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Authors: Jesse Ziff Coole

Simply Organic

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First Chronicle Books LLC edition published in 2008

Text copyright © 2000 and 2008 by Jesse Ziff Cool. Photographs copyright © 2008 by France Ruffenach. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication

Data available.

eISBN: 978-0-8118-7273-7

Prop styling by Sara Slavin

Food styling by Karen Shinto

Chronicle Books LLC

680 Second Street

San Francisco, California 94107


To my farmer friends, the tireless workers of the land who grow our food and continue to teach me and every good cook the real definition of gourmet food.

To my father, who grew organic food in our backyard, enjoyed cooking for and feeding others, and sparked my lust for flavor.

To my mother, who gave me the insight that nurturing and love belong on every plate and must find a place at every meal, at every table.

For my sons, Joshua and Jonah, who lived through the wonderful turmoil of the ever-changing politics of organic and sustainable cuisine. As unfashionable as it might have seemed at the time, they found themselves growing gardens, working on pig farms, and cooking for themselves, their families, and loved ones. They now know that food is not only for sustenance, but is also for creating joy and happiness for oneself and others.


Amy Treadwell and Bill LeBlond, at Chronicle Books, realized that the first edition of this book just might have been ahead of its time. Thank you for resurrecting
Your Organic Kitchen
. I truly enjoy working with you.

I had no idea how to breathe new life into
which remains my favorite of all of my books. It took some searching, but I found my dear friend and the original editor, Anne Egan. Together, and I mean
, we combed through information and researched and assembled what we considered a sensible and practical book about organic and sustainable food. Anne, also passionate about organics, has always enjoyed my recipes (a cook’s dream come true), and I continue to deeply appreciate working with her. Thank you, Anne! Deborah Kops, thank you for your thorough copyediting job.

All of the companies, organizations, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, dairymen, bakers, and cooks who have made my life richer and taught me about the basic goodness in choosing healthy options (most of the time!), I thank you.

And finally, my earnest gratitude goes to my entire staff at CoolEatz Restaurants and Catering. They are the gatekeepers who watch and care and work daily on the path of walking the walk and staying true to our beliefs. It is not easy in this ever-changing arena of natural foods. The restaurant business is almost as thankless and volatile as farming. To attempt to do it with kindness, safety, and love is important. It ain’t perfect, and each time we falter, we get right back up and work to get better and learn more. From the person who cleans the dishes to the one who serves the food, we know, honor, and appreciate how important each of you is to our simple organic kitchen.
















I was a fortunate kid. My family’s riches weren’t measured in dollars but in the love that we felt and, in many ways, in the healthy foods that we ate. For the most part, our food was free of artificial flavors, preservatives, chemicals, and pesticides. My family wasn’t on a deliberate organic crusade. We simply respected the old traditional ways of growing, gathering, and preparing foods in the healthiest and cleanest manner possible.

This philosophy of respecting and revering food goes back generations in my family—on both sides. I was blessed to have Jewish and Italian grandparents who loved to garden and cook. As a little girl growing up in a rural town near Pittsburgh, I remember helping my parents and grandparents tend their small backyard gardens. They taught me about living heirlooms—treasured seeds brought from the Old Country that they respectfully planted in American soil. They raised their own chickens, and my uncle Jack owned a slaughterhouse where naturally grazed cattle were processed and aged properly.

Cooking and sharing food at the dinner table were always at the heart of our household. Being Jewish and Italian meant endless conversations about both food and life itself. Because of this rich ethnic mix, our months were filled with celebrations that featured tables loaded with delicious dishes, and homes full of laughing, loving family and friends. Bottles of cooking wine and olive oil were always present. Plates were always piled with greens, both fresh and steamed. Garlic was as common a seasoning as salt and pepper. Onions seemed to find their way into nearly every dish.

My grandmother Edna was a remarkable cook. She taught me how to make ravioli and other dishes from scratch. She got the meat from Uncle Jack, roasted it, and cooked it for what seemed like an eternity. While the meat slowly simmered, she went to work making homemade pasta. My two brothers would be outside playing, while I would happily be by Nana’s side in the kitchen, learning how to make ravioli, polenta, and platters full of slow-cooked meats and vegetables. This was my idea of playtime well spent. I can almost smell the inviting aromas of those memories. To this day, cooking and eating good food are among the deepest pleasures of my life.

I still chuckle recalling all those times when Papa, my Italian grandfather, cajoled me into accompanying him on his “special missions” to pluck wild dandelions and onions from yards all over the neighborhood. We would rush home, rinse the leaves, season them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and enjoy our green treat.

My parents, Eddie and June, continued this organic-food tradition. My mom was the family nurturer, always there with soft, gentle hugs. To this day she has believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams and refuse to sacrifice my integrity as an owner of organic and sustainable restaurants. When my dad passed away, he was actually at the Menlo Park Farmers’ Market, where he was still selling produce for our dear farmer friend, Stuart Dickson. Dad never retired. He just kept peddling food, as he had done his entire life. For thirteen years, he was a revered member of the community, showing up every Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, to meet and greet his fans and share tips on how to cook or eat whatever Stuart packed in the truck.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect start on this journey. Gardening with my dad as he instilled in me his passion and joy in watching something grow, and later paying homage to the fruits of our labor at the table, were the best lessons for an organic-minded cook. I remember those early Saturday mornings when as a young girl, I heard the sounds of a truck pulling into our driveway with yet another load of organic material for our garden. Dad relied on natural remedies to solve pest problems without resorting to pesticides and was rewarded with the neighborhood’s juiciest and biggest tomatoes. His garden stretched everywhere in the yard, including between the shrubbery, where he planted melons and cucumbers.


Natural food remedies were a part of my family’s medicine chest. Garlic and onions were used as herbal medicines to fight off colds and fevers, in addition to flavoring our cooking. I was taught that eating the right foods keeps you healthy. It’s just that simple. I believe in that. Most of us in the family don’t take vitamins. We don’t see the need. We get all our nutrients from a well-balanced diet that includes lots of organic foods that we eat daily.

The way my parents ate and spent their lives together was living proof of the benefits of following this philosophy. I associate their sixty-two years of passionate marriage with the wholesome food that they always ate—that, and their lasting love for each other. This healthy lifestyle explains my mother’s youthful attitude today. Even though she is now in her late eighties, she is still full of spunk.


Decades have passed since my childhood. Now, I am a mother of two sons, and I have two grandchildren. Just like my grandparents and parents, I too am passing on the family tradition of supporting organic gardening and cooking.

It hasn’t been easy convincing my sons at times. My older son, Joshua, still jokes about what it was like to have a mom who was a hippie. At school, no one would trade lunches with him. Joshua complained that, compared with the processed foods of his peers, his lunches tasted like dry canned food on sandpaper bread. He grew up before good-tasting organic products were readily available.

At school barbecues, Joshua was the only student stepping up to the grill with tofu and veggie hot dogs. He grew up thinking that crackers were cookies—until he got to school and learned the truth. Later, as most teens tend to do, he rebelled and turned into a junk-food junkie. He nicknamed me Granola Head and Earth Hugger.

Now that they are parents, Joshua and his wife, Yuko, understand why I insisted on feeding my children organic foods. It was done out of love and concern for their health. Determined to keep their son, Masa, and daughter, Miya, healthy, Joshua and Yuko are careful about the foods they provide. They grow a garden and cook from scratch. They make sure to sit down for a family meal nearly every evening. And the kids eat a wide variety of food—broccoli, spinach, carrots, avocado, mango, mussels, clams, dishes with herbs and spices—because that is what they have been offered from the very beginning.

Jonah, my younger son, embraced the organic philosophy more easily. I occasionally let him “junk out” on processed foods, while trying to gently enlighten him about the benefits of
fresh foods. Now a young adult, Jonah prefers to eat organic and locally grown foods and makes very wise choices.

When Jonah was in high school, our kitchen was known among his buddies as the place for the best-tasting after-school snacks. The refrigerator was often filled with homemade pastas, soups, and healthy munchies. No artificial ingredients or chemicals were in any of the foods that I prepared. Beyond organic, this was and remains my bottom-line philosophy: Food is just food, and stay away from additives and GMO foods whenever possible.

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