Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Formosa Mingjian Osmanthus Guihua Oolong

Unfortunately this tea wasn't as good as its name is long. However, the fault was probably my own.

The tea hails from Aura Teas, who being located north of the border are currently offering a Boxing Week sale. They suggest a one minute steep for the first flush, and since that's longer than I usually do, I put it out of my mind until twice that much time had passed. As a result the brew was dark and somewhat bitter, and subsequent ones were just the opposite: light in color and flavor. Again, my fault.

But what I really want to know is whether the tea actually contains osmanthus. I would think that it did, because it's a popular herb to blend with tea, yet the ingredients on the tin say "100% tea leaf." True, osmanthus is a type of tea in the generic sense of the word (as is peppermint), but I have a feeling they mean tea the tea made from tea. Also, one usually finds osmanthus in flower form, so it's unlikely that the "leaf" refers to it.

To confuse things further, teas are often named for stuff that they don't actually contain. For instance, Honey Orchid Gold Medalist #2 contains neither honey, orchids, gold medalists, nor "number two."

But I have a feeling that a tea wouldn't be named after something that is often found in tea. Therefore my conclusion is that the ingredients label on the tea is incomplete, but I'm not going to let that ruin Boxing Week.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clam and Celeriac Soup

Doesn't sound good, does it? Well it was.

Like most things I cook, this dish was born out of necessity. I was hungry to the point of headache, needed to use the clams, and had celeriac on hand thanks to my winter CSA.

For those who still struggle with the question of what to do with celeriac, here's my advice. Think of a dish that usually has both celery and potatoes, and just use celeriac instead, thereby killing two birds with one root vegetable. (Hmm, two birds and one root vegetable - that sounds good...)

Hence the pairing with clams, which are often served en chowder with both celery and potato. But the headache prevented me from thinking of any additional steps, so I went with a simple, clear soup.

As you may know by now, I'm a big fan of Mark Bittman, aka "The Minimalist," and this soup couldn't be more in the vein of his stripped down treatments. With only two ingredients, clam and celeriac, it was shockingly good, not to mention local, seasonal, and sustainable.

I sat down fully expecting a mediocre meal birthed from necessity and shellfish on the brink of freshness. What I got instead was one of the absolute best things I've tasted in recent memory. The pairing was unbelievably complementary, and the flavors rich, clean and bright. I slowly slurped spoonful after spoonful, completely absorbed in the marriage of surf and turf, almost in disbelief and how much there was to taste. Clams were clearly meant to release their liquor into soup, thereby creating an instant broth that you can catch every drop of.

And I'm glad I didn't spoil it with milk or other superfluous ingredients. It couldn't have been easier, and it couldn't have been better.


Recipe: Clam and Celeriac Soup

clams (about a pound)
celeriac (about 1/2 of one)

Dice the celeriac, or celery root, into bite sized pieces.

Simmer in barely salted salted water until almost tender, at which point you add the clams, cover, and continue to simmer until they've opened.

When ready, some of the clams will have slipped out of their shells and some of the celeriac will have ended up in their place, which looks very funny. Garnish with coarsely chopped black pepper.

Serves two, or one with a headache.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Noshing Nature

See here for my latest article, an exploration of the connection between Judaism and foraging. Hey, it's all kosher.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Last Day to Tell the Government What You Think About Organic Milk

Click here to tell the USDA that you think organic milk should come from cows fed at least 30% from pasture.

If you disagree with the proposed change, then you don't like organic milk, you like "organic" milk.

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Have It Their Way

Like many, I want to throw down about the offensive nature of the latest Burger King ad campaign. Unlike others who are doing so, I will refrain from commenting on the details, which would thereby accomplish one of the company's goals: free marketing.

Burger King is evil, but not stupid. My hunch is that they're just abiding by the notion of no-press-is-bad-press. In describing the particulars of the offending ads, and in linking to them, those who have written on the subject have also unwittingly spread the message. In doing so, they have become pawns of the Burger King.

So I'm not going to make it any easier for them. I'm just going to say this: Burger King is doing something bad. When you think Burger King, think "bad."

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Bittman Meets Dunlop

An enthusiastic reader recently equipped me with a copy of Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan cooking guide, Land of Plenty, as well the ingredients to get started. He recommended that I start with one of the chicken appetizers. I did, and I can't imagine an easier or more inspiring introduction to the cuisine.

I made Hot-and-Numbing Chicken Slices from the "Four Ways of Dressing Cold Chicken Meat" portion of the appetizers section (p.141). Essentially you poach a chicken and then dress the meat with a highly flavorful and extremely easy to make sauce. It's amazing, and you'd work harder on meatloaf.

Looking at the broth leftover from the poached chicken, I thought back to Bittman's column/post/video on Hainanese Chicken and decided to merge the two recipes. This meant cooking rice in the water from the chicken and serving the meat on top of it.

Really the whole thing is just a vehicle for the Sichuan peppercorn, the flavor of which is often described as "numbing." (Can numbing be a flavor? "Timmy, what kind of ice cream do you want?" "Numbing!!!") In this dish the peppercorns, which are really the berries of the Chinese prickly ash, are lightly toasted before being ground.

Since I don't have a mortar and/or pestle, I used a jar on a cutting board, and it worked fine. While you're toasting the peppercorns, your kitchen fills with a tantalizing and baffling aroma that lies somewhere between juniper and marijuana. Maybe that's why I'm so hooked on the stuff.


Recipe: Hot-and-Numbing Chicken Slices (ma la ji pian) meets Hainanese Chicken

Adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop (W.W. Norton) and Bittman's Hainanese Chicken.

For about 1 pound sustainably raised, cooked chicken meat (about 1/2 a chicken), cooled.

salt to taste
4-6 scallions, white parts only (I used onion)
4 teaspoons white sugar (I used honey)
3-6 tablespoons chili oil with chile flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2-1 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper (I used 3)

Poach the chicken, then cook rice in the remaining liquid.

Cut or shred the meat, sprinkle with salt.

Thinly slice the scallions diagonally, 1 1/2 inches long, to form "horse ear" slices. Alternatively, thinly slice 1 small onion into whichever kind of ear you prefer.

Stir the sugar or honey into the soy sauce to dissolve it, and then add the oils.

Serve the chicken atop the rice and the scallion or onion atop the chicken. Sprinkle liberally with the ground "pepper" and serve the sauce on the side.

Get the munchies, repeat.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Defense of Persimmons

The Times Op Ed section didn't want this piece, so now it's yours:

I was surprised to read this sentence in a recent NYT article on persimmons:

"Their mild, undistinctive flavor, vaguely reminiscent of pumpkin, means that it is hard to find a leading role for them."

While I'm a regular reader of the author, the enlightening Harold McGee, I do find his perspective on persimmons somewhat lacking. My most obvious objection is that I think persimmons do have a distinctive flavor, and thereby occupy a valuable niche in supermarkets that might otherwise carry only mealy, tasteless, red "delicious" apples and pithy oranges.

The sweet, musky taste of a persimmon is unusual and complex, and the gooey texture unique amongst the miniscule variety of fruits commonly available in the U.S. A supermarket persimmon is often the best fruit in the supermarket.

When ripe, persimmons are wonderful to eat raw, and require no adulteration, even to serve a "leading role." If you have your own tree and are simply up to your ears in the fruit, then make a pudding, and consider your position extremely enviable. If not, I suggest you enjoy them au naturel.

Besides the issue of taste, what concerns me most about the article is its failure to mention the indigenous American persimmon. While the author does describe the commonly available persimmon as an "Asian species," there is no reference to the native species which can be found growing even in Manhattan.

Of course it isn't possible to include every last detail in a piece subject to a deadline, set length, and the whims of an editor, but the article's failure to mention the persimmons growing right under our noses is indicative of a larger disturbing trend: our society's ignorance of its native foods.

We Americans have a serious handicap when it comes to utilizing our indigenous, edible flora. When Europeans arrived on this continent, they encountered a wealth of delicious biodiversity never before experienced in their homelands. Some items, like chocolate, tomatoes, and turkey, became all the rage.

Others, like persimmons, were generally disregarded as soon as settlers had grown enough of the stuff they'd brought from home. As a result, the plants that had fed indigenous populations for thousands of years were plowed under to make room for cauliflower.

Thankfully, Americans are finally grasping gastronomic concepts such as terroir and the emphasis of simple preparation to showcase the quality of a well grown ingredient. As a result we can begin to see how foolish it was to replace plants that had evolved perfectly to survive on this soil with those which often require genetic alteration, pesticide, chemical fertilizer, and the razing of native habitats. When you eat such a food, you can taste that it belongs here.

On my way back to Boston from a Thanksgiving road trip to Missouri, I traveled with a disposable baking tray full of the fruit in question. I had gathered these outside of St. Louis, and happily handed them out to wild persimmon virgins along the way. Everyone who ate one was converted, their eyes crossing in pleasure, and there was nary a pudding in sight.

I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, McGee would have the same reaction.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sassafras Tea

Sassafras: it's a hard word to spell, but it makes a great tea. And just like any wild edible, it's free, local, and, if you pay yourself for it, fair trade.

I harvested the sassafras that went into this cup under the guidance of Wildman Steve Brill in Central Park, even though doing so has previously gotten him arrested.

The plant, which is responsible for both file powder (leaves) and root beer (root), has the distinctive feature of bearing three different leaf patterns. Harvesting the root does require killing the tree, so make sure you do so where plenty of others are growing (they can't all survive to maturity anyway). Pull it out of the ground, sniff the root, and you'll swear someone just cracked open a Barq's.

This single root made about a quart of tea, and I've been told that I can keep using it for future brews. The flavor is quite rich and reminiscent of caramel, birch, and to be blunt, root beer. In this day and age it's tough to wrap one's mind around the fact that something can taste like something else through natural means.

I'm sure it must be good for you in all kinds of witchy ways, but some refrain from consuming sassafras because of purported links to cancer. However, everything I've read suggests that's only the case if you drink lots of it and are a rat.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Poached Quince

For anyone who was ever called "fruity" in middle school, if quince was there, it would have beaten that bully up. Quince is fruit, but it's tough.

But while a fresh quince is as tough as wooden apple, with a little heat and sugar, quince can turn into a real peach. Well, not a real peach.

The fact that quince is a fruit that can't be eaten raw has always intrigued me, and some gorgeous specimens at the Union Square green market in NYC convinced me to finally give it a go. The smell alone was worth it: just from sitting out on the kitchen table, they made the whole apartment smell like perfume.

It would be wise to familiarize yourself with quince, as I'm sure we're going to see more of them as heirloom fruits and vegetables continue to reemerge from the shadows of our past. And what sounds like a better winter fruit fix: fossil fuel guzzling imported oranges or succulent, locally grown, poached quince? Unless you're a member of OPEC, I think I know which you'd prefer.

Always eager to find ways of preserving without using sugar, I poached a few in just water. These sucked. When I used sugar, the syrup turned a gorgeous, rosy color, and the fruit was fantastic.


Recipe: Poached Quince


Peel, seed and quarter as many quince as desired. Be prepared for them to be much tougher than you think fruit can be.

Dissolve a little less than 1/4 cup sugar per each fruit in as much water as needed to cover the quince.

Simmer until the quince becomes tender, reaching the consistency of a poached pear. Enjoy warm with toasted walnuts and a splash of the cooking liquid.

You might be able to can them at this point, but mine didn't stick around that long, so I can't say for sure.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Quote of the Day

Lionette's is Boston's only all-local meat market. These are people who are deeply concerned about the world's food supply, especially when it comes to duck fat. This hails from their always awesome monthly newsletter:

"Local and sustainable food does not cost more, the price tag on local and sustainable food is the real price for food, and there are no hidden costs."

577 Tremont Street
South End
Boston, MA 02118
ph: 617-778-0360

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The Homework Salads

Last week I asked readers to follow in the footsteps of my radicchio and napa cabbage pairing, using something out of the ordinary in a salad of their own. The clear winners were Seth D. Michaels and Sean Mcleod, because their creations fit the bill, and because they were the only ones to respond.

The god-awful photo above was taken with Seth D.'s cell phone camera, and I have included it not because I like it, but because I want to publicly humiliate him by making his lack of skill known. Hopefully this will shame him into taking a better picture for future submissions. Regardless, here is his unusual salad:

I cut up garlic and onions, and cooked both in sesame oil. I then cut a slightly-smaller-than-fist-sized block of tofu into squares, and fried it in the oil I already had going. While it was frying, I tossed in some crushed red pepper.

I fried it kind of hard on both sides. At some point, I threw in a few sesame seeds. At the stage depicted in the photo, I added a little soy sauce and rice vinegar, then a handful of spinach and green onion. Finally, I added about half a cup of noodles, which I tossed around with a little more soy sauce. Once plated, I put basil leaves atop the whole thing.

The spinach shrunk more than I thought it would, making it less salad-y and more stir-fry-y. In the end it looked like the attached photo, but less blurry.

I'd say the most unusual thing about this salad is that it wasn't a salad, but it does sound good. Here's Mcleod's take:

Salad is one of those things that I always think that I want to eat more of, though I usually end up cooking a vegetable instead. I buy romaine or arugula every week, and I only think to make salad when I peer into the vegetable drawer and say to myself, "Better use that while it's still good."

Last night's dinner included a spinach salad from a bag of still-edible baby spinach along with a head of endive, cold roasted beets unused from Thanksgiving, and hakurei turnips thinly sliced (also bought for Thxgiving).

The secret ingredient was pomegranate seeds, which were like beautiful jewels mixed into the greens. Served a simple dijon vinaigrette, I put out one of the simplest dinners I've done on a Sunday in a long time: rotisserie chicken, microwaved spaghetti squash (dressed with the same vinaigrette), and the aforementioned salad.

The most striking component of this salad is the harukei turnip, which neither I nor google image search have heard of.

Thanks to all those (two) who contributed, and happy weird salads to everyone else.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Repurposed Goat

Last night I made these goat shoulder chops from Codman Farm. And by made I mean "screwed up."

With a choice cut I can make a great steak, I do wonders with ground meat and sausage, and I can braise pretty much everything else with excellent results. The common thread is that all three preparations result in tender meat. It's the only way I want to eat meat, when I do. But if I'm in possession of an unfamiliar cut, as I am more and more from buying locally raised meats, and I don't want to slow cook, I'm often stumped.

I had planned to braise these goat shoulder chops for a few hours, but when I saw how tender they were, I decided to broil. If I had trimmed off everything that shouldn't have been there, it might have worked, but as is they were too much of a wrestling match to enjoy. So I got out the crutch and did some low and slow simmering, and the result was a rich, flavorful stew.

For lunch today I browned the remaining meat and bones left over from our picking at them the night before. At the same time I browned garlic cloves and red onion, then added cumin, bay leaves, a whole dried pepper, leeks, and a can of tomatoes and let it go for about an hour.

The bones, fat, and connective tissue that had made these such bad chops made for a great stew.


Recipe: Goat Chop Stew

1 chop per person
1 can tomatoes
1 tbsp powdered cumin
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 whole, dried chile
2 bay leaves
2 onions
3 garlic cloves, whole
the juice of 1/2 a lemon

Note: The only essential ingredients are the goat and tomatoes, the spices are completely variable (cinnamon and clove are excellent with this or lamb).

Broil the goat chops. Try to eat them, get disappointed, and put the remaining scraps away for later.

Brown those remaining scraps in a splash of olive oil along with the onion and garlic.

Add all remaining ingredients, except the lemon juice. Stir once to combine, then let cook on high for five minutes, giving the tomatoes a chance to slightly caramelize. Stir again and reduce heat to a simmer.

When the meat is tender and the leeks are soft (45 minutes in my case), add the lemon juice. Serve over rice.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Constant Comments

I've received some excellent comments recently and wanted to liberate them from the shadows of the individual posts they dwell in. But first, the official dog of T&F experiencing ice for the first time:

And now, some highlights:

"Refrigeration is for sissies!"

"You MUST make persimmon pudding. The flour makes it a fluffy, brownie-like thing, and it is way better when you use those found in Illinois or central Indiana."

"Aaaaaah! Fermentation!"

"Your dog is very cute, and i am going to eat him."

"The hunter's pride in bagging his moose should not stop after the kill, but continue through to the excellent steaks and roasts he or she can serve to guests as they listen spellbound to the tale of the hunt."

I also received a great recommendation for goat kidney (which is still in my freezer) and this dog food review site. Speaking of which, here are things that people said their dogs like to eat:

-kale, spaghetti squash with butter, roasted cauliflower, sliced cucumber

And here are things that people said they like to eat in their savory oats:

-soft French cheese, smoked provolone and salami, almond butter and tamari, schmaltz

And here is a video someone sent in of a pug eating a green pepper:

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Roasted Rotating Root Veggies

If you aren't doing so already, start eating this.

This year roasted root veggies are making up a large part of my winter diet. Partly because we're getting a lot from our CSA, and partly because they seem like the most perfect cold weather food. There's something about this season that just makes me want to eat things that grow underground.

A hearty portion of veggies like these goes a long way. I'm finding that a big dose of tubers and bulbs takes the place of both the starch and vegetable in a given meal, thereby compromising about 80% of what I feel the need to eat. A plate of these plus a drumstick or a slab of tofu and you're in business. A slice of bread and some salad? Superfluous.

I used to think of this dish as a specialty item, but I recommend that everyone bump it up to staple status. The key to not getting bored with it is to keep things in rotation. Thanks to the CSA, I have turnips, sweet potatoes, unsweet potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, parsnips, and some stuff I can't identify but which looks great. Any three of those will do, so you can imagine the possibilities and varying degrees of sweetness.

My advice is to buy a bunch of different kinds of root veggies and then make them in different combinations. They'll last forever, plus you don't need much of any one of them at once. When you take a little from each root, your pan is often too full. And like the price of olives at an olive bar, the roasting temp for all of these is roughly the same, so mix and match with abandon.

Filling veggies may sound like an oxymoron to anyone who hasn't experienced them, but I could almost live on these alone.


Recipe: Roasted Root Veggies

1 tbsp coarse salt
3/4 tbsp rosemary (more if fresh)
3 twists of a pepper grinder
oil to coat
Equal parts of any of the following: beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, onion, parsnip

Pre-heat the oven to 400.

Cut the veggies into bite sized pieces - they smaller they are, the faster they cook.

Note: I only peel the parsnip and beets.

Toss well with the remaining ingredients.

Roast at 400 for 45 minutes to an hour, tossing three times to ensure equal oil coverage. Toss gently, with two metal spoons, to avoid breakdown.

They're done when a fork meets little resistance from each variety of veggie.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

My Latest

In Phoenix and the Forward.

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Finally, The Pawpaw

As I write this, the outdoor thermometer reads 14 degrees. Inside, I'm eating fresh, local pawpaw. How? I don't quite understand it myself.

At long last, my search for this remarkable fruit has come to fruition, and I thank those who have helped along the way. I had all but given up until last week, when I received a hot tip from where else but Ithaca, the Kansas City to my Fats Goldberg. There pawpaw were for sale at the Cornell Orchards store.

In addition to growing heirloom apple varieties with names like Sheep's Nose, Cornell has also raised pawpaws since the 1950's. By some accounts, the pawpaw season doesn't last longer than September, so you can imagine my surprise when the woman working the counter handed me several fresh specimens for fifty cents a pound. Pawpaws are equally famous for being delicious and perishable, so the fact that I got them this late in the season is truly confounding.

The fruit itself was everything I had hoped for. Just as I'd been told, despite the fact that the pawpaw is native to North America, everything about it seems downright tropical. It looks like a mango and tastes like a combination of banana and guava or cherimoya. Yet the pawpaw grows right here, in a region where the temp regularly dips below freezing, as it has at this very moment.

Through the ice on the windows I can see barren trees swaying in the wind, but I've got sweet, ripe pawpaw for my mid-morning snack. I'm certain that these are the only pawpaw still available anywhere in the world. If you live in Ithaca, rush to get the last few. If you live anywhere else, rush to Ithaca.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Winter Salad

When it comes to salad, if you have the courage to walk away from the iceberg, you'll be richly rewarded. Even if you're a fan of romaine or red leaf, there's plenty of new ground to explore.

Like silly putty, this salad was invented by accident. Well, more by necessity: I wanted salad, and this was all there was. If we'd had arugula or spinach, I don't think I would have ever thought to combine raw napa cabbage and whatever this red stuff is from our CSA (radicchio?). But I'm glad that I did.

The sweetness of the napa offset the bitterness of the _______, and its succulent crunch was a nice pairing with the waxier leaves of what I now know is a variety of radicchio, having google image searched it between typing the first half of this sentence and its conclusion. Together these two veggies tasted much better than either did on its own.

It's no wonder people drown limp, tasteless lettuce in dressings chock full of fat and corn syrup. But with leaves as flavorful as these, your only goal should be not f*cking them up. I did a simple drizzle of homemade apple-scrap vinegar and olive oil, and it was one of the best salads I've ever had.

Your homework for tonight: make a salad with something you wouldn't ordinarily put into it, and let me know how it goes.

Oh, and no yogurt covered raisins.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on Cider

After traveling for the holiday, Elise just returned home and checked in on our latest batch. I had stashed it in Grolsch bottles, not quite sure what would happen. She had this to say:

Last night I drank a 1/2 bottle of cider and it was superb. It was still a little sweet, but definitely had become alcoholic and moved beyond the soda phase. It was the best of both worlds because while the alcohol had a warming, relaxing effect, the tonic qualities made me think I was doing something good for my body. I did lose a bit of it to the sink, however, when I opened the bottle to an excited POP and the foam immediately began to bubble over.

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Not So Hard Cider

I'm glad to see that hard cider is catching on again, nowhere more so than in my kitchen. It's by far the easiest homebrew, requiring no special ingredients or equipment and almost no effort. And if you start with good cider, the end result will be just as delicious (and intoxicating) as the $12-a-bottle variety.

The only trick is finding a cider that doesn't have preservatives. If it's been pasteurized, it should still work, but if you can find one that has not been, all the better.

In the past I've let cider go pretty far, allowing most of the sugar to be consumed by the natural yeast to yield a strong, crisp, dry brew. But lately I've been much more into half-fermented cider. I drink it sooner, as a bubbly, tangy, naturally carbonated sort of apple soda. The above photo doesn't quite do it justice, because in real life the stuff has a head like beer.

Maybe it's those friendly, naturally occurring yeasts, but I swear it has a tonic effect in the old fashioned sense of the word. This is the kind of food prep where you "let" rather than "do."


Recipe: Homemade Hard Cider

Acquire cider without preservatives, and ideally without pasteurization.

Pour it from its plastic container into something glass, like a large mason jar or empty wine bottle.

Cover the neck of the container with a piece of cloth and a rubber band. A snip from an old (clean) T-shirt makes a particularly fine barrier for dust and fruit flies.

Let sit until it has reached the desired level of fermentation. About a week for the tangy, natural apple soda, two to three for booze.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ginkgo Nuts

These ginkgo nuts were part of the bounty gathered from Central Park on my walk with Wild Man Steve Brill. I'd had them only once before, pan fried at Kaya in Porter Square, and have been on the lookout for these very un-nut like nuts ever since. Turns out I should have been looking down.

The orange, vomit smelling fruits of the ginkgo that contain the nut littered the ground in sections of Central Park. Since I've learned what they look like, I've seen them all over the country. To turn them from stinky sidewalk debris to an exotic delicacy, you just pop the nut out of the fruit, wash it and your hands, roast them for about 30 minutes at 300 degrees, and wash your hands a few more times.

Once you crack the paper thin shell, you'll see a steaming, Pernod colored soft nut. The taste and texture are unlike anything else I can think of, but seaweed bread pudding and hot boiled peanuts come to mind.

For a more detailed recipe, see Brill's site here.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Finally, Frank Pepe

The golden pizza fleece of eating Frank Pepe's has eluded me for years. I could never count the times I've driven past New Haven, but for a slew of reasons, I've never been able to stop in for a slice.

Some friends once brought me a white clam pie while in Amherst, but it had been out of the oven for hours, so I didn't consider it a valid test. Then, last month, the stars aligned for a quick dinner in New Haven while traveling from New York to Boston. It being a Monday, FP's was closed.

Flash forward to last week, if it were possible to flash forward backward. Elise and my first stop en route from Boston to St. Louis was none other than that infamous pizzeria. I'd heard about it for years, had been taunted by the sign for exit 2 on 91, and have craved the real thing ever since that cold, soggy tease. With such high expectations, of course I was disappointed.

That's not to say that it wasn't great pizza. It was. In fact, it was probably the best pizza I've ever had. Why, then, didn't I like it? First, pizza has a ceiling. I know this is a departure from my Trillinesque love of all foods, no matter how lowly or unsustainably grown, but the best pizza just isn't as good as the best braised goat stew or Tarte Tatin, like the excellent one I had last night at Dijon in Ithaca. The best pizza can only be so good.

The second reason, to be completely unfair to Frank, is that I wasn't in the mood. We'd hit traffic on the way in, gotten lost, had a hard time finding green space to walk the dog, and were anxious about the 1200 miles that lay before us. Being in such a state, even the gamiest wild persimmon could go unappreciated.

I owe Frank Pepe another chance. I'm going to go back, take my time, drink a beer before puzzling through the spreadsheet-like menu, and enjoy what I know is some fine pie. I just have to work on being the best pizza eater.

Only then can I share in the sentiment of this bathroom graffiti.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Wild Foods and the Modern Diet: The Twain Shall Meet

Thanks to Debs for sending me this NYT article, which decries the absence of wild foods in the American diet, especially in feasts such as the one must of us enjoyed yesterday. The author of the article, Andrew Beahrs, referenced that same Mark Twain menu I wrote about on the second most recent post at the Chefs Collaborative blog. It seems he's working on a book that will further plumb the significance of Twain's diet, and I wait with baited breath.

As anyone who reads T&F knows, I too bemoan the decline of wild foods in modern gastronomy. But one thing I find missing from Beahrs piece is a mention of the resurgence of wild foods among people like myself and many of you.

If, like Bearhrs, you wish that wild foods had a stronger presence on our tables, go get some. No, there aren't as many left as there were in Twain's day, but they're still out there. Why am I so sure? Yesterday, when walking along a levy in a fairly suburban part of west St. Louis county, we came upon four wild persimmon trees teeming with fruit. They tasted like apricots and dark honey without even a trace of the infamous persimmon astringency.

We filled our arms with as many as we could carry, and there were plenty left for us to make a return trip, which I hope to do, and for the animals. Oli, our pooch, gulped one down in one bite, and I'm sure the local coyotes will do the same.

On a feast day more famous for sweet potato fluff and green been casserole, we ate native fruit that ripens at exactly the time of Thanksgiving, and which therefor may have been on the original menu.

There are accessible wild foods near wherever you live. Yes, even in NYC. Develop a relationship with them, and maybe you'll write the next Huck Finn.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Palin or Pollan?

By now you've probably heard about the Sarah Palin turkey slaughter fiasco. If not, you're in for a treat.

After granting one turkey a pardon, Palin stood unaware as others were slaughtered behind her while fielding questions for an interview. The scene was an embarrassment for Palin, but for the public it proved both entertaining and disconcerting.

It's hard to say what's worse: the fact that a would be vice president could be so oblivious to her surroundings, or the fact that Americans were so alarmed to see that turkeys have to be killed in order for us to eat them. By total coincidence and thanks in large part to youtube, we've all been granted access to the metaphoric glass abattoir that Michael Pollan describes in The Omnivore's Dilemma.

The attention garnered by this incident is yet further proof that we are disconnected from our food. If Palin had been standing in front of a nicely browned and stuffed bird with those little frilly things on its drumsticks, there would have been no controversy. But stick her next to a killing cone and it's a different story. The interview was a mistake on Palin's part, but with Thanksgiving around the corner it serves as a necessary reminder that a turkey doesn't turn into "turkey" by magic.

In a nation of more enlightened eaters, the interview would still have been viewed as a serious faux pas on the part of Palin, but viewers may not have reacted so viscerally. I've watched the video several times in mixed company, and each time at least some of those present react with disgust. If they were vegan, I would understand, but if you're going to eat meat, you shouldn't be as squeamish as a fifth grader in sex-ed.

Of course this is precisely the connection that Chef's Collaborative seeks to strengthen. There's a good reason that people have been tossing around the phrase "farm to table." Without understanding where your food comes from, it's more like "out of thin air to table."

So this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks to that special someone who helped you show a little more gratitude: Sarah Palin.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Roasted Beet

I'm not a big beet fan. When a rash of raw beet salads made their way through the food blogosphere earlier this season, I was still thinking of them as suitable compost. So it was with great hesitation that I prepared my first beet in years. The motivation was simply frugal: we had beets, they were getting limp, and I needed to eat.

The beets came in the most recent installment of our winter CSA. Ironically, it was a CSA that first turned me off to these most queer vegetables. Back then I had no problem with the occasional maroon cube mixed in with other, less weird root veggies. But the monstrous creatures I used to get week after week were just too much. Plus, they made me pee pink.

This time around I decided to keep it simple and confront the beet head on. I wasn't going to sneak them into a melange of turnips and potatoes, nor was I going to dissolve them into borscht. I took my beets straight up.

I peeled and quartered four beets, tossed them in oil with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and roasted at 400 degrees, stirring several times. How were they? Beety. If you like beets, you'd like them. If you don't, you wouldn't.

My favorite part of these beets were the parts that were the least beet-like. I liked the edges of the wedges, where the oil and salt created a slightly dried up, crisp skin.


Recipe: Roasted Beets

2 (peeled) beets per person
olive oil, enough to coat
1/2 tbsp dried rosemary (more if fresh)
black pepper

Grudgingly toss all ingredients together and roast at 400 degrees. Stir at least four times.

Eat, making a face.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Again, Savory Oatmeal

I know I've written about this before, but I would feel dishonest if I didn't yet again emphasize how great savory oats are. So great that I eat them more days than not.

For anyone still going sweet, I strongly suggest that you liberate your avena sativa from such dubious (and often artificial) flavors like "cinnamon and spice." Cinnamon is a spice!

My most basic oats are simmered in a 2:1 ratio of salted water to oat, then drizzled with a little olive oil. It'll put hair on your chest, and if you already have hair on your chest, it will keep it there. And if you want to get fancy, crack an egg in there and whip it around until it mixes with the grain and fluffs things up.

Another simple yet excellent variation is to drop a thin slab of cheddar on the just cooked oats. I adore the way the cheese softens, breaks apart, and becomes one with the grain. For a bit of an eye opener, dust heavily with freshly cracked black pepper.

You'll never be able to eat anything called Raspberry Streusel Oatmeal To Go again.


Recipe: Savory Oatmeal for One

1/2 cup oats
1 cup water
a dash of salt (or two pinches)
1 slice of cheddar
black pepper
(and/or 1 egg)

Bring the salted water to a boil, add the oats, reduce heat and simmer.

When the water has been absorbed and the oats are soft but still toothsome, pour them out into a bowl or small plate with the help of one of those flexible rubber scrapers.

Top with cheese and as much black pepper as you can handle that early in the morning.

If you want to include an egg, add it just before turning off the heat and stir vigorously until it disappears. Look for bits of white to know that it has cooked through.

Let dog lick bowl.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brennan's Bananas Foster

Thanks to my dad for snapping this somewhat demonic pic of Brennan's Bananas Foster during a recent trip to the Big Easy. (I think they call it that because it's easy to feel big after eating there.)

I was surprised to learn that the world famous dessert was named after an awning salesman. The dish has since become so popular that "foster" is the second thing that google fills in if you type "bananas." The first being "in pajamas."

For a more comprehensive look at eating New Orleans, check out this post from the newly created Internet Food Association.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dirt Sauce

See here for Michael Ruhlman's take on making sauce out of dirt. No joke.

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Failed Apple Pancake

Cocaine isn't the only fine, white powder you can get addicted to for a quick fix. There's also baking powder.

Ever since reading the Bitten post on pancakes made with yeast, I've been thinking as baking powder as nothing but a cheap shortcut. I mean what is that stuff anyway?

The trouble with making yeast pancakes, which would be a terribly unappetizing name for them, is that they require an ounce of forethought, which is not something that comes into play when making pancakes. In fact it's hard to think of something I think less about than prepping pancakes.

I decided to amp up the already awesome "specialty flour" pancakes we've been making, and the somewhat mealy apples we have on hand seemed like just the ticket. A bad apple may spoil the bunch, but a bad eating apple can be a great one for cooking.

Unfortunately, apple power was not enough to save these awful pancakes. Believe it or not, throwing a bunch of kinds of flour together with yeast and not waiting for long enough actually doesn't result in something you want to eat. I made the batter too thin, didn't give it time to rise and didn't count on the yeast tasting so... yeasty. It was almost impossible to get the things to cook through and they tasted neither sweet nor savory, just bad.

The worst part was after I had made the first one, choked it down, and then realized that there was plenty of batter left over. I went ahead and made and ate the rest of the batch, as penance.

Still, the apples look nice, don't they?

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Foraging Central Park

This past weekend I was on assignment in Manhattan, trailing Wild Man Steve Brill as he showed a group of New Yorkers things to eat in Central Park that weren't hot dogs. I would never have associated an urban space with natural bounty, but here's a list of wild foods we ate or gathered to prepare at home:

-dandelion greens
-gingko nuts
-curly dock
-persimmons (pictured above)
-Kentucky coffee
-garlic mustard
-wild chervil
-onion grass
-crab apples
-honey locust (the pulp in the pods, a more complex apricot jam)
-sheep sorrel
-black nightshade (berries only!!!)
-sassafras root
-poor man's pepper
-plantain (the leaf, not the banana)
-wild mustard
-lamb's quarters (the plant)
-Asiatic day lilly
-wild mint

After a blustery four hours of snacking our way through the park, my traveling companion and I headed back to Red Hook and made tea with the wild mint. It was extremely pungent, delicious, and remarkably calming. But its best attribute was that it provoked thought, as it's not often that one drinks tea grown in Manhattan.

You might think that foraging is a step backward in our relationship with nature, but if you eat a wild persimmon you'll understand that it's clearly a forward move.

The only reason I'm not gushing further details is that I'm saving it for the article, which I'll certainly post here when the time comes.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Dog Food

I used to think it was obnoxious for people to cook for their dogs, but now that I have one, I'm starting to rethink it. I mean look at the picture - don't you just want to bake him a liver cupcake?

Chinese contamination scares aside, dog food is some questionable stuff. Talk about processed: it can't go bad.

It's a mistake to equate human needs with those of a dog but I'm beginning to think that my dog shouldn't eat industrialized food any more than I should. As I read somewhere on-line on one of the many, often wacko web sites about feeding dogs raw and/or natural foods, maybe when a dog turns its nose up at its food it has a good reason. Maybe they're not being finicky, they just don't want to eat downer calves and lab animals.

For now we're supplementing our dog's "natural" dry food with soaked oats, veggies, and boiled chicken. It's not perfect, but it's a start, and it's not expensive. His favorite vegetable by far is bok choy, which means that he eats in instead of playing with it.

What do you feed your dog?

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mussel Miso

Continuing on the theme of ridiculously easy miso recipes, this one is simple to make and even more fun to say. Try it: mussel miso, mussel miso, mussel miso!

I used PEI mussels, which have a "best choice" sustainability rating from Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. Presumably the only thing better is not eating.

I steamed the mussels with about a cup of water, and once they'd opened (died), I made the requisite slurry with a little of the broth and the miso paste. I didn't feel like wrestling with the shells and eating at the same time, so I first scraped out the meat. The best way to do so is to separate the shells and use the empty half to make the other half empty. You even get that little scrap of connective tissue that is so frustrating to scrape with your teeth but so sad to leave behind.

The pairing was outrageously symbiotic. Miso and mussels are just alike and different enough to make a perfect flavor combination. I imagined a DNA double helix with the A's, C's, T's, U's and G's being shellfish and cultured soybeans.

Yet again, my theory of miso + 1 proved true. Then again, miso + 0 isn't bad, either.


Recipe: Mussel Miso

Mussels (5-10 per bowl)
Miso paste (1 tbsp)

Steam mussels in a covered pan with 1 cup water. Once open, turn off the heat and mix the miso with about a quarter cup of the mussel broth. Add the slurry back to broth, serve, and keep saying "mussel miso."

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Canadian Wild Foods

A pleasant article about the growing fascination with wild foods from our neighbors to the North.

Reading it I found myself wishing we had something in the US as well organized as this place. Though we probably will.

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Al Dente, Japanese

Thanks to Christy for letting me know exactly what I wanted to hear. She wrote:

"Ah! Finally a question I can answer! Al dente in Japanese - 'katame' or 'katame ni yuderu.'

If you have any left over daikon and need another recipe, maybe try kohaku namasu - its a salad with sweet-sour vinegar dressing made with daikon and carrots (the first part of the name means red and white because of the vegetables colors)."

I think I will!

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Kitchen Garden Update: The Aftermath of the Aftermath

In this post I extolled the virtues of extending the growing season by planting Fall and even Winter crops. But that was before I had actually tried to do it.

I like to think of myself as the Adam Roberts of kitchen gardening. I'm interested, eager and somewhat knowledgeable, but essentially an amateur. (By the way, after you have a show on the Food Network and a cookbook, can you still be an amateur?) But I've learned that my improvisational approach which works so well in the kitchen does not apply to growing.

For instance, remember the melon that I hoped would ripen before the frost? Here's what it looks like:

The quarter is there for scale, the rot to show my failure.

While the baby carrots and frost hardy cabbages and lettuce never even sprouted, you can see from the photo at top that the sorrel obviously has no problem surviving a few frosts. That just goes to show that you can keep growing your own food in the cooler months, you just have to know what you're doing, or get lucky.

I did try planting several cloves of garlic, which will hopefully sprout into fat, scape-topped stalks by next summer.

For those who don't know, to grow a bulb of garlic you simply plant a clove. You plant those cloves in the Fall as you would with other bulb plants, like tulips. For those who do know, I'm sure I did something wrong.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Food Not Biofuel

It's counterintuitive, but growing crops as an alternative source of fuel is not always a good thing. Thanks to Stuffed and Starved for this Mail & Guardian article, which tells the story of Ethiopians who traded subsistence farming for growing castor seeds for biofuel.

With subsistence farming, when the market's bad you can at least still eat your crop. With biofuel, you have to turn to relief aid from, surprise, the company that convinced you to grow the stuff in the first place.

One local was quoted saying:

"It is unbelievable. Castor plots have so rapidly expanded that they are even depriving us of space for graveyards."

The CEO of the company that got the farmers to make the switch dismissed the statement, but since he hasn't paid any of them yet, I think that disqualifies him as a reliable source.

Read on:

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Daikon Miso

I made this simple miso from the enormous daikon we got with the first installment of our Belmont Farm winter CSA. After two weeks in the fridge it was getting a little floppy, so I diced it and soaked it in water, at which point it hardened like the heart of a racist on November 5th.

One of the (few) criticisms I have with Bittman is that a truly minimalist recipe can't have oodles of ingredients. This miso, which was exotic, nourishing, and flavorful, had two.

Many miso recipes cram the soup with ingredients that unnecessarily complicate this elegant and simple dish. While you can make a meal out of it with noodles, egg, fishcakes or tofu, in the case of miso I think less is more.

For this version I simmered daikon hunks in water until they were whatever the Japanese word for al dente is. (Anyone?) Then I turned off the gas, made a miso slurry with a little of the water, reintroduced it, and slurped away.

The broth created by cooking the daikon created a particularly sweet and mineral base. Too much paste and you loose it, but that tastes good, too. If nothing else this dish is a celebration of texture.


Recipe: Daikon Miso

Note: This could easily be ________ (edible noun) miso, too.

daikon radish (about 3/4 cup per bowl)
miso paste (to taste, about 1 tbsp)

Simmer the cubed daikon until mostly tender. Turn off the heat, create a smooth slurry with some of the daikon water and the miso paste. Add slurry to the pot, stir, and enjoy.


Etymology for Karen:

daikon: from dai "large" + "kon" root (Japanese)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Clam and Mushroom Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that I like to think I make every week. I don't, but there's no good reason not to. Despite having a non-English name, risotto is extremely easy to make and is a tabula rasa of versatility.

Whatever your diet, be it vegan or meat and potatoes, you can make a great risotto that fits within your framework. Unless you're allergic to rice.

To risk stating the obvious, risotto as we know it is a warm, rich, creamy rice dish typically made with the arborio variety, plus anything else you want. You can add a vegetable purée, like butternut squash or asparagus. You can toss a few mussels or shrimp on top, start it with pancetta or bacon, stir in cream or grated cheese, use stock or water, and so on and so on.

Combinations are infinite, but the best way to make risotto is to keep a supply of the rice around and then use whatever you happen to have on hand whenever you think to make it. People say that for all kinds of recipes, but for this one it's really true.

For this risotto we used a seafood stock that was the byproduct of cooking shrimp for a salad several months ago. (They say stock only keeps in the freezer for about a month, but that's a lie.) To this we added the rice, plain old white button mushrooms, grated parmesan and about a half pound of Maine clams. It rocked.


Clam and Mushroom Risotto

1/2 pound mushrooms (bought or foraged for)
1/2 pound clams (bought or clammed for)
1 onion
5 cloves garlic
2 cups arborio rice
7 cups (or slightly more or less) seafood stock (or water)
4 tbsp olive oil or butter
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Note: You can steam the clams first, remove, and then start the rice in the broth, but if you're using stock there's no need.

Sauté one onion and several cloves of garlic in butter, olive oil, or a combination of both.

Add the rice, stir thoroughly to coat, allowing the grains to very slightly toast.

Add a half cup of stock (keeping it warm will make things go more quickly). Stir occasionally until the the rice has absorbed the stock.

In a separate pan, sauté the mushrooms in butter, then set aside.

Keep adding liquid to the rice by the half cup and stirring until the rice is cooked through (you may prefer it al dente), or slightly before, at which point you add the goodies.

Stir in cooked mushrooms, cheese, clams, salt and pepper. Cover until clams fully open.

Serves 4 or 2 with ample leftovers.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Quote of the Day: MFK Fisher on Travel

Perhaps not the most sensitive suggestion for those of us who can't afford to fly to Lisbon, let alone Djakarta, or for those who don't have access to anything but hamburgers. Still, I like the sentiment:

"There is always reward in travel: I aim to assault my own clan with as much of it as possible, to keep them malleable to the world's tempers. But a little child can fly from here to Djakarta and then on to Lisbon and not stir one pace from his path of hamburgers-and-Coke, if his parents do not care enough to push him off it. He can live and die."

-from "Consider the End," Gourmet, October 1958

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Dehydration Hesitation

Despite my recent rant against unnecessary kitchen gadgets, I've acquired what could be considered the ultimate in excessive, bulky appliances: a food dehydrator.

I've used it a few times with excellent results, but I'm unconvinced that the dehydrator is the way to go when it comes to preserving. On the plus side, sapping the moisture out of foods like peaches and peppers enables me to save locally grown produce from the time they're picked until the apocalypse.

The downside is that the thing needs to run for up to twelve hours to do so, which draws out not only moisture but also electricity. And as clean an energy source as electricity seems, remember that it's really just coal that comes out of your wall. People say that dehydrating doesn't use any more energy than a light bulb, but I don't leave those on for twelve hours either.

The strongest argument against the dehydrator is that it reminds me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The dehydrator is a substitute for knowledge, proof that we've lost touch with time tested methods of preservation like like sun drying and smoking. But the fact of the matter is that I don't yet possess all of that knowledge, I love Massachusetts peaches, and I want to eat them in the winter.

That said, it was sad to see them go from this...

To this:

Why not can? It seems criminal to add sugar to a peach, and anything canned "in water" is just pathetic.

Aren't hot peppers the poster child for air drying? Yes, but not necessarily in New England. For instance, when I got these peppers it was so damp that they began to rot and attract fruit flies. In the future I hope to do more air drying, sun drying, smoking, pickling, and fermenting, but for now I'll sit back and enjoy the low hum.

Also, when I dried the peaches it was particularly chilly out, and the dehydrator made a nice foot warmer.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Edible Nation: Haley House

Boston's own Haley House, a Catholic worker house/soup kitchen/restaurant/farm/low income housing center/educational facility was written up in the most recent Edible Boston. The story then made the cover of Edible Nation. Check it out:

My favorite quote is from Boston Police Officer Bill Baxter, aka "Donut," who teaches gang resistance through cooking:

"The way we prejudge foods (such as "I plain hate onions") is the same mental mechanism that we use to prejudge people."

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Verrill Farm Barbecue

It was fire that sought to destroy Verrill Farm, and it is fire that they now tame to cook barbecue. And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.

Along with smoke and spices, you can taste defiance in their recipe. Despite massive setbacks, Verrill has every intention to rebuild using events like the weekly barbecue to help get things going. Pulled pork sandwiches are available every Thursday from 3-5pm (or until it lasts) and are made from meat raised in Massachusetts.

I went last Thursday, and despite bitter cold and howling wind they stuck it out until everyone had gotten their sandwich. One patron donated a hat to the young man serving the 'cue from a chafing dish. Clearly he was eager for the opening of their temporary farmstand, which unlike their current operation will have walls.

On the eve of a new administration and with the global food crisis raging, the liminal space Verrill occupies represents the razor's edge on which our systems of food production cling. Just as the life of the pig ends to support the life of the Concordian foodies who eat it, so does community support help Verrill sprout anew from the ashes.

Unlike other forms of activism, the rewards here are pretty concrete. Support a local farm, get a great sandwich.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Last Breakfast I'll Ever Eat Without Knowing Who the Next President Will Be

Despite offers of free ice cream and coffee, when I woke up today my mind was, for once, not on food. I was just too nervous/excited (McCain/Obama) to eat.

I sat down with every intention of doing work, but instead found myself maniacally searching the internet for short news clips about voter turnout. Unable to work, I made pancakes. I know I said I didn't feel like eating, but pancakes are really more of an activity than a meal.

Glad to be away from the internet, I assembled a stack of what we've been calling "specialty flour" pancakes. They're a blend of buckwheat, spelt, and corn meal, and as you feel the flour power coursing through you (and the milk, eggs, and butter), you can tell that you're getting a lot more bang for your buck(wheat) than if you just used white wheat flour. (Looking back on that sentence I feel the need to say that it was not a subliminal commentary about the two candidates.)

I sat down and ate as many as I could, smothering each cake with peanut butter and a delicately spiced pear butter we received in exchange for dog sitting. Hopefully this will keep me going until deep in the night, when we find out who the next president will be. Despite countless other reasons, for food's sake, I hope it's Obama.

Now if you haven't done so already, make yourself some pancakes and get out there and vote.


Pancakes for a Brighter Future

adapted from the More-With-Less Cookbook

1 cup milk
2 tbsp oil
1 egg

Add and mix only until moistened.

1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Heat butter in a skillet. Pour pools of batter into the hot skillet in the size you desire (it's fun to have a mound of little ones). Once bubbling, flip, cook briefly on the B side, and serve smeared generously with peanut butter and pear butter. Pray for change.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Sustainable Catfish

I could eat seafood three meals a day, but concerns about sustainability now have me eating it only once every few months. Fortunately there are more and more guides to eating sustainable seafood, like the Seafood Watch Sushi Guide and Chefs Collabortive's Seafood Solutions. There are even responsible seafood CSAs in some parts of the country, like this one in Maine.

While farm raised fish has taken a recent nose dive in popular opinion, they're the way to go when managed correctly. Fortunately, US farm raised catfish generally meets the bill. In fact, it's even good enough for Canadians.

Since they aren't ocean catfish, I guess technically it isn't sustainable seafood, but "pondfood" doesn't have quite the same ring. But if for some reason farm raised isn't your cup of tea, there's always noodling:

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Mark Twain, Locavore

Was Samuel Clemens the original locavore? To read on, see here for my first guest post on the Chefs Collaborative blog.

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Savory Fruit Leather

I received this amuse bouche from someone who got it at the The Common Ground Country Fair, which is perhaps the only place on Earth where you can eat sustainable funnel cake.

A far cry from the fruit roll ups I grew up eating, the flavor of this leather was tomato-garlic-basil. When I heard that I thought "yuck" and then "hmm." When I ate it I went "yuck" and then "mmm!" and then "yuck" again.

But it got me to thinking about different interpretations of fruit (or vegetable?) leather, and sure enough a little research proved that there are people out there who are making varieties of edible leather that are also pretty out there. Still, the one I ate is the least appetizing I've encountered.

Are you or someone you know making strange kinds of edible leather? Can you trump the weirdness of tomato-garlic-basil? IMWTK.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Coast to Coast

The Pacific Northwest and New England have more in common than one might think. They're both famous for seafood, they're the endpoints of I-90, and each region has enough charm to offset the miserable weather that plagues it for three out of four seasons. Plus, if you invert the "W" in WA, it would look like MA.

So it should come as no surprise that food blogs from both regions have a lot in common too, specifically this one and Debs'. See here for my first guest post on Food is Love/Seattle Local Food, part of a coast to coast cultural exchange that I'm going to call Food Blogs from the Edges of the Continent:

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I have to say that I'm seeing a lot more Obama pumpkins than McCain pumpkins, so if you're still undecided, maybe this is just the criteria you've been holding out for.

Thanks to Seth for sending the photo above. Maybe next year he'll be able to do one like this:

Of course by then we'd only need the one on the left, and by "the one on the left" I'm not quoting McCain.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wild Apples, Tonight

For anyone in the Boston area, feel free to join me at this event tonight.

Wild Apples

Thursday,October 30th at7:00pm

The Thoreau Farm Trust will host the fall launch of Wild Apples as part of the Concord Festival of Authors at the Concord Art Association (37 Lexington Road, Concord, MA 01742). The event is free.

Wild Apples is a new journal of nature, art, and inquiry. Taking its title and mission from Thoreau's 1862 essay, "Wild Apples," this 48-page color journal brings together poetry and prose with the work of visual artists and photographers who are connected by the common threads of care for the environment, engagement in social concerns, and an abiding commitment to the arts and the way they shape our world. The first issue was published in May 2008.

Please R.S.V.P. to Nancy at

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Goat and Sweet Pepper Stew

Besides a touch of imported olive oil and a few exotic spices, this dish couldn't have been more chock full of terroir. The meat came from Codman, the peppers from our winter CSA through Belmont Farm, and the marriage of the two formed a perfect edible expression of New England in the Fall. Unless of course you're vegetarian.

Why goat? It's what they had. At Codman it's often the luck of the draw, since you get whatever has been recently slaughtered. Hence the goat kidney I have in my freezer, which I still have no idea what to do with.

I've been so burnt by mediocre peppers that I'd all but given up on them for anything but texture. But when I bit into one of these, it was like eating vegetable candy. They were so sweet that I felt bad even cooking them, and indeed the ones I did put aside have all been consumed raw and with relish (the feeling, not the condiment).

The only trouble is that I have no idea what kind they are and won't know how to find them again next season. Any help?


Goat Stew with Sweet Peppers

2 lbs goat stew meat
3 mysterious, magical peppers
3 small onions
1 quartered tomato
1/2 stick cinnamon
1/2 tbsp powdered cumin
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 whole dried chile
salt to taste
3/4 cup liquid of your choice (I used half water, half homemade apple-scrap vinegar)

Give the goat meat a serious browning on all sides in a little olive oil, not much as it will soon surrender its own lubricant.

Set aside and do the same with the onions, adding the chopped and deseeded fresh peppers just before the onions brown. Toss to coat, then add everything else, including the meat, and simmer until tender, about an hour and a half.

You could further minimalize this recipe and just do the goat, peppers, liquid and salt, but this combo is a real knockout. Serve over brown rice for a one-dish.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Elderberries in Literature

A few posts back I dropped a reference to elderberries in literature and was then asked in a comment to elaborate. After doing a little more research I learned that the elder, the elderberry being its fruit, is much more common in mythology and religion. But if you don't believe in god, then you can still think of it all as literature.

In his poem "The Kitten and Falling Leaves" Wordsworth wrote the following:

See the Kitten on the wall,
Sporting with the leaves that fall,
Withered leaves--one--two--and three--
From the lofty elder-tree!

And again, this time in "The Prelude."

The elder-tree that grew
Beside the well-known charnel-house had then
A dismal look.

The morbid association with the elder recurs in "The Death-Child" by Scottish poet William Sharp, and some say that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was made of elder, as was the limb that Judas hung himself from.

On a lighter note, notes that "In Celtic lore it was said that if one sat under an elderberry tree on Midsummer's Eve when its berries were ripe, it was possible to see the Fairy King pass by in a procession."

Continuing on the religious theme, who could forget John Cleese's infamous faux-French dis in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!"

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tomato Tarte Tatin

Last Month Melissa Clark wrote a piece for the Times about a sweet and savory tomato Tarte Tatin. Struck by its beauty and strangeness, I knew I had to make it.

At the time it was peak cherry tomato season, but I fought the urge to pop each and every one into my mouth to save up enough for the tarte. It seemed like a crime against nature not to eat them off the vine while still warm from the sun, but it seemed equally wrong to not make a t.t.t.

A Tarte Tatin is essentially an upside down tart which takes its name from a French hotel at the turn of the (last) century. Melissa adapted her recipe from Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef," and I adapted mine from not having all of the ingredients on hand.

As tantalizing as the caramelized onions, olives and puff pastry sounded, I skipped them all and went for the minimalist approach. I simply popped a tart crust on top of cherry tomatoes with a splash of olive oil, salt, and fresh parsley from my first installment of a winter CSA.

While the crust was a little soggy, the flavor was outstanding. Even without the sugar and caramelized onions, the baking amplified the already powerful natural sweetness of the home grown tomatoes. Maybe one day I'll try it with caramel, but when I have amazing ingredients grown in my backyard, I prefer to let them do the talking.


Recipe: Hasty, Soggy, Delicious Tomato Tarte Tatin

Note: I'm sure it's better if you follow the real recipe, but this will do.


9 tbsp butter
1.25 cups flour (I mixed whole wheat and white)
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt


2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 handful fresh parsley
1 squirt of olive oil

Make your crust by mixing the flour(s) and salt, then add the yolk and cut in the butter. Add water until pliable but not sticky, no more than a few tablespoons. Pop it in the freezer (covered) while you assemble the filling.

Squirt olive oil into the bottom of a pie pan. Arrange the tomatoes one-deep. Sprinkle with salt and parsley.

Roll out the dough (after taking it out of the freezer) until it has become slightly wider than the pie pan. Cover the tomatoes with the dough, tucking its girth between them and the edges of the pan so as to form an inverted crust. Trim off excess, cut slashes to serve as steam vents.

Bake at 425 for about 30 minutes or until the crust has browned. Let stand until the juices have retreated, then loosen the edges of the crust with a knife, cover with a plate and flip. This should be a beautiful moment.

Serves one very hungry person, three pretty hungry people, or six.

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Autum Olive Again

I'm not surprised to see that the autumn olive is now spreading through the blogosphere with the same tenacity that it spreads through backyards.

Maggie of Dog Hill Kitchen has also taken up the cause of eating and then killing her autumn olive shrubs, and pictured above is her a.o. jam. She also tried a fruit leather, and it looks as good as the real thing, by which I mean Fruit Roll Ups, a fake thing.

See here for the full post:

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Winter CSA: The First Drop-Off

My first CSA changed my life. Suddenly my vegetable intake skyrocketed from greens on the side to stuffing as much fresh produce into my diet as possible. If you're not used to it, downing that much foliage might take some getting used to. But after just a few days, you realize it's the best way you could possibly eat.

Your vegetables (and sometimes fruit and fungi) are not only fresh, they're still the same temperature as the ground. You eat what is local and what is in season down to the very day. Food you never thought much about before, like fennel, suddenly becomes a bridge connecting you to your foodshed. The lines between the individual and the landscape blur as you start to feel like you're actually part of the world you live in, much more so than if you just shopped at Whole Foods.

Sadly, I haven't been able to participate in a CSA for a few years due to work related travel. Sure I ate lots of great stuff from Farmers Markets, but it wasn't the same. I missed that weekly boatload of greenery that had changed my life. I missed letting nature pick the menu.

Thankfully, starting this Fall I won't be traveling as much as I used to and more farms are offering Winter CSA's for those like me who missed the main growing season.

"What's that" you say? "Fresh produce in New England in winter? Impossible!"

Not exactly. It's what everybody did until pop tarts showed up. Growing: it's not just for summer anymore, again.

Starting this week and going through mid-December, once a month we'll get forty pounds of incredible, local, seasonal, organic-ish food. The Belmont CSA which I've subscribed to follows an interesting model in which different farms team up to contribute to a single share. We get apples from one place, greens from another and so on. Our first drop included the following:

-sweet potatoes
-Mark Bittman's favorite kind of kale
-delicata squash
-Napa cabbage
-a pumpkin
-the best peppers I've ever had
-Japanese turnips
-a huge daikon
-green peppers

Oli, the official new dog of Tea and Food, was particularly into the spinach.

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