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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Re: Hot Buttered Rum

I'll begin my response to comments on the last post by saying that I too love roasted chestnuts, but now love roasted hazelnuts even more.

Leah asked "How could butter and rum taste good together? How I ask you?" In turn I ask her: how could it not?

Brendan writes that "Butter's power to transform good things into fantastic things surpasses its dubious reputation as fatty dairy stuff."

True, though aren't fatty and transformative synonyms?

And finally, to respond to Ezra's questioning my tongue in cheek recipe proportions. See below for the revised recipe, the result of a bathrobe clad conference with my downstairs neighbor just moments ago. (I had to assure her that I wasn't going to make it now, at 10:30am)

But the safest answer to how much butter you want to use is to start small and add "to taste." That way, regardless of how much butter anyone else says you should use, you'll end up using how much you think you should use. I don't like cheesecake, so the best cheesecake in the world is to me still not good cheesecake. The amount of butter in h.b.r. is relative as applied to the general population, but to you personally it is absolute.

And best of luck with braising. May it ease your November 4th-addled brain.

Recipe: Hot Buttered Rum, Revised

1 shot of rum
1 "restaurant sized" pad of butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 dash nutmeg
1 cup milk

Warm, combine, enjoy.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Roasted Hazeluts and Hot Buttered Rum

We're trying to make it to November without turning on the heat, but since campfires are an exception, when it's cold out and I want to warm up I sometimes find myself going outside. As I gently baked in the radiant heat of a recent fire, these hazelnuts slowly roasted on top of it.

While we were enjoying the flames, our downstairs neighbors had appeared out of the darkness with a sack of filberts, so we all got to roasting. Hazelnuts are always good, but I couldn't believe how good they were when thoroughly roasted and still warm. Once cool they still had that toasty flavor, but nothing compares to experience of cracking a hot one.

Sitting in front of a blazing fire on a cool Fall night, it seemed like things just couldn't get any better. Just then, our neighbors reappeared, this time with hot buttered rum.

When I tell people I'm originally from Florida, they always ask why I live in New England. That's why.


Recipe: Hot Buttered Rum

Note: There are many frilly recipes for h.b.r. that include cider or ice cream, but my neighbor concocted this minimalist version from memory and it was perfect. Unfortunately she couldn't quite pin it down for me, so measurements are approximate.

Dark Rum (some)
water (a little)
brown sugar (not too much)
nutmeg (a bit)
butter (lots)

Warm it all up in a saucepan, on the stove or the fire. Stir it. Drink it.


Food Etymology for Karen:

Filbert: ORIGIN Middle English, "fylberd" from Anglo-Norman French "philbert," dialect
French "noix de filbert," so named because it ripens around August 20, which
is the feast day of St. Philibert.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A More Sustainable Syrup

See below for a short article on the power of small government grants to foster sustainable agriculture in the US.

The USDA Rural Development Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Improvement Program (USDARDREEIP?) awarded a Pennsylvania maple syrup producer $6,376 for an reverse osmosis machine, which will save him 5,865 gallons of petroleum. Given the fact that U.S. maple habitat is shrinking due to global warming, it seems like a good place to start.

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Don't Be a Kitchen Tool

Thoreau wrote that "Men have become the tools of their tools." Though written 154 years ago and 6.91 miles from where I now sit (thanks, mapquest), his words could not ring more true today. Well, maybe if you replaced "men" with "people."

Regardless, the quotation applies nowhere more so than in the kitchen.

On the hunt for a pepper grinder, I recently found myself at a Bed, Bath and Beyond. How was it? Beyond bad, Beth.

Despite the fact that their stores have the product biodiversity of a rainforest, in the pepper grinder department there was nothing between spaceship and Cracker Barrel. I declined, but before I left, I looked up at the floor to ceiling walls of kitchen items and thought "What is all of this sh*t?"

My kitchen is barren. We have a wooden cutting board, a few dull knives, flimsy pots, and we eat like kings. Or, to contemporize the phrase, like a pair of gender neutral royalty.

Our focus is on the food, not the tools, though I could see how it's easy to confuse the two given that both have an "oo" in the middle.

I'm aghast at how many new gadgets and doodads come out every year despite the fact that they are utterly worthless, though very costly to both you and the planet. To use the Pollan approach, I suggest not buying anything that your great grandmother wouldn't recognize. Or before you do, ask yourself this question: "Do I really need the universe to have created this?"

I would think that simple check would prevent many an octodog or can of pancake spray from coming into existence.

Ironically, by turning a hot dog into an octopus, it actually makes it more like food.


Thanks to The Green Head for the pic.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Mom Turns 6-Tea

It may come as no surprise that my mother is a tea drinker and my stepfather a punster. So when my mom turned sixty, she was thrown a "6-Tea" party. The task of selecting which six teas of course fell to me. So of course I called Dave.

Together we decided on Shou Mei Classic White, Green Dew Gunpowder, Chrysanthamum Oolong, Keemun (black), and a few cakes of Yunnan Compressed Pu-Erh Tuo Cha, all from Upton. To mix things up I included one herbal, brewed from the needles of a Florida Slash Pine and harvested a few blocks from the house.

We decided to demonstrate the camelia sinensis spectrum, going from white to black. In fact those were the two most commonly requested teas: Shou Mei and Keemun. I'm guessing that's because black and white tea are the most and least familiar, respectively.

I was more surprised by which teas where who's favorite. One of my mom's friends liked the pine best, and one of her friend's teenage daughters favorited the puehr. (And that was even after I described it as "cavey.")

As usual, my favorite was the oolong. The blend was so nicely done that you couldn't tell where tea stopped and flowers began. In other words, it was unlike many blends in that nothing stood out, the two elements being balanced in a compliment that went both ways. Yet it still tasted so much like oolong that I wouldn't have been shocked to learn that the chrysanthemum was just a colorful descriptor, as is often the case with oolongs anyway.

Here's a quick lowdown on everything else.

Shou Mei: pleasant, though extremely mild. There was a faint hint of citrus, but it may have been a trick of the mind as white teas are so commonly infused with citrus these days, probably to make them taste like something. Or maybe it was just because we were in Florida.

Green Dew Gunpowder: Good and aptly named, being as refreshing as green dew and as grounded as gunpowder. That doesn't actually make sense, but the tea was both light and earthy and that seemed like a convenient way to say so.

Keemun: I never drink black tea, but was surprised by how sharp and fresh this one tasted. It might make aficionados bristle to hear an adjective so commonly associated with the dregs of the industry, but it really was "brisk." (Note: if you go to one hyperlink today, go to that one.)

Pu-Erh Tuo Cha: Not as impressive as a puehr can be, but that wasn't the point. This was an easy intro for those who hadn't had a puehr before, which was everyone. Even though I brewed it lightly, many still wrinkled their noses and my mom described the bouqet as "fishy." Elise suggested the more palatable "marine."

In the end a good time was had by all, and everyone left much better equipped to think outside the bag.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Elderberry Seeds

Continuing on the theme of wild edibles, here is something you should eat but certainly not kill. In fact, I hope to propagate this valuable shrub around the pond in the woods behind my house.

Pictured above are the seeds of an elderberry already growing out back, here seen drying on a repurposed pamphlet about the Organization for the Assabet River. You can see from the watercolor effect surrounding them that the juice of the berries is a deep reddish-indigo.

Just the name "elderberry" has a strong pull on the imagination. Perhaps it's the rich literary history associated with the plant, proof that we humans have had a long relationship with it. Or perhaps it's the mention in the most recent Harry Potter book, or the already mystical and English name. I've always thought that it sounded like something that would make you wiser if you ate it.

As I've said in previous posts, I prefer the elderberry unaltered as a raw, musky snack. I'm sure the jams, tarts, pies and syrups people are so fond of making are wonderful, but I like to savor the undomesticated taste of these fruits in as unadulterated a way as possible. Call it ingredient based "cooking." But there is something very wine like about their flavor, and when I find a large enough stand, I do hope to someday make the infamous elder wine.

From what I've read, the best way to spread elderberries is by winter wood stem cuttings, so I'll try that in addition to sprouting these seeds. I'll keep them outside, letting them experience the freeze as they naturally would. Then come spring I'll try to grow them indoors in the rich mud from the banks of the pond, basically mimicking the natural process with a little shove for good measure.

I don't know if I'll live at this property long enough to (literally) reap the fruits of my labor, but I do know that at least the raccoons will.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cooking Blind

See this entry from Chocolate and Zucchini for a fascinating interview with a blind cook.

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Kill and Eat: Autumn Olive

The autumn olive is a handsome shrub with silvery, pointed leaves and, at this time of year, scads of gorgeous, plump, red berries. While the autumn olive is found in many U.S. states, there are two things that most people don't know about it. First, it's highly invasive, so much so that in Massachusetts it is illegal to plant or even transport. Second, the berries are delicious.

I can't go into too much detail as I'm in the process of writing a full article on the subject, but I did want to share some info as the end of the autumn olive season approaches. If you've got a bush in your neighborhood, strip it of its fruits before the birds get to them and poop the seeds all over tarnation. Eat them raw, cook into jam or do what you will. Then, kill the tree.

We made a tart with a puree of strained pulp from the fruits, using Mark Bittman's crust. The result was fantastic, the flavor familiar yet exotic and difficult to place. The fruits remind me of currants for their size and shape, and their taste has been compared to green grapes.

We also reduced some excess water that the berries had simmered in and drank it warm. While the tart was good, this blew our minds. It was something like a sour cherry cider, yet unlike anything I've ever had. It tasted like Fall, and it tasted wild.

Like I said, hopefully I'll have more on this controversial food before its season ends.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Dinner With Alice

We didn't exactly dine together, but I did nibble local cheeses in the same room as Alice Waters earlier tonight, and I figure that may be as close as I'm going to get.

As I mentioned in my last post, Harvard graciously hosted a surprisingly intimate (and free) round table discussion with Alice Waters, the new Slow Food USA president Josh Viertel and special guest Anna Deavere Smith, who by a total fluke I have actually written for in the past.

The event was held in the Faculty Room of Harvard's University Hall, where two long tables were spread with the afore mentioned cheeses as well as espresso cups of freshly made bay scallop chowder, hors d'oeuvres such as squash tartlets with apple something or other on top, and fresh local cider.

As 200 years of Harvard presidents stared down from their portraits and the elaborate glass chandelier clinked overhead, everyone had one thought on their mind: is the delicious revolution just for people who hang out in rooms like this? I'll here note that the crowd was surprisingly diverse for a bunch of affluent looking white people.

The answer was a vehement "no." During the round table discussion and the Q&A that followed, each panelist made it absolutely clear that good food is a right, not a privilege, though Alice did step in at one point to remind us that it must also be "a pleasure."

While setting up, the wait staff seemed nervous, though not as nervous as their supervisors. I imagine they prefer hosting fundraising events to serving food to a woman described by some as the greatest chef in the world.

The evening was presided over by Director of Humanities Homi Bahabha, who looked very Wes Anderson in his checkered mustard Nehru jacket and glasses like those of the forgotten Batman villain "The Bookworm." But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Ms. Smith's reading of an excerpt from one of her previous works in which she had actually played the part of Alice Waters.

As the evening drew to a close, I started eyeing the enormous blue hubbards nestled in the centerpieces. My mind flashed back to visiting Hamilton College for a performance some years ago. There my troupe and I had "liberated" five such squashes, which equaled well over a hundred pounds of orange flesh. We were told they would be thrown out after having served their purpose as family weekend decor. When I saw the squash at Harvard tonight, I immediately began thinking about how to once again save such fine specimens from the dumpster.

Then I remembered what we'd been talking about all night. I realized that, despite all of the horrible things that have happened in the past few years, the local food movement is actually stronger than it was then. In the time that has elapsed since the Hamilton evacuation, more and more universities such as Harvard have become likely to actually understand and use such materials rather than feeding them to a landfill. In fact, Harvard dining services has just ordered 46,000 pounds of squash from a local farm to last them through the winter.

Thankfully, some things do change.

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Alice Waters At Harvard Tonight

Thanks to the Slow Food Boston blog for sharing the following:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 6:15 p.m. The Harvard Humanities Center kicks off their Sustainability Week by hosting a round table discussion not only with the 'great' Alice Waters, but also with Josh Viertel, the brand new president of Slow Food USA! The two of them will be conversing with Homi Bhabha, the Director of the Center.

Location is the Faculty Room in the University Hall. The event is open to the public, but seating is limited, so get there early....

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The Crepe, Unfolded

I used to think of crepes as delicate and highly civilized fare, the kind of food that could only be made with specialty equipment or by someone who owns more than one house. But it turns out that they're basically pancakes with an intimidating name.

Lately I've been whipping up crepes as quickly and thoughtlessly as I blow my nose, which I've also been doing doing a lot of given that New England hasn't had a worse allergy season in seventeen years. Luckily for guests, I don't do both at the same time.

A crepe really is just a thin pancake, yet it has the power to transform simple ingredients into a satisfying one dish breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. You can fill them with almost anything you have on hand, especially small bits of precooked leftovers. For instance, if you have leftover steamed broccoli and you own a small amount of any kind of cheese, voila! Continental dining at its finest when you probably thought you needed to go to the store to make dinner.

I've experimented with different liquids, flours and amounts of egg, and they're all fine. Once you get the basic idea you'll get a feel for the batter and be able to improvise in no time.

If only dust mites and pollen were so easily manipulated into something so beautiful and delicious.


Easy Crepes

1 cup flour (I've been using spelt, wheat, or a combo)
1 egg (though 2 is better)
a pinch of salt
a dash of nutmeg (completely unnecessary)

Whisk the above ingredients together with enough water (or milk) to create a smooth batter that will easily pour.

Heat a non-stick pan lubricated with a small pad of butter (or oil). Skillets work fine but don't heat as evenly and require more fat.

Pour in a small amount of batter, and as it starts to set, spread the batter out doing that thing that people at crepe stands do, using your spatula. If you don't know what I mean, I'm sure you could find it on youtube.

Fill with whatever wasn't enough of a meal on its own. Some winning combos I've tried:

-leeks and scrambled eggs
-eggs, bacon, cheddar and steamed broccoli (pictured above and absolutely divine)
-ground beef and onion (basically my grandmother's blintzes)
-roasted eggplant and goat cheese


A little etymology lesson, especially for you, Karen:

DERIVATIVES: adjective - "crepey"

ORIGIN: late 18th cent.: French, from Old French "crespe:" ‘curled, frizzed,’ from Latin "crispus."

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Wood Fire Chicken

Moving out of the city has greatly changed my relationship to food. On the one hand, I can no longer get a tamale whenever I want. On the other, I can now forage for firewood behind my house and use it to make meat taste like trees.

The mixed grill pictured above includes zucchini, summer squash, and half of a chicken, cut into pieces. The only seasoning was olive oil, salt, and smoke.

I've grilled meat before, and I've cooked over a wood fire before, but somehow I had never actually grilled meat over a wood fire until this past weekend. The result was intoxicating.

While fire is a source of light, when you're cooking over it in the dark, you can't really see what you're doing. If you're the controlling type of cook, and most are, you might do better to start your fire while it's still light out. Do your grilling, and if afterwards you still want to enjoy a fire while it's dark out, throw a log onto the coals when you're done and you should be good to go. Of course I didn't realize this until after the fact, but it's what I'll do from now on.

Given the lack of visibility, I'm thrilled that the chicken turned out as well as it did. The skin was crispy, the flesh moist and charred but not burnt, and it truly did taste of smoke in a way that you'll never get from gas or even charcoal.

As I was putting the bones away for stock, I suddenly remembered Jill Santopietro's recent piece in the Times. In it she observed that fatty meat best absorbs the flavor of the smoke. With this in mind, I nibbled on a bit of tail still clinging to the backbone, and it was better and smokier than any other piece I'd had that night.

While my weekend grilling had a distinctly non-urban feeling, this is something you could easily do anywhere but in a condo. Just fill a charcoal grill with wood, put on a CD of nature sounds, and you'll have virtually the same experience as I did.


Recipe: Wood Grilled Chicken

chicken, sustainably raised

Start your fire. As the logs burn down into coals, cut your chicken into the predictable pieces (thigh, drumstick, etc.).

Oil and salt it liberally on both sides. When the flames are in their last gasp, throw the meat on the grill to sear.

You'll want fire in the beginning and coals to finish it off, so do what you need to do to ensure that the meat isn't over flames for very long, or it will burn the exterior while the interior remains raw. For instance, scatter the coals, raise the grill, or move the meat to a less toasty portion of it. Cook until juices run clear. Determine this by flashlight.

Note: Not all types of wood are suitable for grilling. Stick to hardwoods like oak, hickory, beech, maple and so on.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Is A Yom Kippur Recipe Like A Jumbo Shrimp?

No. First off, shrimp aren't kosher. (Though this obviously doesn't stop me from eating as many as possible when my dominant ethical code -- sustainability -- is appeased.)

Second, Yom Kippur cuisine is not an oxymoron. Even though the holiday is marked by a 25 hour fast, recipes do exist for dishes that begin and end it. Take the Iraqi-Jewish tradition of breaking the fast with rice milk. Read on at my latest post for the Jew and the Carrot.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Zoe's Chinese Food, Somerville

I'll cut to the chase: this place is great. When I'm craving my favorite Chinese restaurants (Grace Garden of Odenton and China Road of Syracuse), I feel lucky to at least have Zoe's nearby. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but if you know how good my top two are, you'll realize it's actually just a compliment.

As when eating at Grace Garden, make sure to ask about the seasonal vegetable dishes. This roughage will brace you for the otherwise fleshy feast you are about to consume, and it's not too shabby either.

All whole fish options are delightful, the tea smoked Duck is as it should be, the salt and pepper squid are almost too hot to eat (another fronthanded compliment), and the sweet and sour lotus root appetizer will leave your tongue befuddled in all the right ways.

Equally good if less exotic is the spicy cucumber appetizer. It's almost an oxymoron, and that's why it works.

Other perks include a BYOB policy and a liquor store right across the street.


Zoe's Chinese Food
289 Beacon Street
Somerville, MA 02143
(617) 864-6265

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Eating the Low Country Part IV: White Yams, Red Okra

Like the Trustees' Market in Savannah, the Bluffton Far-Mar was hoppin'. In my years as a traveling performer I've seen small, vibrant, local farmers markets like these all over the country, and like New England's mushrooms, even more are popping up as I write this.

Everyone at the Bluffton market walked around with a sample cup of the We Island gumbo. When I asked if I could take a picture of it, the cook offered to stir the pot to bring up some of those pretty, pink, South Carolina shrimp. After doing so, he had to shake off a long strip of bacon that clung to the ladle like a water moccasin to a canoe paddle (scarily, this can happen). There we also saw, and bought, the white yams and red okra featured above.

Like a human South Carolina cornucopia, I was now bursting with the offerings of the low country. As a concession to my well being, I allowed myself to not eat the sausage chunks in the gumbo, which had a consistency too close to hot dog for my liking. Otherwise the gumbo was fantastic and crammed with more of those succulent crustaceans. Still veined, they provided a satisfying bit of grit to a meal made in part from the water I could see from where I stood.

Now really bursting, we drank a Sweetwater (good but a little too malty for my taste and not as good as the Terrapin) and then headed into town for a quick dinner before the flight. Thankfully, the restaurant was closed, and I could finally stop eating. With one last hour in the L.C., we stopped in at the Moon River brewpub, where we had the worst beer of our lives. After sampling Seth's, I ordered a cup of coffee, which was a better beer than the beer was, and terrible coffee.

But as bad as the beer was, it was the only thing I ate that day that wasn't superb. And in case you've lost track over the multiple posts, here's the schedule:

9:00 - an apple and two rice cakes in the hotel
10:30 - cold, leftover fajitas in the car
11:30 - shrimp, grits, and Yuengling at the Squat n' Gobble
1:00 - oysters and deep fried strawberries at the Pepper Porch
2:00 - half rack of ribs and a Terrapin (the beer) at Choo-Choo
3:00 - bowl of gumbo and a Sweetwater at the Bluffton Far-Mar
4:00 - the worst beer of my life
6:00 - a cucumber

All I could manage for dinner was a "Middle East Prolific" cuke from the Bluffton Market, and even it was outstanding. For a day that started with rice cakes and ended with a cucumber, I ended up eating pretty well.


PS - I left out one snack: some wild grapes we foraged, probably illegally, at the Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge. I think this photo sums up my enthusiasm for the local cuisine, and thanks to Seth for it and his other contributions.

PPS- For all you shutterbugs, notice the difference in light quality for all these Southern pics.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Food Writing Class

For any who is local and interested in taking my food writing class at the Boston Center for Adult Education, see here and click on the link at left:

If you mention that you heard about it through the blog, you get a cookie.

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Eating the Low Country Part III: Oysters and Deep Fried Strawberries

Already full of fajitas, shrimp, grits, and Yuengling, I was undeterred in my quest to eat as much as I could before flying out of the Low Country. And what better way to experience the terroir of coastal South Carolina than with some of its infamous oysters? Answer: deep fried strawberries.

Having just eaten 40 or so excellent oysters at the Legal Seafood tasting in Cambridge, and having had terrible, watery, flavorless oysters in South Carolina on my last trip, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But while the oysters didn't quite have the chutzpah of a good Wellfleet or Duxbury, they were very flavorful with a nice shift from salt to sweet. In fact, they had all of the elements that I so love in New England oysters, just on a smaller scale. If a Wellfleet is getting drenched by a winter Nor'easter, these were the pleasant drizzle of the outer bands of a tropical depression. I had them raw, except for a few steamers courtesy of a friendly off-duty chef at the next table.

How were the deep fried strawberries? Do I really have to answer that?

From there (Pepper's Porch) we quickly moved on to Choo-Choo barbecue, a small but competent operation set up in an old train car, or at least a fake old train car. I ordered a half rack of their ribs and was thrilled to see that familiar, almost fluorescent splash of orange-yellow mustard and vinegar sauce that dominates South Carolina. If anyone else out there grew up in Boca Raton, you'll remember it from Tom's on Old Dixie.

Tender, smoky and flavorful, they had nothing wrong with them and everything right. Like the fajitas, I ate them from a to-go container on my lap in our rented Corolla. Unlike the fajitas, I wish I was eating them again right now.

At this point you may be wondering how a guy who likes raw tomatillos was able to eat so much Southern food. The answer is beer. I don't know if it's the carbonation, the friendly microorganisms, or the dulling effect on the nervous system, but alcohol definitely makes the ribs go down. With this course I had a Terrapin. Seth imitated the turtle on the label as I ate, which also helped.

From there it was a mad dash to the Bluffton farmer's market, where I bought two pounds of bright yellow, slow ripening peaches, several varieties of organically grown cucumbers, the afore mentioned Gullah cookbook, a jar of whole, preserved figs made by the author, a tall cup of lemonade and an enormous bowl of gumbo made by an extremely nice couple who call themselves We Island.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Brookline Lunch in the Boston Phoenix

See here for my first piece in the Phoenix, an "On the Cheap" covering Brookline Lunch in Central Square. And since they didn't want this photo of the homemade hot sauce and jam, I hereby donate it to the blogosphere:

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Eating the Low Country: Part II

There I was, at the Squat and Gobble with a steaming plate full of fresh, local shrimp and grits in front of me. I don't really eat shrimp these days, ever since I realized how much of it was farm raised and how much of the farm raised stuff was coming from places like Indonesia. There we persuade farmers to trade their native mangrove forests for disease infested pools of heavily concentrated shrimp pumped full of chemicals we've banned in the U.S.

There are even those (like National Geographic) who partly link the devastation of the tsunami of 2004 to the absence of natural buffers like mangroves, many of which had been turned into shrimp aquaculture by the time the wave struck. And having grown up poking around the mangroves of South Florida, I find it hard to exchange old friends for a food I could substitute with chicken.

But the shrimp at the S&Q were pulled out of the water just a few miles away. They were plump, moist, pink and downright bouncy. I adored them, despite the positively raunchy decor.

For those who don't know, the Low Country is a coastal area of Georgia and South Carolina marked by beaches, salt marshes, small islands, inlets, and an at once gothic and comforting mix of Spanish moss and palm trees. The region spans two states and drips with history, from pirates to the Civil War.

The area is also home to many Gullah and Geetchee, some of whom still occupy the oldest free communities of blacks in the U.S. Sadly, much of their culture has been replaced by resorts on the desirable sea islands that had been their homes. Hilton Head, for instance.

But what better way to show your support than spending all your dough at their restaurants and farmers market stands? As I believe Wendell Berry (or was it Morgan Spurlock?) said, and I paraphrase, "every time you eat, you vote."

Low Country cuisine is very much like general Southern cooking, though it leans heavily on seafood and features more of the Caribbean and African influences, not unlike Cajun or Creole cooking in New Orleans. Local specialties include she-crab soup, gumbo, Lowcountry boil, Frogmore stew, oyster roast, and real South Carolina rice. Why we don't hear more about it as a regional eating destination I honestly don't know.

At the end of the day we had another plane to catch, so I knew I had to eat as much of the L.C. as I possibly could before flying back to Boston and wistfully gazing at the shrimp filled waters far below. Given the time crunch, right after the shrimp and grits at the Squat and Gobble, I immediately moved on to oysters.

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