Monday, August 31, 2009

What I Ate On Or The Night Before My Birthday

-chips and guacamole
-ribs with chile de arbol
-the best flan I've ever had
-coffee with orange rind and cinnamon
-Tres Generaciones Plata
-oats and eggs
-leftover yellow dumpling soup broth
-trail mix: almonds, raisins, coconut
-coconut water
-ham, mustard and cilantro sandwiches (it's what we had)
-trail mix: peanuts and cranberries
-wild mountain cranberries
-wild blueberries
-one partridge berry
-an accidental mouthful of Sculptured Rocks creek water
-beef tongue and tendon in vinegar peanut sauce
-pork belly in garlic sauce
-Sichuan dumplings
-towel gourd with bamboo fungus
-cumin beef
-crispy salt and pepper ribs
-white rice
-lots of sake
-tea smoked duck
-dan dan noodles

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Neither Tea nor Food

This morning I was jogging with Oli, the official dog of T&F. As he often does when off-leash and drunk on freedom, he was running circles around me. Literally.

At one point he darted in to nip at my heels and his rabies tag became ensnared by my shoe lace. He pulled away to free himself but instead got twisted up and landed on his back. He stared up at me as if to ask "Master, what is this cruel new magic?"

Moments later, while dashing through the woods, he flushed a deer. The only other time he'd seen one, my typically calm and quiet dog essentially flipped out. He let loose a horrible, primal sound from deep within, sort of a cross between a howl and a garbage truck going off a cliff.

That time, he was on-leash and could not pursue the creature that had bemusedly pranced away. But since then I've always been worried about him seeing another hind while unhindered.

Or to be more precise, I was worried about how many miles he would chase it and how many dangerous, Froggeresque intersections he might cross in doing so.

When he discovered the deer this morning, of course it ran off and of course he pursued. But here's the surprising part: when I called him, he came right back. My only explanation is that he did a quick calculation of how much meat he would get from that one deer compared to how much I would feed him for the rest of his life.

Clearly, my cruel, new magic worked. He trotted happily back to my side and we kept jogging without incident. Except for when he picked up a pointed, six foot long fallen sapling and galloped at me full speed, ramming it into the back of my knee.

But who who needs a patella when you've got loyalty?

Photo courtesy of Cailin, my vet tech.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lemon Cucumber

Like many of you out there, I grew up after the Industrial Revolution but before the Delicious Revolution. In that awkward phase of human history, which I hope is drawing to a close, there was only one kind of cucumber: The Cucumber.

I grew up in a healthy household, for the time. That meant no soda, but it also meant industrially produced produce. Even though I lived in Florida, where one could potentially eat from the garden every day of the year, we only had access to the same stuff that everyone else in the country was eating. And everyone was eating The Cucumber, which, like the County Paris, is as bland as it is handsome.

Flash forward to a world in the midst of a food revolution, sometimes delicious, sometimes not. The revolution takes many forms, from riots over rising food costs in Haiti to those locally made logs of goat cheese at your neighborhood farmers market. Though the stakes vary, these are opposite sides of the same coin. Both say, in very different ways, that the system we've been relying on is broken, and that it's time to look elsewhere.

We now live in an era in which there are many, many kinds of cucumbers. Or rather we live there/then again. Before The Cucumber was singled out for its ability to survive long truck rides and still arrive looking like a cartoon, there were many cucumbers bred for many different climates and culinary purposes.

For instance, the lemon cucumber, which is not named for its flavor but for its appearance. And though it doesn't taste like a lemon, it does taste about a bajillion times better than The Cucumber. I'm thrilled to see that heirlooms such as these are regaining popularity, and I plan to eat them all.

But wait, you say. Isn't the lemon cucumber just for limp wristed East Coast liberal elitist foodies, bloggers and food bloggers? Isn't the whole Delicious Revolution a bit "unrealistic" as Anthony Bourdain says?

No. While I now have lemon cucumbers like the one pictured at top growing in my garden, I had my first at an immigrant-run farmers market booth in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Springfield, Missouri. Now that's crop diversity.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Return From Vermmmont Raw Corn Salad

Returning from my annual two weeks teaching in VT is usually a drag. When I would come back to Somerville, I found the urban setting abrasive if not hostile. Luckily my new place of residence is much greener, but in comparison to VT, our nature somehow seems less natural.

So I was cheered to see that in my absence things had been growing back home. Oli had a short, sleek, summer coat, and despite the lack of soil, light, attention and planning, there was actually some food in the garden.

The apples had blushed.

The blackberry blossoms had transmogrified into blackberries.

And there was a cucumber...

... that went into a raw corn salad, along with some of the local sunflower oil I picked up at Pete's Greens.

In the summer I crave unadulteration more than I crave any specific ingredients. I eat less and I eat dishes made with less preparation, if you could call taking a cucumber out of the refrigerator and eating it whole a "dish" that underwent "preparation." But when I can overcome my estivation, I make a raw corn salad.


Recipe: Raw Corn and Cucumber Salad
(serves 2)

Note: variations are limitless.

1 cucumber
2 ears of corn (suitable for eating raw, i.e. sweet and picked that day)
Pete's Greens sunflower seed oil for dressing (or olive oil)
salt to taste

1. Dice the cucumber, keeping the peel on, unless you're a total weiner.

2. Slice the kernels from the shucked corn cobs.

3. Combine both with salt to taste and an ample drizzle of the sunflower (or olive) oil. If you got 'em, add fresh herbs or nearly anything else.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

White Mountains, Blue Berries

One way to beat the summer heat in New England is to rise above it. Yesterday I left the steamy, swampy lowlands of Boston for a chilly, misty mountaintop in New Hampshire. Cardigan, to be exact.

As if the dramatic weather wasn't enough of a reward, the summit was also rife with wild blueberries.

And mountain cranberries.

Now maybe you're not supposed to pick the berries in a National Park, but it's better for everyone if you eat the fruit growing at your feet rather than stuff trucked in from Mexico.

Just leave some for the bears, and for me.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vermmmont: My First Eggs

In case I haven't made it clear already, Vermont is a really interesting place to eat.

For instance, when visiting the homes of various campers, I was treated to the following meals: elk chili (shot in New Mexico), halibut kebobs (caught in Alaska), and homemade wontons (fried in the kitchen).

Equally impressive is the sheer bounty available in many VT backyards. Nearly every house I visited had an ample vegetable garden, plus many had sizable crops of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and black raspberries with apples en route. Several had both meat and laying chickens, one had ducks and guinea fowl, another pigs.

One home even had its own fully stocked trout pond. Talk about a sustainable source of seafood (pondfood?): instead of overfishing and mercury poisoning, all you have worry to about is otters.

It was in one such backyard that I gathered my first eggs. Then, in an expression of gratitude, I tenderly held my first chicken.

Before then, I had only ever held a chicken tender.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Links Galore, Links Galore

I've received a few link exchange requests recently, and it's often difficult to tell which are from actual people and which are from capitalists. I'll let you figure it out:

Kalahari Tea: an eco-friendly, organic tea company that sources raw materials and products from South Africa to support the local economy. Their tea bags are made of unbleached hemp and wood chips, they contribute to the African Wildlife Foundation and are members of 1% for the Planet (which is about the environment, not milk).

The Teacup Tango: I received this tea-themed music video from a wife and husband duo who created it to win a scholarship competition. From their experience they have concluded that "Tea is awesome and there is so much more to it – whichever type you prefer – than we ever realized."

I highly recommend watching it. FYI, my favorite moment occurs at 50 seconds in.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Local Food, Thanks to the Enemy

How f'ed up is it that this Serious Eats video about a local farmer starts with a plug from Kraft?

On the one hand, the local food movement needs whatever support it can get, and if that video only exists because of cash from Kraft, it's still a net positive. On the other hand, I hope no one puts the "Kraft Lite Raspberry Vinagerette Dressing" advertised at the beginning on the veggies they buy at the greenmarket.

I do, however, like that Ed Levine uses the phrase "to grow a crop in their shoes." Isn't that what farms are for?

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Vermmmont: Barely Sweet Red Currant Tart

One of the things I look forward to during my annual two week gig in VT is the Dunbar's red currant bush. Lucky for me, the fruit ripens during my stay. Also lucky for me is that the Dunbars don't really like currants, so I'm always encouraged to take as big of a haul as I want.

In the past I've never had the wherewithal to do anything but eat them out of hand, but this year I got it together to whip up a crude tart.

As I prepared it, the berry topping somehow became a black hole for sugar; the more I added, the same it tasted.

I prefer barely-sweet desserts, but even for my palate I had to keep sprinkling on the cane dust. All the while a little devil sat on my shoulder, whispering "Just dump it in! People will like it better!"

Meanwhile, the little angel that, inevitably, sat on the other shoulder, meekly suggested: " Sugar is bad for you. Maybe your friends would enjoy a horribly sour tart and better health?"

In the end, neither won, as I compromised. But the tart was perfect for me, with a challenging level of tartness yet just enough sugar to walk you through it. I made one for the Dunbars as a thank you for years of free currants, but I'm told it met with mixed results. Some of them ate it straight up, some added more sugar, and some passed on it altogether.

Angel: "Even if they didn't like it that much, at least everyone had a healthy dessert."

Devil: "That means more for us! Rrrrrrrrrah! (<-- a devil roar)."


Etymology for Karen:

"currant" origin: Middle English "raisons of Corauntz," translating Anglo-Norman French raisins de Corauntz, meaning ‘grapes of Corinth ’ (the original source).

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hot, Hot, Hot

See here for more of my stuff (writing) in Stuff (magazine). I wrote 8 of the entries for this year's Hot 100 list, and not surprisingly, most of mine are about food. If you're a truly loyal reader, see if you can pick out my prose.

The next post will have more pretty pictures of sustainable food, I promise.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Muscadine Wine

See here for my first piece in Stuff magazine, on the conspicuous lack of Muscadine wine in Boston:

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Vermmmont: Wood Fired Pizza

Last night's dinner centered around flatbreads baked in the handmade, homemade clay oven pictured above.

The first course, though prepared in a less exciting cooking vessel, was even better: Turkish cucumber soup, resplendent with curry, yogurt and tomatoes and topped with fresh cilantro.

Dinner companions included hummingbirds, a nearly full moon, and my personified jealousy for the clay oven.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Quote of the Day

From a student at the camp in VT where I'm currently teaching:

"My mom once castrated a lamb with her teeth."

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Vermmmont: Maple Roasted Chicken

Last night we were invited to dinner at the home of one of our campers. I was thrilled to learn that we would be having maple roasted chicken. I was even more thrilled to find out what that meant: instead of being covered in a syrupy glaze, the birds had slowly roasted in a haze of maple wood smoke.

The family serving the meal keeps a log near the barbecue for just that very purpose. When they feel like adding a touch of sweet smoke to whatever they're grilling, they simply hack off a few chips to scatter on top of charcoal.

As you can see above, the chicken skin was a deep bronze, and the meat beneath it was tender and juicy. The faintly sweet taste of smoke permeated every nook and cranny.

For dessert we were served a carrot cake garnished with local strawberries and raspberries from "around back." Why don't I live here again?

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