Monday, November 30, 2009

Wedding, Honeymoon, Homecoming

Last week, I got married. It was incredible. Neither words nor 0's and 1's masquerading as words could describe it.

What I can describe is the food. The entire experience can be broken down into three distinct food phases: wedding, honeymoon, and homecoming.

At the wedding ceremony, we (barely) ate:

-mushroom, leek and ricotta salata strata
-turkey chorizo and black bean strata
-the best soup I've ever had (sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cumin, peanut...)
-roasted potatoes
-Iggy's rolls
-Iggy's croissants
-tons of incredible cheese
-arugula salad
-rivers of West County hard cider
-boatloads of roasted marshmallows
-bushels of sun crisps and merle rouge
-olive oil gingerbread with cranberry glaze, whiskey whipped cream and candied Buddha's hand (our wedding cake)

All of which was prepared by my good friend, the excellent chef Mrs. Amanda Jane Loring. If you want her to cater your event, and you do, drop me a line and I'll put you in touch.

For our honeymoon, my wife (!) and I then went to Portland, ME to do little besides eat. We consumed:

-french fries fried in duck fat, in Duck Fat
-the best piece of fish I've ever had: a small square of seared swordfish toro at Miyake
-one of the best cheeses I've ever had, Maine made (the name escapes me, but I'll post it later)
-Honeymaker mead (wouldn't be a honeymoon without it)
-Damariscottas and Pemaquids
-the rest of the Sustainable Red
-$2.75 bahn mi at Kim's
-leftover Iggy's croissants
-leftover olive oil gingerbread with cranberry glaze, whiskey whipped cream and candied Buddha's hand (our former wedding cake)

The first meal I made once home is the one pictured at top. Baked chicken legs and apples with a root veggie melange and hearty salad greens, the latter two from our winter CSA.

The food at the wedding was delicious, geared to please a crowd, appropriate for brunch and indicative of our epicurean ethics. The food on the honeymoon was sheer decadence. The meal back at home was a balance of both. May my new wife and I eat thus till the end of our days.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stewart v. Ray

I can't BELIEVE that Martha Stewart went so far as to say that Rachel Ray might not have a garden. When will these divas stop clawing each other's eyes out?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Choice of a Lifetime

In all likelihood, this will be my last ever blog post as an unwed man. This Saturday, I'm getting married.

I was well prepared for the intensity of planning the wedding thanks to advice from friends and family and thanks to the movie Father of the Bride. What I wasn't ready for was the nearly talmudic decision making process of how to make the event (and the menu) as sustainable as possible (or as sustainable as we could afford).

Compostable cups or reusable glasses? Local apples that have been sprayed or organic ones with transportation induced carbon footprints? Classy, printed invites or a pdf sent over e-mail? Such decisions were seemingly endless.

This may not surprise those of you engaged in the complex task of figuring out how best to eat while remaining a responsible global citizen. Though vegan/Hummer versus omnivore/Prius comparisons aside, I think the solution is fairly simple and well summarized on the yellow rubber band on the cover of Pollan's most recent book: "eat food, not too much of it, mostly plants" (he goes on to provide a more precise definition of "food"). Though of course this is harder to do if you're one of many Americans living in a food desert or if you're part of the growing ranks of the poor and unemployed who can't afford such a lifestyle.

In the end we compromised, using some local ingredients, having very little meat, and serving locally made hard cider in compostable cups (and I'm still craiglisting for someone who's actually willing to turn them into compost). But the real challenge came in picking a wine to use during the actual ceremony.

In one hand I held a highly rated Canadian ice wine which I knew would make for a thrilling, sweet and complicated sip while at the altar. In the other hand was a small bottle of something called Sustainable Red, a California blend that was much less exciting but which claimed to be carbon free among other eco-perks advertised on its recycled paper label.

Suddenly, on the eve of my wedding and on this threshold of my future, I felt as though I was making the choice of a lifetime. Though simple, the decision seemed epic: should I pick the bottle that contained experience or the one that held morality? Should I eat the apple or live in Eden?

In the end I went with the Sustainable Red, because that's the carboon free foot on which I want to start my new life.

But if someone bought me the ice wine, I wouldn't turn it down.

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10 Unforgettable Brazilian Dishes You Never Heard Of

See here for Brazilian blogger Regina Sharf's post on some of Brazil's more popular but lesser known culinary offerings. If you're unfamiliar with buchada de bode and pato no tucupi, you should really bone up.

The jambu, which Regina describes as "numbing... a plant that causes a weird anesthesia effect on the mouth" sounds a bit like Sichuan peppercorn. With the exception of overdoing cloves I can't think of any other ingredient known for its numbing effect. Can you?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

If I Lived in Philidadelphia...

...I'd be going to the Festival of Forgotten foods:

"It is a fine time to review the inventory in the local larder, our vintage foodscape eroding in spots, the scents of our street food overshadowed too often by the cheesesteak."

On the menu will be salt oyster and sweet corn casserole, a Thomas Jefferson recipe ale, snapper soup and catfish and waffles.

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Vegan Dog Bone

Finally, a use for those wilted Brussels sprout stalks that you never got around to braising with bacon and figs.

I'm sure I'm not the only one familiar with the paralysis resulting from not using produce at its peak. If I have supermarket romaine that starts to wilt, it doesn't stop me in the least. I rip off the slimy parts, wash, spin and essentially still have fresh lettuce.

But the higher the quality of the produce, the more intense the paralysis. For instance, if I have a backyard tomato that's starting to get fuzzy, rather than quickly throwing it into a sauce, I guilty watch it collapse into a pink puddle, frozen by guilt.

My Brussels sprouts are not only organic but also locally grown, a real double whammy for the conscience should they go to waste. It's even worse than when your parents make you finish your soggy, defrosted spinach because of the starving children in Africa. You bought those Brussels sprouts because you believe that, as Wendell Berry said, when we eat, we vote. Therefore not using those sprouts is akin to checking off the box for Nader.

Luckily, I've seen the error of my ways and also have some fresh sprouts from my winter CSA that I'll be sure to use up right away. And in the meantime, I've found that an old B.s. stalk makes an excellent dog toy. Especially for a dog who's getting cabin fever because his severed artery hasn't quite healed yet.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Serious Salad

I like salad one of two ways. Completely unadorned, eaten without utensils and out of the bag, or loaded up into a meal in and of itself. Give me anything in between, like a wilting mesclun mix with a few mealy slices of apples, and I'll punch you in the face.

The above photo does not do justice to the spectacular meal-of-a-salad that I assembled last night. That's because I took the picture halfway through the process, and by the time it was done, it looked so good that I couldn't wait another 1/60th of a second.

In its finished state, the salad contained the following:

-mixed greens from our Shared Harvest winter CSA
(spinach, chicory, red leaf lettuce, radicchio)
-cubes of baked sweet potatoes leftover from a previous meal, warmed and well salted
-crisp bits of Vermont Smoke and Cure bacon
-roasted sunflower seeds
-balsamic vinegar, whisked into the bacon grease (I'm currently roasting blue potatoes in the rest of it)

I cannot tolerate that fact that this divine creation -- at once sweet, salty, crunchy, and mushy -- shares the same name as bowls of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots.

This is how tenth generation vintners must feel about "Two Buck Chuck," or how other, more successful gods feel when they look on our god's creations. Because, when it can be so good, it's embarrassing by what humans deign to call "salad."

Then again, if we were made in god's image, bad salads are His or Her fault.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Armenian Cucumber: Cucumber or Alien?

Every now and then I like to touch base with my good friend, storyteller Jordan Hill, about how much more exciting the local food scene is in his current residence of Tucson, AZ. Of course I'm extremely proud of my own foodshed, but I guess the mesquite flour is always greener on the other side.

One day the subject turned to Armenian cucumbers. I've been delighted to find these crisp, thin skinned snacks at Boston far-mar's and was glad to hear from Jordan that they were thriving in the Southwest as well. Only it seemed there was something different about the Armenian cucumbers he was getting. While mine were the size of a small cigar, his were as big as my dog. Or, as Jordan here illustrates, his (hairy) leg:

They seem less like a vegetable and more like an oasis. Apparently the adjective "Armenian" not only means a resident of the republic of Armenia but also "either small or of Seussical proportions."

His cucumbers looked like they could eat him. However, it seems Jordan and his wife Autumn found a way to beat the cukes to it.

They butchered the monsters into delightful salads and cold soups: perfect food for living in the Sonoran dessert.

Many vegetables will grow to these proportions if left unpicked, like okra or zucchini, but at that stage their increased size usually correlates to a decrease in texture or flavor. Apparently not so with the Armenian snozzcumbers. Jordan and Autumn report that they are quite delicious.

My curiosity is certainly peaked by these watery beasts, and I'd appreciate it if someone out there could clear up the mystery as to why my Armenian cukes are small and Jordan's are so big. (Besides the obvious explanation that he's more of a man than I am.)

One thing I do know about Armenian cucumbers is that, though large, they're nowhere near as creepy as that giant rabbit. That thing gives me the willies.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Cinnamon-Chile Wood Fired Chicken

As much as I appreciate the exotic, if lemongrass and rosemary were tied to train tracks and I could only save one, I know I'd go continental. In other words, I'm no Jean-Georges.

However, when rubbing down the above chicken before it's fight with the flames, I suddenly felt inspired to add some tropical notes to the mix. I took two Eberly's (sorry Lionette's) chicken legs and smeared them with peanut oil, salt, cayenne, chile powder, cinnamon and ginger. That and the smoke from the wood fire -- nature's pimenton -- created an eye-crossingly good grilled chicken.

As far as wood fire cooking goes, I've said it before and I'll say it again: even though you associate sitting around the fire with the nighttime (and perhaps harmonicas and plastic saguaros), it's a really good idea to start your fire earlier if you plan to cook on it and plan to see what you're cooking.

That said, I've never thought to start a cooking fire before dusk, but even so I'm starting to get a feel for it. This time I didn't scorch the chicken black and leave it sashimi grade on the inside, as I have in other dimly lit grilling experiences. And when the coals pooped out I did have to finish it in the oven for about ten minutes, but otherwise this was everything you want from chicken grilled over a real fire: crackly skin, juicy meat and just a touch of ash.

But it was really the spice mix that drove me to blog about it. I can't imagine anyone trying this recipe and being disappointed, unless they're either vegetarian or a chicken.


Recipe: Cinnamon and Chile Grilled Chicken

serves 2, or 1/2 of a glutton

Note: You could use a charcoal or gas grill instead of a wood fire, but you could also go to KFC.

2 chicken legs, as sustainably raised as you can afford
a glug of peanut oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp chile powder (something like ancho)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne

1. Start your fire.

2. Rub your legs with the peanut oil and spices. Do the same for the chicken legs.

3. Once the flames have given way to coals and once your grill is hot, add the legs.

4. Watch carefully. If they're giving any suggestion of catching fire, raise the grill or spread the coals to diffuse the heat. If they're not browning, lower the grill closer to the heat.

5. After about 10 minutes or when mahogany (golden is for people who peel cucumbers), flip and repeat on the B-side.

6. When both sides are brown and crackly, cut one thigh to check the interior. If they're at all pink, continue grilling with less direct heat or finish in an oven set at 350.

7. Barely hear the rosemary scream over the train's whistle.

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