Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Non-Dairy Moose Tracks

One ran by outside of the camp I'm teaching at here in Craftsbury, VT. Later in the day I went down to look for tracks, which I found clearly stamped into the mud. A faint channel was visible where it had trotted through the tall grass en route to the woods.

I'd only seen one up here once before: last summer, on my plate.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back in Vermont

I'm currently up in Craftsbury, Vermont for my annual two weeks of teaching at a Shakespeare camp. (See here for last year's posts.)

Internet access is scant, but I'll do my best to keep posting from this fascinating foodshed. Just today one of my campers told me she's been woken up each of the past few nights by the grunting of a moose.

If you think that's Vermonty, consider this. The following sentence was spoken by a mother to her children at a local natural foods coop:

"Brocoli, Arugula, stop that!"

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Homemade Jam: As Easy as Pie

Homemade jam. Go ahead, think about it. The mess, the effort, the special equipment, the self righteousness. Now think again.

If you have fruit and sugar, and you do, homemade jam is at your (sticky) fingertips. You don't have to pick the berries. You don't have to hermetically seal the end product. You don't have worry about odorless, tasteless, killer bacteria.

You don't even have to be a hipster. You just have to cook a little fruit with a little sugar.

I had some strawberries that were on their way out. They weren't even local berries, just some Big Organic (not that good for the planet, but also not that bad, right?) fruit that I had lying around, getting a little fuzzy around the edges. I halved them and simmered with less sugar than you think goes into jam for less time than you think jam cooks for.

I didn't add pectin. I didn't add rosemary or anything else that doesn't belong in jam but increasingly finds its way there.

As soon as the heat and sugar permeated the fruit, my limp, squishy strawberries transformed into vivid, cartoon like fruit. They went from looking like something that you wouldn't want to eat to looking like something that you wouldn't want to eat because you'd think they'd been dyed and thickened with cornstarch.

But no. The thick, ruby red concoction was more natural than most of the girls who went to my South Florida private high school. The berries were plump and toothsome, full of seeds that popped and crunched between my teeth. The flavor was tart and fruity, just a shade sweeter than what you might pick from the vine, and nowhere near as cloying as, say, Smuckers.

It was easy. It tasted amazing. It resurrected my fruit.


Recipe: Homemade Strawberry Jam

-strawberries that no longer look good enough to eat fresh
(about 2 cups)
-enough water to cover the bottom of the pan - no more!
-a fat pinch of unrefined sugar

1. Wash and halve the strawberries.
2. Combine all ingredients in a small pot or pan.
3. Cook until the berries are vivid and surrounded by thick syrup.
4. Cool and store in the fridge, if it lasts that long.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Best Thing I've Had All Year

..was a lobster bolognese at the Green Street Grill last Sunday night. I simply couldn't understand how any combination of earthly ingredients could taste so good.

My guess is cream. Lots of cream. And lobster stock. Generous hunks of lobster meat, including claw, didn't hurt either.

Yet even those incredibly delicious components don't fully explain the dish's magical powers. I could combine cream, lobster and lobster stock at home, but they did something else, something I don't understand, and it left me awestruck. Probably, it was butter.

Go there just to eat it.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Buffalo Shepherd's Pie

Not only is this dish good in and of itself, but it's also a superior recreation of a childhood comfort food. Without lunch lady hairs.

Even though I secretly liked the version slopped onto my lunch tray as a school boy, this shepherd's pie is a vast improvement, with buffalo meat instead of beef (leaner, hipper), smoked paprika, fresh sage and a touch of cumin. Instead of the classic trinity of frozen peas, frozen carrots and canned corn, we use whatever fresh veggies we have around. Last time our friends brought over some of the surplus bounty of their CSA, including turnips and chard, which worked great.

I also appreciate the irony of a shepherd's pie made from buffalo, since buffalo can't actually be shepherded. The only downside is that while it's still hot, using the term "pie" is really being generous. Even though it doesn't taste like slop, it still kind of looks like slop.

But when you have the leftovers the next day, as you invariably do because you make an entire skillet's worth, because it looks gorgeous and rustic to do so, that slop sets into distinct strata that can easily be sliced into a clean, self-supported wedge.

While eating one such pie during last night's dinner, conversation turned to talk of sprouting grains. Our guests, an enterprising young family that bakes their own bread and makes their own cheese, are in the habit of sprouting everything from grains to nuts. That's a food wagon I haven't boarded yet, largely because of the extra effort required.

That said, when I looked in the dog's water dish this morning, I noticed that two buckwheat grains had accidentally fallen in and sprouted. Guess it's not that hard after all.

Now if only buffalo shepherd's pie appeared so spontaneously.


Recipe: Buffalo Shepherd's Pie

1 lb ground buffalo (it goes a long way, 6-8 servings)
8 potatoes
chopped seasonal vegetables
pimenton (smoked paprika)
fresh sage (about a handful)

1. Make mashed potatoes.

2. Brown the buffalo meat in an iron skillet with a healthy dash of pimenton and slightly less cumin.

3. Layer the chopped veggies and chopped sage on top of the meat, sweating anything that would produce a lot of water first (i.e. chard or spinach).

4. Top with the mashed potatoes. Top the mashed potatoes with a heavy sprinkling of pimenton and a drizzle of olive oil (and cheese, if that's your thing).

5. Bake at 400 until it begins to brown, then slide under the broiler to finish the job.

6. Serve as is or let set in the fridge over night for pretty slices.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ghana Fishin'

This morning's The World made the obvious link between the G8's proposal to fund agriculture in nations like Ghana and the old "teach a (hu)man to fish" saying.

I just want to go on record saying that I too think it's better to build roads that will help distribute food rather than letting it rot in the fields and then feeding Africans stuff that we grew. I too think it makes more sense to enable farmers to produce their own food rather than continuing to send aid after the fact (which we'll still need to keep doing, at least for a while).

This is that powerful part of the local food movement that is all too often obscured by obnoxious foodies like myself going gaga over scapes or black raspberries. Here eating locally is associated with stuffing yourself with goat cheese, but in other parts of the world it means being able to feed yourself at all.

Big Agriculture stole the word organic, they're working on co-opting "local," and soon Super Walmarts will probably have a little sticker that denotes (alleged) sustainability. But real sustainability is, not to be too dramatic, the key to our survival as a species, and local food is a big part of it.

So the next time you hear a foodie holding court about what they made from their most recent CSA pick-up, try this mental exercise: replace phrases like "ramp tartlets" with "food security."

Personally, I'm looking forward to the first issue of Edible Accra.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Today's Lunch

Eating while working from home is often a double edged sword. On the one hand, you can make whatever you want. On the other, that never happens.

I usually wait too long to eat or don't have anything on hand that I actually want. In both cases, I consume whatever I first set eyes on, and it's never ideal (though I have developed a soft spot for pasta with canned sardines).

But today I had the presence of mind - and the ingredients - to whip up a perfectly acceptable, well timed meal. I browned and then simmered chicken thighs with artichoke hearts and had one with salad and a white bean dip laced with za'atar. The latter might sound fancy, but the only faster starch I can think of is a slice of bread. Also, I had a slice of bread.

The salad consisted of local greens and even more local, accidental wild edibles harvested/weeded from the kitchen garden. As far as I'm concerned, romaine, purslane, and lamb's quarters are just as good a combo as walnuts, pears and gorgonzola. You know, that salad.

It was fast, it was easy, and it was good. The only downside is that I'm not eating it again right this second.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for Pee

If you're a reindeer, that is. See for yourself here. It's one of many impressive pics from Globe photographer Essdras Suarez, whose work accompanied my last article.

I'd been meaning to post some of his stuff, but for copyright reasons I think you have to go check it out yourself. You can see more, including his food photography, here:

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Best Tisane I've Ever Had

Expletives and herbal tea don't often go together, but I'm pretty sure I muttered one after taking a sip of this after last night's dinner. Made from freshly plucked anise hyssop and cilantro flowers, it was the best tisane I've ever had.

For those who poo-poo herbal tea in favor of true tea, know that equally complex flavors are possible from plants besides camellia sinensis. I didn't fully believe it myself, but this tea was the most powerfully flavorful thing I've put in my mouth this year.

Like garlic scapes, the flowers of herbs are a double boon. A culinary asset on their own, removing them also make the parts of the plant that you really want to eat (the bulb of the garlic and the leaves of the herb) more productive. The flowers of the anise hyssop were a shade of purple that would look at home in a Monet, but once hit by the hot water they became pale. I took comfort in knowing that the purple was now somewhere in the liquor, and that I drank a color.

The hyssop is incredibly sweet and of course very licorice like, and the cilantro flowers are, unsurprisingly, a very floral incarnation of the already cool and lovely cilantro. Together the two were sweet and deeply aromatic with just a hint of savory, no stronger than an association.

We spend so much time comparing the flavors of tea and wine to other things like flowers and herbs. So why not go straight to the source and just drink the flowers and herbs?

Or, as a friend of mine one said, if people want things to sell like hotcakes, why not just sell hotcakes?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bacon, Broccoli, Bean Noodles

The weather is so wet, so damp and clammy, that if we want to be warm and dry we must bypass the sky and look to food. For lunch yesterday, I made my artificial sun of bacon.

I was hungry. I looked in the fridge. These stories usually don't end well, but this was a delicious exception.

I found three strips of bacon. I found a head of broccoli. In the pantry I unearthed a package of my favorite dry noodles: Amoy Bean Strips. I put them together and I had lunch. Great lunch.

Using the meat-as-a-seasoning approach, I snipped the bacon into the kind of tiny rectangles you'll find in non-vegetarian veggie dishes at some Chinese restaurants. I browned it in a skillet, adding diced onion about halfway through. Meanwhile, the noodles boiled and the broccoli steamed. Of course I could have cooked the broccoli with the bacon, but it can be a much cleaner operation to assemble the parts separately and then sauce together.

When everything was cooked to my liking (crispy bacon, translucent and slightly brown onions, bright green broccoli), I tossed it all with a splash of sesame oil and a drip of soy sauce. And of course the ample fat surrendered by the bacon as it gently sizzled.

It wasn't warm outside, but it was nice and warm inside (my stomach).

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Acai

See here for Adam Stark's latest dispatch, this time tackling the dubious qualities of the so-called "superfood" acai.

Personally, I think all foods are super, and my suspicion is always aroused when any one is singled out as a magic bullet. I never knew precisely why acai was bullsh*t, and am glad for Adam's thorough debunking.

As Michael Pollan so succinctly put it, "Avoid foods that make health claims." After all, broccoli doesn't advertise, except in this brilliant Onion article.

Again, you can read the acai piece here and an excerpt here:

Q: But I don’t care about science – it’s all sponsored by the fascist military-industrial-pharmaceutical complex, anyways! What matters to me is the shamanic healing wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. Don’t they use açaí for, like, everything down there?

A: Actually, they mostly use it for breakfast. Sort of like we use grapefruit.

Stumble Upon Toolbar