japanese Heirloom was popular in Japan during the Edo period.  (1603 - 1867)

Crookneck Squash
Ubiquitous crookneck squash is Dan's favorite summer vegetable.

Dragon Tongue Bush Bean
Incomparable flavor with purple streaks -what more could you ask for?

As you can see I decided to do variations on a theme of squash in the garden this year.  It will truly be an investigative experiment in squash, squash and more squash - with a dash of green beans on the side.

It is a good thing that winter squash and summer squash are vegetables that both Dan and I are extremely fond of.  In case of a glut of squash - that means that the rodents don't nip the blossoms off everything - the winter varieties will store very well for later use.

I will certainly be relying on the local farmer's markets to provide vegetable variety in my diet this summer.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Buddha's Hand

Buddhas's Hand Citron
I went to one of my favorite farmer's market in Ojai on Sunday morning.  I found the most intriguing fruit called Buddha's Hand Citron.  I had to buy one of coarse.  I brought it home with me and discovered that it has the MOST amazing exotic fragrance.   One Buddha's Hand in my fruit bowl perfumed the entire room.

Buddha's Hand Citron does not have any flesh or fruit.  It is entirely pith.  But, unlike most citrus the pith of Buddha's Hand is not bitter.  The fingers can be cut longitudinally, sliced and used as zest in salad dressings, salads, or sprinkled over cooked foods such as green vegetables and fish dishes.

Traditionally citron is candied or made into what the French call fruit glace.  Fruit glace or crystallized fruit has been around since the 14th century and is a classic ingredient in traditional holiday fruitcakes.

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