The Kale Chronicles’ Food Manifesto: Ideas I Try to Live By

painting of foods for four seasons

Seasonal Food 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

1)   Eat fresh, locally-grown food in season.

Fresh food tastes good. It has more vitamins and minerals in it than preserved food. If you can grow your own food, go for it. If you can’t, seek out farmers’ markets or a community-supported agricultural program. Familiarize yourself with what grows in your area when.

2)   Adapt recipes to use local resources.

For instance, pesto recipes often call for pine nuts. Here in the Bay Area of Northern California, pine nuts are currently selling for thirty or forty dollars a pound. I make my pesto with walnuts, which grow in California and can be found at my local farmers’ market in bulk. If you live in an area that produces almonds, hazelnuts, black walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, substitute them for pine nuts. Eat pine nuts when you go to Italy or visit New Mexico.

3)   Use what you have on hand.

Instead of running out to get ingredients, practice cooking with what you have on hand. Develop a regular routine for food shopping and stick to it. You will save time and money if you are not always running to the store and you will develop your creative cooking muscles. Mom shops for groceries once a week at a variety of places (Safeway, Grocery Outlet, Food Maxx or Country Cheese). I pick up a box of vegetables in Berkeley on Wednesday afternoons and often go to the Saturday Farmers’ Market.

4)   Do not waste food.

We spend money for food and then we throw it away when it is less than perfect or past the pull date. Many people frequently throw away food that can be eaten. A routine throw-away is sour milk (or half and half, or cream), or, worse, milk that has just passed its pull date. Sour milk, cream, etc. can be substituted for buttermilk in recipes that involve cooking or baking. Sour milk can also be “sweetened” with baking soda and then used in cooked or baked recipes meant for fresh milk.

painting shows dehydrated and canned food for winter

Food for Winter 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

5)   Find simple ways to preserve foods for winter.

I bought a dehydrator a year and a half ago. Now I make my own dried tomatoes which I use during the winter in soups, pastas and salads. I have also dried apples and pears and I’m just getting started. With trepidation I learned how to put up dilly beans, a baby step into home canning. When I make pestos or curry pastes, I put part of the yield in the freezer for later.

6)   Develop a personal pantry based on what you like to eat and ingredients you use frequently.

For example, I am a baker as well as a cook, so I stock a baking pantry with flours, sugars, molasses, honey, maple syrup, vegetable shortening, oils, nuts, coconut, dried fruit, yeast, and leavening agents. I cook Chinese food so I keep soy sauce, peanut oil and chili paste with garlic, fresh ginger. I cook Thai food so I keep fish sauce. A pantry rich in canned tuna and white beans would do me no good because I am not going to cook with those ingredients, or canola oil, which tastes like fish to me, but I do keep lots of pasta, polenta, rolled oats, dried tomatoes, kalamata olives.

7)   Stock your pantry when you find good deals on things you use often.

We are infamous for buying canned sour pie cherries by the case. We like cherry pie. Sour cherries make the best pies. Canned cherries keep. So when Grocery Outlet features canned cherries we buy a case at a time. We keep them in the garage. We have learned the hard way that inexpensive pie cherries are hard to find, so when we see them we buy them. We also stock up on sugar, flour, butter, pastas, and miscellaneous canned goods when they are on sale.

painting shows stock pot, skillet and ingredients.

Making Stock 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil . Sharyn Dimmick.

8)   Learn to make stocks.

You don’t have to go to cooking school for this. You don’t have to roast bones (although roasted bone stock is supposed to be good). The Greens Cookbook has wonderful recipes for vegetable stocks, which I recommend. But any old person can plunk a chicken or turkey carcass into a pot of water with some vegetables or vegetable trimmings (the ends of carrots, tough ends of celery, celery leaves, cilantro roots and stems, the skin of roasted winter squash), simmer it, strain it, skim of the fat and, voila, a base for soups, sauces, chicken pot pie, Chinese stir fries. For me, chicken stock is indispensable. We keep it in pint containers in the freezer.

9   Develop your cooking resources.

I learned to cook by cooking with my mother and asking questions about what she did, but I also learned by tasting lots of foods, watching cooking shows on PBS, reading cookbooks and having conversations with others about food, especially people whose cooking I liked. We keep an old Betty Crocker picture cookbook as our cooking Bible. I have bought the cookbooks of several of my favorite restaurants: Ajanta, Henry Chung’s Hunan, Greens, and Chez Panisse (I really like the Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook, which taught me how to make fruit caramel and variations on fruit curds and has a good section on seasonal fruit in California). I keep a large binder of recipes from the food sections of two newspapers, organized by main ingredient or type of food: Carrots, Chocolate, Cookies, Corn, Fennel, Fish, Lemons, Pancakes, Pasta, Peppers, Pumpkin, Soup, etc. I browse through it when I’m trying to remember what I cook with savoy cabbage or looking for that fabulous Polenta Pancakes recipe from Mark Bittman. I also search online when I need more ideas and subscribe to more than a couple of food blogs.

10) Don’t be afraid.

Remember, cooking is fun. It is a sensual experience standing in front of a cutting board with the smell of fresh basil wafting through the air, hearing the snap of green beans as you trim them, seeing the colors of eggplant, peppers and peaches sitting on the counter. If you are not sure how to do something, you can always consult a cookbook, watch a video online or call another cook on the phone. If you tackle a technique or dish you have never attempted you might want to follow instructions carefully the first time around, but once you learn some cooking principles and the rules of substitution you will be freer to cook what you have and turn it into what you like.