Thursday, December 11, 2008

what i'd like to get fat on

My grandmother got fat on Stella D'oro cookies. Pictures reveal that in her youth she was svelte and curvy, with a thick mane of black curls and fire engine red lips. Stilettos, too.

By the time we met, in 1974, she was more grandmotherly, a tough shell with a warmth and devotion bubbling beneath. She was suffering quietly from a broken heart--the death of my grandfather 10 years earlier--listening to classical music on the radio and dunking Stella D'oros in Taster's Choice coffee.

I respect this--the choice to hunker down with sweets and pack it on; after all, at age 70 have we not earned it?  But I will not be getting fat on Stella D'oros.  At a staff meeting the other day, my bosses plied us with various croissants from my local fave Almondine bakery.  As I nibbled on a chocolate almond one, I thought: this is what I'd like to get fat on.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Heritage Bird

For a few years now, as part of my job, I have been preaching to others about eater-based conservation and the joys of keeping biodiversity alive by eating heirloom varieties, and heritage breeds. Conventional turkeys are not bred for flavor, don'tcha know; they're bred for big boobs and fast maturation, and ability to freeze well; and blah blah blah and yup sure, I hear ya.

Finally this year I myself cooked not just a free range bird but a heritage one--an American Bronze from Frank Reese's Good Shepherd Ranch in Kansas. Which for me is a bit like a football fan saying he ordered a football and it came from Brett Favre's backyard where Brett Favre himself stitched the pigskin together with his own two (giant) hands.

I proudly served the beautiful 9 pound bird at the Thanksgiving feast called by one enthusiastic guest "the most delicious, least emotionally complicated Thanksgiving I've ever had!" And I found that I was suddenly my own target audience; this bird was weird. There was no light fluffy, watery breast. It didn't taste like any turkey I have ever eaten before, and of course that was unnerving.

But by bite three I was won over by this flavorful, tenacious, lean meat, and finally understanding this idea of "real turkey flavor," that heritage bird proponents talk about. My initial dislike helped me understand how deeply ingrained our food preferences are--we like what we know, and what we know is a Butterball. If I am to be any kind of spokesperson at all for the importance of re-shaping our palates, I must begin with myself, no?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A few of my favorite things


First things first: for a piece about my stay on an olive farm in Italy, click here. Oh, and hi again, after all this time. It was a really busy fall that culminated in one big sustainable food conference in Italy, followed by one trip to a olive farm near Rome (see link to post above).

Now I realize we're all unemployed, and poor, and freaked out by the crazy economic, er, downturn, but I know I'll be writing a few small checks this year for my favorite organizations, and thought you might be looking for some suggestions. Sick of giving to the same ol' same ol' places? I am your gal; read on...

Youth Development through Agriculture:
  • Added Value, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, employs neighborhood kids to grow organic food that is sold to community residents and local restaurants.
  • The Food Project, in Boston MA, is the grand-daddy of all youth development through agriculture programs, teaching inner city and suburban kids how to farm, how to coo, how to sell stuff, how to speak in public, etc. and on and on.
Hunger:
  • Food Bank of NYC: food banks are suffering, stocks are low. We eat lots, some have none.
Keeping good theatre alive in NYC:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Perfect Marriage

During the height of growing season, I like to make stuff myself.  It's easy to look like a superstar chef when you slice up a perfect tomato and sprinkle some sea salt on it.  However, I also like to take a break from that and let somebody else do a wickedly good job with summer's bounty.  I can't afford to go to Blue Hill more than once a year, so instead I hit up Franny's every chance I get.

Two nights ago EPW and I supped on this divine combo: Dandelion greens, nectarines and guanciale. This is so...Franny's.  

Salty, meet sweet.  
Sweet, meat bitter.  

This is how a good party works, right? There is someone there to introduce the disparate elements and help them figure out how they can go great together.  

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Will Work for Food


So, there was this event you may have read about. For traditional highlights, you can read the Slow Food Nation blog; this page is for my personal highlights.

I mean, I did write about the American Raw Milk Cheese Workshop there (posted tomorrow I think), but there's other stuff.

Such as Jen's movie, "Pressure Cooker," which enjoyed a prime showing spot directly following preview clips of "Food, Inc." and a panel discussion with the heavy hitters: Le Pollan &  McSchlosser.  Jen's movie moved me, and I can't wait until it gets a distributor so you can see it too. Bring your tissues, I must forewarn you, and in the meantime you can read up on C-CAP, the program from which her subject was plucked. 

Or my two dinners at Zuni cafe, the old stalwart I had never actually been to.  Now, I have been there twice, because yo, that is a crazy good roast chicken and their Caesar salad reminded me what they're supposed to taste like.

Also, me likey meeting my heroes, like food security expert Mark Winne, new food writing superstar Raj Patel, and Northern California's amazing farmers, from whom I bought wheatberries, strawberries, peaches, jam, dried apricots, and pickles, etc. at the marketplace.

I am beat, but happy, and drained but full (the tamales and tlacoyos in the pic above were good stuff).


Monday, August 18, 2008

I am a restaurant critic

Check out my review of Hundred Acres in this week's Page Six magazine.

The fried green tomatoes, eggs and Berkshire bacon are seriously good.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Ant and the Grasshopper

Each winter I wish I had been more ant than grasshopper the previous summer. The ladies I work with will tell tales of canned summer tomatoes, pickled July cucumbers, preserved lemons, and jammed fruit. I munch my onions, potatoes and carrots and nod approvingly.

Last summer I managed strawberry jam with Lesley (as reported here, circa June 2007) and am still happily spooning it onto p.b. and j's.

This summer I am doing corn--buying extra ears when I shop at the market, shaving off the kernels, freezing them on cookie sheets, and then scooping it into ziploc baggies with a spatula. Then, come February, I can pull it out and make corn chowder! With summer's best corn!

It's genius.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Keeping it Sweet

All day I write a blog for work that's full of politics, news, gloom, doom, etc. I'd like to vow to keep this one as a small, sweet spot of uncomplicated food goodness. My hope is that by writing that now, will make it so.

Speaking of sweet, I am sweet on sweetbreads. Now, the first time I finally tried them (at Tailor, a molecular gastronomic place on Broome) I thought I was eating brains, because despite my vast food knowledge, there's still--apparently--shit I don't know. They were breaded and fried and--as Stephanie on Top Chef declared last season--they tasted "like a really good chicken nugget."

Now, I am not a tripe eater, nor eyeballs, nor testicles, nor any of that crazy stuff. But after round 2 of sweetbreads, at Prune last Sunday night--I am a lover of the sweet goodness of sweetbreads. They are not brains; they are the thymus gland. I think.

They are tender, and in a subtle and wonderful sauce studded with capers. I actually fought my tablemates for the final bites, and I suggest you head over there and try 'em.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beet this


Every week in my CSA, they're giving me beets. Big, small, red, yellow, white--they are delicious, and also beautiful, and I have been eating them the same way every day for a week.

Beet/Ricotta/Baguette
(In my head, this is tres francais. je ne sai pas si c'est vrai, mais....)

Scrub your beets, then wrap them tightly, one at a time, in foil

Roast them at 45o for an hour or more, depending on their size, until a knife slides in easily
Once they've cooled, peel off them skins
Chop them into cubes (I believe the professionals call this a dice)

drizzle with olive oil, red wine vinegar
pop 'em in the fridge

Next day, at lunch:
Take a hunk of your favorite, freshest baguette
Rip it open into a sandwich

Smear fresh, amazing ricotta onto each half of the bread

Spoon beet mixture onto each side

sprinkle with sea salt or kosher salt
grind some black pepper on top
you've got 2 open faced sandwiches

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Spooey

Last weekend, in honor of the engagement of Joan and Andrew, I made a chocolate layer cake, one that I blogged about here, years ago (it's been years, people!).

There was an awful lot of frosting left over, as there often is, and as it sat in a bowl in my fridge I wondered what to do with it. My office mate suggested that I bring it in and that we dip pretzels in it. This she calls "spooey," and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it's gonna rock(et).

So today I brought in said bowl of frosting (cream, chocolate, sugar, butter and vanilla), and we have been dipping pretzels in it all day long. Say it together: spooey.

(another chocolate pretzel thing to go nuts over: Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby, FYI).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What's Real

I always knew there was a reason I didn't like Pringles potato chips and apparently it's because they're not even potato.  Last weekend everyone was reporting the news that a British court ruled Pringles "not potato," and therefore exempt from the tax on potato snacks (or, snax, heh).

It really raises the question: why eat imitation potato chips when you can eat really freaking good real potato chips?  

or

Why eat anything else BUT the dinner I made for myself last week? It's made from real stuff.

Orzo with Lemon, Mint and Peas

a large handful of shell peas from the farmers' market
one lemon
6 leaves of mint
fresh parmiagianno reggiano cheese
Vermont Butter & Cheese Co.'s Sea Salt butter, one knob

Shell the peas
Cook orzo according to instructions on box
for the last three minutes of the cooking, throw in raw peas and the mint
Strain, saving a tsp or so of cooking water
Put orzo, peas, mint mixture into a bowl, with the 1 tsp cooking water
Grate lemon zest into it, and the juice of half of the lemon
toss in the butter
sprinkle cheese on top

I swear, you will never eat snax again.

Monday, July 07, 2008

If I don't get my butt to a ball game this summer I will be very sad. Last summer I was all itching to go and it never happened so I really need to motivate this time around.

One thing that also makes me sad is the really awful food at ball parks. This hilarious (and potentially useful) interactive graphic from the NY Times is a peach, though.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Me and Meat



I am a city girl born and bred, with city needs and city habits. I have a strong memory of being six or so years old and wearing a puffy winter coat with a hood on a hot summer day in the backyard of our weekend house, so the bugs wouldn’t fly in my ears. There is a picture of me at camp riding a horse in jazz shoes. You get the picture.

My junior year of college, in the suburbs of Philadelphia (practically the country!) as part of my Religion studies, I took a course called “Religion and Ecology,” in which we read everything from the Jewish laws of kashruth to Heidegger’s “Technology;” from Buddhist texts about the distinction between sentient and non-sentient beings, to the eco-terrorist tract “The Monkey-Wrench Gang.” At the end of the course I vowed to spend time on a farm, to look a chicken in the eye as it died, to bear witness to the slaughter of a cow, something that would earn me the right to eat one of these creatures, one of these sentient beings-- a creature of this earth, like me.

When I graduated from college I moved back to NYC and hit the pavement running, my farm dreams something quaint and faraway (like my desire to have cats of my own someday). I became a vegetarian, thinking that if I could not come to terms with animal slaughter, if I could not find the time to go to the farm, between auditions and acting classes and the like, then I would refrain, altogether, from eating meat.

But what a terrible vegetarian I was, making exceptions for street food in Mexico, and sausage bites in Barcelona. Not to mention the annual NYC burger. This lasted for five years, on and off, until I gave up, gasping for meat like a drowning woman for water. And hadn’t my vegetarianism been the coward’s choice?, I asked myself. I had found a way out of my vow since it was, in a sense, a helluva lot easier than finding my way to a farm. I did not know any farmers. I barely ever saw a tree, let alone something edible growing out of the ground.

So imagine my sense of wonder, when four years after giving up on vegetarianism, and twelve years after graduating from college, I found myself on the farm, present for the slaughter of two sheep. I had traveled to Lopez Island, off the coast of Washington State, in order to visit the community of farmers who make up the Island Grown Farmers Cooperative. This collaborative is in possession of the first ever USDA certified mobile slaughter facility. The reasons for building a mobile unit on Lopez were very particular to their island status: farmers had to go off island to slaughter and then bring the meat back to the island. This wasn’t cost-effective, so most people just brought their meat to the mainland and then sold it there. The ironic result was that the island was having a food access issue; the meat was being raised there but not eaten there.

There is a need for mobile slaughter facilities all over this country because everything is being geared more and more towards the large-scale producers—this is both with grains and livestock of course—so that there are very few processing facilities for small farmers, making the market increasingly favorable to large industrial operations and less and less favorable to the little guy. All the little ones are gone, and in their wake? Large facilities that are geared for huge numbers of animals. Also, similarly to all the neighborhood Mom and Pop shops giving way to big box stores, this means you have to travel farther to get to them, sometimes prohibitively so.

In the wake of health scares and disturbing meat recalls, we are seeing an increasing demand for sustainably raised, grass fed meat, but if there isn’t an infrastructure to support these small farmers—i.e. if there aren’t processing facilities for them to use—then how will the demand ever be met? How will people, on a large scale, ever have a viable alternative to industrially-produced meat? In order to get product to the people, you have to have infrastructure to scale, and the mobile unit does just that.

Before I headed out to Lopez, I spoke to Holly Freishtat, who was hired early on to do a needs assessment of the island. I asked her what she learned as a result of this assessment and she said that “the issues this island community is facing, of farmers not having access to local infrastructure, and consumers not having access to the local foods they demand, is no different from what rural and urban communities are facing around the country. I thought they were unique because they were surrounded by water and now I have realized that it is a result of a centralized global food system. We have to build the capacity and infrastructure for our farmers and consumers to have local foods.”

Back to the farm: most people I know don’t want to hear exactly what I saw that morning, so I’ll keep it simple. I approached the farm (not the first farm I’ve been on in the past two years at my job, by the way, not by a long shot) with the jitters, and in the first moments I had to suppress tears. But those tears, those were the tears of a city girl who is so soft-hearted she cannot even train her cats to stay off the kitchen counter. Those were not the tears of a woman who tore into a burger the night before; I would not let them be.

Watching the farmer next to me, I was humbled by the fluid grace with which she understands the cycle of life. She raised these sheep, with tenderness, and she watched them die with tenderness. The parts of the animal that are cut away (the head, the hooves, the skin, the innards) are composted on the farm, eventually enriching the very soil that grows next year’s crop of vegetables. To see this is to learn more in 30 minutes than I could have hoped to learn in my semester-long “Religion and Ecology” class.

To see the IGFC mobile slaughter facility in action is to understand, in the deepest sense, what a successful venture this has been–for business, yes, in the ways that I described above–but even more, for the health and well being of the animals. The animals live quietly and well in the fields, then enter the barn they’ve known all their lives. They are processed humanely and the work is slow, careful, and meticulously clean. I watched it from inches away, and though it was challenging, especially at first, I watched it eyes open.

I left the island utterly convinced of mobile facilities as the next wave–to step in where small/mid-size infrastructure has crumbled away. It works for the farmers, and it works for the residents of the islands, who are able to eat meat that their neighbors have raised. It’s an amazing sensation to drive around the island and see the animals, and then to know–not just because someone told you, but because you’ve seen it with your own eyes–exactly where your food has come from.

i'm back (or: father's day 2008)



Father's Day and summer solstice often line up, if not always exactly. Summer solstice means longer days, a summer break from my second job, more fresh food available, and therefore...drumroll please....me, back at my blog, up to my old tricks.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

where i've been

It's been a while. And not because I haven't had food adventures or things i've wanted to record and share. I ate my way through Puebla (ohhhh Mexico, I just don't know how to quit you). I explored the porky wilds of Brooklyn. I ate bison in Montana. I made chicken pot pie for 120 people--I mean, there was fodder, there was definitely fodder.

But what a busy fall it was, and in the meantime I started blogging for Slow Food USA.

I may come back, when things simmer down, but in the meantime, check out my less personal but still food and farm related posts at www.slowfoodblog.org

Happy New Year--here's to a delicious and sustainable 2008.

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