KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Take 5 with Heidi Swanson
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Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Take 5 with Heidi Swanson

Heidi Swanson the San Francisco blogger behind 101 Cookbooks, has just written her second cookbook, Super Natural Cooking.

1. How does Super Natural Cooking differ from your first book, Cook 1.0?
Super Natural Cooking attempts to convince people that cooking with a palette of minimally processed ingredients can be inspiring, delicious, and better for your health than cooking with processed alternatives. My first book had a lot of recipes that highlighted fresh/farmer's market ingredients, but Super Natural Cooking builds on this and delves into a rich realm of underutilized ingredients by encouraging people to explore whole grains like millet, barley, and wheat berries. I also talk about the benefits of cooking with colorful ingredients, why you should utilize super foods, and how to use natural sweeteners. I did my best to include recipes that even the biggest skeptics might love (or at least like a lot).

2. What was the most fun part of working on this book and what was most challenging?
I work independently on a lot of projects, but producing a book is very different - there are many people involved. The collaborative potential of making a book was exciting to me and I wanted to make the most of it. I knew
I was going to contribute the writing, recipes, and photography, but I wanted the right people around to bounce ideas back and forth and explore all the possibilities on the editorial and creative front. I was fortunate to have Ten Speed Press as my publisher - they're located in Berkeley which meant that all the people working on my book were nearby. We could spend time in person, hang out, get to know each other. It's not always like that in publishing, I lucked out - we had a lot of fun. The most challenging aspect? Constantly running out of room in my refrigerator.

3. What makes something a "super food"?
When I think of "super foods" I think of all-natural, straight from the source ingredients that are brimming with vitamins and minerals. They offer nourishment, health benefits, and protection from disease. Luckily, many delicious whole foods fit this description, I think we just need to remember to keep working them into our daily cooking routine.

4. You use some familiar grains like brown rice and some very esoteric ones. What is mesquite flour and how did you ever discover it?
You know, I read about it long before I actually tasted it. I knew there were people excited about it's nutritional properties (gluten-free, rich in certain nutrients, and low on the GI-index). When I finally came across a jar of it in a natural foods store one afternoon, I was very curious about how it would taste.

To back up a bit, mesquite flour (or mesquite meal as it is sometimes called) comes from ground mesquite pods. If you grew up around California or the Southwest, you might recognize these pods. After the pods are ground up you can use it in a few ways. It adds a wonderfully unique flavor to baked goods, imparting a fragrant, warming, soft-edged spiciness. I use it in cookies, lots of people use it in cornbread, I'll add some to my spice loafs during the holidays next year. You can also sprinkle it over foods as a seasoning.

5. Where are your favorite places to shop in the Bay Area?
On the food and wine front...

Boulettes Larder
I can't get enough of Boulettes. From the handwritten kraft-paper menus, to the aromas spilling out of the open kitchen, the place appeals to every one of my senses. I love to taste what they're doing with the various heirloom grains, rices, and flours they stock. A couple weeks back I went in and they were selling grass peas with chopped olives and parsley. Do you know what grass peas are? Neither did I, but they were delicious and I've been thinking about all the ways I can use them now in my own cooking. For me Boulettes is the best combination of take-out served up with a side order of inspiration.

Farmers Markets:
I pick up fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmer's market -- usually once a week. The Ferry Building is most convenient for me, but I'll occasionally cross the bridge and go to Marin Civic Center on Sundays, particularly if the weather is nice. An added bonus is being able to look at the Frank Lloyd Wright building there.

Rainbow Grocery
My go-to grocery store. They have an amazing spectrum of ingredients - I'm not just talking about the bins full of grains, flours, pastas, and granolas either. They have depth within certain categories that you aren't going to find elsewhere. For example, they carry dozens of honeys (both single-varietals and blends), a whole section of nut butters (I've seen peanut, cashew, pistachio, walnut, almond), there is a nice cheese counter with helpful staff, and their wine section features producers making wine from grapes that have been grown organically or bio-dynamically. The buyers do a great job there and you can feel pretty confident that the food (or ingredients) you are buying aren't packed with hydrogenated oils or GMOs.

Biondivino recently took over the space PRIZE used to occupy at Polk and Green Streets in the Russian Hill neighborhood. It is a fantastic, petite boutique wine shop that focuses on regional Italian wines -- many coming from small producers. Italian wine can be intimidating in part because there are so many different producers producing so many different varietals. Biondivino is a fantastic portal into the world of Italian wines and the owner Ceri Smith is always happy to help customers navigate the selection which includes plenty of quality bottles for under $15-$20.

La Palma Mexicatessan (24th Street in general)
The Mexican grocery stores along 24th street in San Francisco are another fun place to explore. A whole spectrum of chiles, salsas, moles, dried beans, fresh masa and other ingredients awaits you.

To read a review of Super Natural Cooking, head over to Cooking with Amy

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