Why I Quit My Dream Job at the New York Times

My new dream job is to get healthier food onto the plates of more Americans. See below for an excerpt from my recent story in Time.

Could there be a better week to form a company specializing in vegan meals? As everyone knows, the World Health Organization last week labeled processed meat a carcinogen and said red meat was probably dangerous as well. Not news, exactly, but a further confirmation that plant-based diets are where it’s at.

It was the determination to get healthier food onto the dinner plates of more Americans that led me to leave the New York Times, where I had what most people would think was a dream job: as weekly Opinion columnist and the lead food writer for the Sunday Magazine. But really: Not only was I ready for something new, it felt like it was time to put my boots on the ground.

So when David Mayer contacted me, I was primed. Mayer is the lead investor in The Purple Carrot, a plant-based meal kit company founded in Boston by Andy Levitt last year. Dave, who never uses 100 words when he can use 1,000, wrote me a long e-mail that said, among other salient things, that he wanted to build a company so people would “cook meals with real food, talk about it, show their kids what cooking is and connect on that and what it means. Imagine the implications … if we could help …. hundreds of millions of Americans to eat vegan at least two nights a week. Make it easy, really good and affordable.”

Get the full story here.

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12 Fantastic Ways to Bust Out of a Salad Rut

Salad greens matrixFrom late spring until at least Thanksgiving, myriad local greens flood our markets, each worthy of the euphoria we tend to reserve for other seasonal produce.

Romaine is fine, but dandelion, tender lettuces, chard, and arugula (real arugula, not the “baby” kind they sell in most supermarkets) can be as flavorful as the juiciest tomato. You can make a different salad with these greens every day for weeks without repeating yourself.


This week’s Matrix highlights twelve of the most available (and wonderful) greens, divided into four categories—tender, crunchy, sturdy, and bold—though the distinctions are often blurred. In any case, don’t be constrained by my recommendations; many other greens will fill in here just fine.

To learn how to prepare salad greens 12 ways, read this excerpt from my new book Kitchen Matrix here.

By now, you know the drill. Share one of these 12 salad recipes, or a favorite of your own using #MatrixChallenge. Celebrate these fresh leafy greens before the frost rolls in.


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12 Fantastic Ways to Cook With Zucchini

kitchen matrix

Nobody complains about having too many cucumbers, tomatoes, or eggplants. But zucchini, the most productive vegetable (yes, I know that technically it’s a fruit) of summer and early fall, does not get enough love. It’s so prolific! It’s so cheap! What are we going to do with all of it?

I suppose it’s not just zucchini’s omnipresence but also its mild flavor—and indeed, the difficulty of bringing out some of its character—that makes us feel challenged. But zucchini is a workhorse: tender enough to eat raw, and quick- cooking and amenable to all kinds of flavors. And there’s something else in zucchini’s favor: it maintains its firmness and freshness longer than any of the more beloved mid-summer vegetables.

When buying, look for the smallest zucchini and yellow squash; they don’t have to be designated “baby,” but something under 6 inches long and 1 inch or so in diameter will have better smaller, less cottony seeds. If a zucchini is tender enough, you can even eat the stem. You may also come across pattypan squash; their flying-saucer make them a bit trickier to cut up, but they can be used in any of the recipes here, as can yellow summer squash.

No doubt you have grilled and sautéed zucchini, and have probably also eaten it raw (even if it’s just a bite taken while chopping it to be sautéed), but it’s possible you’ve yet explored the wonders of zucchini in the microwave. Microwaving makes zucchini silky and tender with the push of a button. If you’re without a microwave, you can move those recipes to a saucepan over medium heat.

Appreciate the zucchini. In the scope of the season’s bounty, it may not steal the show, but you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

To learn how to cook zucchini 12 ways, read this excerpt from my new book Kitchen Matrix here.

This week, cook one of these zucchini recipes at home, or create a version of your own, and post to Instagram or Twitter using #MatrixChallenge.

I will be reposting some of my favorites, and one person will win an Inspiralizer from this week’s Challenge co-host, Inspiralized.com.

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Breakfast Gets New Life at Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl

Photo by Grant Cornett

Photo by Grant Cornett

It all started with the jam. This being Los Angeles, it wasn’t, of course, just any jam. It was — and is — organic, and local, and often made from varieties of fruit that usually don’t make it out of California, like Blenheim apricots, or combinations that you don’t see elsewhere, like strawberry and rose. The jam is fragrant and not overly sweet, and you want to eat it with a spoon.

Word started to get around that Jessica Koslow, 33, was spreading it with ricotta on burned brioche, and soon there were lines out the door at Sqirl, her cute, shabby, hip little storefront on Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood. “Sqirl was, really, a jam company,” she said to me a couple of weeks ago, munching on a piece of brioche with blood-orange marmalade and almond-hazelnut butter. “I knew it couldn’t stay that way, because I wanted to create a place that worked, long-term, on a street corner that no one wanted to be on.”

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How Should We Eat?

The recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a nutrition panel that helps update and revise federal dietary guidelines,were announced last week and are easy to parse: The panel, a collection of 14 health experts with dozens of specialists in support, emphasizes things that just about everyone agrees upon: that we need a diet more oriented toward plants, that we should reduce calorie consumption in general, and that less sugar would be a good thing. Not much new there, or surprising.

But on some levels the report is disappointing: For one thing, it’s 571 pages (not surprisingly, it stumbles over itself). And it focuses on individual nutrients at the expense of sending simpler messages. No one wants to think about “eating” (or, even worse, “consuming”) cholesterol or saturated fat or sodium or “sweeteners.” We want to think about eating food.

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Let’s Address the State of Food

The state of the union, food-wise, is not good. The best evidence is that more than 46.5 million Americans are receiving SNAP benefits — formerly food stamps — a number that has not changed much since 2013, when it reached its highest level ever.

Even if you allow for fraud, which barely exists (imagine being so desperate that you’d risk imprisonment for $130 a month; I doubt you can), the number would be far higher if everyone who was eligible knew it, if pride and stigma were not issues and if it were easier to enroll. Still, 15 percent of the nation is bad enough; it’s roughly equivalent to the population of Spain.

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Simple Stocks for Soup on the Fly

Herb Stock

For years, I’ve written about the merits of homemade stock (or at least stock made by a real person), even insisting that if it’s a choice between canned or boxed stocks and water, you’re better off with water. At their best, the canned and boxed versions taste like salt; at their worst, like chemicals.

But here’s the problem with homemade stock: It’s so good that it doesn’t last long. What’s needed is something you can produce more or less on the spot. Although water is a suitable proxy in small quantities, when it comes to making the bubbling, chest-warming soups that we rely on this time of year, water needs some help.

Fortunately, there are almost certainly flavorful ingredients sitting in your fridge or pantry that can transform water into a good stock in a matter of minutes. The process may be as simple as simmering in water fresh herbs, mushrooms or even tea, or browning aromatics to create richness, or adding staples like crushed tomatoes or coconut milk. To further maximize flavor in minimal time, it pays to reach for ingredients that pack a punch, like miso, anchovies, chipotles, Parmesan rinds, sometimes even leftovers.

Read the rest of this column herePhotos by Sam Kaplan.

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Let Them Eat Foie Gras

The lifting of the California ban against selling foie gras (the hyperfattened liver of geese or ducks, brought about by overfeeding the live animals) is pretty much a nonissue, except to point out that as a nation we have little perspective on animal welfare. To single out the tiniest fraction of meat production and label it “cruel” is to miss the big picture, and the big picture is this: Almost all meat production in the United States is cruel.

The sale and production of foie gras was prohibited in California in 2012. Though the ban was widely ignored — foie gras was served for free in many restaurants and sold illegally in others — it’s now legal to serve it. (Production remains banned.)

But so what? Foie gras is among the most overrated of luxury ingredients, ranking right up there with caviar and truffles. Done right, all three are delicious, but we can call them rich people’s food, and as such they’re not that important except to chefs who want to impress rich people or rich people who want to be impressed.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Hens, Unbound

The most significant animal welfare law in recent history — California’s Prop 2 — takes effect today. The measure, which passed by a landslide vote in 2008, requires egg and some meat producers to confine their animals in far more humane conditions than they did before. No longer will baby calves (veal) or gestational pigs be kept in crates so small they cannot turn around and, perhaps more significantly, egg-laying hens may not be held in “battery” cages that prevent them from spreading their wings.

The regulations don’t affect only hens kept in California. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that extended the protections of Prop 2 to out-of-state birds: You cannot sell an egg in California from a hen kept in extreme confinement anywhere. For an industry that has been able to do pretty much what it wants, this is a big deal: It bans some of the most egregious practices.

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An Atheist’s Christmas Dream

I’ve spent much of my life trying to ignore Christmas. As a secular Jew, an atheist and a progressive, my reasons are common. It’s a commercial, obnoxious, even dreaded holiday. But it’s not changing anytime soon and we should make the best of it. (Hanukkah, I might note, is no better, although it gives us an excuse to eat latkes.)

Nothing is as simple, though, as it seems when you’re young, when my dislike of Christmas was more intense. In fact this is a good week. The winter solstice, by definition the gloomiest day of the year, represents optimism: The days do nothing but get longer and brighter from now on. Sweet-smelling trees can turn a cramped apartment into something exotic.

And then there’s the dream of peace.

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