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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