Monday, November 9, 2009


Welcome to my blog: Marie Simmons Vegetarian Tonight

I'm calling my blog Marie Simmons Cooks Vegetarian Tonight because that's how I'm cooking these days. Lots of vegetables, grains, beans, nuts. A little cheese. The occasional egg. Fish once or twice a week. But less and less meat. Fresh & Fast (with the ampersand) Vegetarian is the working title of my new cookbook project.

The crazy thing is I'm obviously not a strict vegetarian. I'm not strict anything. I hate the word strict. But, I sure love to cook vegetables. In fact I love to cook them so much my husband and I eat meat only about once a week. For our vegetarian meals I do what I call, "Make a Plate" as I balance flavors, textures, colors, tastes and nutritional needs.

We eat lots of vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. Olive oil is my fat of choice. Garlic, used judiciously, adds great flavor. And, I always add a starch. Sometimes its potatoes, beans, polenta, or pasta. But these days its is more often an exotic rice--red or black rice--or other grain like quinoa, bulgur, farro, or barley. I use hard cooked eggs and cheese and nuts in moderation, often as an edible garnish. We never leave the table hungry.

As I work on my book and delve deeper and deeper into the endless options for meals without meat, I'll share some of my insights, discoveries, and recipes through my blog postings.

Cooking for me is a normal as breathing, no matter what the cuisine. My kitchen is always a happy place. Surrounded by my ingredients, pots and pans, favorite knives and other tools, listening to my local NPR station (KQED) I spend my day between my kitchen and my office cooking, researching and writing. The remainder of my time I spend shopping for ingredients.

I am blessed to be living in the San Francisco Bay Area where we are surrounded by agriculture and have access to dozens of markets. The local farmer's markets are my favorite places to shop. We have one near our home (at the El Cerrito Plaza) and others in Berkeley that are always an inspiration.

I've never actually put my fingers on my pulse, but quite honestly I think it speeds up when I walk these markets. Week after week I feel the same excitement when I see the awesome array of fresh fruits and vegetables, the freshly caught seafood, the artisan cheese makers and the talented bakers. We even have the most fabulous fresh tofu (Hodo Soy in Oakland) that sells their luscious creamy freshly made "bean to block" organic tofu (including yuba the skin that forms on top of the fresh pressed soy milk that is considered a delicacy) both plain and made into delicious take away prepared foods.

Shopping the market is where I get the inspiration for my recipe development. I walk from stall to stall sharply focused my head busily deciding what vegetables will go with which and how I'll cook, season and serve them once I'm at home.

As the seasons change the colors at the market change, but the selection somehow never diminishes. Now that it is late fall and will soon be winter I'm selecting heady soft stem broccoli, all kinds of dark leafy greens, an array of winter squash, sweet potatoes, tight, tiny heads of cauliflower and peppers in every color that move along the flavor spectrum from spicy to sweet. The quince, apples and pears have carved out their place at the market. And the fabulous mushrooms--sometimes more than a half dozen different types to select from--are always a must purchase. Mushrooms and leafy greens are often the centerpiece of one of our weekly all vegetable meals.

Food obviously makes me happy. And this is a good thing, as I've spent the last couple of decades writing cookbooks (over 20, but who's counting), hundreds of food articles in major national magazines and local newspapers, teaching cooking classes throughout the US, and developing thousands of recipes.

I don't take my success--or my passion for food-- for granted. I'm sincerely grateful that I've been lucky enough to harness this passion and turn it into a career. And, I'm especially excited to be embarking on this vegetarian journey.

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