It's all the buzz

I’m shakin’ my stinger in my office today to this honeybee rap. Haagen-Daaz, the ice-cream company which has worked to raise awareness of the decline of honeybees, funded the video. The dancing supposedly is a tribute to “dances” bees do when returning to the hive. Personally, I’ve never seen a bee wear sunglasses and move exactly like this.

Thanks to my friend Debbie Roos, Chatham County agricultural extension agent and promoter of small farms, for sending me the link.

Ditching dairy II

Just wanted to say that the French toast with almond milk was fabulous on Sunday. I used a conventional recipe and just substituted almond milk for regular milk. Use challah, a nice, soft, eggy bread, no matter what kind of recipe you’re using. It adds a wonderful richness, and I can slice the whole loaf as thick as I like. Another old friend back on our Sunday morning breakfast menu.

Friends have suggested trying hemp milk because it’s thicker than soy milk. It’s a little harder to find around here – almond milk is right there in my favorite conventional supermarket. Hemp milk is made from nuts or seeds of industrial hemp plants (no, you won’t relive Woodstock by drinking it).

It was also recommended by the vegan daughter of an old friend. For her high school senior project, she wrote a vegan baking cookbook and asked me to be her mentor. I didn’t have to do much – the teen has been baking for her family, which includes a vegetarian sister and a brother with food issues, for years. She has adapted chocolate chip scones, peanut butter cookies and other goodies. I plan to start working my way through this soon – although, being a carnivore, I will probably put eggs back in. I’ve suggested she think about publishing a cookbook someday, since not just vegans but also people like my husband might be interested. And it doesn’t hurt that she looks like a young Nigella Lawson.

I'm sensing nuttiness, all right

There are some vegan cookbooks on my shelf. Let me stress there is no danger of me becoming part of what Anthony Bourdain once called “the Hezbollah-like faction” of vegetarianism. And while I’m thinking about it, why do so many vegetarian and vegan recipes come out looking like mud? My husband and I had a meal at a Chapel Hill vegetarian restaurant recently, and while the flavor of my tempeh-based entree was interesting, it looked like they’d scooped wet clay from out back and plopped on the plate.

What I’ve been looking for in these cookbooks are decent-tasting, interesting desserts. My husband has developed a dairy allergy (a step above mere lactose intolerance) and I’ve been trying to adapt our favorite breakfast breads and desserts to axe the milk and butter. I’ve also been looking for new recipes, and vegan ones would by definition contain nothing that began in an animal. So far, I haven’t been impressed. And using soy milk in my pancakes just gave us floppy-flat pancakes.

After reading a Passover recipe in Gourmet this spring, I got the idea of using almond milk. It’s thicker than soy milk, and while you definitely taste almonds if you sip it straight, I don’t detect the flavor when cooking. Our favorite pancakes rose higher and were very close to the original flavor (I use a lactose-free unsalted margarine). It’s great in the summer fruit cobbler my husband loves. Next up: French toast, which was booted off our breakfast menu some time ago.

Any of you smart people out there have suggestions for dairy-free recipes or ways to adapt desserts?

Happy birthday, Mama Dip!

Mildred “Mama Dip” Council began serving fried chicken, big biscuits and fried green tomatoes long before Southern food became “cuisine.” And anyone who has ever eaten at Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill knows how good, honest food, made right, becomes great. There’s nothing like it.

Mrs. Council will turn 80 in September, and there’ll be a party to mark the occasion, of course. In keeping with her generous spirit, the party will benefit others. The celebration on Sept. 20, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at Fearrington Village will raise money for the Share the Love Fund at Triangle Community Foundation. The fund will offer grants to help children and youth develop self-esteem.

Tickets are $100 with sponsorships from to $500 to $1000. Go to www.trianglecf.org/sharethelove for more information.

Have you hugged your farmer this week?

Visit your favorite farmers market this weekend and give those folks growing the goodies extra smiles – it’s National Farmers Market Week (so proclaimed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

I always arrive home from a trip to the State Farmers Market in Raleigh with way more vegetables than you’d think two carnivores could consume. But the Neon eggplant is such a gorgeous violet (purple is my favorite color). Just one more quart of blueberries for the freezer. And stacks of fresh corn as high an an elephant’s eye.

There are so many markets now, and that’s wonderful. The Western Wake Farmers Market at Carpenter Village is new this year, with more than 30 vendors offering locally produced goods for residents of Morrisville and western Cary. On Saturday, Chef Sarig Agasi of Raleigh’s Zely & Ritz restaurant will offer gazpacho samples. The market’s open from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, so don’t sleep in.

If you’re looking for empanadas of a different filling, visit the Durham Farmers Market and look for Scratch Baking. And pie. ‘Nuff said.

Are you cooking?

There was a thought-provoking piece in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine by Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Botany of Desire.” The article, “No One Cooks Here Anymore,” examines how cooking in this country has become a spectator sport, and the consequences of that shift.

Using Julia Child and the new “Julie & Julia” movie as a starting point (if you’re as overloaded by press about this movie as I am, don’t worry, this peg is worth it) he touches factors that have removed many people from the kitchen – despite the fact that we seem to be talking about food more than ever. During the women’s movement, the kitchen was seen as a prison, and running from it true freedom. Pollan says that was a mistake: “Julia Child tried to show the sort of women who read ‘The Feminine Mystique’ that, far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment.”

I was one of those fleeing women. When I graduated from college, I would have ripped my own hair out by the roots rather than be in a kitchen, making macaroni and cheese casseroles like my mother. It was after Watergate, when every J-school grad wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein.  My idea of dinner was a package of frozen Chinese vegetables (we didn’t call things “Asian” then) mixed with canned chicken, or a trip to Wendy’s.

Time passed, and I found I was more interested in people and their lives than in scandals. I admitted I knew nothing about food when an editor asked me to be food editor for The News & Observer. Learn, she said. The more I did, the more I found that fascinated me. Not just the human connections that food and cooking promotes, but the personal satisfaction. The “pings” of jars of jam sealing on the counter. A new recipe I’ve never tried before coming together into a beautiful meal. If nothing else is going right in my life, here is something I can do.

Pollan finds that even the definition of “cooking” is changing. He speaks to a food marketing researcher, who says: “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

Read Pollan’s article here. What do you think? Am I and others like me on our way to join T.Rex?