Christmas Tamales in Los Angeles with Mom’s on Riverside

December 20, 2012

Networking is a beautiful thing! Check out http://momstamales.com/Tamales.html

moms

Today, a co-wacko and I were talking about where I could score some homemade tamales for Christmas. She didn’t know a resource but she knew someone who might. Having tamales as my contribution to Christmas dinner with my sweetheart’s family is my idea of a good thing! And that conversation at work got me talking with another co-wacko who highly recommended Mom’s Tamales (see link above) later in the afternoon.

You may have seen Mom’s, this hole-in-the-wall treasure, on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on Food Network. Sitting at lunch today I quickly scoped this place out on Foursquare, located the menu, address and phone number (323) 226-9383.

Mom’s offers several tamales to tempt you: Pork, Beef, Chicken, Cheese or try some of their specialties: Chicken with Mole, Cheese with Spinach, or a sweet tamal with pineapple. Yow! Buying them frozen to steam later (for 1 hour, 15 minutes) will save you $2 per dozen. Mix and match.

Remember it’s cash only, they close their doors at 4:00 pm and checking in on Foursquare will make it more visible to other tamale lovers seeking a source for handmade tamales. Mom’s Tamales & Mexican Food, 3328 Pasadena Ave, Los Angeles CA, 90031

If tamales for Christmas are not something you have time to make, try some love from Mom’s instead.


Holiday Recipes (6): Eight Layer Casserole and Greek Noodle Casserole @foodinjars

December 3, 2012

The rainy weather in Los Angeles this weekend prompted me to drive more cautiously and to think about casseroles – well, not in that order, but you understand. Truly, there is nothing more comforting after a long day of trying to create holiday cheer in the office (event planning and gift wrapping) than to arrive home and find a hot soothing casserole and a glass of wine waiting for you. Here are two recipes to boost the comfort in your comfort food this December. I am reminded of my childhood favorite we called “Ussi Souffle” – a cheese and egg casserole inspired by a Danish neighbor. I might post that recipe at a later time.

 

Eight Layer Casserole

eightlayer casserole

Makes 8 servings in 2-quart square baking dish

30 minutes prep, bake 55 minutes, 10 minutes to stand before serving

 

Ingredients:

3 cups dried medium noodles (6 oz)

1 pound ground beef

2 8 oz cans tomato sauce

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 8 oz sour cream

1 8 oz cream cheese, softened

½ cup milk

1/3 cup chopped onion (1 small)

1 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, cooked and well drained

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz)

 

Directions:

Grease a 2-quart casserole or a 2-quart square baking dish; set aside. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook beef until brown. Drain off fat. Stir tomato sauce, basil, sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper into skillet. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl beat together the sour cream and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Stir in milk and onion. In prepared casserole or baking dish, layer half of the noodles (about 2 cups), half of the meat mixture (about 1 1/2 cups), half of the cream cheese mixture (about 1 cup), and all of the spinach. Top with the remaining meat mixture and noodles. Cover and chill remaining cream cheese mixture until needed.

Cover casserole or baking dish with lightly greased foil. Bake in 350 degree F oven about 45 minutes or until heated through. Uncover; spread with remaining cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings

 

Alternate: Prepare as directed through Step 3. Cover with lightly greased foil and chill in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes or until heated through. Uncover; spread with remaining cream-cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese.Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before baking.

 

http://www.bhg.com/recipe/beef/eight-layer-casserole/

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Greek Noodle Casserole (Pastitsio)

GreekCasserole

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis (tips from Marisa McClellan @foodinjars)

Prep Time: 20 min

Inactive Prep Time: 10 min

Cook Time: 1 hr

6 to 8 servings in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish

 

Ingredients:

Butter, for greasing the baking dish

Kosher salt

12 oz egg noodles

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 cloves garlic, chopped or smashed

1 pound ground lamb

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

One 26-oz jar tomato-basil sauce (3 1/4 cups)

1 1/2 packed cups fresh mint leaves, chopped

 

Sauce:

1 cup milk, at room temperature

1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature

3 cups grated Parmesan (about 6 oz)

1 cup plain Greek yogurt, at room temperature

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, optional

 

Directions:

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the noodles until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 7 to 9 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the lamb, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, 1 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and mint. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

For the sauce: Simmer the milk and cream over medium heat in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheese and whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt.

Add the meat sauce to the pasta and toss well until the noodles are coated. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish. Spoon the cheese sauce evenly on top and bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped mint if using, and serve.

 

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/greek-noodle-casserole-pastitsio-recipe/index.html

 

Before you get cooking, here are a few things you should know:

— Ground lamb can often be quite greasy. If your meat seems to be swimming in oil after you’ve browned it, pour the fat off into a small dish before proceeding to the next step in the recipe.

— When you cook the pasta, make sure to stop just shy of al dente. Because this dish gets baked, this prevents the noodles from dissolving into mush during their time in the oven.

— This dish calls for a ton of mint. If your mint plants have died back for the season or you can’t afford the grocery store prices, use baby spinach instead. Simply chop it fine and stir it in. It won’t be quite as authentic, but you’ll still get your greens.

— I like to serve this casserole with a giant green salad to balance out its richness. Should you want to keep all the components of the meal warm, however, a pan of softened kale with garlic is also nice.

 


Holiday Recipes (5) @CoralTreeCafe Vegetable Soup

December 2, 2012

“To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” ~Laurie Colwin

coraltreesoup

Total time: 1 hour
Servings: 8 to 10
Vegetable Soup recipe adapted from Coral Tree Cafe in Los Angeles. http://www.coraltreecafe.com/

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons oil
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced onions
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup pearl barley
1 quart vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups prepared marinara sauce
2 cups quartered mushrooms (optional as I do not eat mushrooms)
2 cups diced zucchini
Salt and pepper

Directions:
Heat a medium, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat until hot. Add the oil, then add the carrots, onions, bell pepper, thyme and barley. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden-brown, about 18 minutes, taking care that the barley does not burn.
Stir in the vegetable broth and marinara. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
Cook until the barley is al dente, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and zucchini, and season to taste with salt and pepper (the amount of seasoning needed will vary depending on the vegetable broth and marinara used). Cover and continue to simmer until the mushrooms and zucchini are just tender, 4 to 6 minutes.
Remove from heat, thin if desired, and season again to taste, and serve. This makes about 2 1/2 quarts of soup.


Holiday Recipes (4) Atole/Champurrado @MuyBuenoCooking @lacocinasf Gift Bazaar 12/7

December 1, 2012

Let’s start first with the food in recipes, then explore the intersection of discovery with La Cocina, a Bay Area nonprofit cultivating food entrepreneurs.

champurado

Atole is a traditional masa-based Mexican and Central hot drink. Chocolate atole is known as Champurrado or atole. It is typically accompanied with tamales, and very popular during the Christmas holiday season (Las Posadas).

Atole

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup masa harina blended with 1/4 cup warm water in blender
  • 3 cups water
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar or piloncillo
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla or one one vanilla bean

Directions:

Heat all ingredients (except for any toppings you may be using) in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat while stirring. Bring to a simmer and continue to stir frequently for 20-25 minutes until thickened. If used, remove the cinnamon stick and/or vanilla bean. Pour into mugs or thick glasses. Warm fruit puree in a small saucepan and drizzle on top of Atole. Serves 2-3

Champurrado (Mexican Hot Chocolate)

Yield: 6 (4-ounce) servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 anise star
  • ¼ cup masa harina
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ disk Mexican chocolate, chopped (Abuelita or Ibarra chocolate)
  • 3 ounces piloncillo, chopped or 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Directions:

In a large saucepan boil water with the two cinnamon sticks and anise star. Remove from the heat, cover and let the cinnamon sticks and anise star steep for about 10 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and anise star, return to low heat and slowly add the masa harina to the warm water, whisking until combined. Add milk, chocolate, and piloncillo.

Heat over medium heat just until boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until chocolate is completely melted and sugar is dissolved, whisking occasionally. Serve immediately.

(Thanks to http://www.muybuenocookbook.com)

And here’s the Discovery…

La Cocina, Cultivating Food Entrepreneurs

http://www.lacocinasf.org/

Faces-of-La-Cocina

This holiday, give the gift of food with Holiday Gift Boxes or a gift certificate for classes http://www.lacocinasf.org/classes-workshops/. Your purchase does create opportunity and contribute to the success of local aspiring entrepreneurs in the Bay Area.

Don’t miss December 7, 2012 Holiday Gift Bazaar in Crocker Plaza in Downtown San Francisco (50 Post Street)

http://www.giftbazaarsf.com/welcome.html

 

The mission of La Cocina is to cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market and capital opportunities. We focus primarily on women from communities of color and immigrant communities. Our vision is that entrepreneurs will become economically self-sufficient and contribute to a vibrant economy doing what they love to do.

San Francisco’s First Incubator Kitchen

La Cocina is a ground-breaking business incubator designed to reduce the obstacles that often prevent entrepreneurs from creating successful and sustainable small businesses.  By providing shared resources and an array of industry-specific services, business incubators ensure small businesses can succeed. La Cocina follows this model by providing commercial kitchen space and technical assistance focusing on low-income women and immigrant entrepreneurs who are launching, growing and formalizing food businesses.

Breaking Down Barriers

The food industry has a notoriously high cost of entry: the fees for licensed and insured commercial kitchen space, the start-up costs to open a restaurant, the standards set to compete for shelf space at specialty stores and large retailers. Such restrictive barriers to entry often discourage burgeoning food entrepreneurs from launching a business. Those who do, face an uphill battle for success in an overwhelming and incredibly crowded marketplace.

La Cocina provides a platform for these motivated entrepreneurs to hone their skills and successfully transition into the highly regulated and competitive food industry.

The Story of La Cocina

La Cocina (pronounced la co-see-nah, meaning “The Kitchen” in Spanish) was inspired by its current home, San Francisco’s Mission District. (2011 La Cocina 2948 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 | 415-824-2729 | info@lacocinasf.org | www.lacocinasf.org) It is located in an ethnically diverse and economically vulnerable neighborhood that thrives in part due to the many small informal businesses that serve the community. As is the case in many cities, food lies at the heart of this community, and you don’t have to look far to find hidden entrepreneurs in the kitchens of many homes.

Recognizing a need to formalize these food businesses and the opportunity created when you turn inconsistent and illegal home restaurants into sustainable legal businesses, organizations like Arriba Juntos, The Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment and The Women’s Foundation of California and one very special and visionary anonymous donor created La Cocina. La Cocina is both the space-a modern building and commercial kitchen that has been featured in Metropolis Magazine—and the program—an innovative business incubator that supports a growing roster of small businesses, including:

www.aliciatamaleslosmayas.com

www.azalinas.com

www.andapiroshki.com

http://biniskitchen.com/

www.chaacmool.com

www.chiefoskitchen.com

www.clairesquares.com

www.deliciosocreperie.com

www.donbugito.com

www.ejisethiopian.com

www.elbuencomersf.com

El Pilipa guadalupe@elpipilasf.com

www.estrellitassnacks.com

hellaveganeats.com

www.jarredsf.com

www.lalunacupcakes.com

www.lalisf.com

www.loscilantroscatering.com

www.loveandhummus.com

www.maitecatering.com

www.minniebells.com

www.saboresdelsursf.com

https://www.facebook.com/SaintandOlive

www.sajenjamu.com

www.saldevidagourmet.com

www.sweetscollections.com

www.tainosprfood.com

http://zellassoulfulkitchen.com/

www.zepedafoods.com


Holiday Recipes (3) Hot Mulled Cider

November 30, 2012

Hot Mulled Cider Recipe

Image

  • 1/2 gallon of fresh, unfiltered apple cider
  • 1 orange
  • 15 cloves
  • 4 3-inch sticks of cinnamon
  • 15 allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 7 pods of cardamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 Pour apple cider into a 3-quart saucepan, cover, turn the heat on medium-high. While cider is heating up, take a vegetable peeler and peel away a couple thick strips of peel from the orange. Press about half of the cloves into the peeled part of the orange. (You can also just quarter the orange and add the slices and cloves separately. I just like seeing the orange bob up and down.) Place orange, orange peel strips, the remaining cloves, and the rest of the ingredients into the sauce pan with the cider. Keep covered and heat the mulled cider mixture to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes on low heat.

2 Use a fine mesh sieve to strain the hot mulled cider away from the orange, cloves, and other spices. If you want, you can add a touch of bourbon, brandy, or rum to spike it up a bit. Serve hot. Add a cinnamon stick to each cup if desired.

Makes 8 cups. http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/hot_mulled_cider/

Vaariations: add fresh ginger, try allspice, substitute 1/2 cup maple syrup for brown sugar,


Holiday Recipes (2) Spicy Pumpkin Pie Cookies

November 29, 2012

Spicy Pumpkin Pie Cookies

http://cherribolliebakery.blogspot.com/ Thanks to Syd for her innovation and post.

Image

  • 1 cup butter (room temperature)
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can pumpkin puree (NOT PUMPKIN PIE MIX)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 ½ cup AP flour
  • 1 tb baking powder
  • 1 tb vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tb ground cinnamon
  • Graham cracker crumbs (about 2-3 cups)
  • Pecan halves
Icing
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tb melted butter
  • 2 tb orange juice
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
Directions:
Cookies
  1. Set oven to 350°
  2. Cream butter, cream cheese, and sugar on med/high heat until light and fluffy.
  3. Scrape down bowl and turn mixer back on, then add pumpkin puree slowly, allowing mix to come together between each addition.
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. Scrape the bowl, then add dry ingredients.
  6. Mix slowly until well combined. Do not over mix.
  7. Place baking parchment on cookie sheet. Take a small dollop of dough, about the size of a pencil eraser, and place under opposite corners of the parchment to secure it while baking.
  8. Scoop balls of dough and drop into graham cracker crumbs one ball at a time, being sure to completely cover each cookie.
  9. Press half a pecan (or walnut) into each cookie, spaced 1-1/2″ to 2″ apart.
  10. Place racks in oven and back for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on cooling racks.
Icing
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tb melted butter
2 tb orange juice
1 tsp maple syrup
Mix and pour into a plastic ziplock bag, cut a small hole into the corner to drizzle icing on cooled cookies.

Holiday Recipes (1) Caprese Latkes

November 28, 2012

Caprese Latkes

  • Prep Time : 15 min
  • Cook Time : 25 min
  • Ready Time : 40 min

Servings: 10

Ingredients

  • 2 large baking potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled and shredded
  • 1 large onion, shredded
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup matzah meal
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Canola oil for frying
  • ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 (7-ounce) balls fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
  • 2 medium red tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large bowl, stir together potatoes, onions, eggs, matzah meal, and salt.  Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels.  Heat enough oil to reach a depth of about 1/4-inch in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Form potato mixture into 3-inch round latke, and fry in batches until browned and crisp, about 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer to prepared pan.  Continue making latkes with remaining mixture.  Meanwhile, combine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to simmer, and cook until reduced and thickened,
about 10 to 12 minutes. To assemble, place each latke on an appetizer plate. Top with one slice mozzarella, one slice tomato, and a leaf or small sprig of basil. Garnish with a drizzle of reduced balsamic, some olive oil, and pepper to taste.

http://www.joyofkosher.com/recipe/caprese-latkes/

 


The Fine Art of Fine Dining at @Alinea

November 27, 2012

After you view the video of a dessert being created by Chef Grant Achatz, please read more about Alinea Restaurant where you purchase tickets rather than schedule a reservation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afGpptxz_qE&feature=related

Visit their site at www. alinearestaurant.com, or better still, visit the restaurant, located in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, 1723 North Halsted. No walk-in dining options. All dining must be ticketed. Although tickets are transferrable, they are nonrefundable. Chicago, home to many fine restaurants including Henri, EL Ideas, Acadia, Everest, L20, Moto, Naha, and Schwa among others, is a destination where chefs and foodies pilgrimage. Even aspiring locations, like Goosefoot, make their mark with innovative combinations and redefining American (new) cuisine. Alinea brings the dining experience to a new level as artform/performance.

If you can’t secure your New Year’s reservation… TICKETING – which opened Nov 7 – you can still purchase the cookbook, Alinea on Amazon. Since dining, food, and art are fused at this restaurant, it would make sense that it is more suited for coffee table than kitchen as a cookbook.

“A pioneer in American cuisine, chef Grant Achatz represents the best of the molecular gastronomy movement–brilliant fundamentals and exquisite taste paired with a groundbreaking approach to new techniques and equipment. ALINEA showcases Achatz’s cuisine with more than 100 dishes (totaling 600 recipes) and 600 photographs presented in a deluxe volume. Three feature pieces frame the book: Michael Ruhlman considers Alinea’s role in the global dining scene, Jeffrey Steingarten offers his distinctive take on dining at the restaurant, and Mark McClusky explores the role of technology in the Alinea kitchen. Buyers of the book will receive access to a website featuring video demonstrations, interviews, and an online forum that allows readers to interact with Achatz and his team.”

[http://www.amazon.com/Alinea-Grant-Achatz/dp/1580089283]

If visiting Alinea’s website to buy tickets for your first dining “event” at Alinea proves to be fruitless, I can share some online advice from fellow California foodie, Kim T. of Tustin, CA:

“Tip:  Stalk their facebook page for “day-of” openings.  We were able to snag a 2-seater for prime-time that night.  Btw, our table could have easily seated 4 people so it depends on the luck of the draw.  I guess we were really lucky.”

Here’s to discovery!


Thanksgiving 2012

November 15, 2012

Don’t let the deadlines, headlines or stress mess with your gratitude. We all have a lot to be thankful for. Here’s some Thanksgiving recipes and treats to inspire you! Please feel free to repost and share…just let me know what time dinner is served and I’ll be there!

Try a New Orleans Thanksgiving. Last year Chef Guy DuPlantier III of Crazy Creole made ours magical with an All-American Creole Thanksgiving meal – gumbo, jambalaya, bread pudding, ettouffe. Ain’t nothing but goodness!

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/menu/views/new-orleans-thanksgiving-menu?mbid=RF

http://www.facebook.com/CrazyCreoleCafe

 

Thinking about your Thanksgiving meal? Let the L.A. Food Bloggers group help you! We have tons of great ideas and recipes! http://www.shockinglydelicious.com/food-bloggers-l-a-do-thanksgiving/

http://www.facebook.com/FoodBloggersLosAngeles?ref=ts&fref=ts

 

Bitten Word offers that it’s time to start planning your menu in earnest.

http://www.thebittenword.com/thebittenword/2012/11/thanksgiving-2012-recipe-index-what-the-food-magazines-are-recommending.html

 


Organic is the new Placebo @NPRinskeep @KCRW

November 12, 2012

My grandfather loved to say, “I’ll take the placebo, please,” then smack his lips on the end of his Meerschaum pipe with a grin. He just loved to say it. I can hear the smile in his voice. As a chemist, placebos to him represented the power of words, power of labeling to create a desired effect from an inert treatment. No science, more fiction. No side effects, just thinking that calling something a cure, you would feel assured, feel cured or perhaps even be cured. He just loved to say it. And he also dutifully took his prescribed medication, his daily aspirin, knowing that no placebo effect would fool his high blood pressure. His wisdom was always there, in his jokes, his lectures, his advice, his letters.

The idea of a placebo having the power to change our minds really struck home with me when I first heard him say it; marketing is kind of a placebo. Marketing is words, trying to assure you, change your mind, make your life better, stay with you. In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the phenomena of labeling food as “vegan” finding that fascinating because of the unwanted stigma, associating animal-free food with something tasteless or worse. Power of words and not effective marketing, right?

The label “homeopathic” is a placebo, for example. At one point in his letters, my grandfather dismissed homeopathic remedies as, “an expensive pack of placebos.” This was at a time when I was married. Ulcer medication that had been taken for more than a decade wasn’t working for my soon-to-be ex-husband, and he was convinced that switching to homeopathic remedies would be effective. Grandfather knew better. I hadn’t thought about this foolishness much until this last fall.

“Why Organic Food May Not be Healthier For You,” was a story on NPR I heard in early September. As I heard it, my thoughts went zipping to my grandfather. I was actually zipping along the northbound 110, about 70 mph, driving to work. Don’t get tense. The 110 commute is far more scenic, much less stressful and even faster than a single commute on the 405 ever was. My three years of commuting on the 405 sucked a joy from life that I will never get back. Being on the 110 was a treat by comparison. This morning like most mornings heading to work I was joined by broadcasts from KCRW. Radio is the source of my imaginary friend community now, those familiar voices that live in my car, unlike the childhood imaginary friends. Grandfather heard NPR stories on KUHF. On many a visit, he would encourage me to join him and his imaginary friend John Lienhard for the airing of The Engines of Our Ingenuity show. (www.uh.edu/engines/about.htm)

The voice of David Green was joined by Steve Inskeep (“I’m Steve Inskeep”) as they began talking about organic foods, how much people buy and about a Stanford University Medical School study. The study concluded that “there’s hardly any conclusive evidence at all of health benefits if you choose organic.” Placebo alert! I turned up the volume and signaled to change lanes. My grandfather would love this story; “as far as scientists are concerned…”organic was the new placebo. I heard that Stanford was raising the distinct possibility that foods grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were no more, no less nutritious than conventionally grown produce. My mind flashed to my last shopping experience at Albertsons, where organic produce was segregated into different bins and boasted higher prices. Organic cucumbers often look like the smaller, less sexy version of conventionally grown cucumbers. And I pay more for the label – the label which makes me feel less guilty for food that isn’t actually healthier? Score 1 for marketing.

On the ballot in California, one of the 11 proposed measures took up food labeling as its cause. This interested me but I quickly found myself against it. Organic farmers were strongly in favor of labeling requirements on genetically modified foods. The requirement would exempt restaurants and certified organic growers from identifying foods as modified, while the administrative cost on the state was anticipated to be more than $1 million. Who benefits? Not the smaller regional farmers who can’t afford the costs of certifying their crops. And the lawyers win, as always with lawsuits that would result when growers were found out of compliance. It was defeated 53.1% to 46.9% and labeling for genetically modified foods was found an ineffective placebo. The Just Label It movement is afoot to force the hand of the FDA to address the labeling elephant in the room. My grandfather would love that fight.

He would have. Shortly after NPR aired the story on organic foods, my grandfather passed away. I can never again share the NPR stories, conversations or even blog posts again. I miss him very much. His words, his wisdom as a chemist, an organic gardener, and a grandfather have a profound impact on me. In exploring the intersection of food and discovery, I find myself keeping the spirit of “placebo” close, and the words of my grandfather closer.