Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I Diss A Major Hot Beverage Company

I was recently invited to an event being hosted in a certain city by a certain internationally known hot beverage corporation. I'd say more except for the stringent legal conditions listed in the signature of the e-mail I received.

But I don't see anything wrong with sharing what I wrote back. In fact, I think you might just find it interesting:

I would like to let you know that I am glad that _______ is doing their part to help promote the drinking of tea. However, I must say that the ultra-convenience of many ______ products, specifically the "_______," seems directly at odds with the traditional culture of tea. I am also concerned by the strain on the environment produced by the excessive packaging of such products, and by _________'s failure to source teas from producers which guarantee fair labor practices. If _________ were to embrace a more environmentally and socially responsible position, I and countless other members of the blogger community would certainly help to promote its efforts.

As Stuffed and Starved said, citing Stan Cox who in turn was citing Voltaire, "Turning Your Lawn Into A Victory Garden Won't Save You -- Fighting The Corporations Will."

So take that, _______!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, July 28, 2008

From Horse Manure to Zephyr Squash Primavera

How did this...

Turn into this?

Answer: gardening. Elise and I moved out of the city in large part to get closer to our food. That meant farms where we could purchase meat, eggs, dairy, fruits and veggies, but also having the space to grow some of our own. At first the garden looked like this:

Fortunately, now it looks like this.

We have two beds this size, crammed with heirloom tomatoes, French sorrel, strawberries, basil, cilantro, broccoli rabe, canary melons, cucumbers, arugula, crookneck and zephyr squash, peppers, and marigolds for (alleged) pest control. Last night we harvested some fresh basil and our first zephyr squash, which became the basis for our evening meal.

What better way to turn horse poop into pasta sauce?


Recipe: Zephyr Squash Primavera

1 zephyr (or zucchini or crookneck or other summer squash) per person
1 good quality can of tomatoes (or actual tomatoes)
2 cloves of garlic
pasta of your choosing
1 small handful crumbled goat cheese per person
several leaves of fresh basil, chopped at the last possible minute
crushed red pepper flakes
olive oil

Sautee the garlic and pepper in the olive oil. Add the squash, cut into thin disks. Toss to coat. Sautee until just tender but still firm. (Overdoing it will remind you why many people don't like squash.) Add tomatoes, salt to taste. Pour over cooked pasta. Top with goat (or other) cheese and basil.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, July 25, 2008

Eating Vermont Part 4: Snacks

Each summer I find myself with a few weeks in Vermont while teaching community based youth Shakespeare camps in the towns of Chelsea and Craftsbury. The reason we're able to mount full scale Shakespeare productions in ten days with campers starting at age eleven is... snacks. Many, many, snacks. Powerful, natural, local, sometimes foraged-for snacks. Like these black raspberries.

This time of year there are inevitably a lot of recipes making the rounds for fruit cobblers, tarts, pies, cakes, and so forth. But as much as I love to make (and eat) a berry pie, I've never found myself with more berries on hand than I could handle straight up. Eating berries unadulterated is also part of my new food philosophy of total raw ingredient worship. Plus, when you're snacking on the side of the road, the thought of taking your haul back to the kitchen and baking them with sugar and butter seems, as our campers would say, "kinda sketchy."

Other snacks include homemade granola.

Granola is another one of my summer staples that I rarely think about during the year. I'm not (yet) in the habit of making it myself, but knowing that I could, I'll never buy it. Fortunately my fellow camp directors always keep us well stocked in their own personal blends. This batch was a little on the salty side with coconut flakes and roasted cashews. Why wouldn't I stuff some in my mouth every time I passed the jar?

The other major snacking food group is fresh garden veggies, like sugar snap peas, enormous raw spinach leaves, and of course, carrots.

Shockingly, the kids I work with are just as excited about eating their veggies as I am. On the first day of camp we had each camper say their name and favorite vegetable, and a fight nearly broke out when someone first laid claim to "kale." When I was eleven, I think my favorite vegetable was sugar.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eating Vermont Part 3: Tortilla de Papas

All year I somehow forget that Spanish tortillas are one of my favorite things to make and eat. But every summer when I'm Vermont, staring down new potatoes, green garlic, still dirty onions and eggs fresh from the chicken, it practically takes more effort to not make one.

First I brown three half-inch thick slices of onion, turn them, and do the same on the other side. Why so particular about what is to become the bottom of the tortilla? It's just such a nice surprise when you finally carve it up.

Meanwhile, I'm steaming cubed potatoes. My rule of thumb is one potato to every two eggs per person. When the onions are brown on both sides and the potatoes are soft, I dump them in. Keeping the heat high, I then pour on the egg, herb and splash of milk mixture. I let this go until I'm worried that it's burning, then transfer to a pre-heated broiler. I let that go until it's gorgeous, then finish in a warm oven until it's firm to the poke. Then an impressive flip between two plates, salt and pepper, and you're in business.


Recipe: Spanish Tortilla de Papas (aka friattata or thick potato omelette)

eggs (2 per person)
splash of milk
potatoes (1 per person)
half of one onion (still dirty)
three cloves of garlic
a substantial amount of olive oil (3.5 tablespoons?)

NOTE: You need an iron skillet, that magical device that can pass from range to broiler to oven and only be better for it.

Brown the onions and garlic in olive oil while steaming the cubed potatoes. Once the potatoes are soft and relatively drained, add them. Pour in eggs whisked with a splash of milk and any fresh herbs you have on hand. Keep it hot and covered. Once you're afraid that it might be burning, transfer to a hot broiler. Broil until puffy and golden brown. Gently press the top, and if it yields too much, finish in the oven until firm.

Remove, cover with an upside down plate, and flip so that the tortilla transfers from skillet to plate. Cover it with another upside down plate, flip again, and now it's facing right side up. Let set. Slice into wedges. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Remember the onions.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eating Vermont Part 2: Scape Pesto

As I've said before, if you want to have your cake and eat it too, eat locally and travel often. Maybe it's cheating, but when you dance between growing zones you can often enjoy your favorite short-season ingredients before or after they're gone in your home turf. Like scapes.

Scapes had just about run their course in Massachusetts when I headed up to Vermont, where they were just getting into full swing. While having dinner with some friends in Washington, they trotted out this totally electric pesto. Raw scapes are blended with olive oil and Parmesan, and that's it. The result is an intense spread that tastes great and feels like it's cleaning you out from the inside. Just the kind of thing you want in Spring. Or, if you find yourself in Zone 4a, mid-summer.


Recipe: Scape Pesto

-garlic scapes
-olive oil

Combine several snipped scapes with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a handful of grated Parmesan (or other hard, grating cheese) in a blender or food processor.

Blend or food process.

Continue to add oil until you reach the desired consistency.

Note: If you want to freeze it, leave out the cheese as it makes the texture funky.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, July 21, 2008

Eating Vermont Part 1: Rhubarb Crisp

Turns out rhubarb is not solely the Spring crop that many a specialty market would have us believe. As my gracious host recently informed me during my stay in Thetford, VT, if you keep cutting back the flowers, you'll have rhubarb up to your ears all Summer. Why I didn't learn this until age 27 is both a mystery and infuriating.

Each summer I spend a month in Vermont teaching at a Shakespeare camp, and this crisp is a perfect example of what I usually eat while there: food that is simple, incredibly fresh, and consumed a stone's throw from where it grew. That's because the backyards often look like this...

We topped it with Strafford Creamery vanilla ice cream because it might just be the best ice cream on Earth, and because Vermonters aren't physically able to digest anything unless it's taken with dairy. (More on that to come.)

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, July 18, 2008

Silk Oolong Formosa

The "oolong" refers to the variety. Formosa, the place of origin. But silk is what you feel wrapped in when you sip this divine brew.

I could have sworn that the folks at Red Blossom told me this tea was at some point infused with milk. However, my research tells me that its deep, caramel flavor is in fact a natural attribute of a rare, sudden shift in temperature during harvest. Either that or the result of a comet falling in love with the moon. Either way, it's delicious.

Some of my favorite teas are those which naturally mimic the flavors of other flora. Peach Dan Cong, for instance, has none of the fruit chunks that you might expect in something from Teavana, or in a bowl of potpourri (same difference). It's just camellia sinensis, but you can clearly identify the flavor of a peach, or more accurately, the flavor of the red, slightly astringent flesh close to a peach's pit.

Elise has always been a dyed in the wool black tea drinker. So much so that she'd actually rather just have coffee. Until now. This has been the only one of a parade of fancy teas I've made for my tolerant companion that really got her excited. But can you blame her? Just look at these gorgeous leaves.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hamburger Meatball Things

The recipe is a artificial construct. It's not something that exists outside of our desire to impose order on an otherwise chaotic universe.

The more you cook, the more the boundaries between recipes start to blur. You realize that a pancake could be a crepe if you thinned it out and added a little more egg, and if you slightly altered that ratio and baked it, you might get a souffle. And when that goes stale you could soak it, bake it again, and throw it into a bread pudding.

Hence these little piles of meat. They lie between a hamburger, a meatball, and something one of my French-Jewish relatives once made that she called "kgrebsz!" (At least that's what it sounded like.)

I used ground beef from a local farm, an egg, paprika, more oregano than you think you need, and, I swear, almost as much roughly chopped garlic as meat. Every time I make these I add more garlic, and I have yet to think it's too much. Put them under the broiler until they look good and break free from the tyranny of categorization.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Organic Schmorganic

I thumb my nose at organics, and this is why.

Having grown up on a little organic farm, I consider organically grown food a baseline for human civilization. Planting things for later harvest helped to define human civilization many thousands of years ago, and organic agriculture was the foundation of nearly every culture from then 'til the modern, chemically enriched post-WWII age.

Having until recently been a cornerstone of society, organics are practically an inalienable right. Industrial Food went ahead and alienated it all the same. Today, "organic" food is a far cry from what you grow in a garden, and largely the privilege of the affluent and educated.

Today's corruption of organic food was brought to you by the USDA. What have you done for the USDA lately? Well, industry lobbyists have done more. That's why there's a list of unnatural substances that are allowed in USDA approved organics. To shed a little light on how the process works, here is the tale of Methionine, which gives your chicken that special "something".

The Summary of FR DOC E8-15390: This proposed rule would amend the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List) to reflect one recommendation submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary) by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on May 22, 2008. Consistent with the recommendation from the NOSB, this proposed rule would revise the annotation of one substance on the National List, Methionine, to extend its use in organic poultry production until October 1, 2010.

Methionine was petitioned for its continued use as a synthetic feed additive in organic poultry operations. Methionine is a colorless or white crystalline powder that is soluble in water. It is classified as an amino acid and considered to be an essential amino acid that is regulated as an animal feed nutritional supplement by the Food and Drug Administration (21 CFR 582.5475).
Methionine was originally included on the National List on October 31, 2003, with an early expiration date of October 21, 2005...Methionine was petitioned by organic livestock producers as a part of the NOSB's 1995 initial review of synthetic amino acids considered for use in organic livestock production. The petitioners asserted that Methionine was a necessary dietary supplement for organic poultry, due to an inadequate supply of organic feeds containing sufficient concentrations of naturally-occurring Methionine...The petitioners also asserted that a prohibition on the use of synthetic Methionine would contribute to nutritional deficiencies in organic poultry thereby jeopardizing the animal's health.

To sum up: giving chickens organic feed that does not include methionine would be bad for them. Well, shucks! Lucky for chickens that we're here to keep 'em healthy; they must have been suffering for centuries. This petition's purpose was just to give the industry time to find a replacement for methionine:

The NOSB recommended an early expiration on the use of Methionine to encourage the organic poultry industry to phase out the use of synthetic Methionine in poultry diets and developnon-synthetic alternatives to its use as a feed additive.

That must have been a real stumper! Because after the initial two year period, poultry farmers (just two, in fact) requested and received a three-year extension to keep working on it. That was three years ago; now they're asking for another two years. The scientists who genetically engineered rice are apparently still scratching their heads over nutritional chicken feed. Ha ha, no, that would be silly! Of course there's a suitable organic feed. Here's what the National Organic Standards Board has to say about it:

The NOSB has determined that while wholly natural substitute products exist, they are not presently available in sufficient supplies to meet poultry producers needs...Loss of the use of Methionine, at this time, would disrupt the well-established organic poultry market and cause substantial economic harm to organic poultry operations.

Good point. The "organic" poultry industry is well-established; why, it's been using methionine for five years. We can't just expect them to stop because they said they would.

The "not available in sufficient supplies" is the real kicker, and it was used to justify a number of additions to the substance List about a year ago. In other words, We (the poultry factories) want to put the organic label on our chickens. But the large scale and low standards that define our business prevent us from complying with organic requirements. We need you to change the standards so that we can play the organic money-making game.

And change they did.

Organic food? Yes, by all means, get it from a farmer you trust. USDA-certified organic chicken nuggets? Nuggets is nuggets.
Read the scandalous (if somewhat dry) tale of methionine at

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, July 14, 2008

Corky and Lenny's

Any time I'm in Cleveland, I do my best to get to Corky and Lenny's, a 51 year old Kosher-style (or kosher?) deli in Beachwood. Given the amount of times I've done the drive while on tour, I now think of Cleveland as within striking distance of Boston. That means that if I'm in Cleveland in the morning, I know I can be home that night if I log in a solid ten hours of driving. And that means I get two sandwiches at Corky and Lenny's!

My morning sandwich is, inevitably, a bagel and lox. I especially enjoy C&L's "pretzel" bagels, and all of the other ingredients range from perfectly acceptable to superior. And speaking of superior, everything I've had here is better than any Jewish food I've eaten in Boston. What, are there not enough of us for a decent deli?

A visit to a culturally relevant restaurant such as this marks one of the situations in which I trade sustainability for experience. Freed by my circumstantial ethics, I then order my evening sandwich: roast beef with chopped liver and cole slaw. If everyone ate it all the time, both the health of the planet and its inhabitants would so plummet as to bring on the end of the world. Maybe that's why I feel a sense of rapture when I eat one.

With that kind of nosh on hand, those ten hours in the car practically fly by. The only difficulty is not eating the evening sandwich immediately after finishing the morning one.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, July 11, 2008

Elise's Pizza

It's a well known fact, or at least it should be, that my girlfriend makes excellent pizza. But due to the variety of conditions and kitchens she makes pizza in, it can be a very different dish from time to time. For reasons beyond our understanding, this one was the best ever.

The yeast didn't seem particularly hungry, as the dough didn't rise much at all. I suggested that we start over, but Elise consulted her pizza intuition, poked it, and said "No. It's still alive."

Whatever the reason, this crust turned out expertly thin and crunchy. I was in charge of the sauce, but found myself with little more than a can of (good) tomatoes to work with. When she wasn't looking, I decided to stretch out the flavor by cheating with some of my roommate's accoutrements: a few drops of fish sauce, and something called "Texas Pete." Confusingly, she said that it was the best sauce I'd ever made. Though I was disturbed by the mysterious powers of the pre-fab condiments, I accepted the compliment.

The only downside to having eaten the best pizza we've ever made is that we'll never be able to get it right again.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Frank's Quality Kraut Singles

I picked up this emergency kraut shot on a recent trip to Ohio. As a lover of sauerkraut, I couldn't help but buy this fifty cent oddity. It also made me nostalgic for the tiny packets of rum I once bought in Cuba. Yes, candy is no longer the only thing available in a size that is fun.

I call it an oddity because this item represents an aberration in the way we humans have historically handled our food. In addition to the Sphinx and the Great Wall of China, it seems one of our lasting gifts to the planet will be butt-loads of plastic.

Things didn't used to come in things. If you bought a potato, you got a potato. Now, when you buy a potato at a supermarket, you can get it shrink wrapped in plastic for easy microwaving. You might put a few such potatoes into one of the thin plastic bags always vailable in the produce department. Then, to carry your plastic bag of plastic wrapped potatoes home, you'll probably put it in another plastic bag.

Same goes for water. Instead of drawing it from a well or getting it for free from the bountiful tap in your kitchen, we're now buying it cloaked in a byproduct of the petroleum industry: yes, plastic. It looks like Mr. McGuire was right.

And we're not only buying more things in packaging; we're buying smaller portions of them in even more packaging, as evidenced by my purchase of this Frank's Quality Kraut Single.

If you are foolish enough to get suckered into buying bottled water, at least think about how much more plastic is required to contain several single serving bottles than a five gallon bubbler. Now think about how much plastic it takes to wrap each and every Frank's Quality Kraut Single. Now remember that plastic doesn't biodegrade. Now stop thinking about escaping to colonize the moon.

In contrast to the single, my homemade kraut is a deep, healthy pink, and it sparkles. You can taste, and feel, that you're eating something alive. We've been making sauerkraut for thousands of years as a way to preserve cabbage and provide a host for healthful bacteria. So why additionally preserve sauerkraut by sealing it in a ketchup packet after killing the bacteria by cooking it and adding sodium benzoate?

The only thing I can come up with is that families that give out raisins want to spice things up this Halloween.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fried Fish and Fennel

I have a confession. I can't dredge and dip. Oh, I can dredge. And I can dip just fine. But when a recipe calls for coating in flour and egg, the train just can't make it to the station.

First off, why do some recipes say flour first and then egg when others go in the reverse? Maybe that nagging uncertainty is what does me in. When I read Mark Bittman's recipe for Red Fried Fish, in which he dips his fish into a batter including already combined egg and flour, I thought I'd found the answer. Unfortunately, I was out of eggs. And flour.

But the idea of dipping into a batter rather than dredging and dipping sounded like it would work, so I mixed up some blue cornmeal with water and spices, including paprika, cayenne, cinnamon, and a dash of turmeric.

It should here be noted that, if you ever want an incredibly crispy fried fish, a fish almost imprisoned in an impenetrable shell, you should use cornmeal instead of flour. And I've said it before but I'll say it again: blue corn meal, paprika, and turmeric each goes a long way in naturally saturating a dish with color.

Anytime I eat something fried, I eat something raw to lighten up the meal. Not only is it a balance of texture and temperature, but it shows that something plucked out of the ground and basically unadorned deserves to share a plate with something more meticulously prepared. Hence this gorgeous fennel, simply sliced raw with salt and pepper.

I would have spritzed on some lemon, but I didn't have that either. In a parallel universe, a more prepared Aaron Kagan was enjoying a nice fillet perfectly dipped and fried in flour and egg, his fennel nice and citric. But in this world, I was still happy, and full.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, July 7, 2008

Queso Fresco Stuffed Apricot Taco

This recipe hails from the fact that, when traveling, I do a lot of repetitive eating and appreciate any and all innovations. Also, this unlikely subject is one of my all time favorite food photos, or "footos."

My most recent travel stash includes various combinations of the following:

Tom-Tom Turkey Sticks
Roasted, unsalted almonds
Dried apricots
A cheese
A Dagoba bar
As many apples as I can carry

After years of heavy travel, I've gotten my quasi-non-perishable food supply down to this rock solid foundation, and I rely on it to fill in gaps around unsatisfying meals, or to take the place of a meal on days when prospects are extremely bleak. Happy Chef bleak.

From this base, I add in fresh, raw vegetables, bread, yogurt, and any Thai leftovers I might accrue. If I come across a good restaurant or have lodging with a kitchen, of course things are different. But the above list is like my trusty horse, in that it's with me on ever journey, and when I have to, I can eat it.

The key to staying satisfied from such a limited pool is variety. "Breakfast" might consist of an apple and a Tom-Tom Turkey Stick , which is almost as much fun to eat as it is to say. Lunch might be almonds, cheese, and apricots. But if I have another apple for lunch, it might tip the tolerance scale and put me off them for days.

Hence the "taco." Dried apricots have that lovely little natural split down the middle. Just give it a tug and insert your filling. You can imagine the delightful creations this might yield back in civilization, but looking over my list, something tells me there may just be an Almond Stuffed Apricot Taco on tonight's menu.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Seeing Red

The sky here in Massachusetts did terrifying things today. In just minutes sunshine gave way to an all out squall complete with hail, blinding rain and SUV-shaking gusts of wind. Then it left as quickly as it had come, "blown out to sea" as an emergency NPR weather report so poetically stated. Signals of the aftermath were everywhere.

I thought that surely such weather would have sent the good folks at the Davis Square Farmer's Market packing. How wrong I was to underestimate our heroic local food growers. When I turned the corner on Day St. and saw their tent tops standing proud, I almost wept. There was Farmer Al, Ellery, and the maple syrup lady, unfazed. They said that when the storm hit, customers didn't scatter but jumped up to hold down the tarps and protect the produce. You're just not going to get that kind of community shopping at Star Market.

This was also the first Far-Mar of the season where green gave way. Until now we'd only seen colors such as that of the calaloo I bought today.

Or these Armenian cukes, with skin so paper thin that you can chomp through without a moment's hesitation.

But today we also got tomatoes.


And the best raspberries I've ever had in my life.

I also picked up a molasses oat bread and a log of chevre, but they weren't as pretty.


Recipe: Molasses Oat Bread with Chevre

1 Loaf of Molasses Oat Bread
1 Log of Chevre


While driving home from the market, tear off hunks of the bread. Then bite open the plastic wrap of the chevre and squeeze liberally onto the bread with one hand. Eat as much as you can. Repeat.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bottoms Up

If there are 33 reasons to drink tea, there must be even more for wine. But here's one you may not have thought of: garden edging.

I first saw this creative recycling technique outside of a health food co-op in Savannah, GA. Originally I didn't think having glass on the ground was a good idea, but as anyone who's seen the nose bashing scene in Pan's Labyrinth knows, the butt of a bottle is actually quite strong.

To be more accurate this would technically fall under the "reuse" part of the earth friendly trinity. Think about it this way. You want a border around your garden. You have wine bottles that you need to get rid of. You don't want to give your neighbors the chance to judge you by the amount of empties in your recycling bin.

I installed this barrier around a friend's herb garden, and the effect was Pavlovian. One look at rosemary growing next that familiar green glass and you can't help but think of great meals.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The First Blueberry

I found this little fruit while exploring the woods in my new neighborhood, the Assabet Watershed.

I recognized the familiar, breezy structure of the bush before I noticed the actual berries. Once I did, this one caught my eye, probably because all of the others were still green. That makes it the first blueberry of summer, precisely one week after the solstice. Of course I picked it, and ate it.

How was it? A little sour, to be honest. Could have used another day of sun to fully ripen. But the temptation of eating even so slight a morsel such as this was too much to stay my hand. There is nothing like eating something that has nothing to do with humanity. A human didn't grow this bush. No one planted it or fertilized it. Our species hadn't bred it to bear enormous fruits or to withstand being shipped from far away places. It was just a plant in the woods, and I reached out and plucked its only ripe fruit, and thereby closed the shortest link on the food chain: bush to mouth.

Stumble Upon Toolbar