Monday, January 31, 2011

Meat (Sort of) And Farmworkers to Farmers

Two recent posts on Grist caught my attention and inspired some thoughts. The first is this piece on Taco Bell's lack of meat in their... meat.

The funny thing is that people are upset about Taco Bell's not using enough meat instead of praising them for using less. Yeah it's duplicitous to say something (oats and wheat) is what it isn't (dead cows), but let's not forget that factory farmed animal flesh is one of the leading causes of climate change.

Great thinkers on food from Thomas Jefferson to Mark Bittman all advise us to use meat as a seasoning rather than the main event, so isn't Taco Bell tricking people into eating less meat just like Jessica Seinfeld duping kids into eating spinach brownies? The right deed for the wrong reason? All's well that ends well? And other literary references?

This other piece shows the success of one program in helping farmworkers become actual farmers. That four letter difference translates to a tremendous change in quality of life and could not exist without the growth of farmers markets and CSA programs. More proof that the local foods movement has teeth as a vehicle for change and isn't just an arugula cult.

Though I LOVE arugula. And if you don't, you're a monster.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winter CSA Article

Hi there. Check today's Globe for my piece on winter CSA programs around Boston, or see here. If you've experienced a winter CSA and have something to share, do tell.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Sea of People and Produce

I'm lucky to live within biking distance of a year-round farmers market, no small feat here in the icy, snowy, slushy, sleety Northeast. That said, lately I've been driving because this is what the bike path looks like:

Last weekend the Northampton Winter Farmers Market transmogrified into the Northampton Winter Fare. This is part of series in which several local winter markets merge together and, like Voltron, create something even more formidable.

The Fare was jam-packed, partly with people selling packed jam. It was inspiring to see so many people come out on a frosty Saturday to support their local farmers, and the offerings were top notch: chickens, eggs, grass fed beef, honey, maple syrup, cider, apples, root veggies, blackcurrant cordial and so forth. My favorite purchase was a broccoli plant.

While most vendors were selling vegetables that had already been picked, one offered pots full of lettuce ($2) and broccoli ($5). For little more than the cost of a severed head of broccoli, you could buy a still-living broccoli and guillotine it yourself. The farmer assured me I'd have a nice, full crown and then smaller rabe-like offshoots for the next month or two. I'd say buying it was a no-brainer, except that the young crown looks like a little green brain.

While surfing the sea of like minded food devotees and gawking at people hawking frost-sweetened veggies and sacks of apples, I was overcome with a single powerful thought: imagine if none of this existed. A few years ago, it didn't.

I can't believe how quickly the local foods movement has come into being. A few years ago, the high school cafeteria that hosted the event would have been empty except for a few stale morsels of beefaroni and the ghosts of lunchtime insults still hovering in the air. Thousands of dollars would not have gone to small farms, and thousands of pounds of real food would not have had been bought.

Luckily, all that did happen. And luckily, the patrons had the good sense to ignore the sign on the door to the venue.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

JJ Bistro and French Pastry

When Elise and I had the privilege of visiting our good friends Jon and Layla in Honolulu, we also paid a visit to JJ Bistro and French Pastry. I was surprised to find that there was more than meets the eye at JJ's, and much that meets the eye too, especially in the rainbow-colored pastry case. I wrote about JJ's for the Globe, which you can see in today's paper and online here.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Tragedy, Humanity, Bread

"There’s no better season than winter to have the smell of fresh baked bread in the house, to hear in a quiet clean kitchen the sound of a bread crust crackling as it cools." -- Michael Ruhlman

I can't get the awful news about representative Giffords and the other shooting victims out of my mind. Reeling from disappointment with our country, our race, and the world in general, my hands found themselves wrist-deep in flour and water.

I return to food, again and again, for countless reasons. Man and woman can't live on bread alone, but bread is not any one thing alone: it is sustenance, it is comfort, it is therapy, it is a celebration of life, and it is even exercise for all of the atrophying muscles in our modern hands.

One of the many reasons I have devoted my life to immersing myself in all things edible (not literally, unfortunately) was a growing disappointment with nearly everything else. When I first got my laptop and made the Times my homepage, I noticed a pattern. It went like this:

1. Wake up. Go on-line.
2. Get barraged by news of political strife, ecological havoc, murder and mayhem.
3. Notice the link to Dining & Wine. Flee to it.
4. Read inspiring stories of heroes of the food revolution, synthesizing their desire for food justice, environmental stewardship, gastronomic sublimity, and the art of living.
5. Think "maybe the world isn't such a terrible place."

Escapism? Quite the opposite. In my senior year of college I took a class on storytelling, mythology and oral tradition taught by the professor and poet (and baker, I'm sure) Luis Yglesias. He insisted that we immerse ourselves in lore and legend in order to live a life fulfilled. To me, it sounded like hiding from reality. I told him as much, he tucked a thumb under his rainbow suspenders, twirled his mustache, gazed out the window, and finally said something along the lines of "It's not an escape; it's a return."

I feel the same way about food, and lately bread especially. At the moment I have a loaf of Michael Ruhlman's mulitgrain boule rising. Before that I made a 100% whole wheat from Beard on Bread, a buttered slice of which is pictured at top. It took coarse, whole wheat, two tablespoons of molasses, a tablespoon of salt, a little yeast, a little water, a few minutes of my day, and nothing else.

It was dense, hearty, flavorful bread. Food bread. The pieces of chaff left in the wheat crunched between my teeth like sparkly bits of Parmigiano Reggiano. This is the kind of stuff that you can feel in your bones was what your ancestors ate. Eating it, and making it, reminds me of one of the vows from Elise and my wedding: to help each other focus on what is most essential.

My thoughts are with everyone who has suffered from the recent tragedy in Arizona. My thoughts are wary of those whose hands are not completely clean of this blood, despite their backpaddling. They might threaten some of the values that are most near and dear to me -- peace, civility, tolerance, honesty -- but they can't shake my humanity. With my hands plunged in stiff, dark dough, my faith that what is good in the world will persist is immovable.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

A Whirlwind Tour of Holiday Eating

Much was consumed during recent days of revelry.

Going back to Chanukah, at Amanda's Annual Hot Oil Party we made olibollen: the yeasty Dutch donuts (translation = "fat balls") for which our dog is named. And here's a picture of the canine Olibollen knocking a snowball out of Elise's hand.

Knocked out by Elise's hand was this fabulous chicken liver pâté. We used MB's recipe, substituting Maker's Mark for cognac, going with my beloved "because that's what we had" principle of cooking.

The bourbon turned out to be a welcome addition. If I ran a gastropub, I would have to serve bourbon pâté, and would be obliged to write something obnoxious about it on the menu, using the phrase "with a distinctly American bite." Later we mixed Maker's Mark with champagne, which was dubbed a Pagne-Maker or a Cha-Ma (for the Jews). Because that's what we had, and because we'd had too much.

Christmas was spent feasting with former T&F contributors Dave and Karen. Karen made cassoulet, and while she chopped the bacon, the heavens showed their approval by spilling buttery light all over the kitchen.

While the cassoulet gurgled, we warmed gingerbread cookies on the lid of the Dutch oven.

Dave made an aspic from a Chez Panisse cookbook. It was like chicken salad from space.

E. and I made D&K some edible presents. These included too-gingery apple sauce, pink kraut, currant-coconut granola and anise-black pepper cranberry-cider compote. Yeah, we're foochebags.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of holiday season eating was a breakfast of homemade bagels and lox.

Earlier in the week Karen cured gravlox, and I made scallion bagels using a foolproof Joan Nathan recipe that ran with one of my first articles. I let the dough sit in the fridge overnight, which was an improvement. I also over-greased some of the pans, which means a few bagels came out with their butts fried in olive oil. Again, an improvement.

Hope you ate well too.

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