Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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The Day I Didn’t Hate Chocolate

You read that right. Today is the day I realized I didn’t hate chocolate. Hard words to read coming from a pastry chef who loves to work with it.

For years I have spent creating decadent cakes, traditional cookies, rich pies and a host of other desserts using chocolate from all over the world. It was my every day thing to do. What did people like? How could I recreate this dessert or that pastry using a variety of chocolates? It was my life. It consumed my every menu. I went to bed thinking of how I can make something completely off the cuff to waking up and finishing what I started thinking about before bedtime.

Years ago I was a pastry instructor for a college level program. Up to that point I had been entering the chocolate show held in Portland, Maine for myself as well as some restaurants I worked at. I was very successful at this event. My first award was a three layer ganache cake that I had made while on a movie location in Georgia in August. Do you want to really test your strength in baking?? Do it in 100* weather with 100% humidity.  I had to create something that would hold up to that southern heat and everything that came with it and at the same time have incredible rich flavor. This cake was it. It was the perfect first entry and I won Best Cake. That was pretty cool. I went to win the next year and a stretch of 5+ years after that and before long, I had 12 total awards to my credit. So back to the program. While I was teaching, I decided this event would be the perfect event for my students to experience competition. After getting the approval of the director of culinary arts, I broke the news to the students. They were thrilled. There were several categories we could choose from so we picked a few. I also told them their presentation would be judged as well. We decided to enter the “Best Alternative Dessert” category. This was any dessert out of the ordinary like vegan or gluten free. Someone actually tried to cook a sole dish with chocolate. It was an epic fail too. The place smelled like the Charles River in Boston in the corner they were cooking this dish.  There are just some things that chocolate doesn’t marry. In this case, it was fish. We decided to make a vase of fruit flowers dipped in dark chocolate. The students carved beautiful patterns on the pears. We chose exotic fruits like the start fruit that would resemble a flower. We dipped them half in chocolate and using skewers (also dipped), they creatively displayed them in the pear vase. The students won that category. It was such a satisfying victory for them and the program. For me it was a nice feeling to upgrade the program to an award winning one as well. We were the first culinary school to enter and I’m happy to say the following year, another culinary school participated. That was very good competition for the students. Not to mention all of the amazing local businesses that entered. Portland is a very competitive market in the pastry field so this was a very healthy challenge. The following years we made biscotti, a cholate raspberry torte and a few other desserts. The program did well. I was approached by a team member of the event and was asked if I’d like to be a judge the following year. I was honored actually and agreed. Then I thought about how I wasn’t a fan of chocolate. I’d have to taste each and every entry. I was having second thoughts. It was the sweetness I didn’t like. Anything very sweet like candy or rich desserts just wasn’t my thing to eat. I loved making them but thankfully I wasn’t  obsessed with chocolate. I don’t curl up and watch marathons on Netflix with a quart of chocolate ice cream or Oreos. Now a loaf of fresh crusty bread and (at the time) a nice hunk of cheese and there’s my comfort zone. I think that comes with being Italian. I always hoped there was a bread competition but it just never happened. I would have loved critiquing that.  Anyway, I did agree to judge the following year and sure enough, I got the candy category. Can’t get an sweeter than that. There were 10 entries, all different from each other. At each table was a local celebrity, a culinary expert and some other invited guests. I actually loved this part because I’m a teacher at heart. As everyone tasted the entry, they all had some very interesting opinions and questions. My real role was judging the technical field. You can love or hate a piece of candy but if it comes down to three really good tasting candies, only one can be the winner and  the technical merit plays the deciding factor. That was my expertise. The competition was really tight for the candy category. These businesses that really go for the right to be named the best are giving it their all. These contests are not cheap to enter. You have to have a minimum of something like 600 pieces per entry. You enter a couple of desserts and that’s a lot of sweat, money and chocolate not to mention the labor that goes into preparing for one of the shows. There’s a lot on the line so when it comes down to those three great tasting candies, you better have your mind on the job. After entering this show so many times, I knew what each entrant put into it or at least had a very good idea. I’m a firm believer you should only judge events you’ve entered previously. You have to understand the effort that goes into it. This was  great event and I enjoyed every year I participated whether a judge or entry.

Chocolate is a funny thing to work with. There’s really great chocolates from India as well as Belgium. There are awful chocolates that have very little actual chocolate in them. It’s a wide open field. Once you find what you like, generally that’s what you stick with. It really depends on taste, texture and the ability to work with it. The temperature of the product has to be right and the atmosphere has to support it as well. Recipes are very specific about how to melt chocolate and cool it down. There a whole world of techniques out there and wonderful pastry chefs that have shared their wealth of knowledge on it. If I had to pick an expert to recommend, it would be Jacques Torres. He’s an absolute wealth of everything chocolate. He’s an artist for sure. His pieces are show stoppers and his ability to teach is beautiful. If you’re interested in learning, look him up and I’m sure you’ll agree he is a true master. He’s pretty funny too. I love watching his videos.

So why is today the day I stopped hating chocolate?? Well, I was headed out to do some laundry. The place I go is right next to a health food store. So I put my laundry in the machine and walked over to get something to drink. There’s this beautiful chocolate on the market called HU. It was started by a brother and sister. I’m a big supporter of family started businesses. I love the packaging and the fact it’s organic and vegan. I bought some recently and sent it to my daughter to try. She’s my best critic when it comes to any food. She honest and to the point. She loves this brand. Today as I was cashing out my drink, I saw a bar that had almond butter and quinoa in it. Who thinks of that??? Almond butter and quinoa together?? Is this another case of “You put your almond butter in my quinoa?” or “You put your quinoa in my chocolate?” Or did two people really just think this one through and decide to be gutsy? Either way, it got my attention. I bought the bar. I felt great supporting HU Kitchen (out of NYC) and I was about to eat a chocolate bar for the hell of it. It’s got puffed quinoa in it so how can it be bad for you?? I took the first square and let me tell you this. When I put it in my mouth, it was the best piece of chocolate I’ve ever had. The combination of an excellent dark chocolate with almond butter and puffed quinoa snapped me out of years of deprivation of chocolate. Who are these people?? Who are these creative chocolatiers?? And why weren’t they ever entered in the chocolate show years ago when I had to judge that category?? This was such an epiphany. I realized at that very moment that I didn’t hate chocolate anymore.  Thank you to HU Kitchen for creating such a masterful bar of pure love. This, my friends, is the power in food.


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Holiday meal for one…Go all out!

So here we go again. It’s November first and that means time to think about the holiday meals. Spicy pumpkin dishes, savory sides, homemade crusty rolls and dessert are just the menu items you’ve waited all year for.

Here’s the thing. It’s just you. Is it worth it to do all of that cooking just for one person? Absolutely it is! There are so many reasons why too. Let’s start with the fact that you deserve this amazing meal. You’ve waited all year. You’ve worked hard. You’ve spent many nights eating a quick dish after you’ve gotten home late or if you’re a chef like me, you grab what you can when you can on the run. I’m pretty sure nurses live like this too. The advantage to creating your own dishes is that you get to make it exactly the way you like it. Do you like spicy food? Then turn up the heat! Are you living a plantbased lifestyle like me? Then off to the farmers market for all of your favorite vegetables and don’t forget the local honey. It’s all about you. Now here’s the thing, you can also make a plate for a friend you know is also alone. Maybe an elderly neighbor or the person working at the convenient store so every one else can enjoy the day with family. So what if you make a lot of food! You make individual meals and freeze them for the next month. Every day is a holiday when you pull one out of the freezer.

Just because you live alone doesn’t mean you have to pass up on the things you love, especially food. Think about your grandmother’s pie she made every year. Relive those memories. Bring her back to the table with you. Put every bit of love into what you make for yourself because food is powerful. Reach into the heart vault and remember how you felt when that piece of pie was served to you as a kid. Bring that feeling back for yourself. You earned it. You shopped, prepped, prepared and cleaned up after yourself. You finally used those good chef knives you bought. You sautéed, cooked, baked and served yourself. How did that feel?? Great, didn’t it?? Living alone does not mean being alone or feeling alone. It means making a meal and enjoying every bite. Cook that whole turkey. Make that spicy tofu with roasted vegetables and quinoa. Sauté that beautiful kale and mash those comforting potatoes. Today is your day.

Some people like to go out for a meal and that’s okay too. I know single friends that spend a couple of days at the food kitchen and what better way to feel the love than through the community.   There are so many ways to spend the holidays and enjoy every bit of it. Call your local church or food pantry and ask if they would like your company helping to prepare and serve the meal. I will guarantee you that if you do this and you start to talk to the people there, you will leave with a beautiful feel good story. Everyone has a story and nothing is better than sharing a meal with someone and listening to their story.

As you know by now if you’ve been reading my blogs, I have two cats that I refer to as ‘The Boys”. Every holiday includes them so there’s never really a time I dine alone. Ofcourse I make every meal a big deal by describing what they’re having and when dinner is ready. Include your fur babies or birds or whatever friends you have. Tell them how important they are to you especially if it’s just you and them. They want to hear it too. That unconditional love they give you every day, pay it back. They deserve it.

My point is, you’re not alone. You’re just cooking for one. That’s okay. Make it the best meal. Play some music. Buy that special bottle of wine. Call a loved one while you’re cooking. Enjoy the day. Every day can be a holiday meal when you live by yourself. The best part about making that wish before you pull the wishbone is you’re pretty much guaranteed it’s going to come true. How can it not? You have both sides. How cool is that?? That my friends is the power in food.

 


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Portland Farmers Market

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Fridays excite me. Why? Because it means one more day until the Portland Farmers Market at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine. This is my favorite Maine market on Saturday morning. I want to note that this also runs on Wednesday’s at Monument Square.  Maine has many and I haven’t been to all of them yet. My goal is to visit each and every one of them. If you have a favorite, please list it. If you have a favorite farm, please add it in the comment section.

What I enjoy the most about this market is the farmers. They proudly display their hard work with arrangements fit for any magazine. The colors are vibrant. The produce is healthy, unblemished and anxiously waiting to be a part of your creativity. The flowers, the herbs and the canned goods are a rainbow of colors that stretch from one end of the market to the next. The freshly baked sourdough breads, the muffins bursting with their own carrots and zucchini and the honey are impossible to walk passed with trying.

My first stop is always the Good Shepherd for his sourdough bread. By Thursday I’m usually out. Thursday is a sad day. I wait all week for another fresh loaf.  He has many to choose from including his sourdough, carmelized onion, carrot and even chaga (a type of mushroom). The reason I visit his table first is because his daughter has her own little entrepreneurial set up selling her zucchini muffins. She’s pleasant and efficient. She always says thank you and keeps her table neat and in order. She looks to be about 8 years old and on her way to becoming a successful future farmer. This is what the market is all about to me.

My next stop is Two Farmers Farm. I first had their Siberian Kale back in the Spring and I have to tell you, it was the most tender kale I have ever eaten. It was so good I was eating it on my way home. If you’ve ever had other kales, they’re course generally and need to be massaged before putting in a salad. I love their assortment of greens and they’re customer service.

I was first introduced to Cornerstone farms at a fundraiser I did a couple of years ago. I donated two of my photos to help raise money for SNAP which allows EBT cardholders the opportunity to purchase produce at half price. I won a silent auction gift card from Cornerstone. They were very generous with their offer and it was easy to see when I met them. They’re wonderful people who enjoy talking and educating the public on their produce. They always take the time to explain the new wonderful vegetables they have. They turned me onto Kolrabi which to me tastes a lot like the stem of broccoli. I shred it and put it in cole slaw or a stir fry.  In the Spring, I purchase my seedlings from them. This year I enjoyed golden grape tomatoes and green peppers all summer.

Maine Cap n Stem has the most interesting mushrooms. They’re table is always photogenic. Their displays are very well done. These people know mushrooms. I first tried lions mane and king oysters corals from them. They have a mixed quart you can purchase and try many of the different varieties. Ask them about how to prepare them and you will be amazed at the things you never knew you could do with mushrooms.

Snell Family Farm has a display of flowers and bride would be sold on. Last week I purchased a vase of flowers that looked as though they were antique in color. They sat in a beautiful olive green vase. I couldn’t walk passed them. After I took a few pictures, I asked the woman proudly selling them to hold them for a picture. I handed them to my daughter and we both fell in love with them. I usually buy my flowers from Frinklepod Farms in Arundel but I just couldn’t pass these up.

South Paw from Freedom had the perfect poblanos. The dark green healthy amazing peppers were going to be perfect for my next dish. I also was drawn to their perfect carrots. I make a curried tofu salad and I only use carrots from the market in it. There’s something pretty special about taking a bunch of carrots with full green tops. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.

There are many famers there and my blog could go on forever. They’re all wonderful. I’ll leave the website for a full list of them so you can see for yourself. You will not be disappointed. There’s a lot of everything here. There’s arts and crafts in their own nook. There are musicians playing the perfect music and even a woman on stilts dressed like Alice from Alice and Wonderland. You’ll see happy dogs thrilled to be meeting new dogs. It’s kind of like their little meeting place. There are many many children learning the way to self sustainability. There are children with their own bags doing their own shopping. Nothing makes me happier than to see young ones trying something new, handing over their dollar for an apple half the size of their head or just piggy backing and taking it all in. There’s just so much going on. There are a lot of choices. It’s a celebration of food. It’s a classroom, a meeting place and a canvas for photography.

I follow a whole food plant based lifestyle. I’m certified in plantbased nutrition. I’m also a food photographer. The Portland Farmers Market offers me all of this. I can do my shopping, learn about new produce and take some of the most spectacular photos. It’s the whole package. If you’ve not made it to Deering Oaks yet, treat yourself. Talk to the farmers. Meet the people. Learn something new. Enjoy the community. Try a vegetable you’ve never seen before. Take it all in. You’ll fall in love with famers markets.

For a full list of farmers and to view their online store, visit:  http://www.portlandmainefarmersmarket.org and http://www.mofga.org

The Portland market is in Deering Oaks every Saturday and Monument Square every Wednesday until December. Their hours are 7am to 1pm. I’ll post about the winter market as we get closer.

 

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Union Bagel Co.

Every weekend, I think of a city or town I want to visit to see what gem of a food establishment I’m going to discover. Sometimes I’ll visit a place by word of mouth but most of the time it’s simply a visit to explore. Portland, Maine is a great city for such an adventure.

One particular Saturday, I made plans to visit the Portland Farmers Market at Deering Oaks. As I was leaving the market, I was headed to the Portland Co Op. I went a different way which took me to some side roads. At a stop sign I chose to take a right thinking it was the right way later to find out it was the best right turn I’ve taken in a very long time. My eye caught this store front with a sign that read: Union Bagel Co.. I had heard about them and wanted to try them and there they were. I spend a lot of time in New York City and this is exactly the type of bagel place I would expect to see in The Village.

As I went inside, immediately I felt it was a warm inviting place with the smells of toasted bagels and brewed coffee.The customer service was immediate and friendly. Everyone was working non stop and as they were making breakfast bagels and layering cream cheese on the beautiful homemade bagels, they greeted me with a pleasant hello and asked if I had any questions. I was overwhelmed with happiness when I saw they made a tofu spread for their bagels, their warm, toasted bagels made with organic flour. Where have I been ?? I ordered a toasted everything bagel with their tofu spread, spinach and avocado.

While I waited, I asked if I could take some pictures of their bagels. They were just beautiful. Each bagels with their own homemade look sitting on their baskets waiting their turn to be slathered with the many spreads Union Bagels offers. There’s a small counter top out front so I set up my little area ready for a picture of my order next to their napkin dispenser that had their logo ready to go for my shot. My name was called and my breakfast was ready. It smelled incredible. As I unwrapped my toasted gem, the aroma told me I made a great choice. I set my bagel up by their logo and took some quick shots angling it just right to showcase the beautiful spinach and avocado layered within their homemade tofu spread. The spread reminded me a lot of hummus but just different enough to be intriguing. I wanted more of it to bring home. The entire experience lasted about 10 minutes because it was so good that I couldn’t get enough. You can taste the love and dedication in everything they make.

I knew immediately this would become a Saturday tradition along with the farmers market. Finding an incredible bagel that offers plantbased spreads and customer service that’s very friendly was a complete package. These people know what they’re doing and they do it right.

I highly recommend Union Bagel Co.. They’re conveniently located at 147 Cumberland Av., Portland, Maine with an additional store opening soon. You can take bagels with you so you can share this experience. I suggest bringing a friend or four. They’ll love you for it. Nothing is better than turning friends onto good eats.

Visit their website for more information at: http://www.unionbagel.com


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Mamis Portland, Me

Portland, Maine is a haven for a variety of restaurants, food trucks and cafes. I’m always in search for good food, local food. Sometimes it happens by a search but more often it happens just by driving around Portland and something catches my eye. In the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate to discover not just one of the best food trucks I’ve ever eaten at but a restaurant to match.

I’m talking about  Mami’s Restaurant in Portland, Maine on 339 Fore Street and their Japanese Food truck. Just a couple of years ago I was leaving the Portland Farmers Market at Deering Park and headed over to Urban Farms Fermentory.  As I drove by Rising Tides, I saw a beautiful food truck. It was all black with a delicate drawing and the words “Mami” on the side. I was with my daughter, Ronni and we pulled in the parking lot without hesitation. The menu was intriguing. The Yokasoba noodles caught my attention first followed by the grilled  rice ball, the Yaki Onigiri. We each ordered the noodles and decided to share the rice ball. The customer service was very good. These people were obviously proud of their menu. When that happens, the meal already taste good and you haven’t gotten it yet. I couldn’t help but peak at the people around me to see what they were trying. The plates were colorful and every single person was focused on the food in front of them. Another great sign that this is going to be good.

Our name was called and when I went up to the truck, the person who helped us said,”Thanks guys! Enjoy!”. I love that!  As always with me (and get used to it if you eat out with me) the camera came out. This was a photo opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. The food looked and smelled incredible. It photographed just a well. The colors popped and the pure art of their presentation made it easy to take pictures.  As we dove in, the taste was like nothing I’ve ever had. It all worked. The flavors, textures and aromas were happily doing their thing all together. The only disappointing moment was when we realized we should have ordered two rice balls. They were crispy on the outside with beautiful fresh scallions and when you got inside, the filling just tasted like heaven. If heaven made grilled rice balls, this would be it followed by the Yakasoba noodles. This is real food. Before I even got up from the picnic table, I was following them on social media.

This year we saw some really good news. Mami’s opened a restaurant with the same delicious options from their truck. My daughter surprised me with a special lunch there. It was as good as our first meal with the Japanese Food Truck. The customer service was enjoyable and engaging. They are as proud of the menu they’re serving as we experienced from the truck.

Owners Austin and Hana know food, good food. I love local and supporting local business and the farmers they support. Their restaurant and food truck are at the top of my list when I want to have good local, fresh, well made good eats. It’s a whole experience from the moment you look at the menu to placing your order, receiving your meal to the pure enjoyment.  Food should be celebratory. Maimi’s  offered all of this. Visit their website: http://www.mamifoodtruck.com


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Living a Plant based lifestyle

Those of you who know me, know how celebratory I think food is. Those of you who haven’t met me yet will learn from me that it is just that,  celebratory.

My mission in life seems to be to discover ways that people can have the foods they miss because of dietary restrictions, self diagnosed allergies or just wanting to do nicer things for their bodies. This has been a life long process for me. I once opened a 100% gluten free café ahead of its time. There, people with gluten allergies, sensitivities and celiac disease, to name a few, could come in and have a full meal enjoying foods they thought they could never have again. It was a clean, peaceful, allergen free environment where food was enjoyed to its fullest without any fear of having tummy troubles later. My café was also dairy free and peanut free. It was a fun place and a creative place that most people referred to as “Anello’s Café” but to me it was my lab.

From there I started to research a more healthy alternative to reach a broader market. This brought me to experimenting with the “Elimination Diet”. For the record, I despise the term “diet” and prefer  “Lifestyle” but in this case, diet was appropriate. This “diet” consisted of no meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, gluten or alcohol. After one week I felt really good. The weight loss actually noticeable and my fatigue was turning into new found energy. I was on to something. The one thing I really enjoyed was eliminating the meat. Not eating cheese for me was like a life sentence. I went the entire month and really felt great. As time went on, I added a few things back in but meat and dairy were out for good. This “diet” was turning into a “lifestyle”. I began to research Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s China Study. I bought the book and watched his talks. My next step was to take his class at Cornell online and become certified in plant based nutrition. In the Spring of 1016, I did just that. It’s a wonderful course and the research was extensive. Rouxbe is a cooking school that offered a discount if you took this Cornell class. Rouxbe is a plant based school so I signed up. I highly recommend this course. The techniques and recipes will easily send you on your way to a nutritious lifestyle. You’ll learn how to cook a wide variety of grains and legumes as well as making delicious sauces and dressings from plants and plant products. You’ll learn correct knife cuts as well as the correct way to use a knife.  Check them out: http://www.rouxbe.com

Knowing how important food is to people, my chef background motivated me to learn a new way of cooking and eating. I was up for the challenge. Dr. Campbell’s son Tom is also a plant based doctor like his father. he explains how to reverse heart disease and diabetes and his documentary “Pure Plant Nation” explains it all. I highly recommend this film. His wife wrote a cookbook which is completely plant based. Her recipes are nothing short of amazing. I love reading about their family get togethers and how they all share this lifestyle.

My research then took me to Dr. Michael Greger. His vast knowledge and sense of humor were the beginning of a beautiful relationship with food. I purchased his book “How Not to Die”. It’s about nutrition, his “Daily Dozen”, what food does for you and the different illnesses it can help. He breaks food down into groups and explains how they work, why they work and the best way to consume them. He loves what he does and it shows. He also has his own pod casts which I love to listen to while I’m driving. The thing I love about this doctor is he gives you the information based on extensive research. The information is there. It’s up to you to you how and when you decide to use it. He’s not going any where. The information is there when you’re ready. his website is: http://www.NutritionFacts.org.

My best advice when thinking about trying a plant based lifestyle is to start out slow (unless you’re ready to commit 100%). I have done “lunch and learn” oncology talks.  My best piece of advice to someone who is just not ready to give it up is this: You don’t have to take it all out at once. If you’re eating 6oz of meat with your dinner, try 3oz of meat and double the volume of your vegetables. Then next time go down to 1 1/2oz of meat and a few more vegetables. Eventually you train your pallet to finally eliminate the meat all together. Then move on to the elimination of dairy. I felt my very best when I finally sent the cheese packing for good. I have never looked back on the casein train. Casein is that nasty protein that cause havoc in your digestive track.

Ready to give this a try? Add colors to your plate. Reach for the rainbow and try to add one of each color to your meals. There are a host of beautiful vegetables and fruits always at your local farmers market. I’ve been cooking for over 30 years and I can tell you I always find something new at the market. It’s a great way to meet your local farmers and they always have a wonderful way to enjoy their harvest. If cooking isn’t a strong point for you (yet), Indian, Japanese and Thai cuisine offer many plant based entrees that you can try first and then have fun recreating at home. There are many vegetarian restaurants and plant based as well opening up all over the country. They offer different ways to enjoy sandwiches, pastas and salads with a colorful boost. The internet is a host of recipes. You can learn how to make cheese spreads and sauces with cashews that are dairy free, nutritious and delicious. Once you see how easy this is, you’ll be making your own meals at home before you know it. I love making my own spreads and dressings. I know exactly what’s in them. You can also make them for friends and family to try. At my daughter’s wedding, I put out some plant based options and guests enjoyed them as much as the other choices. It opened up the group to talking about this way of enjoying food. recently at a cookout I made my sundried tomato and basil spread and the men were taking chips and dipping into it without realizing all it contained was sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, cashews, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, shallots, chopped red pepper and garlic. Honestly, they didn’t really care what it was. They just cared that it tasted good. Fair enough.

If you’re interested in giving this a try, visit the sites I’ve included or send me a message. One day at a time is the best approach. The food is rea, whole and wonderful. The people are supportive. The journey is definitely worth it.

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