Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sculptured Rocks and the Indian Amphitheater

See here and here for two of my writers' picks from a recent travel feature in the Globe. Apparently I like rocks and water. Next year I'll try to pick places that involve wind or fire.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bittman on Socialism, Vegetables and Hypocrisy

"So here's my question for every politician who has ever riled up an audience with the notion that liberals will 'force' people to eat their vegetables: Why is it okay to encourage people to buy junk food if it’s not okay to encourage them to eat vegetables? And if it’s not okay to encourage people to buy junk food, then why is the government still doing it?"


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Monday, December 20, 2010

Custard in a Pumpkin

I've wanted to bake custard in a pumpkin for so long that I think the urge must have originated in a previous life. Then, I assume, I was a rosy-cheeked hobbit with a fertile pumpkin patch and an overly productive flock of little hobbit-chickens (Cornish game hens?).

This year baking custard in a pumpkin (custkin? pumpkard? cumpstkin? pustard?) was actually one of my Four Fall Food Challenges, which also included crabapple jelly, acorn bread, and something else, because Four Fall Food Challenges sounds better than Three Fall Food Challenges even though I only thought of three.

Why haven't I blogged about the FFFC's? Because I didn't actually make any of them.

Until this past weekend, when I simmered lemongrass and star anise in homemade coconut milk to mix with the eggs and sugar that would fill the empty cavity formerly stuffed with seeds and bitter, stringy pumpkin pulp. I think it was definitely an improvement over a pumpkin au natural, and come to think of it, I know some people who would benefit from having their insides replaced with custard, too.

Baking a custpumptardkin is easy and fun, plus it's hard to imagine any dish that would be more at home in a fairy tale, with the exception of some sort of grim pie made from English orphans. I worked off of a recipe I found on-line, and I hesitate to share it without further tinkering. But the idea is really quite simple: make custard, scoop the guts out of pumpkin, and pretend that the pumpkin is a glass pan in a bain-marie.

If I were to do it over again, I'd use canned coconut milk, which is thicker than any homemade version I've ever concocted, less sugar, a pinch of black pepper, and not a pumpkin. Pumpkins are pretty, but I think a softer, sweeter squash, like a kabocha, kuri, or even an acorn (squash), would fare better.

And if I could really do it all over again, I'd still be that hobbit.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

A Food Hero

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rejected Names For A Foodie High Horse

Yesterday's post included mention of my foodie high horse, which I called the Black Scallion. Here is a list of alternate names I decided not to go with:

- Feed Steed
- Epicurean Equestrian
- Appaloosa Pupusa
- Thorough Bread
- Venison Saddle
- Mark Bit-man
- Peanut Bridle
- Gallop Scallop (Or Paddock Haddock)
- Sel de Mare
- Pony of Brandy
- Idaho Stud
- Trotters
- Mane Plate
- Cote du Roan
- Port Clydesdale Fresh Catch
- Palomino Acid

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What I Ate In St. Louis

When I go to St. Louis for Thanksgiving I eat things that I never eat during the rest of the year.

That includes the obvious Americana served alongside the turkey, like sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows and "green" bean casserole, but there are other things I eat before and after the holiday that sometimes challenge my conception of food.

Omelettes in a bag, for instance. For the past two years, my makua (Hawaiian for mother-in-law) has laid out a make-your-own omelette in a bag station for the many friends and relatives who gather for the holiday. Making an omelette in a bag is a lot like making an omelette out of a bag up until the part when you put in a bag. You fill a Ziploc with the egg mixture and float it into a simmering pot of water. When the egg and the orange cheddar pull away from the sides, it's done.

Does estrogen leak from the bag during the process? Let's just say I don't own any bras. Yet.

Then there was Lion's Choice, not to be confused with a lion's choice, though if a lion were to ever sample the "seasoned salt" that is the primary condiment at Lion's Choice, a roast beef-centric fast food restaurant native to St. Louis, it would surely enjoy it. (And then kill you.)

I have no idea what makes the seasoned salt so addictive, though I suspect that it's one of those things that make junk food as addictive as hard drugs.

Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy eating all of these things, which is to say that I do. If nothing else, eating like a suburbanite for a few days permits me to demount my high horse, which I only feed local, seasonal Asian greens and which I've named the Black Scallion.

It reminds me that although I wouldn't live as long if I ate like this all the time, I don't die when I do.


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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anniversary Uno

I just returned from traveling for our first wedding anniversary and then for the anniversary of the apocryphal interracial love-fest we call Thanksgiving, though some Native Americans mark the occasion as a National Day of Mourning.

My travels included several interesting foodsperiences, which is a word that I just made up. I'll start with the anniversary.

First there was an indoor anniversary picnic of pâté (not to be confused with pâte), triple creme, baguette, sliced cucumbers, grapes, wine, and so forth. As I assembled that spread I learned something about myself: as much as I love Sichuan, when it's time to celebrate, all I want is French (or faux-French, as our meal may appear to connoisseurs, though it had the desired effect).

Breakfast the next day was Iggy's bagels and (responsibly farmed) smoked salmon, and thanks to my purchase of a champagne-saving cork, we drank dry mimosas then and throughout the day. In fact, we did little else, though we did walk up a ski run, where my elfin wife mugged for the camera.

An Indian dinner in Williamstown that night was unremarkable, but the moon looked pretty cool, and kind of like a buffalo.

Oddly, there was a John Harvard's Brew House in the hotel complex we were staying in, and on the same date for the second year in a row I found myself drinking their inoffensive, cartoonish beers: we went to the one in Harvard Square the night before our wedding.

We ordered a flight and did blind taste tests until we got them all right. And then, feeling even more celebratory, I guiltily ordered some buffalo tenders. Guess French isn't the only way I like to party.

Next time: culinary adventures in suburban St. Louis.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Magic of Fair Trade

See here for my good friend Andrew Slack's Huff-post on chocolate, fair trade, and Harry Potter. They go together better than you might think.

Also, just because this is my 666th post doesn't mean that I think Harry Potter is satanic.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mimi and Me

See here for my Q&A on the Forward's food blog with former NYT restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, who was a pleasure to speak with.

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Quote of the Day

From this NYT article:

"The end of the meal caused some confusion. A sweet custard seemed to conclude the meal, but it was followed by a salty sea slug topped with green chilies."

So that's where Calvin went: Chengdu.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Neither Tea nor Food

I have evolution and selective breeding on the brain as I'm finally reading Guns, Germs and Steel, which answers all those questions you never thought to ask, like "Why didn't we domesticate zebras?" (Answer: they bite and don't let go.)

And so when I last took my dog to the field across the street from our new digs in Northampton, MA, I couldn't help but think the following: after thousands of years of survival of the fittest, learned behavior and so forth, dogs have scored an extremely secure niche in the human world. For proof, consider the (shameful) existence of cupcakes for dogs.

Formerly dogs had to be good hunters and guardians to earn a spot at the campfire, as well as the bones and scraps of the kill. But today's dog earns its keep by doing goofy stuff like this.

My dog Oli, the pinnacle of canine evolution, has perfected his meal ticket by perfecting his desirability in terms of companionship. Because who could answer "no" to the question so clearly posed by the above photo: won't you be my pal?

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cinnamon-Chili Braised Brisket

There is only one word to describe the cinnamon-chili braised brisket I recently made: "uf."

Though I've used a Jewish word to describe it ("uf" is as Jewish a word as "Jewish"), this one was not cooked with tomato paste, carrots and the other accoutrements that so often accompany this cut of meat when served by members of the tribe. This brisket was a little smoky, a little spicy, a little sweet, and a lot delicious.

It was a Southwestern fantasy brisket, perfect for a day of watching Southwestern fantasy movies. My friends and I holed up for a Sergio Leone movie marathon, and as we've learned before, braised meats are a movie marathon's best friend; just thinking about it makes me want another pork butt pancake.

I like to think that I did for brisket what Leone did to the Western: I took something already very good, ignored genre, added some foreign flavor and weird music. So maybe I didn't add the music, but it did come in later.

Three days before I defrosted a three pound hunk of locally raised, grass fed beef, which by the way cost as much per pound as "natural" supermarket meat (about ten bucks). I believe that we should all be cutting down on our meat intake, but I also believe that there is nothing quite like an enormous piece of raw meat to stir one's blood. Quinoa just doesn't have the same effect on me.

As I prepared the meat my dog wandered in with a dazed look on his face, like he was getting a contact high from the aroma. I made him a little dog agua fresca by pouring the juices from the bag into his bowl.

Neither he nor I could leave the kitchen while the meat was around. I tasted a piece of it raw. I tasted a piece of it seared and unseasoned: pure cow. And then it disappeared for several hours into a dutch oven inside of a non-dutch oven. I could have done it in the crockpot, but this way the radiant heat from the oven would also warm the house, killing two birds (and one cow) with one stone.

For spices I used cinnamon, whole dried chiles and black peppercorns, chipotle powder, an absurd amount of cumin that still wasn't too much -- when have you ever thought "this has too much cumin?" -- some coconut sugar and cider vinegar that was still fermenting, so somewhere between cider and cider vinegar. It simmered with all of the above plus a little water and several seriously browned onions.

After a few hours in the oven-within-the-oven, the meat had become tender and the liquid, onion and spice mixture reduced to fantasy beef candy. I pulled the meat, keeping the strands as long as possible (I love brisket for that -- meat noodles) and put it back into the pot to marinate for another two days with all of the goodies.

During one of the Leone movies we reheated it and then ate it on slices of Iggy's with sprigs of cilantro and a little smoky bean dip I'd made as well.

And then the weird music did come in. It was the squealing of our ecstatic stomachs.


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Friday, November 5, 2010

Slow Food

Watch as much of this as you possibly can. If you can't handle it, skip to the three minute mark.

Sometimes you have to slow something down to realize how weird it is. For contrast, here's the original.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I've Gone Soft

It's been said that life is what happens when you're making other plans, but I think that statement rings more true with a few tweaks: life is what happens only when you plan it.

When I was a touring sketch comic, life was interesting by default. A little too interesting, which is one of the many reasons I'm no longer on the road. Now most of my days are spent in front of the friendly little robot on which I'm currently typing (R.W. Apple called his "the piano"), and if I don't force myself to get up, get out and go stumbling around the woods just for kicks or for wild edibles, it doesn't happen.

Last Friday I was reflecting on how long it had been since I'd slept outside, and so Elise and I hastily factored in a camping excursion for that night. What I wanted was to scale a mountain with everything we needed on our backs, but that wasn't going to happen with only a few hours' notice, so we settled for car camping at a nearby state park. Of course campfire cooking would be part of the allure.

We arrived at dusk and barely had time to set up the tent and find firewood, so it was a good thing we didn't plan anything elaborate for dinner, else we wouldn't have eaten for hours. Instead we had burritos I bought that afternoon. We nestled them in the fire pit to warm up, protected by their aluminum second skins.

Breakfast the next day consisted of foraged tea -- hemlock, not to be confused with Plato's last beverage -- bacon cooked over the fire and eggs cooked in the bacon fat. Yeah, we went there.

Even though we had a cell phone and a car and were parked just off of a paved road that led back to civilization, the trip felt rough. It was cold, the ground was hard, and the dog kept waking up and shifting around throughout the night, and in a tent as small as ours it was impossible to not notice.

Also impossible to not notice was the howling wind and the howling coyote that got us up in the middle up of the night and made us wonder about whether the tent was a strong enough psychological barrier against predators, since it certainly wasn't much of a physical one.

In the morning I realized I'd been on edge since we got there, either because I was cold, busy coaxing flames out of damp wood, or just unused to unfamiliar surroundings. As the title of the post says, I've gone soft.

That's when I decided I had to turn things around. I took a swig of the bright, warm hemlock tea, straining the leaves out with my teeth, took off all of my clothes and jumped into the pond.

The air temp was in the 30's, and since there wasn't any ice on it I'm guessing the pond was in the 40's. I remember one instant of opening my eyes under the frigid, murky water, and it seemed that if I lingered any longer my head would implode from cold. I dried off with my pajama pants and sat on a piece of cardboard by the fire, watching my feet steam. Until then, I didn't know that feet could steam, and I wouldn't have learned that from sitting in the apartment watching Netflix.

As an 18th century Hassidic mystic once said, "Just as the hand, held before the eye, can hide the tallest mountain, so the routine of everyday life can keep us from seeing the vast radiance of and the secret wonders that fill the world. "

Just as a computer screen can hide from view the nearest state park, so can jumping into a freezing pond remind you why it's important to plan the good stuff.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Defrosted Fruit

No, that's not a victim of the Ice Truck Killer: it's a persimmon.

My new home is in the Pioneer (or "Happy") Valley of Western Mass, and luckily it's a fun place to eat. There are farms, there are restaurants, there are farm to table restaurants, and so forth. But one of my favorite food destinations isn't a restaurant. In fact, it's more like a warehouse.

The crowded aisles of Tran's World Food Market in Hadley are packed with odds and ends from all corners of the earth. Need chili paste? You'll feel like a kid in a chili paste store. Need coconut vinegar? No, you don't even know what coconut vinegar is, but you buy a bottle for $1.50 anyway.

The market has assuaged any concerns I had about getting all of the ingredients I need and no longer living in an urban area. Tran's World Food Market might have as many items as all of Boston's ethnic markets crammed into one, or a least it looks that way. One day there were shrink-wrapped hunks of hacked up, spiky jackfruit at the register: an impulse buy.

I recently discovered a freezer section dedicated to whole, dirt cheap, exotic frozen fruit. I bought a mesh bag of frozen mangosteens for about six bucks and a bag of rock-hard, icy persimmons for under two bucks. Sustainable? No. Irresistible? Yes.

Unable to restrain myself, I started eating them still frozen on the drive home. A frozen persimmon is kind of a fun thing to eat, assuming you're as weird as I am, but a frozen mangosteen has as much flavor as a snowball. Disappointing considering I've been told they're the world's best fruit.

However both were stellar once thawed: the fruits had all reached peak ripeness before being John Spartan-ed. But here's the strange thing. I took a bite of a frozen persimmon then left it to thaw in the fridge overnight. In the morning, most of the persimmon had leaked out onto the plate and gelled into an irresistible glop.

I slurped it up for breakfast.

I've tried to replicate the experience by cutting others with a knife and letting them thaw, but little juice and no jelly has resulted. I'd ask if anyone has any advice, but I can't imagine that anyone does.

I think I just need to savor the freak experience of eating spontaneously occurring fruit goo for what it was.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Attack On Attack On School Gardens

Earlier this month Andrew Sullivan posted Adam Ozimek's attack on schools gardens, which he (Adam and then Andrew quoting Adam) called "yuppie vanity." There's a kernel of truth in that statement, but it should be dwarfed by the rest of the ear.

I too find fault in the elitist elements of the local foods movement and in gardens whose sole purpose is to make rich people feel better about already having the world's finest food supply. And any vegetables are better than no vegetables, whether they're frozen, canned, or made into "space dinners" for astronauts.

Where Sullivan and Ozimek misfire is in their unmitigated praise of frozen veggies over school garden programs. If Sullivan/Ozimek were writing from a place of concern for the well being of poor children, they would at least acknowledge that we should emphasize frozen vegetables in addition to school gardens.

But that would make for a far less catchy post. They are playing the "I am an opinionated blogger, listen to me" card and the often-used in conjunction "and I speak for the poor, not you elitists" card, though of course they too are members of the elite.

Changing the way that people eat is not exclusively about changing what they eat. It's about changing perception. With school gardens we're often talking about kids who actually don't know that vegetables are grown in the ground: that's something that many educators report hearing. If that's where you're coming from, it doesn't matter how many frozen vegetables you're told to eat. You won't be inspired to.

School gardens a) yield incredibly valuable fresh produce in areas that often have no produce (not even frozen) and b) provide even more valuable inspirational teaching tools. Condemning them as ineffective or superfluous is just as short-sighted as condemning an inspirational work of art, like the protest songs that fueled the anti-war movement in the 1960's. Especially if you could also eat that work of art, and it was delicious.

Which is better motivation for eating more vegetables: witnessing the miraculous journey from seed to carrot, and then pulling up that piece of food that you grew from the dirt with your own two hands and taking a bite, or being handed a bag of frozen broccoli florets? Teach a man to fish, etc.

Both bloggers also ignore the new data in favor of school gardens that prompted the attack. And Ozimek falls into the trap of using the word "progressive" as a negatively charged adjective without explanation, as in the sentence "Unfortunately, it seems that these genuinely useful policies and programs are being bogged down with wasteful progressive ideas."

Ozimek describes the values of fresh food champions like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters as "wasteful upper-class liberal obsession over local, fresh, and organic foods." Reminder: local, fresh, organic food is not exclusive to the upper class. That's just the stigma it carries in the U.S. today. Not to idealize the diet of the poor, as Rachel Laudan cautions us against doing, but local, fresh, and organic is how the whole world used to eat and how much of it still eats by default and not because it's cool. Such foods get the shaft in being branded as a departure from brand, spankin' new systems of food production labeled "conventional," though they are anything but. Of the two, "conventional" produce is the new radical.

Local for the sake of local is not a luxury, as Ozimek suggests. It is a powerful notion that keeps more money in the communities these children live in and that makes a tremendous qualitative difference in the lives of those it effects: the farmers who receive more of every dollar, patrons who experience the social benefits of having their own farmers market, and those who seek alternatives to the risks posed by industrial agriculture.

Sullivan/Ozimek are also guilty of determining what poor people should do without consulting them, making them appear at least as elitist as any goat cheese and arugula devotee. Ultimately, poor people should get to decide what poor people get to do, and the important thing is to provide them with a range of options so that they can pick the one that works best for them. Because, shockingly, poor people are actual people, and are different from one another, and some of them are able to and want to grow some of their own food. Thankfully there are several programs that help them do so.

Many of the vain yuppies being attacked are also big fans of frozen vegetables. Most of the people I know who grow their own food and shop at farmers markets also use frozen vegetables, and none of them are wealthy. In other words, it's not like people who garden are rich fools and people who eat frozen veggies are poor heroes. The lines are not as distinct as Sullivan/Ozimek make them out to be.

What we have here is a typical case of curmudgeonliness clouding vision. This is precisely the perspective that was dismissive of public interest in organic food, now one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture, and then of local food, now being championed not only by "yuppies" but also by Walmart (for better or for worse).

There are a lot of poor, blue-collar people the world over who grow their own vegetables. It is neither ignorant nor idealistic to suggest that more people do so, and that's not to exclude frozen vegetables from the mix.

Should lower income households try to grow their own vegetables? Should lower income people try to eat more frozen vegetables? The answer to both questions is yes, though the former has the power to create a greater change, as the new data suggests, and if you can only dismiss that as a pipe dream of the privileged, then you should wipe the icy peas and carrots from your eyes.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Real Eggs, For Real

A real egg has a thick shell that you actually have to crack, not just look at the wrong the way.

A real egg has a carrot-colored yolk, and it doesn't drip out of its shell: it leaps!

A real egg tastes like chicken butter.

The above photo features (real) eggs from my local far-mar scrambled with leeks, which is one of my favorite combos on earth, much more so than Combos. (Of the two, I prefer the one that doesn't sponsor a race car.)

When cracking the eggs to make this ideal breakfast, which also featured pan roasted taters and raw Napa cabbage with a sprinkling of cider vinegar, I remembered just how good a real egg can be, especially in contrast to the alleged supermarket counterparts that I've been using lately.

Don't be fooled by supermarket (or even gourmet supermarket) eggs claiming to be real eggs just because they come in cardboard and prominently display an image of a field at sunrise. A real egg comes from a chicken that has room to move about and eats real food, as opposed to sitting in a pen eating pellets that are technically organic but probably come from China. A real egg might come in a package that (gasp!) has nothing on it all.

Pseudo-real supermarket eggs may come in cardboard, they may be brown, and they may make claims like "cage-free," "organic," or "all-natural," but they just don't compare with eggs raised by your local dirty hippie socialist farmer.

A real egg has backbone. And I like to think that some of that backbone transfers to eater. But not literally, which would be gross.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Knobbed Russet: A Darned Fine, Though Ugly, Apple

This Knobbed Russet was one of the best -- hmm... maybe the best -- apples I've ever eaten. It is not, however, one of the best apples I've ever looked at.

"Knobbed" is not an adjective I want used to describe my fruit. "Knobbed" is an adjective I want used to describe old-timey walking sticks sold at craft shops for tourists in Asheville, NC. "Juicy" is an adjective I want used to describe my fruit.

Luckily, the k.r. was both knobbed and juicy, unlike the mealy Sheep's Nose apple (another heirloom) I once bought from Cornell Orchards in Ithaca. What impressed me most about this dingy looking fruit was its aroma: like biting into a perfume bottle, but without shards of glass piercing your tongue.

Just another reminder, as if you needed it, that heirloom produce can blow supermarket produce out of the water in terms of depth, subtlety, and mildly off-putting, quaint names.

I'm reminded of something someone recently said to me while I was helping to prepare a post-wedding brunch in Chesapeake, VA. I paraphrase:

"I've tried growing organic but it just doesn't work. At least the vegetables are never pretty."

There a lot of things I dislike about that comment, but here's the most obvious. If the most important criteria for food was the normative standard for "pretty," wouldn't someone have eaten Cindy Crawford in, like, 1991?

Yet she lives. Therefore, eat knobbed apples.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Jews and Pickles

See here for my post on the Forward's food blog about pickles, Jews, and Jewish pickler Sandor Katz (author of the awesome Wild Fermentation).

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Pawtuxet Pawpaw

As you may recall, I'm mad for pawpaws. I have an article about them in the current issue of Edible Rhody, which you can read here and which you can read a little bit of here:

"The pawpaw could very well become mascot for the American local foods movement, a rallying point for both growers and consumers seeking to reconstruct our forgotten national food identity. Nothing better embodies our terroir than this truly American fruit found nowhere else on earth and so deeply embedded in our national history. Certainly not the apple, which, like Borat, is from Kazakhstan.

As we pay closer attention to where our food comes from, why not look a little further back? Even hardcore farm-to-table restaurants like the flagship Chez Panisse are cooking with crops that originated on other continents. In the quest for authenticity, shouldn’t an indigenous plant that our first president grew score higher than, say, a cauliflower?"

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GMO Tater Maker Totters

The NYT reports that agribusiness giant Monsanto is taking a nose dive, with market shares dropping 42%. Yay for the local foods movement? Not exactly.

If like me you thought their market shares might be suffering from increased farmers markets and CSA shares, you're wrong. This is less about anti-frankenfood pressure and more about farmers buying cheaper, generic GMO products from (surprise) China.

Which is perhaps an even worse state of affairs. If you're going to use genetically modified seed that can spill into your neighbor's farm and cause them to be sued for intellectual property theft, and if you're going to grow crops with "terminator genes" that are programmed to produce sterile second generation crops so that you can no longer save your seed but have to go back to Monsanto for your annual fix, the least you could do is buy American.

Granted, Monsanto f's with more crops that potatoes, as the title of this post points out, but I'm willing to sacrifice accuracy for puns.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Weed Tea

I threw together this witch's brew when I was up in Vermmmont over the summer. Rather than drink one of the dubious herbal teas (think "natural" ingredients) someone had left in our cabin, I just went out to the lawn.

There I found plenty of wild edibles just waiting to be steeped in an old coffee pot and drunk by an amateur forager/food writer. These included raspberry leaves, plantain, red clover blossoms, oxalis (aka wood sorrel) and bee balm.

It was a little minty from the bee balm, a little tangy from the oxalis, it was made richer by the plantain, and the red clover blossom and raspberry leaf did absolutely nothing except make me feel good about myself for knowing I could use them in tea. I'll have to try both on their own to understand their deal.

Was it the best tisane I've ever had? If you said "yes" you clearly haven't read my post entitled "The Best Tisane I've Ever Had." But it was great, it was free, it was wild, it connected me to the Earth and made me grateful to be somewhere where I could trust the safety of the wild edibles. (I'm not afraid of the plants, I'm afraid of the pesticide.)

But best of all, it didn't have "zinger" in the title.

Also, sorry to disappoint any stoners who were expecting a post on tea made from marijuana. In case I ruined your high, here's a picture of a Grateful Dead bear to cheer you up again:

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Natural, Magical Apple Soda

If I had to be stuck on a desert island with only one book, it would be a book about how to escape from a desert island. If I could bring only one record, it would be an audio recording of the book about how to escape from a desert island. And if I could bring one movie, it would be Citizen Kane. Duh! But if I could bring one foodstuff, it would be slightly fermented apple cider.

Cider that has just begun to ferment is a natural, magical tonic complete with god-given bubbles and a flavor that thoroughly trounces sweet, flat cider, or even soda for that matter. I'm not talking about hard cider, which I also love, but which I wouldn't want to drink at all hours of the day as I do this stuff, which I drink like it's going out of style.

And it is. When people buy cider and it gets a little fizzy, they usually throw it out. But that's when you should throw it in (to your mouth, that is). Cider that has begun to ferment has a tang that makes it complex and balanced, so much so that I don't even touch it until I see bubbles forming. I drink a small glass as many times a day as I think to, and doing so always reaffirms my decision to be alive. Maybe it's the probiotic content forming a power block in my brain that says "we have the majority by several billion, and we say keep truckin'."

To make it, buy cider that has no preservatives and, ideally, isn't pasteurized. It will work with pasteurized cider without preservatives, but come on. What's good for fermentation is good for you. Leave this out at room temp with a cloth tied over the neck of the container to keep out fruit flies, or dust bunnies. When you see bubbles, start quaffing. Wait too long and you'll have cider vinegar, which really isn't such a bad worst case scenario.

It may not help you escape a desert island, but it would certainly enhance your stay.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poop Light

Today's Creative Use of Energy Award (something I just made up because I wanted to talk about this) goes to the City of Cambridge. Only in Cambridge does dog poop become a beacon.

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Edible Garden, Edible Fair

See here for my piece in yesterday's Globe about the Edible Garden exhibit at the NY Botanical Garden, which is a garden for plants and not robots, though the sign from the highway does read "NY Bot Garden."

And see here for my write-up on the 2nd annual Urban Ag Fair in Cambridge.

Oh, and don't forget to try the braised radishes.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Eleventh Hour of Summer Produce

As I stroll my local far-mars gazing at the kaleidoscope of heirloom tomatoes and drooling like one of Pavlov's dogs, I can't help but wonder: is this the last week for a real peach?

With temperatures jutting grotesquely into the 90's tomorrow, who knows. But there is something about this moment in the season that always fills me with a mix of gratitude and anxiety. Tomatoes and peaches couldn't be more ripe, apples are certainly on the scene, and summer and fall produce share space like lions and lambs. But soon, all will be turnips.

And so at this time of year I stuff my face with as much summer produce as possible, because the best way to preserve food isn't in jars: it's to eat so much of it that you become uncomfortable.

My two favorite vessels for my two favorite fruits are crude bruschetta and peanut butter peaches. The bruschetta is straightforward: toast a slice of bread, plop as much super-ripe, gorgeous, locally grown, umami-rich heirloom tomato on top of it as you dare, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, throw on some chopped herb if you've got it. It need not be basil. I've been using sage from my minuscule container garden.

The peanut butter peaches must be had to be believed. They are so simple, so unlikely, yet so divine. You need the ripest peach imaginable. Go ahead and imagine that. No, imagine even riper. Now you've got it! Halve it, toss the stone, and stuff with (real) peanut butter.

The light, juicy, sweet, tangy flesh of the peach. The thick, dry, salty earthy peanut butter. I've eaten three before I even realize I'm awake.

I love a good restaurant as much as the next guy, but it is these crude, almost embarrassing personal inventions, products of whimsy and lean larders, eaten over the sink to catch the juice, when no one's looking, then wiping your hands on your pants, then guiltily eating another. These are the foods we'll never forget.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

From Monbiot:

"If pigs are fed on residues and waste and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands – food for which humans don’t compete – meat becomes a very efficient means of food production."

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Mark Bittman on the Food Processor

Mark Bittman's latest is classic Mark Bittman. He takes a simple kitchen element, in this case a machine rather than an vegetable, and through his patented blend of debunking and innovating, he causes us to see it anew, and as a world of nearly limitless possibilities.

He's made me feel this way before about countless ingredients, from mussels to chickpea flour, and now he's turned his inspiration-ray towards the food processor. Through the eyes of the Minimalist, the food processor no longer looks like a clumsy kitchen appliance: it is a gateway to a better you.

Much more inspiring than his microwave argument.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Melon (Seed) Drink

See here for my post on The Jew and the Carrot about pepitada, a drink made from steeped, ground melon seeds. Having tried it, I'll never compost the seeds again.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

4 Delis, 3 Dishes, 1 Article

See tomorrow's Globe or here for my article on the Boston deli scene.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Seven Courses

As a wedding present to some friends, Elise and I constructed a seven course meal this past Saturday. The courses were:

1. Cheese (aged Gouda, cheddar, Parmigiano, a super-cowy local feta) and Castelvetrano olives.
2. Peter's Point oysters
3. Purple oak leaf and arugula salad with toasted almonds and avocado.
4. Mushroom puree.
5. Wax beans in butter, sherry and sage.
6. The Best Thing I've Ever Made.
7. Caribbean Red Papaya and Greek (white) yogurt.

Only the next day did we realize how little cooking we actually did, having focused on minimal presentation of high quality, mostly local ingredients. This goes along with my culinary theory of get good stuff, don't f*ck it up. For instance, for an amuse we served three still-wrapped ground cherries. They were as complexly flavorful and engaging as anything made by a human.

The mushroom soup was a clash of wilderness and civilization. I made a stock from last year's tougher bits of Chicken of the Woods, which we then pureed with the most banal of fungi, the white button mushroom, partly to prove that even a pathetic mushroom is still an incredible thing. The marriage of the wild and civil 'shrooms was a happy one, as is our friends'.

The papaya and yogurt came from a discovery we made last week in NYC. Hungry and stuck in a not very fun or affordable part of town in terms of eating, we stopped at a corner store and bought Greek yogurt and a half of a ripe papaya. We dumped the entire container of yogurt into the cavity of the papaya and slobbered over it on a city bench.

The thick, dry yogurt made for a fascinating texture contrast with the juicy, squishy papaya. The only change we made in serving it to friends was a little drizzle of honey. Another thing I like about serving this for dessert is that it it doesn't contain sugar and isn't cake.

And now for #6, The Best Thing I've Ever Made. In the Crockpot I braised two grass fed beef shanks in an improvised Sichuan liquid of soy sauce, honey, star anise, one clove, some smashed ginger, three kinds of "pepper" (whole black , dried red, toasted Sichuan peppercorns) a splash of rice cooking wine and one of cider. This simmered for about six hours, and you can imagine how it made the apartment smell.

The soft, sweet-salty, aromatic meat was pulled from the bone and served atop a single, perfectly brown, crusty, pudgy latke cooked by Elise. On top of the meat were matchsticks of tart green apple tossed with chopped, fresh red chiles, lemon juice, salt, and finely minced cilantro stems.

I'd been wanting to make it ever since having something similar at Market. The main difference, besides the latke, was that the heat in Jean-Georges' apple slaw was invisible. I'm not entirely sure how it got there (rubbing? injection?), which drew me in all the more. But, like a savage, I used actual bits of peppers in mine.

I have not yet mentioned the one thing unanimously declared the night's best. After the entree I let everyone have a spoonful of the beef's cooking liquid, a sublime nectar composed of the ingredients I've already discussed plus the now rendered marrow from the shanks. I could describe it, but I'd rather use my short time on this earth to think about it one more time.

It was a good meal and, we presume, a good gift. At least as good as a nice serving platter.

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Navajo Tea Source

If you'd like to try Navajo tea, and in case you missed this in the comments, Darren has stepped forward as a source for the Southwest Navajo tea that grows wild in grazing land near his home. To buy a bundle, you can email him at ddamon871@gmail.com.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

From the always lucid Rachel Laudan:

"If we urge the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas, traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old."

See the full piece here.

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Makaibari Silver Tips Imperial

Seth and Maggie are good at bringing me edible presents from distant lands. Very good.

From their honeymoon in Scandinavia I received dried fish and aquavit. From their tea researching jaunt through India and Pakistan I obtained fermented cauliflower leaves, yeast for making the rice beer known as chang (aka "thoo-n"), coriander honey, dried cubes of yak cheese, saffron, cardamom, and of course tea.

Most of the tea they brought me, like most of the tea in India, was black. Since I haven't found an Indian black tea that I've loved, I found myself pouring most of my gift for guests; guests, as a people, generally want black tea and don't care where it's from. And so I guilty found myself ignoring my last sack of tea. It said "Darjeeling" and the bag was black, so I assumed its contents were as well.

Oops! As luck would have it, my mistake was pointed out by Dave, the one guest who doesn't
want black tea. Turned out I had a white tea, and it was not only Organic Makaibari Silver Tips but Organic Makaibari Silver Tips Imperial. The Imperial is apparently only picked when conditions are right and under "full moon beams."

I haven't toyed with temperature and brewing time enough to fully report on OMSTI, but so far it's been fun. A short brew made with not very hot water (my system: I use the extra water Elise boils for coffee once enough time has passed for me to think "maybe I'll have some tea," at which point it's somewhere between the temperature for oolong and for ice) that I'm drinking right now is predominantly tannic, also grassy, and not quite roasty but... let's call it toasty. Why I have no idea, since white tea is not roasted. This batch must have grown next to a shrub that was struck by lightning.

A longer brew of leaves on their third or fourth steep produced a viscous cup with notes of citrus peel and a sort of off-fruitiness that I can't quite place. Call it resin. Again, I need more time to figure this one out but will keep you posted.

Seth and Maggie: sorry it took so long. But look at it this way -- now you gave me an aged white tea!

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Thanks to Stella for sending me this NYT article about Rogert Ebert's food life after losing his ability to eat.

“Food for me is in the present tense,” he said. “Eating for me is now only in the past tense.”

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Vermmmont 2010: Wood Stove Oyster Mushrooms

Chole's homemade Mexican food is not the only reason I like the Craftsbury, VT farmers market. I also like it for every other reason.

The market's produce is as picturesque as its backdrop: there are the Green Mountains, and then there are the mountains of greens.

Though it looks quaint, the Craftsbury market is a radical departure from the industrial food system that appears as though it keeps trying to poison us with salmonella. Maybe it's the fact that the market is a stone's throw from Sterling College, which teaches sustainable farming almost as a way of life, or the fact that's it's just Vermont.

This year I was surprised to find one farm selling gorgeous oyster mushrooms that they cultivate on inoculated logs. I bought a half pound (for half the price that I expected) and that night Peter cooked them up with a splash of sherry and some raw milk redolent of alfalfa.

It was a cold night for the summer, reaching down into the 40's, which made sleeping on the hammocks outside a little challenging for the same reason that bridges ice before roads. But that meant we had the wood stove going, and when you've got a wood stove going, why turn on the gas stove? Peter simmered the mushrooms atop it.

Locally grown oyster mushrooms simmered in local, raw milk, a wood stove, a communal meal, human interaction, no salmonella, community: this is precisely what Stephen Budiansky pretends to forget about the local foods movement.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Local Peaches, Local Anesthetic

My recent oral surgery has imposed a challenging dietary constraint: a week of nothing but liquid. And to tell the truth, it hasn't been that bad.

Maybe it's just the painkillers speaking, but boy do my hands feel heavy.

What I meant to say was that the liquid diet actually has its perks. What Pollan famously called the omnivore's dilemma (figuring out what to eat in a post-modern food culture) becomes a little easier without the use of teeth. Suddenly the question is not whether fair trade is more important than organic, but will it fit in a blender? If the answer is yes, I've probably eaten it -- or rather delicately swallowed it -- in this past week.

My meals can generally be divided into smoothies and soups, meaning they tend towards sweet or savory with a base of either soy milk or chicken stock. I made a big batch of the latter using a summer's worth of frozen bones, the last, shriveled onions from our winter CSA, a couple of carrots, herbs from the garden, and a glug of sherry. It's been my best friend this week, excusing almost everything as soup.

The challenge of course is to make mug after mug not only bearable but also appetizing. The pureed can of seafood chowder and spinach pictured at top was no such success.

My favorite creations have allowed me to enjoy liquid foods just as much as their solid counterparts. There's something molecular-gastronomic about drinking a peach, and it does cause you to reconsider and appreciate the subject in a new light.

The pureed peaches I've been slurping have been one of my favorite "foods": two extremely ripe local peaches, a thumb of super-ripe banana for added sweetness, and just enough soy milk to enable a vortex in the blender. When you remove the lid of the blender, a concentrated wave of peach aroma clobbers your nostrils. You swoon, though again, this may be the painkillers.

Another success has been liquified beans and rice. Sounds awful doesn't it? And yet the concoction is flavorful, comforting, and somewhat mysterious. If someone put a bowl of it in front of you at a restaurant, you'd find it palatable, familiar and yet impossible to place. I make mine by browning onion and garlic, using stock as the liquid and adding about a teaspoon of cumin per serving. The rice yields a particularly velvety texture.

Heck, I'm sticking to liquids from here on out. I know that's a heavy handed statement, but remember that my hands really do feel heavy. Smoothie time!

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More on Sumac

I just can't stop writing about sumac! See here for my short piece in the Globe on my new favorite spice/tea/wild edible.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vermmont 2010: Mega-Brunch

Food is one of the many reasons I spend two weeks each summer teaching Shakespeare in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (see here for this weekend's show listings).

The photo at top captures a runny poached egg yolk on the precipice, just one component of a meal our staff interns whipped up that they referred to as "mega-brunch." Also on the menu were homemade popovers, eggs from friends(' chickens), hollandaise, and, at least in my case, three mimosas. These made climbing Mt. Pisgah a little difficult later in the day.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is always spirited eating to be had in VT, thanks to the ingredients, the company, or both.

Heck, the compost pile that I overlook as I type has better produce in it than most supermarkets.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When Life Gives You Herb Blossoms...

.... make herb blossom water. Sounds delicious, doesn't it? No. It sounds like nothing. But an infusion of basil and mint blossoms is ethereal, cooling, and a good way to use up part of the plant that you're supposed to remove anyway.

They say that pinching the blossoms from herbs makes the plant redirect it's energy into producing more of what you want: fat, juicy, aromatic leaves. I've never tested an unpinched herb plant against a pinched one, so I can't speak from experience about the effect on your harvest, but going out and removing the blossoms every few days gives you a fun little job that makes you feel like what you do in the grand scheme of things is important: I pinch the flowers off of the basil plants, therefore I am.

But what to do with those decapitated blossoms? Keep basil flowers in your pocket and they'll make your keys smell nice, but they'll turn black. Keep them in a pitcher (or glass) of cold water and their oils will wend their way about the water molecules, imparting a fresh and slightly sweet taste to the drink.

Another interesting test would be this cold brew versus a hot steep. My guess is that, as in cold-brewed coffee, this eliminates any trace of bitterness. Unless you're a pollinator.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Rolls

Is there any food more appropriate for summer than summer rolls?

Of course not.

Besides being named for the season, summer rolls are everything you want from a warm weather edible. They require little or no cooking, which makes for a cooler kitchen as well as a cooler mouthful. They easily accommodate seasonal ingredients, and more importantly, they're something most of us have only had in restaurants.

There are many reasons to cook for yourself, but the best is vanity. Sure eating at home tends to involve less fat and salt and more community, but what you really want from a home cooked meal is to replicate something that you previously thought only came from a menu, and to gloat about it.

Lording over a plate of pudgy, translucent summer rolls as thick and nutritious as enormous grubs while in the comfort of my own kitchen makes me feel like a king. Knowing that my version costs a fraction of what I would pay at a restaurant makes me feel like a king who is also very rich.

We started making s.r.'s with raw tofu, basil, mung noodles, bok choi and peanut sauce on the side, but the current and preferred evolution involves the same noodles plus fried tofu, cilantro, cucumber and a vat of chili paste in which to schmear these pliant little wraps.

I'd write up a recipe if there were anything to it besides this: buy rice paper wrappers. Moisten them and fill with whatevs.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

From The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne (1961):

"Swizzle sticks should never be served with champagne except to an invalid whose stomach cannot support the sparkle. Swizzle sticks destroy in a second what required a miracle of years to produce."

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Kale

See here for my piece in today's Globe on kale, including a recipe for the brightly colored braise pictured above.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sumac Agua Fresca

If your soul screams for yet another post about a sour tea made from wild ingredients, read on. If you'd rather read about designer cupcakes, might I suggest another food blog.

To begin, let's play a little game of word association. I'm going to say a word, and I want you to think of the first word that immediately jumps into your mind. Ready?

Me: sumac.

But have no fear. The only similarities between poison sumac and regular -- or "delicious" -- sumac are literary. Though they share a name, they look nothing alike.

And yet a hairy, red, seed-studded head of common sumac just doesn't look like something you'd want to eat. And it isn't. But it is something that you want to drink. Simply muddle a ripe head in cool water, let stand for about ten minutes, strain, and drink. The resulting liquid should be a shade of salmon that can only be described as "lovely." It is to pink lemonade as manna is to food.

Besides za'atar, this simple drink is my only experience ingesting sumac, though I could easily imagine a sumac syrup splashed into champagne, among other possibilities.

Though I have little desire to experiment given the quality of sumac tea and the ease with which it is made. Sumac tea is tart and fruity, part citrus, part berry. It is a dead ringer for a splash of pure cranberry juice in water, which is something I drink all summer but will never need to pay for again. Sumac-ade, as it is often called, is just as good if not better, not to mention carbon-neutral and obtainable without the exchange of currency. Nor does it come in a wasteful container; I carried mine home in a hat.

Brewing a cool, refreshing glass of tangy sumac jus doesn't even require a heating element, and the process could therefore predate the invention of fire. Forget about so-called organic food flown in from China: this stuff is the essence of sustainability.


Sumac Agua Fresca (aka Rhus Juice)
serves 6


1 quart of water
1 ripe sumac berry cluster (dark red, picked in mid-summer to fall)

To test a berry cluster for flavor, gently rub it and then lick your fingers. They'll taste tangy if you've got a winner.

Twist or snip off the berry head. Thoroughly muddle it in the water using a wooden spoon or your fingers. Pour through a fine strainer or cheesecloth removing all seeds and hairs, which can irritate the throat.

Sweeten if desired. Serve room temperature or cold. Connect with nature.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Neo-Oeno's

See here for my article in Stuff Magazine Boston about local neo-oenophiles, or "neo-oeno's:"


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Friday, July 9, 2010

Backyard Iced Tea

The Times' article about the Danish chef who incorporates wild edibles into haute cuisine made me feel three things: hungry, ecstatic, and irritated.

Hungry because I want to eat "pulp of air-dried sea buckthorn with pickled rose hips." Ecstatic that an international star chef is making his name by cooking with undomesticated flora. Irritated for the same reason.

As much as I loved the article, I wish we lived in a world in which it wasn't news. I wish that using the free and compelling ultra-local bounty of the natural world was the default, not a bold move that attracts the attention of the press.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: eating wild edibles is a sublime experience. A bite of your environment will shower you with oodles more terroir than wine from thousands of miles away. It will surprise and delight your palate infinitely more than, say, a potato. And perhaps most importantly, it will give you a glimpse of the interconnectedness with the natural world that used to fuel our existence as a species. Which, if you're spending your free time reading a blog, chances are you could use.

The food world is so gaga for novelty, and yet new and exciting tastes abound right under our feet. Everyone (including me) made such a big stink when black garlic hit the scene, but what about the weeds in your lawn? There you're almost guaranteed to find clover, plantain, poor man's pepper, dandelion greens (and flowers and roots and buds) and chickweed, all delicious, all compelling, all free. You'll also find the source of one of my favorite wild teas: oxalis.

This morning I started the day with an ice cold glass of oxalis tea. Oh, you've never had it? Funny, it grows everywhere, it's as easy to make as microwave popcorn, and it tastes totally crazy.

Oxalis tea is a refreshing summer drink with a surprisingly citrusy twang and just a hint of vegetable funk. Pick oxalis from anywhere that you trust. Oh, you don't trust your own lawn because you spray it with toxic chemicals? Hmm, maybe you should think about that. Boil water. Steep a handful of fresh leaves and stems in the hot water for about five minutes. Strain. Cool. Drink. Call the New York Times.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Navajo Tea

While visiting friends on the Navajo Nation a few years back, Elise and I were given a gift of some Navajo tea. When we got home, I stashed it in the back of my tea cupboard where it would stay preserved in the cool and dark. Which also meant that I would forget about it for a couple of years.

Though this video shows one bundle making one cup of tea, we were told that it would yield about fifteen cups, and so we had to wait an additional few months after rediscovering the tea for a time when we had enough guests to drink it. That turned out to be Elise's birthday. Though techniques vary, we tried pouring a pot of boiling water over the single bundle in a large, ceramic mixing bowl and letting it steep for about ten minutes.

The tea was wonderful. I know it might seem fairly obvious to describe a tea that is essentially dried grass as "grassy," but it was. There was a faintly sweet flavor and an aroma like pungent hay. The liquor was thicker than with most true teas, the color a rich gold.

It is difficult to discuss this tea without hyper-romanticizing the West. So permit me the following: the tea was an expression of the land it had grown out of, and in it you could taste the bare rock, sand and sun-baked wood and herbs that struggle to lay claim to a spartan landscape. Talk about terroir.

To me, this tea is about as sacred as food can be. It was a gift, it is a traditional and culturally relevant food, it has medicinal qualities, and, being a wild crop, the tea was foraged and not cultivated, which means this species has been relatively uninfluenced by our presence on the planet. Compare that to something you might find at the supermarket. Orange juice with fish in it, for instance.

The funny thing is that when we were given the tea we were drinking instant Folger's from a big, red plastic tub. I don't want to give the illusion that most Navajo are out foraging for their food. Like any rural, low-income community, most of their food is store bought and highly processed. But when the conversation turned to traditional crops, our friend went into his pantry and brought out a Ziploc bag bearing three hand-tied bundles of the wild tea.

It was inspiring to see such a traditional food still earning a place on the shelf next to products that are engineered to be addictive and are marketed with millions of dollars. But the best part is that I still have two more bundles.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Eating Lions

The following is an e-mail exchange between myself and my good friend Andrew Slack of the HP Alliance. The subject is eating lions.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: eating lions is wrong:


Soooo f*cking horrible.


If you're not opposed to eating animals in general, why is this so bad? If they're raised (and presumably slaughtered) humanely and are bred in captivity and not removed from the ecosystem that depends on them, why is eating a lion worse than eating a cow? Is it a matter of intelligence of the animal? If so, it may be that pigs are smarter than lions, but it doesn't make news when we eat them.


Look man, you can come at me with all of your "intellect" and burst my self-righteous bubble with "facts" and even expose my childlike hypocrisy and simplistic sense of reasoning with your "brain power" but if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: "I'm totally right in my opinions even if they sound irrational - even if I don't know what I'm saying - I know what I'm saying."

So yeah - I'm definitely overreacting to this story and I'm sure if you say so, pigs are smarter than lions. So let's then just say that when it comes to eating meat, I'm sort of a simple minded rank-in-file American. And now let's take a step back and look at me as a specimen to better understand what the issue driving the "average American meat eater" (me in this case) is with eating lions. And perhaps something valuable about either the human psyche's past, present, or future can be gained by looking at my habits and knee jerk, frozen-in-childhood reaction:

I was raised with the idea of the pastoral farm. With "Charlotte's Web" and illustrated books with happy pigs and cows and chickens. In my formative education, I don't think of cows, chickens, and pigs as being tortured and injected with hormones. I think of them as happy animals with smiley faces walking amongst happy but very serious farmers whose daughters have hearts of gold as their dogs and cats run around the barn and the corn field. Then at some point, I eat all of these animals.

But lions, tigers, and bears are another kind of creature. A creature that is to be feared and revered for their majesty and their predatory nature. As a child, I feared that these animals would come and find me and eat me. I also grew up learning that the human race drew these animals (mostly lions) on caves. (this may not be true: but this is what's in my brain). I have an unconscious understanding that there is and always has been a deep and abiding respect that humans like myself have for wild animals with the lion being the king. The lion being the king of the jungle.

The fact that a lion could tear me to shreds in a fight - it not only instills me with a sense of fear but a sense of deep respect. The idea of raising these beautiful and mysterious creatures to kill and eat in a commonplace burger feels on a visceral level like cheating. It's cheating nature. It's cheating life. It's ruining the mystery. It's using our advanced tools and weapons as people to separate ourselves from "the fact" that humans run the happy pastoral farms and those creatures are happy under our command, but we are the foreigners, we are the strangers, we are the hunted, in the dark and mysterious worlds of the jungle and the arid endless world of the desert.

Pigs may be smarter than lions but they were never cast as the king of wildlife - royalty amongst all of nature, even higher than people. In order to feel at home in the universe, I want to respect nature's chain of command and not f*ck with the king. You saw what happened in the Scottish play! Look, there really is something to that. Once you cast something as the monarch - the hunter above all others - the idea of raising it like a "commonplace" farm animal for slaughter not only feels perverse but like all of nature and all of my loved ones will come under threat. The sky will bleed red and the wind will carry locusts. Or whatever it says in Revelations.

Signed, your friend who is a terrible simple minded meat eating American consumer with an oddly introspective nature.


Can I post that on Tea and Food?



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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Coolest Breakfast

When it's already too hot in the morning, the rest of the day stretches before you like a vast, uncrossable desert. Somehow I know I'll make it to the point when I can lie in bed naked with a fan pointed at me, but I just don't know how I'm going to get from here to there.

Once I have that realization, I can't bring myself to do any activity that would result in even the slightest increase in temperature. Turning on a burner to boil water for tea or oats is out. I'd just as soon turn on the toaster as stick my head in a vat of molten glass Even the warmth generated by the underside of laptop seems too much.

In such weather I often go rabbit. I eat raw fruit and vegetables, often unadorned. (And for some reason I find myself dodging the shadows of hawks). Meat loses much of its appeal.

Additionally, I seek out those foods that promise some cooling effect, by which I mean foods that have an uplifting flavor, such as a lemon, a cold temperature, such as anything out of the refrigerator, or foods whose essences are considered cooling in nature in traditions such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. Like corn silk tea.

And this morning, I think I created the ultimate cool food: yogurt, melon, and mint.

Though I don't usually eat dairy, I do make an exception for yogurt during the summer. Why? Because at some point I convinced myself that it was a good idea. The yogurt I used today is, I think, the most flavorful plain yogurt I've ever had: Sidehill Farm, a raw milk yogurt that seems to be a local favorite around my summer residence in the Northampton area (by which I mean I'm living close to Northampton but somewhere cheaper). The melon was a Santa Claus melon. The mint was, I think, spearmint, from the garden.

After a few bites (slurps?) it suddenly felt ten degrees colder. The stuff is as cooling as toothpaste, and just as minty-fresh. It gave me the courage to face the warmth of the laptop.

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Friday, June 18, 2010


See here for food historian Rachel Laudan's post on French laws regarding foie gras.

The laws protect f.g. as part of the "gastronomical heritage of France," yet the way the stuff is created (and where it is consumed, which is to say here in the U.S. and everywhere else people have more money than they know what to do with) bears little semblance to "heritage."

Unless of course French farmers of antiquity had machines that could force feed a duck (not a goose) in a matter of seconds?

I know Americans are quick to forget our food history in the face of propaganda from the industry and government and often a combination of the two, but France? Isn't this the country where a mustachioed sheep farmer drove a tractor into a McDonalds while smoking a pipe?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food Writers Who Like Food

The other night I was invited for dinner at my good friend Sophie's apartment. And a funny thing happened that relates to my career as a freelance writer focusing on food journalism. Because I write about food, Sophie was concerned that I wouldn't like the food.

When people find out that I'm a food writer, they often become self conscious about what they serve me or even what they eat in my presence. I understand the connection, but I'd like to make something clear: food writers like food. In fact, they like food more than normal people.

Unless you're inviting a restaurant critic to have dinner in your restaurant and the also critic happens to have an assignment to review your restaurant, you really have nothing to worry about. Think of a food writer as a baleen whale and food as plankton. We swim around with mouths agape, taking in as much sustenance as possible. To make the comparison even more apt, it occurs to me that I'd happily eat a plate of plankton, which is what we might soon be reduced to anyway.

Sophie and Kailie, another friend also in attendance, made an asparagus, mushroom, goat cheese frittata, which they served with a salad made with greens from Sophie's lush, adjacent urban garden. For dessert, there was a fruit crisp with rhubarb, apples (or were they pears?) and berries. Wine flowed.

Of all people, S. and K. would be the last I'd expect to hesitate when breaking bread with me. The three of us used to work together teaching Shakespeare at a camp in Vermont (the two of them still do) with a bare bones budget, and for lunch we'd frequently find ourselves squatting in a field, eating tuna out of the can and dipping carrots in whatever edible paste-like substances we could find.

That said, they were right to be concerned. The frittata had a little too much goat cheese.

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