Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Local, Vegan, Wacky Wedding

I spent this past weekend up in Maine at a wedding which revolved largely around food, as all festivities should. The bride is vegan, the groom vegetarian, and both are deeply committed to the local agricultural scene and to the DIY lifestyle in general. Which is why their cake was topped with shrinky dinks of themselves.

All of the bubbly, and there was a lot of it, was a ginger champagne brewed and bottled by the bridegroom and spray-paint stenciled by the groom's sister and brother-in-law.

Other menu items made by the couple included seitan (for 120), kimchee and sauerkraut made with local produce (I love the idea of Maine kimchee), a bowl of super garlicky hummus the size of a small child, and momos for all. For those who didn't want ginger champagne, they had also home brewed IPA, hefeweizen and ginger beer, which went into many a dark and stormy.

Also, all guests were required to wear fake mustaches like the one seen here on the groom's finger.

The wedding was a celebration of both love and local produce. Not only did they feed everyone with sustainably grown ingredients, but they did so creatively and colorfully. So I was struck by the contrast between that experience and this comment left on my last blog post:

"Good grief, your ideological crap about local produce has been debunked many times over and you are still on about it. Get a grip, retard."

Clearly, the anonymous author of the statement above has never been plied with locally made ginger champagne and kimchee. Also, they're stupid.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009


I bought this squash at my local "normal" grocery store, a Stop & Shop. I don't normally shop at chain groceries, but I also don't not shop at them.

Of course my favorite places to acquire food are farmers markets, CSA's, natural foods shops, my garden, and the woods. But I sometimes shop at supermarkets if for no other reason than to experience food like most Americans do. I like lemon cucumbers as much as the next foodie, but I'm never going to be too high on my food horse to avoid grocery stores. Sure they're doing horrible things to the world, but you have to recognize that just having the option of shopping at one makes you an incredibly, incredibly privileged global citizen.

Also, supermarkets yield quirky food items like the squash pictured above. I'd bought it to make butternut crepes, a truly divine dish that depends heavily on first browning the squash and then adding whole, fresh leaves of sage towards the end (quick eco-thical analyses: good that it's not meat, bad that it's not sustainable, local, seasonal, etc.). But I had to pause when I noticed the sticker.

The variety is Waltham, also the name of a town just a few miles from where I'm currently typing. But the place of origin is La Paz, Honduras, which is about 4,000 miles off. A brief internet search tells me that the squash is native to Mexico but by 5,000 years ago was being cultivated by the Incas in what is now South America.

At last, after a long, rich relationship with humanity that spans continents and thousands of years, the butternut has come to its final resting place: a nauseatingly lit supermarket shelf in the 'burbs.

So thank you, Stop & Shop. I never would have had that moment of malaise while picking a strawberry from my garden.

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Quote of the Day

"The ever burning climate will not ignore the carbon emitted from fresh figs flown into Boston because you recycle."

From the latest Lionette's newsletter.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

"You can go to most any area of this country and eat Thai or Chinese or Mongolian barbecue, but you can't eat indigenous foods native to the Americas."

From Loretta Barrett Oden, in an excellent NYT article from '05. And if you do want to eat those indigenous foods, you can always check the Native Tech guide in the Resources section at right.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Cape Cod Grub

I had two excellent eating experiences on a recent trip to Cape Cod. The first was the soup pictured above, made with tons of mushrooms, a few handfuls of wild greens and a splash of goat milk.

In case you can't tell, the soup was entirely the product of necessity. But by just using what we had on hand I managed to produce a vast quantity, and it was a real crowd-pleaser to boot. I started by browning onions and garlic and then sweating all of the stems. With salt and water, these cooked for quite a while longer, yielding a hasty stock. I then added more water, the sliced caps, and some greens and herbs that happened to be growing around the property where we were staying. These included sheep sorrel, garlic mustard, and feral oregano.

It was even vegan until I added a few cups of the goat milk at the end, which made the broth almost bisquey and gave it the slightest twang. We slurped mugful after mugful all day, even once it had gone cold.

The second excellent eating experience occurred when I was asked to pitch some spent lobster shells off the dock. I had arrived too late to actually eat the lobster, but I picked a meal's worth of meat off the carapaces. It was dark, so I couldn't very easily tell coral from tomalley, but it was divine. Someone even left me a claw!

Squatting on a dock in the dark and sucking second hand lobster gook out of shells that were supposed to be thrown away may not be for everyone, but I guess that's what makes me a gourmet.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So Good, There Must Be A Name For It In French

Sometimes when I hit upon a great new dish, I think "I've done it!" Other times I think "This is so good, the French must have already done it." The chicken leg pictured above fell into the latter category.

I usually buy chicken whole, but sometimes I want less than a whole chicken in less than the time it takes to cook a whole chicken. When this happens, I carve off a raw hunk of bird to cook immediately, and later, when I roast the rest of it, it appears as though there has been some sort of accident.

This time, I sawed off a drumstick, which I browned in olive oil. I then added about a cup of stock, several whole peppercorns, and sliced garlic. I covered and simmered, and once the meat was tender, I reduced the remaining liquid and poured it on top of the leg.

The meat had that supple moisture that only cooking in liquid can provide and the stock cooked down to a thick, chickeny sauce made all the more flavorful by the browning. And while cooking with stock might sound a little involved, the whole thing took about twenty minutes, also known as the time it took to chop and steam a few sweet potatoes (see background of photo). That and the leg was lunch.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to cook chicken like so, but I'm as excited about the dish as though I were.


Recipe: Hasty, Seemingly French Chicken

1 drumstick or thigh per person
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp whole peppercorns
3 cloves garlic
salt to taste
olive oil

1. Brown the chicken in the olive oil.

2. Add the stock, garlic, and peppercorns.

3. Cover, simmer until tender (about 15 minutes).

4. Remove the chicken and reduce the remaining liquid to the consistency of maple syrup.

5. Pour the sauce over the meat and garnish with the peppercorns and garlic. Serve alongside steamed sweet potatoes.

6. Exclaim in delight using whatever French you know.

7. Explain to your girlfriend why the raw chicken in the fridge is missing a piece.

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Quote of the Day

A sobering thought from Mark Bittman's latest article on fish:

"It takes three pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon."

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Return of Local Fruit

In New England we're now safely into strawberry season, and I know this because I've been eating a few out of the garden every day. Finally, we can all stop pretending that rhubarb is fruit.

In this part of the world, the strawberry heralds the return of fresh, local fruit and produce in general. Some of us do eat locally grown fruit throughout the winter, thanks to canning, drying, freezing and stockpiling apples, but there's nothing like the taste of some fructose picked at its peak.

The rest of my meager but satisfying kitchen garden is also coming along. The old fence we filled with our landlord's (horses') manure has held up well, and we've got two of the beds pictured above. To the strawberries, sorrel and garlic that survived the winter, we've added cilantro, spinach, lemon cucumbers, broccoli, broccoli rabe, zephyr squash, arugula and romaine. There are a few spaces left that I'd love to fill with ground cherries or tomatillos.

We've also added several herbs on the notion that perennial herbs in containers are the most non-committal form of kitchen gardening. These include anise hyssop, lemon thyme, lavender, sage, rosemary, and eucalyptus. I look forward to making a tisane from one leaf of each.

There are also a handful of wild edibles around the yard that I plan to start chowing down on in earnest as soon as I test to make sure that the soil isn't too leaden. The most exciting of these are the blackberries that each of these white blossoms will hopefully turn into.

I think of gardening as an extremely low stakes game of chance with an incredibly high payoff (if something that is low stakes can also have a high payoff). The worst case scenario is that you lose a few bucks while still having gotten exercise, time outside, and that ineffable sense of joy that comes from planting something you, or rabbits and squirrels, can eat.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

If You Watch One Slideshow of People Tumbling Down a Hill For Cheese...

...then watch this one:


Note the participant who had to be carried away in a stretcher.

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Monochromatic Breakfast

In looking through my latest batch of photos I was surprised to see that I'd recently had two very different but very monochromatic breakfasts.

The first was a smoothie, pictured above. My standard blend is one banana, sometimes frozen, sometimes not, unsweetened soy milk, peanut butter, and a scoop of some weird, green powder that I got for free.

I've been drinking one every morning for about a month now, but had never realized just how similar the color was to some of my plates. The smoothie nearly disappeared when placed atop one.

The second monochromatic breakfast featured ground buffalo meat on teff, the Ethiopian grain often grown in Idaho.

Two breakfasts, both alike in dignity, and color.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Caveat Ramps

I'm glad that more and more people are eating fiddleheads and ramps, and thereby realizing that not all food comes from supermarkets. But fiddleheads and ramps may not be glad that people are eating more fiddleheads and ramps.

I'm an advocate of using (by which I mean eating) nature in order to appreciate it, hence my fascination with wild edibles. However, different plants require different harvesting techniques to ensure sustainability.

For instance, picking an apple doesn't have much of an impact on the plant, but uprooting the tree does, and essentially that's what happens when you, or whoever you pay to do the do the dirty work for you, harvests a ramp. As this article from the Globe and Mail says, "eating a nice sized bulb could be the equivalent of dining on an old-growth cedar, since a bulb could be 18 to 20 years old."

Which isn't to say that people shouldn't eat ramps - they should - they just shouldn't eat all the ramps. Let's not have another cod here.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Leftover Pizza Dough Rolls

This is going to be the kind of post that professional chefs hate.

On Saturday I woke up and read a few pages from MKR's "Cross Creek." I was in the middle of the chapter about what she ate while homesteading in rural Florida, which of course was the one I liked best. Here's the part that I read:

"My most successful Dutch oven rolls were prepared in the middle of the St. John's River... I brought out my bowl of dough, my extra flour, my butter and my Dutch oven from under a seat in the rowboat, and while spray from the wind-swept river dashed into my face, I mixed the dough in the bowl in my lap, shaped my rolls and placed them tenderly in the Dutch oven. I put the oven far forward where the late afternoon sun would rest on the lid, and by the time we reached Salt Springs Run and the camp fire was built, the rolls had risen and were ready for baking. They had never been so delicious. Supper was superb, and the fresh-caught bass white and sweet and firm, the coffee strong and good as it can only be in the open."

Of course, as you do now, I wanted rolls. Fortunately, Elise had realized just the night before how easy it is to make knotted rolls from scraps of pizza dough. (I'm guessing this is why such rolls are always on hand at pizzerias.) So lucky for me, moments after reading the Rawlings' passage, I was nose-deep in a hot roll.

The fact that you can make rolls from pizza dough is probably excruciatingly obvious to any real chef, which is why he or she might see this post as nothing more than the amateurish drivel of a naive foodie.

But I'm glad that I don't know everything there is to know about food. That way, even simple things like pizza dough rolls come as a total surprise. My kitchen might therefore be a fool's paradise, but it's still paradise. Or it would be if Elise also figured out how to turn leftover pizza dough into fresh-caught, white and sweet and firm bass.

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