February 2008 Archives

Growing Challenge: I'm in!

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VictoryGardens.jpgNearly 100 years ago, citizens of the US, Canada, and the UK planted victory gardens in their yards and on their rooftops in support of their countries' wartime efforts.  From Wikipedia: "It was emphasized to home front urbanites and suburbanites that the produce from their gardens would help to lower the price of vegetables needed by the War Department to feed the troops, thus saving money that could be spent elsewhere on the military: 'Our food is fighting', one poster read."

Today, home gardeners are at it again -- but this time, there's a twist.

In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan says that "to reclaim this much control over one's food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts.  And what these acts subvert is nutritionism: the belief that food is foremost about nutrition and nutrition is so complex that only experts and industry can possibly supply it." (My emphasis.)

Anti-nutritionism is just the start of it... Other home gardeners are picking up the plow to help fight global warming, mediate the risk of terrorist attacks on our food supply, and eliminate the ingestion of pesticides and other toxins.

Growing Challenge.jpgSeveral online citizens aren't keeping the dirt to themselves, either -- they've issued a challenge to us all: Plant an organic garden this year.  A big garden. A pot of tomatoes. A single basil plant. Anything. Just start sourcing some of your food as locally as you can -- at home.

According to Wikipedia, victory gardens "produced up to 40 percent of all the vegetable produce consumed nationally" during WWI and WWII.  With the proliferation of suburban homes since that time, it really makes me wonder what we're capable of now.  What kind of impact could this have on our industrial food system?

Want to help me find out?

In Defense of Food

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Food may be a strange thing to feel the need to defend, but in his latest book, Michael Pollan explains: "For while it used to be that food was all you could eat, today there are thousands of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket."  These foodlike substances have risen out of food science and what Pollan calls "nutritionism," a food philosophy that pays more attention to the individual parts of food -- you know many them well: cholesterol, fiber, saturated fat, vitamins -- than to the sum of those parts.

in defense of food.jpgIn Part 1 of In Defense of Food, Pollan describes the evolution of nutritionism, while in Part 2 he describes how nutritionism is, counterintuitively, detrimental to our health.  "[There] is a global pandemic in the making, but a most unusual one, because it involves no virus or bacteria, no microbe of any kind -- just a way of eating."

It's funny -- although Pollan is obviously horrified by nutritionism, he is not immune from its clutch.  At one point, talking about omega-3 fatty acids, he says, "Could it be that the problem with the Western diet is a gross deficiency in this essential nutrient?"  But at least he's cognizant of his position, admitting that "the undertow of nutritionism is powerful, and more than once over the past few pages I've felt myself being dragged back under."  For those of us who grew up in the age of nutritionism, or really for anyone who has been shopping in supermarkets or watching television since the 1980s, it's hard not to think primarily about the nutrients in our food.  I feel like I'm stuck in the nutritionism matrix!

In Part 3, Pollan lays out a set of personal policies to guide readers in their eating choices.  This was the part I was really excited about reading -- and the part that Pollan set out to write after leaving his Omnivore's Dilemma readers with some questions about what the heck they should eat on a regular basis.  Happily for us, these guidelines are incredibly simple.

Eat Food: E.g., Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as a food, and Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

Not too much: E.g., Do all your eating at a table (No, a desk is not a table), and Try not to eat alone.

Mostly plants: E.g., Eat well-grown food from healthy soils, and Have a glass of wine with dinner.

While I have to say that I enjoyed reading The Ominvore's Dilemma more, I'm very happy that I read In Defense of Food and got some perspective on a lifetime's worth of food brainwashing.

North Stone goat cheese

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Today we stopped by Formaggio Kitchen and picked up some North Stone goat's milk cheese from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, VT.  It was wonderfully creamy with a wicked moldy rind that added a nice earthiness.

north stone goat cheese.jpgTwig Farm cheese maker Michael Lee and marketer Emily Sunderman say about their goats:
"When not in the milking parlor, our goats spend their days and nights out on pasture or browsing on our rocky ledges. We love and respect our goats and treat them as valued employees."

BCAE.jpgHaven and I have signed up for the Seasonal Cooking Sensations class at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

"Enjoy great food and wine while discovering seasonal dishes and mastering some basic cooking styles. Each week, create a new series of dishes while refining specific cooking techniques such as chopping, sauteing, poaching, and more. With everything from tarts to mousses and julienned vegetables to soups and stews, you won't walk away hungry. The tuition includes a materials fee for food. (Mostly participation.)"

The class runs three Tuesdays: March 18, March 25, and April 1. The cost is $145 for BCAE members and $155.00 for non-members. 

We'll report back on what we learn!

Chavez at Sunset salsa

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Having lived in San Francisco for about six years, one of the hardest adjustments of moving to New England has been the dearth of authentic Mexican food.  It's tough having to rely on jarred salsa from far away places -- and the fresh one's we seen in the supermarkets just haven't overly excited our taste buds.

But we no longer need to fret.  Culinary help is on the way!  Larry Hernendez, a Los Angeles native and current Dorchester resident, has started selling his homemade Chavez at Sunset salsa at the Whole Foods in Hingham and on River Road in Cambridge.  (Look for the retro black and white labels.)

Chock full of tomatoes, onions, and Larry's secret blend of chilies and spices, the Red Chile Salsa is one of the freshest, tastiest salsas you'll find east of the Mississippi.  We paired ours with some homemade guac and organic blue chips.

salsa.jpgWhen he's not making salsa, Larry works as a chef at Ashmont Grill and teaches cooking classes through the Boston Center For Adult Education and at Bullfinch's restaurant in Sudbury.

Scary food #1:  Kale 

When I opened our recent Boston Organics box and saw kale I was both excited and scared.  Excited because I knew it was a great winter veggie and I'm trying my best to eat more seasonally.  (Er... ignore the tomato in the photo.)  Scared because I really had no idea how to cook kale and I had some preconceptions that it would be tough and bitter. (Wrong.)

kale - raw.jpgbest recipe.jpgAs it has on many other occasions, my Best Recipe cookbook saved the day.  (Apparently kale is an "assertive green."  Who knew?)  Best Recipe's "kale with bacon and onions" was excellent and the dish even stood up to reheating the next day.

1.5 teaspoons salt
2 pounds assertive greens, such as kale or collard, mustard, or turnip greens, stemmed, washed in 2 or 3 changes of cold water, and chopped coarse

Bring two quarts water to a boil in a large, deep saute pan. Add the salt and greens and stir until wilted. Cover and cook until the greens are just tender, about 7 minutes. Drain into a colander. Rinse the pan with cold water to cool, then refill with cold water. Pour the greens into the cold water to stop the cooking process. Gather a handful of greens, lift out of the water, and squeeze dry. Repeat with the remaining greens.

2 ounces (about 2 slices) bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips
vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 recipe Blanched Assertive Greens
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1. Fry the bacon in a large saute pan over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.
2. If necessary, add oil to the bacon drippings in the pan to make 2 tablespoons. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the greens and stir to coat them with the fat. Add the broth, cover, and cook until the greens are heated through, about 2 minutes.  If any excess liquid remains, remove the lid and continue to simmer until the liquid has thickened slightly, about 1 minute longer. Sprinkle the greens with the vinegar and bacon bits and season with salt to taste.  Serve immediately.

kale - cooked.jpgScary food #2: Aloo gobhi 

Not scary to eat - I love this stuff! - but scary to cook.  I've had an Indian food cooking phobia for about 15 years because I once spent what seemed to be that same amount of time in the kitchen slaving over what I thought would be a relatively simple Indian meal.

For this dish, Boston Organics came to rescue with one of the consistently good recipes that they include with each delivery.  As my brother Tom likes to say, I have just five words for this dish: mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm.  And, aside from all the chopping, it was quick to prepare.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 onion finely chopped
5 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs chopped ginger root
3 medium potatoes (1 lb.), peeled and cubed
1 head of cauliflower
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon fround turmeric
1/4 - 1 cup water
1 - 2 tomatoes chopped

1. Heat oil in wok or 3 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin seed, sizzle 30 seconds.
2. Add onion, garlic and ginger root; stir-fry about 5 minutes or until onion is golden brown. Add potatoes; stir-fry 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
3. Add remaining ingredients except water and tomatoes; stir-fry two minutes. Stir in water to desired consistency. Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
4. Stir in tomatoes, cook 2 to 3 minutes or until tomatoes are hot.

Serves two to four.

Real Pickles

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While perusing the list of food options available from Boston Organics, we found Real Pickles based in Montague, MA. Their dill pickles are naturally fermented -- and boy, do they taste like it!  They've got a solid bite to them that couldn't be mistaken for anything else but fermentation.  On the first bite, it's a bit shocking, but these pickles are really, really good!

real pickles.jpg(It's funny -- as we've been systematically replacing our industrialized food-like products with local, natural foods, we've often buy surprised by the tastes of the more traditional items. While a lot of these natural items taste different, we're finding that they're different in a good and flavory way.)

Dan and Addie Rose, Real Pickles founders, say on their website, "In support of a regional food system, we buy all of our vegetables from family farms in the Northeast and sell our products only within the Northeast."

Ok, the chocolate you're about to read about is admittedly sourced far, far away from New England.  But if you're going to eat chocolate (and you know you will), then you might as well get it from folks that source their beans directly from farmers and process them (the beans, not the farmers) locally.

And that's just what the proprietors of Taza Chocolate do:  "The Taza Chocolate mission is to bring chocolate eaters closer to the cocoa farmer by making minimally processed chocolate that passes directly from the farm, to us, to you. Since we source beans directly from farming communities and co-operatives, we can ensure that a fair price is paid for high quality cocoa beans. From there, we bring the beans to our chocolate studio in Somerville, Massachusetts and grind them into our delicious chocolate."

We found their Chocolate Mexicano at Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square (Somerville, MA).   (And, a noteworthy aside: after a lifetime of being a skim milk drinker, I finally caved to 1% so that we could buy from Crescent Ridge.)

taza - raw.jpgThis is no ordinary chocolate -- it comes in a disk that you have to break apart into pie-shaped pieces to make hot cocoa.  Action shot:

taza - action.jpgAnd, being no ordinary chocolate, it wasn't a huge surprise that it made no ordinary cup of cocoa.  It's much less lighter in color than the normal cocoa we normally get, the sweetness is more subtle, and it has a hint of cinnamon.  On sip one, we weren't really sold -- but by sip three, we could never go back to our old stuff.  It was incredible.

taza - cooked.jpgIf you're up for an outing this weekend, stop by the Paper & Chocolate event on Saturday, February 9, from 1 - 6 pm at 561 Windsor Street in Somerville.  Taza is pairing up with the very talented Shelley of Albertine Press who will be selling her beautiful handmade cards, coasters, and calendars.

If you can't make it to Paper & Chocolate, you can also find Taza in plenty of other (mostly New England) retailers and online

king corn.jpg

From the King Corn website: "King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, nitrogen fertilizers, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America's most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil.  But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat -- and how we farm."

Unfortunately I can't make it, but next Sunday, February 10, Slow Food Boston is hosting a screening of the film King Corn at 4pm at Theodore Parker Church in West Roxbury, MA.  The church is located at 1859 Centre Street, on the corner of Corey Street. There's parking on the street and in local lots and the church is also accessible by MBTA bus.

Late last year we read about T.W.Food (in Cambridge, MA) on Joe Slag's Food In Boston blog.  Last night we finally made it over there for a simply amazing seven-course dinner.

The owners, Tim and Bronwyn Wiechmann, explain their food philosophy on their menu: "At T.W.Food we seek out food that is raised in tune with the natural cycles of the earth. This means that our salt is hand harvested in Maine and our fish and shellfish are the ones found in season on the Eastern seaboard. We saute only in natural animal fat or VT cultured butter, and get our sweetness from local honey or sugar maple trees. We are very lucky to have local producers like Peter at Big Ox Farm in Concord or Tim at Grateful Farms in Franklin raising meats and vegetables to our tastes, so that our plates can speak distinctively to you with color, emotion, time, and place."

Tim told us that the veggies on the menu are the same every day throughout winter (because they come from his hand-built root cellar) but that the meats and the final preparations change every day.

And now, without further ado, we present the Celebration of Winter!

TW menu.jpgSHOOTER
duxbury oyster with essence of salsify and ginger

TW oyster shooter.jpgBOUDIN BLANC
farm pork with ragout of porcini mushroom and maple jus

wild ice-fished river smelt, celery root salad and brioche

TW smelt.jpgMONKFISH
leek fondant, blood organge butter and anise crust

TW monkfish.jpgFARM RABBIT
braised and roasted roulade with puree of jerusalem artichoke and black truffle

TW rabbit.jpgCHEESE
parmigiano reggiano, lombardy, italy

apple-maple ice cream and bitter caramel sauce

TW profiteroles.jpg

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