Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How big is your backyard?

A recent issue of the Boulder Weekly, an independent, weekly newspaper here in Boulder, Colorado ran a very interesting and thought provoking article titled "The Corporate Co-opt of Local." It's a broad-reaching piece whose central thrust is that Big Name Corporations and franchises/chains are jumping on the local bandwagon, but doing so by using marketing spin that pushes the meaning of "local" far beyond its original intention.

And while "local" is a term that applies across all sorts of scenarios, nowhere is it more pervasive or clearly defined than in the world of food, where the movement is more specifically known as the "locavore movement." I'm an outspoken advocate of eating locally, and I've touched upon it a time or two on this blog, as well as in the preface of our forthcoming cookbook.

But it's interesting to see how the meaning of local has shifted within a corporate context. For example, some major food companies are touting their products as local because most or all of the ingredients come from North America, or from the United States. That's a pretty wide net to cast. On the other hand, we live in an era when a high percentage of produce in the grocery store may come from South America or from points even farther afield. From that standpoint, "Grown in the USA," or "Produced in North America," is indeed more local than the alternative.

In another example, corporations and chambers of commerce and marketing/PR firms are putting forth the idea that, as long as the store is locally located, you're shopping locally. But that's a disingenuous argument. The Boulder Weekly article cites a Civic Economics study that found that for $100 spent locally, $45 stays in the community if it's a locally owned business. However, only $13 stays in the community if that local store is a chain.

For me, this hits at the heart of my own working definition for local, which has always had two parts. On the one hand, it means that the food is locally grown and produced. But on the other hand, it also means that the money I spend on that food accrues to a local farmer or business owner in my community. It's a two part equation, and ideally I like to achieve both halves of it.

Of course, this whole time I've refrained from defining exactly what I mean by "local." That's because, as with so many things in life, there are many shades of gray, and an almost infinite spectrum of possibility. From where I sit, much of that possibility is bound up in the question of scale. How local is local enough? Food grown in your own backyard garden? Food grown by nearby farmers and purchased through a CSA, or purchased at your local farmer's market? Food grown in-state and labeled as such through programs like Colorado Proud and Pride of New York? Food grown in the U.S., or in North America?

Some people have put a specific number to the question. For example, the Black Cat restaurant in Boulder offered a 100-mile Thanksgiving dinner, in which everything served - from the turkey to the stuffing to the mashed potatoes to the cranberry sauce - came from within 100 miles. You also have the example of the book, Plenty (known as The 100 Mile Diet outside the US), in which the authors spent a full calendar year eating only from within 100 miles of their home.

Complicating the whole scenario is this question: What if a given food doesn't grow locally in your area? Should you abstain from eating it? Or is it okay to "import" foods that simply aren't possible on a local level. If you drink coffee made from Central American beans, oranges from Florida, Vidalia onions from Georgia, certified potatoes from Idaho, lobsters from Maine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Italy, or wine from France - without living in any of these places - then your answer to the question is already an implied "yes."

Your answer to that question isn't really a concern, I think. Personally, I'm much more concerned about what the Boulder Weekly article calls "local washing." In the same way that the organic agriculture co-opted the small, diversified, local organic farms and gave us industrial organic agriculture that looks very much like regular industrial agriculture, and in the same way that corporations engaged in green washing to tout questionable environmental achievements with the aim of winning the hearts of eco-conscious consumers, there's something subversive about local washing. We need transparency and honesty, and each company needs to be forthright in sharing exactly how they define "local."

On the level of individual gluten-free foodies, though, it's self-defeating to start engaging in conversations of "I eat more locally than you do." On the level of individual people, the important thing is awareness. When we're aware of the benefits of eating locally - environmental, economic, social - it motivates us to think a little bit different about what foods we buy and why. And no matter to what lengths you personally go to eat locally, that's a good thing. Some people will inevitably eat more locally than others. That's okay.

For today, I'd like to celebrate all the great local things that are happening within the gluten-free community. If you're a New Englander enjoying Aleia's Gluten-Free Bakery, a California GF foodie enjoying Mariposa's, a Coloradan enjoying Debbie's Gluten-Free, or anyone else enjoying the gluten-free fruits of someone's local labor, let's celebrate that. Please leave comments - let me know what local means to you, and if you have a favorite local GF bakery, or pizza shop, or whatever, give them a shout out and let the rest of NGNP's readers hear about the great local happenings in your own particular corner of the GF world. We're connectly globally, for sure, but ultimately life unfolds on a very local level for each and every one of us.

- Pete

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Foto: Mango-Pineapple Salsa

Now that we're in the heart (and the heat) of summer, the season gets me thinking about fresh salsas. And while a fresh tomato salsa is our tried and true stand by, we also love branching out with others types of salsas, such as this mango-pineapple salsa. It's a sweet and refreshing salsa that pairs really well with spicy foods (the sweet of the salsa balances the spice), and we especially like it with Caribbean dishes. Best of all, the salsa is straightforward to make: some fresh mango and pineapple, both cubed small; diced red onion; a little bit of jalapeno pepper; some lime juice; some rough chopped cilantro; and a dash of salt and pepper. That's it!

Have a great weekend...

- Pete

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Race Recap: Xterra Mountain Cup at Beaver Creek 2009

At Nottingham Lake in Avon, CO before the start of the one mile swim

Saturday morning, July 18, dawned cold - about 45 degrees or so - but the clear, sunny day quickly warmed once the sun rose over the mountains and illuminated the valley. I was feeling good, and had high hopes for the Xterra Mountain Cup at Beaver Creek. I had competed on this course last year, in 2008. I knew what to expect, and I set my sights on improving my time.

A friend and his family graciously offered for us to stay at their condo in the nearby town of Eagle, which was awesome - it not allowed me to get a good night's rest; it also allowed us to bring food from home and to cook a well-rounded and safe dinner the night before the race so I could ensure there'd be no gluten poisoning from restaurant food (which has happened before, including before the COSMIC Snowmass ski mountaineering race a while back).

My pre-race nutrition looked like this:
Night before dinner = spicy carnitas pulled pork with salsa over Jasmine rice on homemade corn tortillas
Morning of breakfast = two yogurts (one blueberry, one cherry) and a serving of Rice Chex
Immediately pre-race = GU energy gels, water and Gatorade

The race started off great. I set a personal best on the one mile swim (28:10), which was more than 4 minutes better than my swim at Buffalo Creek in June, and more than 10 minutes faster than my swim at Beaver Creek in 2008. Sweet. The bike leg of the race also got off to a good start. At Buffalo Creek, I left my GU behind sitting on my towel in my haste to get out of transition. Not this time. Before the race, I taped my GU packets to the handle bars on my mountain bike so that a) I wouldn't forget them, and b) they'd be easy to tear off and suck down while I raced. That tactic worked like a charm. Less than a mile into the bike I had the first GU, and 45 minutes later, downed a second.

But that's about when my race started to unravel. I had a mechanical on the bike. It was relatively minor, but still forced me to stop and fix it. Then I ran out of water (not good for staying hydrated!). By the time I set off onto the first of two major ascents on the run, my thermostat was redlined and I felt like I was fending off heat stroke (heat and exertion don't mix well for my body). My pace grew slower and slower. I wanted to go faster, but just didn't have it in me. It's hard to peak for every race, and this time, things didn't fall nicely into place as I had planned.

In the end, my time was marginally better than last year, but still well shy of where I was planning to finish. It was disappointing, for sure, but still a great race and a good learning experience. No sense crying over spilled milk. I'm instead using it as motivation to train harder for the next race, which is coming up in just two weeks. I'll be taking a brief break from the Xterra off-road circuit and will compete in the Cayuga Lake Triathlon, an Olympic distance on-road tri outside of Ithaca, NY. Kelli, Marin and I will be in town for her dad's birthday, and I couldn't resist this fun event in Kelli's hometown and our shared stomping grounds from college. Should be exciting!

- Pete

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Fallen Star(bucks)

One week ago, on Monday, July 13, I was at a local Starbucks here in Boulder, Colorado for an interview (I was being interviewed this time, rather than the usual vice versa). At the counter, the store had a nice little display for Valencia Orange Cakes, a gluten-free baked good! This was new... in all my years of occasionally popping into a Starbucks, I had yet to see a gluten-free option for the baked goods. (Most local, independent coffee shops I've visited haven't offered a gluten-free option, and of those that have, I've been surprised at how many co-mingle the GF and non-GF baked goods on the same tray, thus cross-contaminating the lot.)

My how things have changed in one short week. Two days later, on July 15, I was in Denver for a media event. On my way back to the bus station, I stopped in at another Starbucks to pick up a Valencia Orange Cake to review for NGNP. The cakes were nowhere to be found. "They've been discontinued," the barrista told me. What? They were on sale two days ago... The next day, July 16, Starbucks announced via Twitter that the cakes were indeed kaput. After two months, the company pulled the plug. Why?

As best as I can tell, the gluten-free community has had two reactions to this development. One is lamentation. "Why, oh Starbucks, have you taken this gift from us? Why?" To wit, Triumph Dining Gluten-Free Publishing has started a petition, is seeking 5,000 "signatures," and then plans to go to Starbucks corporate to ask them to reinstate the Valencia Orange Cake. I'm doubtful this tactic will work. Starbucks is citing disappointing sales as one reason for discontinuing the VOC.

But here's the rub: a company as big and corporate and methodical and calculated as Starbucks doesn't take risks with an uncertain outcome. When the company started sourcing more fair trade, organic, eco-friendly coffees from Central America, there was an element of altruism to it, but there was an even greater response to market demand. Starbucks offered those coffees because people wanted them and bought them. The same is true of the VOC. There's an element of altruism to offering a GF baked good for customers, but more so, Starbucks is responding to a market demand, and hoping that consumers like you and me will respond by visiting their stores and opening our wallets.

I'm willing to bet that Starbucks doesn't make any major business decision - unveiling the VOC, a new Frappuccino, whatever - without thinking things through in advance. The company spends major money on the development and testing of new recipes, does plenty of market research about the sales potential, and unleashes a flood of marketing and publicity to get the word out when they unveil a new "thing," etc. You can be sure they know how things are going to play out before they ever move the first chess piece. So did Starbucks really get blindsided by less than enthusiastic sales? I doubt it.

Here's an alternative theory (and this is just a theory...I have no hard data to back this up): the VOC wasn't made in a dedicated GF facility. Starbucks employed strict protocols to minimize cross-contamination possibilities, wrapped the cakes invidivually in plastic to prevent the same, and tested the batches to a level of 20ppm, the strictest international standard (typically ranging from 20 to 200ppm) for GF certification. But what if that wasn't enough? What if some customers got sick from gluten cross-contamination, and the Starbucks lawyers got worried about liability? It's an entirely plausible scenario, especially considering that Starbucks plans to replace the VOC with KIND Fruit & Nut Bars. The KIND Bars are gluten-free, and since they're from a third party company, Starbucks can ostensibly offer a GF option for customers, while "outsourcing" any liability for gluten cross-contamination.

That's part 1 of my argument. But I said the GF community has had two reactions to this development. Here's the second: Starbucks has said the VOC wasn't healthy enough, and some GF customers have responded with "Yeah! Give us a healthier GF option. Sounds good to us!" Honestly?

For starters, it's no secret that I'm a big fan of healthy eating; that I eschew high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners; and that I have an aversion to ingredients labels that read like a chemistry kit. And, in Starbucks' defense, the company has unveiled a new initiative to overhaul the food choices to include more diversity, more natural foods, simpler recipes, "real ingredients," no trans fats, no high fructose corn syrup, etc. (Insert applause here. This is a good thing, and Starbucks deserves a pat on the back for it.)

But cancelling the VOC on "not healthy enough" grounds? The VOC only has seven ingredients: whole eggs, orange pulp, almonds, sugar, orange peel, baking powder, and orange oil. That looks pretty good to me. Further, the VOC contains 290 calories. Not exactly a salad made of iceberg lettuce, but if Starbucks really cared about our health, maybe the company should consider eliminating most of its beverage line. Depending on which drink you order - and assuming a Grande size made with 2% milk - Starbucks' beverages can include up to a staggering 640 calories. Upgrade to a Venti and/or whole milk, and the picture is even more grim. A Grande 2% Caramel Macchiato (one of the most popular drinks at Starbucks) has 240 calories, and a similarly sized Caramel Frappuccino Blended Coffee has 380 calories, 130 of those from fat.

On the food side, the menu doesn't fair much better. A butter croissant (a fairly standard and basic offering) has 310 calories at my local Starbucks. And there are plenty of less healthy choices to be had.

Look, I'm all for healthier menu options. But I'm not for a corporation canceling a menu item under health pretenses when the rest of the menu is anything but. Maybe I'm feeling cynical today. Or maybe this is the investigative journalist in me coming out. There's a maxim in investigative journalism (I've forgotten where I heard this...perhaps the New York Times) that goes something like this: "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." Don't accept facts at face value. Dig deeper. Connect the dots.

I'm not trying to advance any kind of Starbucks conspiracy theory here, but I do find the sequence of events surrounding the VOC suspicious. At some point in the near future, Starbucks stores around the country will start selling KIND bars, and gluten-free consumers will have a new option. With that option, this will all probably blow over. But I'd be curious to know the real story behind why the VOC was pulled so soon after it was announced. Alas, that's a behind-the-scenes story we'll likely never hear.

- Pete

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Foto: Chocolate Cake

If you've ever experimented with gluten-free baking, you know that the process has some inherent challenges - How do you achieve a moist, chewy texture, rather than the dry, crumbly texture common to many GF baked goods? How do you stop the center of cakes from falling, creating concave craters once they're removed from the oven?

For nearly the last two years, we've succeeded in answering those questions by using our own custom flour blend (brown rice flour, sorghum flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and xanthan gum). But in very recent months, subtle changes took place, and after some sleuthing, we discovered tapioca starch/flour to be the culprit.

Variability among tapioca starches (and in particular, how finely ground the starch/flour is) resulted in a flour blend that had a stronger or weaker tapioca flavor in its profile, and a flour that absorbed moisture more or less readily, which affected both the yield of our recipes as well as the texture of the final baked good.

So, we went back into the kitchen, searching for a way to circumvent this tapioca dilemna. The naked chocolate cake above (unfrosted) is the result of one our experiments, which we've deemed a great success! And lo and behold, the solution proved to be eliminating the tapioca altogether, replacing it with a combination of potato flour and potato starch. (Note that tapioca flour and tapioca starch are synonymous, but that potato flour and potato starch are different... confusing, isn't it?)

The cake is moist and chewy without crossing the threshold into the realm of spongy, and it holds it shape and form very well. Hallelujah! (Of course, if you're making a flourless chocolate cake, all of this becomes a moot point, but that's another kind of cake entirely.) We like pairing this cake with a vanilla frosting, though it'd be easy to imagine lots of other options.

Have a great weekend!
- Pete

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Spreading the Gluten-Free Gospel

Today is Wednesday, July 15. Which means that I'm three short days away from my next race...the Xterra Mountain Cup at Beaver Creek. Following my last race - Xterra Buffalo Creek - I was sick for an entire week, which temporarily sidelined my post-race recovery and my training in preparation for this race. But I got back on track, and had a good few weeks of training. I increased the intensity of my workouts, but also built in some extra rest days so that my body could recover and not fatigue from the amped-up regimen.

Now this week I'm tapering. Monday was my final brick (long mountain bike followed immediately by a trail run). Tuesday was a rest day. Today is my last open water swim before the race. And Thursday and Friday will also be rest days, so that I'll start the race on Saturday with fresh legs beneath me. It promises to be a grueling race - a 1 mile swim, a 15.5 mile mountain bike, and a 5.75 mile train run. All of that with 4,600 vertical feet of ascent (the better part of a vertical mile, or roughly four Empire State Buildings) thrown in for good measure at elevations ranging from just over 7,000 feet above sea level up to 9,500 feet.

It seems only appropriate, in these days leading up the race, to announce that I've signed on as an official spokesperson for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness through the organization's Athletes for Awareness Program. NFCA shared the news today in the online edition of their July newsletter, and NGNP has been added to the NFCA's list of GF blogs. I'll be using what visibility I have as a GF blogger, GF cookbook coauthor, journalist, and amateur endurance athlete to spread the GF Gospel in two primary ways: by inspiring others to live an active gluten-free lifestyle, and by raising awareness within the endurance racing community. In the future, I'll also work on hosting race clinics for GF athletes (perhaps in conjunction with races in the days leading up to an event), and I'll work with race organizers to get GF drinks, snacks and other goodies to be available at post-race parties.

The timing of my new relationship with NFCA is uncanny, not only because it immediately precedes the Xterra Mountain Cup race, but also because I've recently built a new relationship with GU Energy Labs, makers of gluten-free energy gels and sport chews for endurance athletes. A little while back, I reviewed a cross-section of energy chews here and here, and the GU Chomps came out a winner. Since then, I've also been putting the gels to extensive use, and they've become my nutrition of choice for the Xterra races, because they're easy to carry, easy to eat, and quickly turnover into much needed energy during a race. I'm happy to be in a mutually supportive relationship with a company that offers such an awesome GF product. (This new relationship will, of course, preclude me from reviewing energy gels and sport chews in the future, so Kelli or another person will have to chime in as a guest reviewer if we revisit the topic in the future.)

In other news (file under "tooting our own horn"), one week ago Tiffany Jakubowski, the Denver Gluten-Free Food Examiner, named us one of the Top 13 Gluten-Free Blogs. (Thanks to Shirley at Gluten Free Easily for tipping us off... I hadn't heard!) Jakubowski prefaces her unranked list of 13 with this flattering note: "Some bloggers have culinary skills that rival the best TV chefs. Other bloggers keep readers up to date on news and product information." Congrats to Gluten-Free Steve, Gluten-Free Gobsmacked, and Hold the Gluten - all virtual friends on our GF blogroll - for also being named to the list.

Lastly, two updates to share.

A few weeks ago, I posted a Friday Foto about Cinnamon Rolls sans recipe, offering to add the recipe at a later date if people wanted to goods. You spoke, and we listened. The post has now been updated with the recipe. The above photo is what the cinnamon rolls looks like when you give them enough room to puff up individually. So tasty.

And finally, back in September 2008 (feels like an eternity ago) we reviewed the Shabtai Gourmet gluten-free bakery. There were some things we liked, and some we didn't. One of our criticisms was the bakery's use of hydrogenated oils (transfats) in its products. I recently received a note from Andrew Itzkowitz at Shabtai letting me know that they've been working to remove the transfats from their products. That change is already taking place, though not every product has made the switch just yet. Even so, we're glad to hear the news, and we've updated the post with an addendum to reflect this latest development.

In the words of Bugs Bunny, "That's all, folks!" (For today...)

- Pete

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Foto: Mango-glazed Pork

Kelli and I are huge fans of sangria (red wine plus lots of added goodness), and one of the crucial ingredients in our particular version is mango. We rarely, however, use the whole mango. Such was the case recently, when we were left with about half a mango, sitting in our fridge screaming out to be used. Last night's dinner proved the outlet for our mango-in-waiting. We whipped up (by "we," I mean "Kelli") a mango glaze that we used on a grilled pork tenderloin. The glaze had sweetness from the mango that was tempered by onion and some "kick" provided by garlic, ginger, garam masala, and a bit of lemon. Here's the full info:

1 mango
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Reserve some of the glaze to use as a sauce. With the remaining glaze, marinate the pork and baste while grilling.

Have a great weekend!
- Pete

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Takin' Care of Business

The Associated Press recently published a report about how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may begin regulating blogs, possibly as early as later this summer. This news has the blogosphere talking, with folks chiming in both for and against the likely development. The FTC felt compelled to make this move because of apparent conflicts on interest, undisclosed commercial/business relationships, and other actions that give the appearance (and in some cases, the reality) of impropriety on the part of a blogger.

More specifically, the FTC is concerned about instances in which bloggers who are reviewing or promoting products have accepted large free gifts (expensive products, trips to Europe) or substantial financial compensation from the companies who make those very products. It doesn't take a graduate of Ethics 101 to see where this scenario quickly runs into trouble, all the more so when a blogger doesn't disclose this information or relationship to his or her readers, who may be under the impression that a blog is fully impartial and unbiased.

Part of the challenge with blogs is that anyone can have one - it's an open, organic, viral, democratic sort of community in which anyone who wants to have a voice can have one. That's not really where the difficulty is. The challenge, rather, is that there are essentially no regulations governing blogs, and no standard code of conduct or ethics about how bloggers should maintain their blogs and relate to their readers. An additional challenge, I think, is that blogs sit across a spectrum, serving one (or several) of many purposes. They can be personal, like a diary. They can be editorial, as a form of journalism. Or they can be business-oriented. Each of these perspectives may have vastly different motives behind the content they provide, and to whom.

No Gluten, No Problem has a foot in each of the three categories, I think. We're personal, in the sense that we use personal anecdotes and stories to share insights into gluten-free living. We're business-oriented, in the sense that we do have some ads on the blog, and earlier this year, we plugged our forthcoming cookbook in a post. But primarily, I view NGNP as a form of gluten-free journalism. Our primary mission is to share practical information about gluten-free living, recipes, and product, restaurant and bakery reviews.

As a professional journalist outside the world of NGNP, editorial integrity and transparency are things I take very seriously. What's more, blogging is a unique form of media that builds relationships between the blogger and a blog's readers. That relationship, especially where GF information and reviews are concerned, is one built upon trust. And maintaining that trust is paramount. To that end, I thought it very worthwhile to establish a clear set of guidelines pertaining to NGNP, so that you know exactly where we're coming from.

Product Reviews
We frequently review a variety of GF products, and we do accept complimentary product samples from companies that would like to see their product featured on NGNP. However, our acceptance of product samples is not a guarantee that a product will be reviewed on NGNP. (For example, one company sent us quite a large package of product samples, but upon inspecting the ingredients label, the "gluten-free" products were also listed as "may contain wheat." This doesn't conform to our strict standards for gluten-free foods, and so we declined to review the product.) Further, whether we have purchased a product to review or accepted a free product sample from a company, our ultimate loyalty is to you, the reader. If we like or love a product, we'll say. But if we dislike a product, we will also say so plainly (and we're not shy about recommending an alternative that we think is better...whether a competitor's product or our own recipe). Finally, we never accept additional "gifts" from a company - we limit freebies to product samples that we review on this blog.

Restaurant Reviews
Unless otherwise specified, whenever we review a restaurant, we have eaten their anonymously and paid for the meal (see, for example, our review of Beau Jo's Pizza or Maggiano's Little Italy). This is standard practice in conducting restaurant reviews. In a minority of cases, however, a restaurant may ask us to come in and sample their gluten-free menu. In these instances, we will clearly indicate this with language such as "XYZ restaurant invited us to sample their menu..." (see our review of The Corner Office, and the opening line of the third paragraph, for an example)

Sponsors, Affiliates, and other ads
Blogs can make money in a variety of ways. Just three examples are: paid advertising, click-through ads (if you click on a linked ad and navigate to the advertiser's website, the blogger gets a small kickback), or profit sharing (if you navigate to a sponsor's site and buy a product, the blogger receives a percentage of the sale). Sometimes, those relationships between advertiser and blogger aren't always clear, and you don't know whether you're simply following a link, or following some form of an ad. The content of our posts are always content, pure and simple. Any links we include in a post are merely hyperlinks that navigate to other posts or other websites. There's nothing more to it.

We do, though, carry some advertising (i.e. Foodbuzz). Advertisers are clearly identified in the right-hand column of our blog, and we don't accept just any ad indiscriminately. We only accept ads that we feel are consistent with the core mission of NGNP. We'll likely experiment with adding a select number of additional advertisers. However, if in the future we find that ads are distracting from the central message of NGNP, are compromising our objectivity or impartiality, or if they're causing you, our readers, to question the site's integrity, then we'll pull the ads down and return to a pure NGNP format.

And that's really all there is to it. No gluten. No problem. No secrets.

- Pete

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Foto: Cilantro Dipping Sauce

I'll admit it now - I was utterly unprepared for this week's Friday Foto. Last weekend, our good friends Kirk and Maury were in town visiting from Vermont. We made Mexican for dinner (an all around team effort), which left Kelli and me with a surplus of cilantro later in the week (some went into the salsa, but we hardly made a dent in the bunch). This proved a blessing in disguise, because it afforded us the opportunity to develop our own recipe for cilantro dipping sauce. We've been huge fans of cilantro dipping sauce for as long as we've been huge fans of Cuban cuisine, which is to say quite a while.

Now, normally cilantro dipping sauce would be served in a very small bowl to accompany yuca frita (which is more or less a Cuban french fry made using the yuca, aka cassava root). We had nary a yuca in the house. Nor, as you can see, did we have any large, whole corn chips. When I peeked into the bag, all I found were tiny shards of what were once corn chips. So...I had to get creative with the plating for the photo, which in the end is not quite how I'd serve the sauce, but it does do a nice job of showing off the bright green color. As for the recipe, here's what you need to know:

1/2 bunch cilantro
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
Squeeze of lime
Salt and pepper

1. In a blender, puree the cilantro and garlic to form a paste.
2. Through the hole in the top of the blender, drizzle in the olive oil until the sauce is emulsified.
3. Season with salt, pepper and lime.
4. Serve in a small bowl with yuca frita (or lots of other tasty Cuban appetizers).

And for our U.S. readers, have a very Happy Fourth of July this weekend!

- Pete