Starstruck! Cooking for Sexy Celebrities

19 06 2011

John Fugelsang, Stephanie Miller and Hal Sparks

As a fan of the Stephanie Miller Show, a political comedy radio show, I was excited when I heard that she and her collaborators, Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang, were bringing their Sexy Liberal Show to Minneapolis. I have been a long-time listener and a fan, and follow the many careers and tweets of all these talented people. I also knew that Hal Sparks is a vegetarian, and probably doesn’t get great veg options when headlining comedy clubs across the country.

So, I decided that I should cook for them when they came. I called the radio show, and called the station that broadcasts them, AM950, and let them know I would love to make sure they were properly energized and nourished for their show. Luckily, Robin at the station knows who I am, and I got the call the night before from their tour promoter, Roland. It was on, and I needed to get it together, fast. Food for 10 people, vegetarian with some fish for Stephanie.

I was a little nervous. As you may know, I have spent years as a private chef, making fabulous food for the fabulous. But this was different.

As an avid listener to the show, I  hoped had a feel for their tastes. Steph likes stinky cheese and sushi. Hal is a vegetarian who doesn’t drink. John is a former vegetarian who now eats just a little meat on occasion. All of them live up to their billing as sexy liberals by staying in great shape. But what if the people I thought I knew so well from hours of listening were all fake? What if the compassionate, smart people I admire were really just characters, created for an underserved slice of the radio market? I tried to imagine Steph staggering in and kicking over the table of food, or throwing her phone at my head. Hal, drunk, insulting anyone who crossed his path, Could John Fugelsang actually be a judgemental jerk, too stuck up to even talk to a lowly caterer and fan?

I had about 24 hours to get my meal together, so I set to it. Here is the menu I prepared:

Avocado Tofu Sushi with Quinoa-Sushi Rice and Ume Plum

Smoked Trout -Asparagus and Pea Shoot Handrolls, with Pickled Ginger, Wasabi and Shoyu on the side

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Samosas with Tomato Chutney (from the New Vegetarian)

Wild Rice and Berry Salad (From the upcoming Big Vegan)

Edamame Hummus with Pitas and Baby Carrots (From Big Vegan)

Tomato Basil Salad with Balsamic-Dijon Vinaigrette in Bibb Cups

Thai Deviled Eggs (From The New Vegetarian)

Assorted Local Cheeses (Camembert, Bleu, Cheddar) with Rhubarb Maple Compote and Crackers

Double Chocolate Cookies (From Big Vegan)

Rhubarb Streusel Bars (From Big Vegan)

Espresso Hemp Energy Chunks (From Big Vegan)

Cherry Almond Energy Bars (From Big Vegan)

It was actually great fun cooking while looking forward to the show. I’m a big believer that laughter is as important to your health as healthy eating or exercise, and here I was cooking for three of the people who make me laugh on a regular basis. I hoped that I could give them just a tiny bit of the energy back that they give to me every day.

We loaded up the food and arrived about an hour and a half before the show was to start.

Me and the food, BACKSTAGE!

My sister, Rachael, and my husband, Stan helped me carry in the food and set up, and we all waited expectantly to meet the headliners. Soon, John Fugelsang appeared, after finishing the sound check. He was so friendly and down to Earth, talking with us in between setting up his playlists and going over his material. He ate a few bites of a few things, and we posed for this picture.

Yes, that is John Fugelsang, the Ecclesiastical Mook

For a former MTC Vee-jay, he acted more like a kind host than a celebrity diva.  He went back to his preparations, and we waited. We opened the wine, I rearranged the napkins.

Finally, Ron, the big bucks behind the Stephanie Miller Show and several other syndicated radio shows, came in with Ms Miller. She was gracious and surprised, as they had just eaten at the hotel and she could not eat a bite. Stephanie is a devotee of spinning and P90x, and she is a tiny, fit woman who completely works a pair of low-cut pants. She hugged me and took time to talk for a moment, and then her manager, Ron, ate wild rice salad, and few deviled eggs, and some sushi, and he pulled in anyone who came by to rave about the food. He was actually really funny and appreciative, too. Some big time pols dropped by, hands were shaken, a few cookies were consumed. Finally, about 15 minutes before the show would begin, Hal Sparks arrived. Rock star that he is, it was like meeting an old friend, and we talked about the food and the show and politics until it was time to go. I showed him the ziplocs I had brought so that he could take energy bars for his next workout. And he wasn’t stuck up or drunk at all.

I know, I am shamelessly starstruck!

We hustled out of the backstage underground and went to our seats. The show was screamingly hilarious, as we had expected. The three comics took turns, each doing a set, and then the three sat together and talked to the audience. The front couple of rows got to stay and meet the stars, and we all milled around, taking pictures and shaking hands.

Fabulous Vegetarian Hal Sparks

So, a good time was had by all, and I hope the rest of the food was eaten by the backstage crew. It’s so good when you meet someone you really admire, and they don’t let you down.

If only they had been more hungry.

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Austin, Weird and Wonderful with IACP

12 06 2011

Veg Authors at Koriente:Ann, Me, Jill and Ellen

One of the best things about writing cookbooks is that I belong to a unique community of food professionals. We food writers can lead a strangely solitary existence, staying home to test recipes and type, or indulge in the unnatural act of photographing our food so that we can post about it.

Seriously, think about it, the correct response to a plateful of hot food is to dig in, not to grab your cell phone to snap a shot, or set up a tripod and start aiming lights at it.

But once a year, I break away from my kitchen and go to a conference with my fellow food people, the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The group is open to anybody making a living in food, so there are restaurant chefs, writers, editors, publishers, teachers, historians, TV and video producers, photographers and stylists, manufacturers of food and cookware, representatives of various foodstuffs, and more. Every year a different host city organizes a bunch of events to show off their food scene, and we converge on the city to take a big bite of what they have to offer.

This year, we traveled to Austin Texas, where a thriving alternative food scene co-exists with Texas barbecue and longnecks. “Keep Austin Weird” is a local slogan, and I’m all for it. One of our speakers was Jim Hightower, http://www.jimhightower.com/an outspoken populist who counts food activism as part of his mission in life. I’ve always been a fan, and he delivered a funny, heartfelt talk about the importance of fighting for our food supply. His humorous one-liners and wry way with absurdity kept the crowd laughing at the early morning session, even as he talked about sustainable food and regulating the corporations that make our food supply less safe. I even got to ask him about the NRDC lawsuit I wrote about in last weeks post, and he was optimistic that the effort to ban antibiotics from animal feed could be won.

Jim Hightower, Fighting For the Common Eater

Another seminar, a panel lead by Kim O”Donnel, author of the Meat Lovers Meatless Cookbook, centered on the Changing Place of Meat on the Plate. This was a discussion about sustainable meat, more than vegetarianism, although Meatless Mondays and cutting back on meat were definitely promoted. Panelist Ralph Loglisi, from the Center for a Livable Future, was there to bring the facts about our unsustainable levels of meat consumption to light. He blogs here: http://www.livablefutureblog.com/

I also went to lots of seminars on things like how to do a good TV spot, demonstrated by Ellie Krieger, how to be a good radio guest, with Kathy Gunst, how to edit video for blogs, with bloggers Chef John and Average Betty and videographer Daniel Klein http://www.theperennialplate.com/, and more. There was a seminar on the new electronic world of cookbooks, and there were cooking demonstrations by John Besh and Jacques Pepin that were entertaining and inspiring.

A favorite moment was when a blogger told Jacques Pepin she was glad to see he had a twitter account, and he replied, “I do?” and after the laughter, she asked how he adapts to the new world of social media, and with his Gallic nonchalance, he replied, “I don’t.” Of course, Jacques will be fine, letting someone else write his tweets and letting the brave new world of e-books and apps court him, while the rest of us have gotten the message that the internets and social networks are a vital part of reaching our audiences, so we gladly attend seminars on blogging and tweeting.

And in between all this, I got to spend time with some of the smartest, funnest people I know, the collection of dear friends from all over the world that I have connected with at IACP for years now. There were dinners at gourmet destinations like Parkside and Fonda San Miguel, a food truck party, a reception at the Art Museum with local fare, and I even got to make a break to the Austin Farmers Market.

Locally Grown Seaweed

A unique offering was this stand, where a young man with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology, named Lewis Weill, sells cultivated Ogonori, a variety of sea vegetable. The fine, crisp strands of ogonori were a revelation, so unlike the dried kinds of sea vegetables that I have always loved. Lewis has a day job as a biologist, and in his spare time, grows this nutritious veggie in tanks of purified water enriched with salt and minerals to to make a cleaner version of sea water. He is an unassuming visionary, who wants to save the oceans and also provide a clean seaweed that isn’t bathed in the pollution that has become a problem in wild-harvested sea plants.

One lunch that I organized was to bring together the vegan and vegetarian food writers for a veg meal. I invited Ann Gentry, chef and owner of Real Food Daily in Los Angeles and author of Vegan Family Meals, Jill Nussinow, the Veggie Queen, author of The Veggie Queen, Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment, and The New Fast Food, The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes, and Ellen Kanner, author of the Hungry Ghost and Edgy Veggie, who pens a Meatless Mondays column for Huffington Post, a syndicated column  The Edgy Veggie, and freelances for publications like EveryDay with Rachel Ray Bon Appetit and Culinate.

We walked over to a wonderfully weird little spot called Koriente, where a Korean cooking style blends with a whole foods approach, and most of the menu is vegan, although meat and fish are available. We all really enjoyed the brown rice and fresh veggies, and Korean hot sauce and nori.

a Summer Roll with Hummus

Brown Rice Bimibap

Brown rice and veggies really hit the spot after a few days of rich food, and sitting with these stars of the veg world was a rare treat. This small group of women who live, write and cook to promote a plant-based worldview are usually operating thousands of miles from each other, and it was great to get these moments to share. These are changing times, and we are all seeing the interest in vegan and veg food growing, and that is cause for celebration.

Thanks Austin, and thanks to all my IACP brethren for a good time. I’m inspired and educated, and most importantly, connected to some amazing people.

Oh, and my publisher, Chronicle Books, threw a lively party to announce this years new releases, and I got to see the cover of my upcoming book!

Yes, It's Big!





Support NRDC’s Lawsuit: Ban Antibiotics in Animal Feed

4 06 2011

Sweet Little Piggies

On May 25th, The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) filed a lawsuit against the FDA.  That might sound extreme, but it’s really been a long time coming. The Food and Drug Administration has known for 30 years that the casual and systemic use of antibiotics in animal feed was harmful, but because the industry keeps up pressure to protect the status quo, it has continued. The lawsuit seeks to ban the practice, and has a very good case.

Whether you eat meat or not, you are profoundly affected by this practice. 70% of the antibiotics used in the US are administered to cattle, pigs and chickens in their feed. They don’t have to be sick, in fact a big reason that they are used is that constant, small doses make the animals grow faster. It also allows them to survive the crowded and unsanitary conditions of their confinement. A side effect is that the giant, packed industrial farm becomes a perfect place for antibiotic resistant bacteria to evolve and proliferate. This results in “superbugs” that can quickly migrate into the human population.

Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness, and grocery store meats are often contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria.  If it seems like you hear of more meat recalls these days, it’s partly because of this system.

The change NRDC and the rest are looking for doesn’t mean that sick animals can’t be treated. It would limit antibiotics to when they are sick, rather than daily.

While US meat producers insist that cutting antibiotics would prohibitively increase food prices , The American National Academy of Sciences estimates that the total increase to each shopper would be $10 annually. We know it can be done-Denmark, the worlds largest pork exporter, banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in pigs and chickens 1999, and have increased production, not cut it. All of the 27 countries in the EU have taken action.

But the FDA, whose real job is to protect the citizens of this great country, prefers to keep the laws the way that industry likes them. Americans like cheap food, the reasoning goes, even if it makes them sick. Probably more importantly, industry likes making profits this way, and fears that the vertically integrated, crowded factory farm will no longer work without antibiotics.

If you support this movement, contact NRDC. If you eat meat, consider the impact that industrial meat is having on us all. If you want to see animals treated humanely, this is one way that a law could force change in the industry. If the animals can’t live in crowded cages and pens without constant antibiotics, producers might have to give them some room to move.

nrdc.org