Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Pawpaw

The more I hear about the pawpaw, the more angry I get that I've never eaten one. Then I get even more angry at our society for having been so neglectful of such an incredible thing to eat. The flavor of the pawpaw is downright tropical, while its range extends as far North as Canada, a.k.a. as far North as you can go.

Why aren't these things everywhere? What's really scary is that they might be and we just don't know it anymore. As plant geneticist Neal Pearson said in RAFT: "The pawpaw is not an endangered species, but the folks knowledgeable about the pawpaw are."

My feelings on the matter are clear. I want a pawpaw, and I want one now. Help me, blogosphere.

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Happy Birthday to Me

Yesterday was my birthday, and it was awesome. We've had some real feasts in years past, but this time we wanted to scale things down. More Maynard, less Somerville. It started out with a perfect breakfast revolving around Elise's cheddar and rosemary biscuits, which we topped with Seth's present, a jar of pure sorghum syrup from his travels through Arkansas.

The evening festivities of course centered around food. It was kind of like this, but without the hydrocolloids and ironic mustaches. The cornerstone of the meal was an array of wood grilled veggies from our new fire pit out back. Half of the fuel came from the woods about ten feet away, the rest from craigslist (cherry, hickory, oak, maple). The crookneck squash came from our garden, ten feet in the other direction. Doesn't get much more local than that.

Also on the menu were heirloom tom's and cukes, grilled purple and white eggplant, corn, onions, and champagne. Besides the latter, everything was local, purchased at the Maynard Far-Mar just hours before the meal.

For dessert Zach brought an incredible melon, described to him as having the texture of an apple and the flavor of a honeydew, which it did. Somehow Elise managed to bake a killer peach and blackberry pie while gardening full time and rehearsing for a new show six days a week, including five hours on the day of. She snapped a pic pre-top crust, but no record survives of the finished product.

The pita was fun to make and the best I've ever had, not a difficult feat considering how crappy most pita is. Thanks to BoB for the recipe. The inspiration came from a desire to not have to do dishes, and I could never buy disposable, so we figured everyone could have their plate and eat it too. Tossed on the grill to toast up, they made fantastic platforms for monster piles of smoky eggplant, hummus, cucumber, tomato and feta.

With food fads ever surging towards impossible perfection, when I look back on this post on future birthdays, I may scoff at my repetition of the word "local." But for now, it -- and "fair trade" and "sustainable" -- is the best we can do.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Grace Garden

Blogging about Grace Garden is like beating a dead horse. Scads of bloggers and chowhounds have already made public this gem of an eatery, eventually even drawing the attention of "old media" such as the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. Still, I cannot contain my enthusiasm and feel compelled to do my part in the crusade to publicize what is obviously the best Chinese Food in America. Many are surprised to find such a place in Odenton, though I think it's a fitting home for food fit for a god.

We began with fish noodles, featured above. Are they noodles, or are they fish? The answer is "yes." It's hard to imagine something so soft, so subtle, yet so richly flavorful. They have a perfect ratio of give to bounce and are an absolute pleasure to chew. While eating them I thought: "Why is the idea of shaped, ground fish somehow familiar to me?" Then it came to me: gefilte.

Grace Garden might also be the only restaurant in a strip mall that features a rotating, just picked seasonal veggie dish straight from the owner's garden. In typical Grace Garden fashion, this attribute was in no way advertised, the only tip- off being a photo on the wall of some pea greens. When we inquired about these, we were told that they were no longer available, having been replaced by chive blossoms. After those peak, they plan to harvest their winter melon and serve it with soup that has been cooked inside of it.

This was the best single-vegetable dish I have ever eaten. Chives are so often so pathetic, so tasteless, nothing more that dry O's sprinkled onto a baked potato as an afterthought. Eating this dish was like only having seen dusty old dinosaur bones in a museum then finding yourself in Jurassic Park, surrounded by velociraptors of freshness and flavor. The szechuan fish fillets were even more mind-blowing.

This and the pork belly with rice powder were the two dishes that absolutely put me in a trance. I stopped talking and felt a surge of euphoria well up inside me, one not unlike the theobromine high I've gotten after an L.A. Burdick's hot chocolate. Beside the soul satisfying experience of eating great food, my only guess is that I was feeling the effects of the tongue-numbing szechuan, or sichuan, peppercorn. But I probably just think that because, like absinthe, it was until recently banned in the U.S.

Grace Garden is clearly the über food blog darling. Unpretentious, ethnic, off the beaten path but close to a major city, it is the ultimate find. I thought it was the best Chinese food I've ever had, and Dave thinks it's the best food he's ever had. When we asked the owner, who is also the chef, what the secret to his cooking is, he said:

"Heart. You must feel the ingredients that you are going to cook. Also, you need very good sauce."

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Revolutionary Soup

Revolutionary Soup is a pillar of the Charlottesville local food scene. In fact, they offer so many locally sourced ingredients that they need an actual pillar on which to post them all.

Contrast that to your neighborhood upscale grill, which is probably only beginning to offer one or two token local specialties, most likely "mescaline salad greens." R.S. has local eggs, chicken, sausage, bread, eggplant, cheese, and that's just off the top of my head. They also source many ingredients from Polyface Farm. If you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma, that should make your ethics water.

Like the Black River Cafe in Oberlin, Revolutionary Soup is pretty darn close to my vision of the perfect restaurant. It's affordable, tasty, has sustainably raised meats plus numerous vegetarian options, and has atmosphere, beer and wine. I wish it wasn't so revolutionary and that there was one in every town.

Two last pieces of advice. Get a bread boule to stretch your soup into a full meal, and don't be fooled by the name. The sandwiches are great, too.

Horrible joke I deliberated about including:

Check out their website and subscribe to the RSS feed to find out how to get some R.S. feed!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Charlottseville Farmer's Market

What could be better than buying a locally grown, perfectly ripe, peak-of-the-season peach at a Farmer's Market? Buying three kinds of peaches and two plum varieties you've never even heard of (green gages and damsons). And then eating them.

The Charlottesville, VA Far Mar was positively bustling last Saturday, as I imagine it always is. There you'll find the afore mentioned stone fruits, Virginia peanuts, a serious selection of sheep cheeses, a rainbow of hunky heirloom tomatoes, Egyptian garlic, the best donut you've ever had, Salvadorian peach and pineapple drinks, Bosnian spinach pies, plus a dazzling array of hot peppers.

A farmer's market is a beautiful thing, but without prepared foods it can be a cruel tease, especially when traveling. There's only so many cucumbers you can eat before wishing you had a kitchen to make something more substantial. But a market with both fresh produce and ready to consume grub lets you have your dangling carrot and eat it too. Granted, that's not the best metaphor since you can in fact eat a raw carrot. Regardless, the C-ville Far Mar has both.

But if for some reason you do walk away wishing for meal made from local ingredients, you can have one almost instantly at Revolutionary Soup. More later.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Seperation of Church and Plate

This shot hails from the Charlottseville Far Mar (more later), but our story begins in Little Rock.

Fat Tire isn't available east of the Mississsip, but it's Elise's favorite beer. Actually, that's probably why it's her favorite. (My guess is that it's also Batman's.) So any time I'm in F.T. distribution range, it's a fair bet that my suitcase will end up pretty clanky.

I planned to score a case at a Whole Foods nee Wild Oats in Little Rock. There I was delighted to find many offerings from New Belgium as well as several Arkansas muscadine wines. I loaded up my hand basket, thrilled to support local food culture (albeit through a Whole Foods) and partake of regional products not available in my native foodshed. There was only one problem: it was a Sunday, and we have some @$$ backwards laws.

Yes, in many parts of the country this flagrant breach of the separation of church and state can seriously halt your intentions to partake of the fruit of the vine. Granted, the U.S. is perhaps the most free society on the planet, but that's why it's such a shocker when it's not. My efforts were blocked by an archaic and offensive blurring of government and someone else's religion. Instead, all I got was a bag of watercress.

Harvested too late and already flowering, it was bitter beyond eating. On top of that, the micro-fridge in my hotel did what those things always do and froze it solid. The next day the bitter, icy greens gradually melted into a rotting, stinking, mess of leaves and juice that stunk up my grub sack. Clearly, this was our government's fault.

Flash forward to last Saturday, when I had the pleasure of finding myself at the thriving Charlottesville Farmer's Market. There I met the fellow in the picture at top, a man who had even more reason to be pissed off about governmental impositions on what we're allowed to eat and drink.

I don't know about you, but my god wants me to eat raw milk cheese and drink muscadine.

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Correct Schav Link

It has come to my attention that the link for the Jew and the Carrot post was not as accurate as it could have been. The correct link is:

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Collins Round Mountain Orchard

The Collins Round Mountain Orchard in Conway, Arkansas is quite possible heaven on earth. There the bright summer sky meets the red Arkansas clay and a hundred acres of fruit trees stretch out as far as the eye can see. Sadly, only a handful of the 1,000+ college kids I performed for that night knew that it existed in their own town.

This time of year the Earth expresses itself in peaches, and I consider it my duty to eat as many as possible as I travel the U.S. I've eaten damned fine peaches in countless states, but nothing has matched the dizzying volume of sugar-sweet pickin's at Collins. There U-pickers huddle in the welcome shade of the trees, surreptitiously gorging themselves on fruit almost too sweet to eat. I even bit one right off the tree, my hands useless at my sides. The part of peach that had been in the sun was as hot as my mouth, the shady side quite cool. It was worth a couple of fire ant bites. Heck, even the ground was lousy with fruit.

We filled up our paper bags with these and the last of some gala apples for what amounted to pocket change. Not listed on my new favorite food finder, I'm guessing Collins doesn't make the "sustainable" cut, though they are officially Arkansas Grown. I would have liked to talk with them about their farming practices, but I would have felt like a d*ck asking if they sprayed. They probably do, which might be why their blackberries look like this:

Contrast that to my first wild blueberry of the season. I've seen "two bite" desserts catching on at obnoxious food retailers across America, but never did I dream that the phrase could apply to a berry.

It was almost like eating corn. A handful was just absurd.

Still, as high on sucrose and Arkansas sunshine as I was, I probably wasn't as happy as this bug.


Collins Round Mountain Orchard
159 Millpond Rd. Conway AR 72034
Contact: Racy Garis
Phone: 501-327-2234

Located 3 miles south of Conway on Round Mountain, Collins Round Mountain Orchards is a u-pick orchard offering peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, blackberries, tomatoes, muscadines and vegetables. Our picking season begins the second week in June and runs through August except for apples which continue into October. The hours of picking are 7:00 AM until 1:00 pm (though they were open when I went at 4pm). The orchard is clean and neat making for a pleasant picking of the highest quality fruit. Containers are provided.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Jew and the Carrot and the Schav

See here for my first post at the Jew and the Carrot, also known as "the epicenter of Jews, food, and sustainability on the web." In it I discuss my intimate relationship with sorrel, what my family ate while surviving the Holocaust in Siberia, and how to update a traditional recipe for modern sustainability.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Little Pusan in a Big Way

Any day in which I wake up in Arkansas and end up in Boston is bound to leave me in need of nourishment. After surviving all day on my standard travel fare, I was in desperate need by the time I came crawling into Little Pusan, the best restaurant by far in my new home town of Maynard. Lucky for me, it's also the best Korean food I've ever had.

No sooner had I ordered a hot sake than the obligatory and ever changing appetizer tray arrived. Besides the usual homemade fermented vegetables and black (soy?) beans I noticed a new and unfamiliar offering. When I asked the owner/hostess/server what it was, she said "First you eat. Then you tell me." I was thrilled to discover that it was a deep fried, slightly spicy pepper, served room temperature and drizzled with soy sauce.

The sake did much to ease my scratchy throat, which really took a beating between that awful recycled airplane air and having been maxed out performing for the entire freshman class of the University of Central Arkansas last night. I drowned my sorrows in item B-9, a hot, red bowl of clear noodles and shredded beef soup.

The owner often tells me in no uncertain terms what I should order, and as usual her recommendation was spot on. I left feeling completely myself again, full, and only slightly tipsy.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Best Use of the Internet Yet

Finally, Web 2.0 brings us the ultimate in food finding technology: Local Harvest, a recent partner with Slow Food International, which has created an on-line resource for tracking down local, edible offerings all over the U.S. That means you'll finally have a definite guide to every sustainably raised product within 100 miles of your home or anyone else's.

Simply enter your zip code for a complete list of all farms, restaurants, and related events within striking distance. There's even a section for syrup, with everything from hickory (Indiana) to guava (Hawaii).

A whopping thirty-six pages popped up for my zip code, though admittedly there was a lot of alpaca wool and something called "testicle bath tea" (for, not from). I thought I had a pretty good handle on my foodshed, but only through L.H. did I learn that I'm practically next door to Cornish game hens, goat meat, duck eggs, and a CSA for sustainably farmed tillapia.

In other news, thanks to The Salted Cod for letting me know that Julia Child was a spy.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eating Vermont Part 7: The Best Maple Syrup I've Ever Had

Unlike a report card, maple syrup is not best when marked "Grade A." In fact, Grade A Fancy is in Vermont commonly referred to as "tourist syrup." However, the stuff pictured above, which clocks in at Grade C, is the real deal.

Dark, strong and faintly bitter, which makes it much more interesting, this syrup is densely flavorful and packed with character. As Elise said, "When you taste it, you can understand how it came from a tree."

I've been told the darker grades are excellent for baking, but for now I can't seem to move beyond slurping it from the jar. Call it ingredient-based cooking.

If you're in the Northeast Kingdom, seek it out at the address on the label.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eating Vermont Part 6: Red Currants

You're probably familiar with the joke about what you call someone who only speaks one language (answer: American). But you may not know that the same construct could very well apply to our knowledge of berries.

A friend from Newfoundland recently recited her favorite local ribes and brambles, and I was amazed at how few I had heard of, let alone eaten. For instance, bakeapples and partridgeberries. See here for a related blog post and article, as well as the most Newfoundlandy sentence I can imagine:

"Pack a mug-up of bread and tea, and spend a day in the bogs and barrens."

Also of note is the etymology of the bakeapple, which originated with a French fur trapper asking "what is this berry called?" or "baie qu'appelle?"

Growing up post-industrialized food but pre-delicious revolution, all we had were blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and on Thanksgiving, "cranberries" (in a diabetes inducing cylindrical mold still bearing the imprint of the can).

Thankfully, we're now seeing the return of such delights as gooseberries, black raspberries and currants at many local Far Mar's here in Mass and around the country. I scored these red currants from an incredibly productive bush at the Dunbar's dairy farm in Craftsbury, VT. Though tart, I'm told they make excellent sauces, jams, and wine. I was content to simply eat them off the bush, wincing only slightly.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eating Vermont Part 5: Moose Meat

New York Times columnist and blogger Mark Bittman and I have two things in common. First, we both really like Mark Bittman. Second, we can't stop posting about our edible adventures in Vermont.

I've had many incredible meals in VT this summer, but this was the only thing I ate that, if I crashed into it while driving, would kill me. Speaking of being killed, I should mention that the animal was shot by a fifteen year old girl, and with her grandmother's rifle.

The raw meat was a deep, purplish red, in color more beet than beef. It had none of the downsides associated with eating game, being neither tough nor gamy. It was tender, flavorful, and frankly not as different from domestic meats as I had hoped, though perhaps that was my fault for marinating it in maple syrup and soy sauce.

The act of consuming a wild creature opens up a world of thought I simply do not explore when eating a chicken, and for that alone it's worth it. While vegetarians might find it hypocritical to eat meat thoughtfully and with respect for the animal, it is for me one of the most powerful opportunities to better connect with nature.

I enjoyed the meat, but the best part about eating moose was that I was eating moose.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Vegan Venison


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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Peas Two Ways

Going purely on feeling, as I discussed here, peas are clearly something I was made to eat. There may be no other vegetable that so fills me with energy, clarity, hope and resolve. After just a few spoonfuls I can feel my body enjoying their high protein content as well as all of the other great stuff that nutritionists may never fully catalog.

To cook peas I simply follow the "don't screw it up" model. If I have pure ingredients, which I generally define as local, seasonal, and organic, I like to prepare them as simply as possible to best showcase the raw talent of that particular food. I can't for the life of me remember where I read this, but someone once said something like "20 strokes in the garden for every one in the kitchen." With that in mind I shelled these peas, very briefly steamed them, then tossed them in butter with a pinch of salt. The shells are in the freezer, awaiting Clotilde's preparation for pea pod soup.

Pea greens are equally satisfying to me and perhaps my favorite "green," though I guess that's kind of cheating. For these I snap off the tougher tendrils then quickly sauté in butter. Cooking fresh veggies in butter follows my "one thing good for you, one thing bad" doctrine, which I consider the foundation of a satisfying, well-balanced meal.


Recipe: Fresh Peas in Butter


Shell the peas. Steam the peas. Toss in butter.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Spiced Lamb Shoulder Ragout




It all started because I had tried everything in the Codman Farms on-your-honor freezers except the lamb shoulder. I decided to make it with some Moroccan-ish warming spices in a tomato base, and the result was the single best meat dish I have ever made. Hands down.

The meat itself was fall apart tender and had infused the whole stew with oodles of flavor and a nice dose of lamb fat. For spices I used a quarter of a cinnamon stick, a pinch of clove and a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.

It's still so counterintuitive, but don't forget that when you're slow cooking, meat gets tough before it gets soft. I'll never forgive myself for an early slow cooking foray in which I threw away a few pounds of oxtail which had hardened to a hockey puck consistency. I could not have imagined how tender they would have become.


Recipe: Spiced Lamb Shoulder Ragout

1/4 pound on the bone lamb shoulder per person
1 can tomatoes (or tomatoes if you got 'em)
2 onions
1 tbsp oil (olive or neutral)
1/4 stick cinnamon
1 pinch of ground clove
1 dash of freshly grated nutmeg
salt to taste

Sautee the diced onion in the oil until translucent. Make room for the lamb. Brown on both sides. Add tomatoes and spices. Simmer for 1.5-2 hours, or until it falls off the bone.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Mexican Pineapple Vinegar

The choice is yours: make your own homemade Mexican Pineapple Vinegar or just keep throwing away pineapple peels like a fool.

After butchering my mom's latest pineapple crop, shipped direct from her backyard in Delray Beach, FL, I recalled a use for pineapple peels in the counterculture foodie instant classic Wild Fermentation. Like all of the author's recipes, this is ridiculously simple, surprisingly productive, and yields a free, healthful, flavorful and homemade food almost out of thin air.

Looking back on all the pineapples whose rinds I've simply discarded, I now see lost opportunities for bottles and bottles of this miraculous liquid. All you do is soak cut up hunks of pineapple peel in sugar water, and wait. That's it. The result is a compelling yellow liquor with the flavor of the fruit and the bite of vinegar. Besides tasting I have yet to use it, but I'm thinking it will serve as a secret weapon in my next salsa, guacamole, or gazpacho. Other suggestions?


Recipe: Pineapple Vinegar
From Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

1/4 cup sugar
Peel of 1 pineapple
cheesecloth (or old T-shirt)
glass jar

Note: Unless it's coming from your mom's backyard, you probably want to go organic here. You want pineapple vinegar, not pineapple-doused-in-poison-and-food-grade-petroleum vinegar.

1. In a jar or bowl, dissolve the sugar in 1 quart of water. Coarsely chop and add the pineapple peel. Cover with cheesecloth to keep flies out, and leave to ferment at room temperature.

2. When you notice the liquid darkening, after about 1 week, strain out the pineapple peels and discard. (compost!)

3. Ferment the liquid 2 to 3 weeks more, stirring or agitating periodically, and your pineapple vinegar is ready.

Another Note: I left the peels in for about three weeks and never "agitated" and it worked just fine.

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