California Cuisine

I grew up in northern California where beautiful Eucalyptus, Oak and Redwood trees tower above the brown grassy hills and occasional vineyard. 

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

My mom was a foodie and health nut before foodies and healthy eating were all the rage. It is a gift she gave to me. We had home cooked family dinners every night, and while some of it was typical fare – taco salad and burgers, I also remember frequent calves liver, shrimp, and Dover sole on the table. Side salads were a must - always with kidney beans, artichokes, olives or some other California treasure. My after school snack was fresh figs, apricots, pomegranates or persimmons (from our trees) with plain yogurt or a freshly blended smoothie with brewer’s yeast and wheat germ mixed in. I kid you not. Simply put, casseroles and my mom did not dine together.

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

At the time, I did not recognize the delightfulness of our idyllic little food mecca. I have since learned to appreciate that my love for food (especially healthy, fresh, interesting food) is a gift from my parents. Life has taken me away from California, and aside from missing my family, I love New England almost all year (except in artic temps).  But returning to California still fills my cup with love of family and love of roots (pun intended).

My mom uses her cooking prowess as a gift to friends as well. My parents have always given to others through entertaining and food. Their house is chock full of friends sharing good food and drink. I see their generosity of time and the care put into cooking a lovely meal with a beautiful table, and gathering an interesting crowd as a gift given to friends just like the gift of family dinners she gave us when I was growing up. I strive to pass this gift along to my own family and friends.

Cheese, crackers, dried apricots, olives, fig spread. Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Cheese, crackers, dried apricots, olives, fig spread. Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Unfortunately, my dad has suffered a serious illness recently, and I have been in California three times in the last month. This last trip, my father returned home from the hospital, and as my mother cared for him, I cared for them, by cooking. It was a first. My mom usually cooks for my crowd of kids, friends, and family while I visit. This time I owned her kitchen - alone. I went to the farmers market, the Mexican grocery store, the country market down the road. I imagined and created, cooking interesting things with the local treasures I found. It was cathartic yet strange to be cooking without kids or her, and in some ways I still felt like the ten-year-old kid helping my mom with her parties. Yet, cooking for my parents was a chance for me to return this gift of great food and love. And I have never felt more grown up.

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Share a home cooked family meal with your family this week and try my Zucchini Soufflé below - a great treat for kids and grown ups alike! I found these round zucchini at the farmers market. Zucchini has a delicate flavor, perfect for kids. Make sure to include the skin which is the most nutrient dense. Zucchini is an excellent source of vitamin C and Manganese, which promotes Calcium absorption, maintains blood sugar levels and plays a role in blood clotting.  It is also a good source of Vitamin B6 (plays a role in the synthesis of blood cells, neurotransmitters and hormones) and potassium (promotes heart health).

It turned into this!

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Zucchini Soufflé

(Adapted from the New York Times)

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 to 4 medium zucchini, grated

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 eggs, separated

6 ounces parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter six soufflé cups. Grate Zucchini. Sautee the garlic and shallots in olive oil for 6 minutes until opaque. Add the zucchini, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Cool. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and combine with parmesan cheese. Meanwhile, in an electric mixer beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the zucchini mixture in three parts just until combined. Pour mixture into prepared ramekins. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes and serve immediately