Thanks to Debs for sending me this NYT article, which decries the absence of wild foods in the American diet, especially in feasts such as the one must of us enjoyed yesterday. The author of the article, Andrew Beahrs, referenced that same Mark Twain menu I wrote about on the second most recent post at the Chefs Collaborative blog. It seems he's working on a book that will further plumb the significance of Twain's diet, and I wait with baited breath.
As anyone who reads T&F knows, I too bemoan the decline of wild foods in modern gastronomy. But one thing I find missing from Beahrs piece is a mention of the resurgence of wild foods among people like myself and many of you.
If, like Bearhrs, you wish that wild foods had a stronger presence on our tables, go get some. No, there aren't as many left as there were in Twain's day, but they're still out there. Why am I so sure? Yesterday, when walking along a levy in a fairly suburban part of west St. Louis county, we came upon four wild persimmon trees teeming with fruit. They tasted like apricots and dark honey without even a trace of the infamous persimmon astringency.
We filled our arms with as many as we could carry, and there were plenty left for us to make a return trip, which I hope to do, and for the animals. Oli, our pooch, gulped one down in one bite, and I'm sure the local coyotes will do the same.
On a feast day more famous for sweet potato fluff and green been casserole, we ate native fruit that ripens at exactly the time of Thanksgiving, and which therefor may have been on the original menu.
There are accessible wild foods near wherever you live. Yes, even in NYC. Develop a relationship with them, and maybe you'll write the next Huck Finn.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
By now you've probably heard about the Sarah Palin turkey slaughter fiasco. If not, you're in for a treat.
After granting one turkey a pardon, Palin stood unaware as others were slaughtered behind her while fielding questions for an interview. The scene was an embarrassment for Palin, but for the public it proved both entertaining and disconcerting.
It's hard to say what's worse: the fact that a would be vice president could be so oblivious to her surroundings, or the fact that Americans were so alarmed to see that turkeys have to be killed in order for us to eat them. By total coincidence and thanks in large part to youtube, we've all been granted access to the metaphoric glass abattoir that Michael Pollan describes in The Omnivore's Dilemma.
The attention garnered by this incident is yet further proof that we are disconnected from our food. If Palin had been standing in front of a nicely browned and stuffed bird with those little frilly things on its drumsticks, there would have been no controversy. But stick her next to a killing cone and it's a different story. The interview was a mistake on Palin's part, but with Thanksgiving around the corner it serves as a necessary reminder that a turkey doesn't turn into "turkey" by magic.
In a nation of more enlightened eaters, the interview would still have been viewed as a serious faux pas on the part of Palin, but viewers may not have reacted so viscerally. I've watched the video several times in mixed company, and each time at least some of those present react with disgust. If they were vegan, I would understand, but if you're going to eat meat, you shouldn't be as squeamish as a fifth grader in sex-ed.
Of course this is precisely the connection that Chef's Collaborative seeks to strengthen. There's a good reason that people have been tossing around the phrase "farm to table." Without understanding where your food comes from, it's more like "out of thin air to table."
So this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks to that special someone who helped you show a little more gratitude: Sarah Palin.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I'm not a big beet fan. When a rash of raw beet salads made their way through the food blogosphere earlier this season, I was still thinking of them as suitable compost. So it was with great hesitation that I prepared my first beet in years. The motivation was simply frugal: we had beets, they were getting limp, and I needed to eat.
The beets came in the most recent installment of our winter CSA. Ironically, it was a CSA that first turned me off to these most queer vegetables. Back then I had no problem with the occasional maroon cube mixed in with other, less weird root veggies. But the monstrous creatures I used to get week after week were just too much. Plus, they made me pee pink.
This time around I decided to keep it simple and confront the beet head on. I wasn't going to sneak them into a melange of turnips and potatoes, nor was I going to dissolve them into borscht. I took my beets straight up.
I peeled and quartered four beets, tossed them in oil with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and roasted at 400 degrees, stirring several times. How were they? Beety. If you like beets, you'd like them. If you don't, you wouldn't.
My favorite part of these beets were the parts that were the least beet-like. I liked the edges of the wedges, where the oil and salt created a slightly dried up, crisp skin.
Recipe: Roasted Beets
2 (peeled) beets per person
olive oil, enough to coat
1/2 tbsp dried rosemary (more if fresh)
Grudgingly toss all ingredients together and roast at 400 degrees. Stir at least four times.
Eat, making a face.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I know I've written about this before, but I would feel dishonest if I didn't yet again emphasize how great savory oats are. So great that I eat them more days than not.
For anyone still going sweet, I strongly suggest that you liberate your avena sativa from such dubious (and often artificial) flavors like "cinnamon and spice." Cinnamon is a spice!
My most basic oats are simmered in a 2:1 ratio of salted water to oat, then drizzled with a little olive oil. It'll put hair on your chest, and if you already have hair on your chest, it will keep it there. And if you want to get fancy, crack an egg in there and whip it around until it mixes with the grain and fluffs things up.
Another simple yet excellent variation is to drop a thin slab of cheddar on the just cooked oats. I adore the way the cheese softens, breaks apart, and becomes one with the grain. For a bit of an eye opener, dust heavily with freshly cracked black pepper.
You'll never be able to eat anything called Raspberry Streusel Oatmeal To Go again.
Recipe: Savory Oatmeal for One
1/2 cup oats
1 cup water
a dash of salt (or two pinches)
1 slice of cheddar
(and/or 1 egg)
Bring the salted water to a boil, add the oats, reduce heat and simmer.
When the water has been absorbed and the oats are soft but still toothsome, pour them out into a bowl or small plate with the help of one of those flexible rubber scrapers.
Top with cheese and as much black pepper as you can handle that early in the morning.
If you want to include an egg, add it just before turning off the heat and stir vigorously until it disappears. Look for bits of white to know that it has cooked through.
Let dog lick bowl.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Thanks to my dad for snapping this somewhat demonic pic of Brennan's Bananas Foster during a recent trip to the Big Easy. (I think they call it that because it's easy to feel big after eating there.)
I was surprised to learn that the world famous dessert was named after an awning salesman. The dish has since become so popular that "foster" is the second thing that google fills in if you type "bananas." The first being "in pajamas."
For a more comprehensive look at eating New Orleans, check out this post from the newly created Internet Food Association.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Cocaine isn't the only fine, white powder you can get addicted to for a quick fix. There's also baking powder.
Ever since reading the Bitten post on pancakes made with yeast, I've been thinking as baking powder as nothing but a cheap shortcut. I mean what is that stuff anyway?
The trouble with making yeast pancakes, which would be a terribly unappetizing name for them, is that they require an ounce of forethought, which is not something that comes into play when making pancakes. In fact it's hard to think of something I think less about than prepping pancakes.
I decided to amp up the already awesome "specialty flour" pancakes we've been making, and the somewhat mealy apples we have on hand seemed like just the ticket. A bad apple may spoil the bunch, but a bad eating apple can be a great one for cooking.
Unfortunately, apple power was not enough to save these awful pancakes. Believe it or not, throwing a bunch of kinds of flour together with yeast and not waiting for long enough actually doesn't result in something you want to eat. I made the batter too thin, didn't give it time to rise and didn't count on the yeast tasting so... yeasty. It was almost impossible to get the things to cook through and they tasted neither sweet nor savory, just bad.
The worst part was after I had made the first one, choked it down, and then realized that there was plenty of batter left over. I went ahead and made and ate the rest of the batch, as penance.
Still, the apples look nice, don't they?
Monday, November 17, 2008
This past weekend I was on assignment in Manhattan, trailing Wild Man Steve Brill as he showed a group of New Yorkers things to eat in Central Park that weren't hot dogs. I would never have associated an urban space with natural bounty, but here's a list of wild foods we ate or gathered to prepare at home:
-persimmons (pictured above)
-honey locust (the pulp in the pods, a more complex apricot jam)
-black nightshade (berries only!!!)
-poor man's pepper
-plantain (the leaf, not the banana)
-lamb's quarters (the plant)
-Asiatic day lilly
After a blustery four hours of snacking our way through the park, my traveling companion and I headed back to Red Hook and made tea with the wild mint. It was extremely pungent, delicious, and remarkably calming. But its best attribute was that it provoked thought, as it's not often that one drinks tea grown in Manhattan.
You might think that foraging is a step backward in our relationship with nature, but if you eat a wild persimmon you'll understand that it's clearly a forward move.
The only reason I'm not gushing further details is that I'm saving it for the article, which I'll certainly post here when the time comes.
Friday, November 14, 2008
I used to think it was obnoxious for people to cook for their dogs, but now that I have one, I'm starting to rethink it. I mean look at the picture - don't you just want to bake him a liver cupcake?
Chinese contamination scares aside, dog food is some questionable stuff. Talk about processed: it can't go bad.
It's a mistake to equate human needs with those of a dog but I'm beginning to think that my dog shouldn't eat industrialized food any more than I should. As I read somewhere on-line on one of the many, often wacko web sites about feeding dogs raw and/or natural foods, maybe when a dog turns its nose up at its food it has a good reason. Maybe they're not being finicky, they just don't want to eat downer calves and lab animals.
For now we're supplementing our dog's "natural" dry food with soaked oats, veggies, and boiled chicken. It's not perfect, but it's a start, and it's not expensive. His favorite vegetable by far is bok choy, which means that he eats in instead of playing with it.
What do you feed your dog?
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Continuing on the theme of ridiculously easy miso recipes, this one is simple to make and even more fun to say. Try it: mussel miso, mussel miso, mussel miso!
I used PEI mussels, which have a "best choice" sustainability rating from Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. Presumably the only thing better is not eating.
I steamed the mussels with about a cup of water, and once they'd opened (died), I made the requisite slurry with a little of the broth and the miso paste. I didn't feel like wrestling with the shells and eating at the same time, so I first scraped out the meat. The best way to do so is to separate the shells and use the empty half to make the other half empty. You even get that little scrap of connective tissue that is so frustrating to scrape with your teeth but so sad to leave behind.
The pairing was outrageously symbiotic. Miso and mussels are just alike and different enough to make a perfect flavor combination. I imagined a DNA double helix with the A's, C's, T's, U's and G's being shellfish and cultured soybeans.
Yet again, my theory of miso + 1 proved true. Then again, miso + 0 isn't bad, either.
Recipe: Mussel Miso
Mussels (5-10 per bowl)
Miso paste (1 tbsp)
Steam mussels in a covered pan with 1 cup water. Once open, turn off the heat and mix the miso with about a quarter cup of the mussel broth. Add the slurry back to broth, serve, and keep saying "mussel miso."
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
A pleasant article about the growing fascination with wild foods from our neighbors to the North.
Reading it I found myself wishing we had something in the US as well organized as this place. Though we probably will.
Thanks to Christy for letting me know exactly what I wanted to hear. She wrote:
"Ah! Finally a question I can answer! Al dente in Japanese - 'katame' or 'katame ni yuderu.'
If you have any left over daikon and need another recipe, maybe try kohaku namasu - its a salad with sweet-sour vinegar dressing made with daikon and carrots (the first part of the name means red and white because of the vegetables colors)."
I think I will!
In this post I extolled the virtues of extending the growing season by planting Fall and even Winter crops. But that was before I had actually tried to do it.
I like to think of myself as the Adam Roberts of kitchen gardening. I'm interested, eager and somewhat knowledgeable, but essentially an amateur. (By the way, after you have a show on the Food Network and a cookbook, can you still be an amateur?) But I've learned that my improvisational approach which works so well in the kitchen does not apply to growing.
For instance, remember the melon that I hoped would ripen before the frost? Here's what it looks like:
The quarter is there for scale, the rot to show my failure.
While the baby carrots and frost hardy cabbages and lettuce never even sprouted, you can see from the photo at top that the sorrel obviously has no problem surviving a few frosts. That just goes to show that you can keep growing your own food in the cooler months, you just have to know what you're doing, or get lucky.
I did try planting several cloves of garlic, which will hopefully sprout into fat, scape-topped stalks by next summer.
For those who don't know, to grow a bulb of garlic you simply plant a clove. You plant those cloves in the Fall as you would with other bulb plants, like tulips. For those who do know, I'm sure I did something wrong.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
It's counterintuitive, but growing crops as an alternative source of fuel is not always a good thing. Thanks to Stuffed and Starved for this Mail & Guardian article, which tells the story of Ethiopians who traded subsistence farming for growing castor seeds for biofuel.
With subsistence farming, when the market's bad you can at least still eat your crop. With biofuel, you have to turn to relief aid from, surprise, the company that convinced you to grow the stuff in the first place.
One local was quoted saying:
"It is unbelievable. Castor plots have so rapidly expanded that they are even depriving us of space for graveyards."
The CEO of the company that got the farmers to make the switch dismissed the statement, but since he hasn't paid any of them yet, I think that disqualifies him as a reliable source.
I made this simple miso from the enormous daikon we got with the first installment of our Belmont Farm winter CSA. After two weeks in the fridge it was getting a little floppy, so I diced it and soaked it in water, at which point it hardened like the heart of a racist on November 5th.
One of the (few) criticisms I have with Bittman is that a truly minimalist recipe can't have oodles of ingredients. This miso, which was exotic, nourishing, and flavorful, had two.
Many miso recipes cram the soup with ingredients that unnecessarily complicate this elegant and simple dish. While you can make a meal out of it with noodles, egg, fishcakes or tofu, in the case of miso I think less is more.
For this version I simmered daikon hunks in water until they were whatever the Japanese word for al dente is. (Anyone?) Then I turned off the gas, made a miso slurry with a little of the water, reintroduced it, and slurped away.
The broth created by cooking the daikon created a particularly sweet and mineral base. Too much paste and you loose it, but that tastes good, too. If nothing else this dish is a celebration of texture.
Recipe: Daikon Miso
Note: This could easily be ________ (edible noun) miso, too.
daikon radish (about 3/4 cup per bowl)
miso paste (to taste, about 1 tbsp)
Simmer the cubed daikon until mostly tender. Turn off the heat, create a smooth slurry with some of the daikon water and the miso paste. Add slurry to the pot, stir, and enjoy.
Etymology for Karen:
daikon: from dai "large" + "kon" root (Japanese)
Monday, November 10, 2008
Risotto is one of those dishes that I like to think I make every week. I don't, but there's no good reason not to. Despite having a non-English name, risotto is extremely easy to make and is a tabula rasa of versatility.
Whatever your diet, be it vegan or meat and potatoes, you can make a great risotto that fits within your framework. Unless you're allergic to rice.
To risk stating the obvious, risotto as we know it is a warm, rich, creamy rice dish typically made with the arborio variety, plus anything else you want. You can add a vegetable purée, like butternut squash or asparagus. You can toss a few mussels or shrimp on top, start it with pancetta or bacon, stir in cream or grated cheese, use stock or water, and so on and so on.
Combinations are infinite, but the best way to make risotto is to keep a supply of the rice around and then use whatever you happen to have on hand whenever you think to make it. People say that for all kinds of recipes, but for this one it's really true.
For this risotto we used a seafood stock that was the byproduct of cooking shrimp for a salad several months ago. (They say stock only keeps in the freezer for about a month, but that's a lie.) To this we added the rice, plain old white button mushrooms, grated parmesan and about a half pound of Maine clams. It rocked.
Clam and Mushroom Risotto
1/2 pound mushrooms (bought or foraged for)
1/2 pound clams (bought or clammed for)
5 cloves garlic
2 cups arborio rice
7 cups (or slightly more or less) seafood stock (or water)
4 tbsp olive oil or butter
salt to taste
pepper to taste
Note: You can steam the clams first, remove, and then start the rice in the broth, but if you're using stock there's no need.
Sauté one onion and several cloves of garlic in butter, olive oil, or a combination of both.
Add the rice, stir thoroughly to coat, allowing the grains to very slightly toast.
Add a half cup of stock (keeping it warm will make things go more quickly). Stir occasionally until the the rice has absorbed the stock.
In a separate pan, sauté the mushrooms in butter, then set aside.
Keep adding liquid to the rice by the half cup and stirring until the rice is cooked through (you may prefer it al dente), or slightly before, at which point you add the goodies.
Stir in cooked mushrooms, cheese, clams, salt and pepper. Cover until clams fully open.
Serves 4 or 2 with ample leftovers.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Perhaps not the most sensitive suggestion for those of us who can't afford to fly to Lisbon, let alone Djakarta, or for those who don't have access to anything but hamburgers. Still, I like the sentiment:
"There is always reward in travel: I aim to assault my own clan with as much of it as possible, to keep them malleable to the world's tempers. But a little child can fly from here to Djakarta and then on to Lisbon and not stir one pace from his path of hamburgers-and-Coke, if his parents do not care enough to push him off it. He can live and die."
-from "Consider the End," Gourmet, October 1958
Despite my recent rant against unnecessary kitchen gadgets, I've acquired what could be considered the ultimate in excessive, bulky appliances: a food dehydrator.
I've used it a few times with excellent results, but I'm unconvinced that the dehydrator is the way to go when it comes to preserving. On the plus side, sapping the moisture out of foods like peaches and peppers enables me to save locally grown produce from the time they're picked until the apocalypse.
The downside is that the thing needs to run for up to twelve hours to do so, which draws out not only moisture but also electricity. And as clean an energy source as electricity seems, remember that it's really just coal that comes out of your wall. People say that dehydrating doesn't use any more energy than a light bulb, but I don't leave those on for twelve hours either.
The strongest argument against the dehydrator is that it reminds me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The dehydrator is a substitute for knowledge, proof that we've lost touch with time tested methods of preservation like like sun drying and smoking. But the fact of the matter is that I don't yet possess all of that knowledge, I love Massachusetts peaches, and I want to eat them in the winter.
That said, it was sad to see them go from this...
Why not can? It seems criminal to add sugar to a peach, and anything canned "in water" is just pathetic.
Aren't hot peppers the poster child for air drying? Yes, but not necessarily in New England. For instance, when I got these peppers it was so damp that they began to rot and attract fruit flies. In the future I hope to do more air drying, sun drying, smoking, pickling, and fermenting, but for now I'll sit back and enjoy the low hum.
Also, when I dried the peaches it was particularly chilly out, and the dehydrator made a nice foot warmer.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Boston's own Haley House, a Catholic worker house/soup kitchen/restaurant/farm/low income housing center/educational facility was written up in the most recent Edible Boston. The story then made the cover of Edible Nation. Check it out:
My favorite quote is from Boston Police Officer Bill Baxter, aka "Donut," who teaches gang resistance through cooking:
"The way we prejudge foods (such as "I plain hate onions") is the same mental mechanism that we use to prejudge people."
It was fire that sought to destroy Verrill Farm, and it is fire that they now tame to cook barbecue. And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.
Along with smoke and spices, you can taste defiance in their recipe. Despite massive setbacks, Verrill has every intention to rebuild using events like the weekly barbecue to help get things going. Pulled pork sandwiches are available every Thursday from 3-5pm (or until it lasts) and are made from meat raised in Massachusetts.
I went last Thursday, and despite bitter cold and howling wind they stuck it out until everyone had gotten their sandwich. One patron donated a hat to the young man serving the 'cue from a chafing dish. Clearly he was eager for the opening of their temporary farmstand, which unlike their current operation will have walls.
On the eve of a new administration and with the global food crisis raging, the liminal space Verrill occupies represents the razor's edge on which our systems of food production cling. Just as the life of the pig ends to support the life of the Concordian foodies who eat it, so does community support help Verrill sprout anew from the ashes.
Unlike other forms of activism, the rewards here are pretty concrete. Support a local farm, get a great sandwich.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Despite offers of free ice cream and coffee, when I woke up today my mind was, for once, not on food. I was just too nervous/excited (McCain/Obama) to eat.
I sat down with every intention of doing work, but instead found myself maniacally searching the internet for short news clips about voter turnout. Unable to work, I made pancakes. I know I said I didn't feel like eating, but pancakes are really more of an activity than a meal.
Glad to be away from the internet, I assembled a stack of what we've been calling "specialty flour" pancakes. They're a blend of buckwheat, spelt, and corn meal, and as you feel the flour power coursing through you (and the milk, eggs, and butter), you can tell that you're getting a lot more bang for your buck(wheat) than if you just used white wheat flour. (Looking back on that sentence I feel the need to say that it was not a subliminal commentary about the two candidates.)
I sat down and ate as many as I could, smothering each cake with peanut butter and a delicately spiced pear butter we received in exchange for dog sitting. Hopefully this will keep me going until deep in the night, when we find out who the next president will be. Despite countless other reasons, for food's sake, I hope it's Obama.
Now if you haven't done so already, make yourself some pancakes and get out there and vote.
Pancakes for a Brighter Future
adapted from the More-With-Less Cookbook
1 cup milk
2 tbsp oil
Add and mix only until moistened.
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Heat butter in a skillet. Pour pools of batter into the hot skillet in the size you desire (it's fun to have a mound of little ones). Once bubbling, flip, cook briefly on the B side, and serve smeared generously with peanut butter and pear butter. Pray for change.
Monday, November 3, 2008
I could eat seafood three meals a day, but concerns about sustainability now have me eating it only once every few months. Fortunately there are more and more guides to eating sustainable seafood, like the Seafood Watch Sushi Guide and Chefs Collabortive's Seafood Solutions. There are even responsible seafood CSAs in some parts of the country, like this one in Maine.
While farm raised fish has taken a recent nose dive in popular opinion, they're the way to go when managed correctly. Fortunately, US farm raised catfish generally meets the bill. In fact, it's even good enough for Canadians.
Since they aren't ocean catfish, I guess technically it isn't sustainable seafood, but "pondfood" doesn't have quite the same ring. But if for some reason farm raised isn't your cup of tea, there's always noodling:
I received this amuse bouche from someone who got it at the The Common Ground Country Fair, which is perhaps the only place on Earth where you can eat sustainable funnel cake.
A far cry from the fruit roll ups I grew up eating, the flavor of this leather was tomato-garlic-basil. When I heard that I thought "yuck" and then "hmm." When I ate it I went "yuck" and then "mmm!" and then "yuck" again.
But it got me to thinking about different interpretations of fruit (or vegetable?) leather, and sure enough a little research proved that there are people out there who are making varieties of edible leather that are also pretty out there. Still, the one I ate is the least appetizing I've encountered.
Are you or someone you know making strange kinds of edible leather? Can you trump the weirdness of tomato-garlic-basil? IMWTK.