Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shameless Plug

I have no problem bragging about a product that I love so today I'm going to share my love for Dr. Bronner's Magic All One Soap. The soap is seriously amazing. It is made from highly concentrated organic hemp and jojoba oils. This soap lathers like you wouldn't believe with just a few drops. It comes in lavendar, almond, peppermint and unscented varieties but by far my favorite is the peppermint oil soap. Aside from being cool, tingly, and refreshing peppermint oil has also been found to kill bacteria. And, when the steam of the shower mixes with the concentrated peppermint oil it also really opens your sinuses. There is nothing better than taking a deep breath of peppermint scent when your nose is all stuffy!

Dr. Bronner's can be used for basically everything. I wash my hair, face, and body with it. This means my shower contains only ONE plastic bottle. So, while I'm using an amazing soap I'm also making an environmentally friendly decision. In a pinch I've also used Bronner's diluted in water to brush my teeth (although it didn't taste great my mouth was clean!) The label tells you it can be used as laundry detergent or for cleaning around the house. If you search online you will find people claiming it removes warts, plaque/tartar on teeth, kills fleas on animals, and acts as an insect repellent. The soap comes in a quart container and I pay about $13 for a bottle here in Chicago.

One of the best parts about Bronner's is its history. Emanuel Bronner started his company around 1947 in California after escaping from a mental institution here in the Chicago area (Elgin). The soaps are all natural and organic and today his son and grandson still run the company exactly the way Emanuel would have wanted. They have 15 employees who bottle all the soap by hand (about 2 million bottles a year) in a factory that does no environmental harm and contains no machinery.

If you've ever seen a bottle of Bronner's you know that the label is a treat of its own. Every inch is covered with texts from world religions and philosophies. It was Emanuel's quoting (or maybe ranting) about religion and morality that put him in a mental institution in Illinois. In the early days of the company Dr. Bronner's son Ralph was in charge of hand typing all of the text for the labels.

Dr. Bronner also had a heart of compassion. Not something I see in most CEOs. Over the years he and his company have funded an orphanage in China, a school in Mexico, freshwater wells in Ghana, provided college scholarships, built homeless shelters, helped Boys and Girls Clubs, and spent $1 million saving rainforests. The company has no marketing deparment and no salesmen and do not advertise. Yet word of mouth has spread Bronner's to every healthfood store in the US and even some major chains. It has even been featured in Vogue and many models are said to demand it in dressing rooms and during photoshoots.

My skin feels amazing since using Bronners. Its always a crisp wakeup call when I'm drowsy and aside from feeling fresh and clean on the outside my conscience feels fresh and clean too knowing that I'm doing the right thing. So, buy a bottle, get clean, be inspired by the words on the label and support a small family owned business that is doing right for the environment and doing good to the inhabitants of this earth!

Happy bathing.

Love, Vanessa

Saturday, May 30, 2009

a springtime marriage

Its time to talk food! Early spring has arrived and the one thing the comes to mind is ASPARAGUS. I just cannot get enough of this delicious veg. Early spring is the best time to eat and appreciate asparagus. It is one of those foods that doesn't fit into a basic flavor profile (sweet, salty, sour, bitter) but rather that 5th vague flavor of umami. The word umami is loosely translated from the Japanese word that means "tasty" and generally refers to foods rich in protein such as eggs, meats, cheeses and mushrooms.

Asparagus is a vegetable that should be honored, loved, and respected. It is a pain to grow (or shall I say a labor of love), and is incredibly nutritious. I urge you to eat some this spring and show appreciation to the crazy person who decided to be an asparagus farmer. Especially in this insanely wet spring we've had so far.

For those interested - asparagus demands sandy, well drained soil. Standing water can cause serious rot. And when raising it from seed it can take 3 years before you have a harvestable crop. To top it off, when cutting spears at harvest you may actually be damaging some spear tips that are still below ground. So, please be thankful for your local asparagus farmer.

So, without further ado I would like to talk about one of the most beautiful springtime love affairs and that is of asparagus and eggs. These two flavors combine so well together and are delicious at any time of day. I'm going to share a recipe for a simple asparagus and spring onion quiche that can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, brunch, or a simple, quick, nutritious dinner.

The combination of cream and eggs used to make a quiche is called a Royale. For this quiche I recommend 2 cups of heavy cream and 6 good quality large eggs (preferably from a local farmer or farmers market). Whisk your eggs together and slowly pour in the cream while continuing to whisk.

Season the royale with salt, white pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.

Drizzle your asparagus with olive oil and roast in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes. For one quiche I would use 6-10 medium sized spears. Let them cool slightly and slice the spears on a bias. I think slicing asparagus on a bias makes them more palatable and reduces the woody texture.

While your asparagus is roasting julienne some spring onions and caramelize them in a bit of butter. Once caramelized let them cool slightly.

Fold the sliced asparagus and onions into the royale.

Another great accompaniment to asparagus and eggs is a strongly flavored cheese. For this quiche I recommend Pecorino Romano. It can be a bit expensive but the flavor is incredible. If you're on a budget substitute for a parmesan - preferably reggiano or grana (just please not one from the shaker can) Pecorino is a bit salty so remember this when salting your royale.

Once your royale is made you're ready to make your quiche. And since this is supposed to be a quick and easy recipe I'm going to say go ahead and buy a pre-made pie crust. I also recommend baking the pie crust ahead of time. Don't forget to prick the bottom of the crust or fill it with dry beans to weight it down and avoid getting air bubbles. If you'd like to make a crust from scratch and need a recipe I'd be glad to lend one!

Pour your royale into the pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Its ready when the eggs are firm but fluffy.

Asparagus also marries well with bacon or pancetta and sauted mushrooms so consider adding one those to your quiche as well. And if you don't like such strong cheese as I suggested consider a nice white cheddar.

Quiche also makes a great hors dourve so consider purchasing mini tart shells and filling them with your royale. They bake up beautifully in about 8-10 minutes.

For other springtime uses of asparagus and eggs consider these ideas -

Egg salad with grilled asparagus

Soft boiled eggs with toast points and asparagus spears for dipping.

Use the woody ends of the asparagus to make soup/veg stock

Omelette with bacon, asparagus and asiago

Or simply grill your asparagus with a squeeze of lemon and a pat of butter alongside your favorite entree

Please enjoy this delicious vegetable this spring and let me know your favorite way to prepare it.

Happy cooking.

whats going on here!?!?

No, its not chalk in the eraser (that's for you mom) I just wanted to take a moment to explain what's going on regarding my family and Monsanto.

Its hard to know where to begin but I'll do my best and if you're left with questions just ask!

So let's begin about 5000 years ago because in many ways farming hasn't changed much. The point has always been to plant seeds that grow crops which make more seeds. Those seeds got saved for the next years planting and so on and so on. Seed saving was a necessity for the survival of this nation of immigrants. With those diverse immigrants came a diverse collection of seeds that were carefully selected by families not only as a means to survive but also as a connection to their homeland.

Enter the seed cleaner (this is my dad) So what is seed cleaning?? Essentially its the heart and soul of sustainable agriculture. In order to produce a successful crop the seeds that are saved must be cleaned of debris, weeds, and low quality seeds. As early as the 1700's mechanics were inventing machines that made this process easier. Today, seed cleaning machines work using systems of screens, vibration, air, and gravity (right dad?? or did I just pull that out of my butt?) Some machines are portable like my dad's and he offers a service to farmers by coming to their farm and cleaning the seed which saves the farmer time, money, and the hassle of taking their seed to a stationary cleaner. And it gives my dad a means to make money which is pretty cool too. And, although tractors have replaced oxen and combines now do the picking that hands once did, for generations the process of growing, saving, cleaning, and replanting seed has gone undisturbed until....

Enter Monsanto. A chemical company responsible for evils such as Agent Orange, DDT, and bovine growth hormones.

In the end of the 20th century Monsanto began to transition from chemical company to biotechnology giant with the introduction of Roundup - an herbicide that kills plants by inhibiting their ability to produce energy. It was touted by Monsanto as a product that broke down into inert material in the soil. Meaning that even after the use of Roundup soil would still be viable for new crops. It was an instant hit.

In the 70s and 80s Monsanto began to develop genetically engineered (GE) seeds carrying a trait that would allow the plant (corn and soybeans) to survive being sprayed by Roundup. This means the herbicide could be sprayed directly on the entire field - killing weeds while crops still thrived. Monsanto marketed these crops as a miracle for farmers, saving them time and money by lessening the amount of time and money spent spraying weed control chemicals.

By the 1990's Monsanto had patent protection in place for their "RoundupReady" seeds.

Rewind - remember when I said the point of farming is to plant seeds that make crops that make more seeds? Well, if a farmer buys a bag of RoundupReady seed and save a portion of the 2nd generation for next year then they wouldn't have to buy them from Monsanto anymore. So, the company decided to use the power of patents to disrupt a 5000 year old process of saving seed by requiring farmers who use Monsanto seed to buy it new every year - guaranteeing them money.

Now, farmers are required to sign an agreement that restricts his right to use the seed that he paid for in the manner he sees fit. Now, farmers must sell all their seed as a commodity, submit to Monsanto's home court in St. Louis if any dispute arises, allow Monsanto "investigators" (think mafia goons) on their property for inspections, and to pay attorney fees and penalties if infringement is suspected.

Monsanto is a multi-billion dollar company and to date they have sued 200 small farmers who probably each barely make $30 - 40,000 yearly. These lawsuits aren't about Monsanto reaping money they're owed, but rather as a way to make an example of hard-working men and scaring other small farmers into compliance with the technology agreements.

Most farmers can't afford legal counsel so they agree to settle. Usually by paying $100/bag of seed Monsanto believes they have saved. These penalties are huge for struggling farmers and can take years to pay off. And this money means nothing to a billion dollar industry. Farmers who won't settle get sued in Monsantos hometown of St. Louis (as per the tech agreement). Judges and juries in the town where much of the population is employed by Monsanto tend to be very symPATHETIC (to Monsanto) and so far not a single farmer has won his case.

So, where does my dad fit in all this? He's not a seed saver, he's a seed cleaner and according to Monsanto he's infringing on their patent by cleaning their seed for the farmer who wants to save it.

From where I stand it looks like Monsanto believes if they can take down the seed cleaner then farmers will be forced to buy new seed. They will then have a complete monopoly over the industry.

Its kind of like the music industry suing the guy who sells blank CD's instead of going after the guy downloading his music illegally.

Sadly, Monsanto is harassing many of my dad's customers and friends pressuring them to testify against him in court or get sued themselves. Not only are they destroying small farmers, but also the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with small town living.

My dad isn't the first seed cleaner Monsanto has battled. In Indiana Maurice Parr was a seed cleaner who was sued and lost his case.

Hoping and praying for a different outcome for our family.

Hopefully this gave everyone some insight into the life of my parents and other small farmers. But, I'm sure you're left with questions. So, in future entries I promise to address questions like:
- why do farmers keep buying from Monsanto?
- why are genetically engineered crops so bad?
- why do farmers need to save seed? Why can't they just comply?

You can find out more about my dad's struggles by googling "steve hixon" with the word Monsanto. A wonderful lady named Linn Cohen-Cole ( has befriended us and has written many more poignant articles than I could ever write. Thanks to all the bloggers out there who have re-printed or linked Linn's articles about my dad and gotten his story out.

And since I've never signed a Monsanto Technology Agreement forbidding me to speak against them publicly... From the bottom of my heart I want all 176,000 of your employees to know you're all a bunch of evil bastards without souls destroying this precious planet more and more everyday.

Love, Vanessa

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Hey blogworld! I'm back and better than ever. In an effort to make my blog more focused and relevant to my everyday life I decided to change the name and spend the majority of my time on here talking about my favorite thing -- FOOD. How to cook it, where to eat it, where to read about it, and most importantly THE POLITICS of it. Sadly, our food is about to become completely under corporate/government control and we all need to be aware so we can fight for our right to eat. My new blog will be dedicated keeping everyone informed and updated on the most important food safety issues. I'll also throw in fun stuff like recipes, restaurant and book reviews, helpful hints and so on. I'll also be using the blog as a vehicle to keep people up to date with the latest havoc Monsanto is causing in the lives of small farmers and everyday citizens. Hopefully everyone who reads will become more informed about the most evil company in the world. So welcome to my new blog, take a look around and please feel free to offer suggestions about what you'd like to see here in the future!