Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Journalism As Social Business?

What a month--nothing but travel and work, work, work. Now I am in Laguna Beach, California, working with a team of four authors on their business book. (Never worked with four authors on a single project before--quite a job to reconcile all their different viewpoints and styles. I've more or less decided that the solution is to let them fight everything out among themselves and then pick up the pieces.)

Anyway, this is a moment of lull while the group of us eat leftover Chinese food and read my draft of chapter 2, so I thought I would catch up on a little of my long-overdue blogging. Here's an item I've been meaning to write about for the longest time. After discussing how much trouble newspapers have been having making a profit in recent years, Ezra Klein writes:
. . . the news, like other things in life, should not be seen as a straight commodity. It is not there to turn a profit. It is there to keep our democracy healthy and our public informed. If that means it can't be appropriately subsidized through advertising, and needs public subsidies in a blind trust, or some sort of philanthropic revenue scheme, then so be it. Other countries do this, and do it well. But either the way, the bottom line should be that if it turns out that responsible news reporting isn't profitable, then we should sacrifice the profitability, not the responsible news reporting.
I think this is about right. In fact, I've saved this passage to quote because it ties in with a pet idea of mine, which is that executives in the newspaper business ought to be looking at Muhammad Yunus's social business as a financial model.

The idea behind social business, as you may know, is that a company could be run so as to be self-supporting, generating enough income to cover costs and support expansion (if any), but not throwing off profits. Being set up in this fashion reduces the financial pressure on social business managers and allows them to focus on their primary mission, which is to provide some product or service that benefits society. (In the case of newspapers, that service would, of course, be providing honest information about local, national, and world events that helps readers be better and more powerful citizens.)

If implemented properly, this business model also frees managers from the different pressures they'd be under if they were running a traditional NGO or charity--especially the pressure of raising funds through donations, foundations grants, and the like.

In our book Creating a World Without Poverty, Yunus assumes that the primary purpose of social business would be help the poor--the purpose, of course, for which his Grameen Bank (itself a kind of social business) was founded. But it seems clear to me that honest journalism also offers a social benefit that deserves and needs to get out from under the burden of profit-making. I'd love to see someone with the power to implement this idea starting to think about it.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, July 28, 2008

Vegetarian Envy


I am not a vegetarian but I hold them in the highest regard. I wish I possessed the willpower and unerring commitment to better health, saving the planet and/or animal rights exhibited by most vegetarians. With only a few exceptions (and I shall not name names), my vegetarian pals are svelte, disciplined not only at the table but in life as well, and concerned with the well-being of the planet and her inhabitants. These are good people and sometimes I wonder if their goodness is a consequence of their vegetarianism or the reason why they became vegetarians in the first place. I, on the other hand, become a salivating, quivery lump whenever I smell bacon. And even though I love animals (not including birds or squirrels), I have no moral qualms about roasting them and slathering them in gravy. Every once in a while, usually after sharing a meal with one particular vegetarian friend (who invariably orders a salad with fat free dressing on the side... oh, the restraint!), I feel inspired to be a better person by cooking a meal composed solely of what grows in the soil. Should you someday also be so inspired, I invite you to prepare this delicious Asian influenced noodle bowl. This is a fun, slurpy dish with big flavors and lots of vitamins. Your taste buds and animals everywhere will thank you.


16 ounces udon noodles or your favorite Asian noodle
5 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 whole star anise
1 tablespoon grated or crushed ginger
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 carrot, julienned (cut into 2 inch long matchstick sized pieces)
6 ounces of baby corn, each piece cut in half lengthwise
4 scallions, cut into one inch pieces
3 cups of chopped bok choy (do not pack down the bok choy when measuring)

In a large soup pot, bring broth to a low boil over high heat. Add star anise, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. Add the carrots. Cover, lower heat to medium and continue on a low boil until the noodles are ready.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the noodles according to the package directions, except undercook by 1-2 minutes. Drain thoroughly. If the noodles require less than 3 minutes to cook, do not cook them.

Add the baby corn to the broth. Add the noodles. If the noodles are uncooked, then boil for as long as directed by the package directions. (Tip: You might need to add an extra half-cup or so of broth if you use uncooked noodles and they soak up some of liquid.) Add the bok choy and scallions when the noodles are ready. Lower heat to low and simmer uncovered for a minute or two until the bok choy is wilted.

Ladle noodles, vegetables and a generous portion of broth into deep bowls. Serve steaming hot. Whomever gets the piece of star anise in their bowl has to stand up and sing a song for the amusement of everyone else.

At the table, try setting out various garnishes so that your guests can customize their noodles. Here are some tasty options:

soy sauce
sesame oil
chopped cilantro
finely chopped or grated lemongrass
chili garlic sauce
lime wedges
thinly sliced daikon radishes
toasted sesame seeds
bean sprouts
cubed, firm tofu (bring to room temperature before serving)

Serves 4.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hold the Mayo


Those of you who know me are aware of my intense aversion to mayonnaise. Simply stated, I hate mayonnaise. And I am mystified by the millions of Europeans who think that mayonnaise is the best condiment for french fries. But hey, if they like it then that's all that matters.

So when I encountered a recipe for Chicken Salad a la Veronique some years ago, I was delighted to see that it incorporated two of my favorite ingredients--grapes and tarragon. Then I shuddered at the instruction calling for a cup of mayonnaise. So I invented my own version of La Veronique, which uses a light vinaigrette.

This is a perfect summertime meal that is healthy and full of bright, fresh flavors. Also, this is a useful luncheon recipe because you can make it ahead of time, even the day before, which will give you a lot more time to do other things, like drink a few cocktails by yourself before your guests arrive.

Chicken Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 bay leaves
8 black peppercorns
1/2 medium red onion, cut into quarter inch dice or 1/2 cup diced shallots
20 red or green seedless grapes, cut in half
1/2 cup seedless cucumber, cut into quarter inch dice
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 small head red leaf lettuce, or your favorite lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
6 pita breads, cut into wedges

In a large bowl combine the onion, grapes and cucumber. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, tarragon, mustard and garlic. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Place the bay leaves and peppercorns in a large saute pan with high sides. Lay the chicken on top in one layer. Add enough water to barely cover the chicken. Cover and simmer over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink inside, about 20 to 25 minutes. (Tip: use uniformly sized breasts so that they cook at the same rate, no thicker than 2 inches.) Once cooked, remove chicken and place on cutting board. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces using two large forks. Add the chicken while still warm to the onion mixture. Remove garlic from the vinaigrette and pour the vinaigrette over the chicken. Mix well but gently. Cover and chill for two hours before serving.

To serve, spread the lettuce on a large platter. Mound the chicken salad on top of the lettuce and surround with the pita triangles.

Serves 6.

Cheaters cooking tip: If you're really pressed for time or just feeling lazy, buy a plain rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Remove the skin and shred the meat. Nuke it in the microwave for a minute or two before you add the vinaigrette. Warm meat soaks up the flavors better.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How to Cook When You Don't Know How to Cook


What's that you say? You can't cook? Can't boil water?

Nonsense! That's crazy talk.

Anyone can cook. Everyone should cook. If you can read then you can cook. You just need to know what the words in the recipe mean. After that, it's all cake (and you can eat it too, literally).

If the thought of firing up your stove's pilot light or wielding a paring knife freaks you out, fear not, my culinarily challenged Friend. There are places you can go to get the info you need to be a superstar in the kitchen. Check out the Resources page on the Epicurious website. Or take a cyberstroll through the Guides on The Food Network website. These sites will teach you the basics about food terminology, cooking techniques and almost anything else you need to know about preparing a tasty meal.

If you want to kick it old-school with an actual book, browse through a couple of my favorites. I especially like The New York Times Cookbook (1961 edition) because there's a handy guide in the back that tells you how to use herbs and spices to flavor your food. Also, feast your eyes upon The Gourmet Cookbook (Ruth "Food Goddess" Reichl, editor), which is full of amazing recipes and fantastic how-to sections.

So, are you feeling ready to take the plunge? Ready to whip up a four course meal for you and yours? No?

That's okay. We can take baby steps. Salad is a great place to start with that first, tiny baby step. You can't burn it or undercook it. And the possibilities are endless, which allows you to be creative without accidentally setting your kitchen on fire or giving your guests food poisoning. Usually.

This is my favorite salad. I hope it becomes one of your favorites too.

Fruity Arugula Salad


6 cups arugula (do not pack down the arugula when measuring)

1 thinly sliced small, unpeeled Fuji apple (if you can't get a Fuji, try a Gala apple or your favorite)
2/3 cup red seedless grapes or pitted cherries, cut into halves (you can use thawed frozen pitted cherries, drained very well)

1 large shallot, minced

handful of basil, chiffonade (this means cut into thin strips)

Dress with:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons good quality white balsamic vinegar

pinch of sea salt

smaller pinch of sugar

Plain goat cheese would be a good addition to the salad, particularly if you want to eat the salad as a light meal by itself. Or, try an herbed goat cheese if you're feeling fancy. Slice the cheese and put it on top after you dress the salad, so that it stays white and pretty.

Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side or starter.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

"Infused with entrepreneurial spirit and the excitement of a worthy challenge."--Publishers Weekly

Read more . . .


What do GE, Pepsi, and Toyota know that Exxon, Wal-Mart, and Hershey don't?  It's sustainability . . . the business secret of the twenty-first century.

Read more . . .