Monthly Archives: November 2014

Midwest Maize


I have a new book coming out and a new blog to support it. The book is Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. The book combines a lot of fun factoids (like do you know the connection between corn and vampires?), but also covers the sweeping saga of how a weed from Mexico was bred into a powerhouse grain that spanned the globe and pretty much created the Midwest. The book also covers the transformation of the world over the last 150 years, from horses used in farming and cooking over fireplaces to the introduction of farming machines, kitchen stoves, and frozen food, to the remarkable farm-to-table dynamic we have today.

The new blog will not duplicate info from the book, but will rather take you along on my travels as I researched the book and adding all the stuff I have learned and am learning that I think might be of interest, from cool tourist destinations to great chefs to fabulous farmers and more. (More info on the blog: — hope you’ll visit.)

The book won’t be out (from the University of Illinois Press) until February 2015, but it is available for pre-order at Amazon, if you want to lock in the current price. However, the blog is alive now.


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Filed under Books, culinary history, Culture, History, Thoughts, Travel

Maria’s Ancient Grains

Back in March, I mentioned that I was again working with Maria Baez Kijac, author of the award-winning and impressively comprehensive cookbook, The South American Table. This time, the topic was “ancient grains”–those super grains of Latin America that are so newsworthy these days. It was great to be working with Maria again–and the best part of working with Maria, since she tests all the recipes multiple times, is getting to try all the foods. So I can say with certainty that these recipes work and are mighty good. Of course, they also have the benefits of being gluten free and packed with nutrients from the super grains. Maria also includes tips everywhere as to how to alter recipes to personalize them.

But eventually the fun, and the taste testing, came to an end, the book went to press–and now it’s out. Cooking with Ancient Grains is now available for those interested in how to utilize these “nutrition powerhouses,” as Maria calls them.

One thing I did note of interest (though possibly only to me) is that one my favorite recipes, the mushroom and watercress soup, doesn’t look in the photo like it does in Maria’s kitchen. If you get the book and decide to try this recipe, follow Maria’s instructions, not the photo–because in the photo, the mushrooms are sliced (which probably helps confirm for viewers that it’s mushroom soup), but in Maria’s soup, they are chopped. It always seemed to me as though the mushroom taste was magnified by the greater surface area presented by the chopped mushrooms. That said, it’s probably great no matter what you do with the mushrooms. I also loved the salads, especially the quinoa, black rice, and smoked salmon salad, and all the salad dressings. And the raw tomatillo and avocado dip. In fact, though one always has favorites, I can’t say that I ever tried anything I didn’t like.

Because Maria includes detailed info about how to work with the grains, preparing them and how to use them in your own recipes, this is a useful resource if you’re new to quinoa, kañiwa, amaranth, and chia. And because the recipes are collected from Maria’s extensive travel, they’ll probably be of interest even if you’re already familiar with these grains.

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Filed under Books, Food, Nutrition