20 December 2008

Gemütlichkeit

As of Tuesday afternoon my final papers and grades for my students were all handed in. Phew. That's that for this semester. Now I just need to finish up the spring semester (last spring)...

Wednesday was devoted to running errands, cleaning up and getting ready for the holidays. The snow storm in the northeast put a crimp in my original travel plans, and I had to load up a rental car with things and cats on Thursday instead of Friday, so as to safely drive home. So now I find myself in CT at my parents' home. The cats have settled in, the snow fell and I thought I would finally catch up with "Of Verdant Thoughts" after a week long hiatus.

"Gemütlichkeit" is a classic German word and concept. Literally, it translates as "coziness" or "snugness," but it really means much more. "Gemütlichkeit" represents candle light, good company, warmth, comfort, feeling at ease and not rushed, etc. Germans love to have a strong sense of "Gemütlichkeit" at home, with company and, above all, when they eat. Rushed meals are frowned upon. As are meals lit by neon lights. Though a country like Spain clearly has a food and comfort culture of their own, I recall encountering many brightly lit restaurants while trying new places with my German mother, who visited me while I studied there in college. No no, somehow the meaning and pleasure of eating a meal with loved ones seems diminished by harsh lights.

It might not be difficult to make a connection between my adherence to a calm and relaxing morning ritual and a desire for "Gemütlichkeit." As I already mentioned, my mother is German. My childhood was a German one, though predominantly staged in the U.S. We followed many German traditions, our holidays were always celebrated following (secularized) German rituals (especially Christmas and Easter) and our day-to-day existence was largely influenced by certain German (or European) ideas of "joie de vivre." Life was "gemütlich."

As is often the case, the "Germanness" could largely be seen in food. But I do not mean that we ate "German" food. It is not so much what we ate, but rather how we ate it. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were eaten as a family at the table. (When my brother and I were at school, or my father at work, lunch, obviously, was not a shared, family meal.) Candles were lit, the table set properly, and we sat, ate, manners and civility were observed and conversation enjoyed. No one would have ever considered rushing to get away from the table. Even when we went out for dinner, it was as a family and we never hurried our meal.

This appreciation of food culture and the adherence to etiquette strongly influenced my current opinions of food and food culture. Eating well and with good company has made me more aware of what is actually on the plate. Even while living and often eating alone, I strongly desire to recreate the sense of "Gemütlichkeit" that can be found at my parents' table. As my morning ritual suggests, I try never to eat a rushed meal. I want to savor the food I prepared for myself and enjoy the connection it has to the local community. My beliefs and customs are completely secularized, but they are no less meaningful.
Knowing that a snow storm loomed, I easily envisioned a "gemütlich" evening at home Friday night with my parents. I pictured the snow falling, candles and the lights of the Christmas tree shining in the dimly lit room. With the winter-wonderland theme, I could imagine nothing more appropriate than the hearty, social swiss meal, "Käsefondue" (cheese fondue). Before getting the rental car Thursday morning, I headed to a Philly institution and an excellent source for cheese: DiBruno Brothers. Following the recommendations of a Swiss roommate I had when living in Boston, I bought 300 grams of Gruyere, 150 grams of Appenzeller and 150 grams of Vacherin for the fondue.
Late Friday afternoon I began to grate the 3 cheeses. I then rubbed a fondue pot with a clove of garlic, heated a little more than 1/2 cup of dry white wine with nutmeg and pepper. To the hot but not boiling wine I slowly added the cheese until melted. The final step is adding a shot of Kirschwasser with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch (or another thickening agent) to the cheese and stirring until the right consistency is acheived. While I prepared the fondue, my mother cut up a good, crusty bread into 1-2 inch chunks and prepared a salad.
When eating fondue, it is traditional to first briefly dip the bread in Kirschwasser before dipping it into the cheese. This should only be done with high quality Kirschwasser, however. The local liquor store only had a cheap variation, which was fine for cooking, but not for dipping! So we skipped that first step. The perfect compliment to such a rich meal is a simple green salad and a nice white wine (or prosecco!).

12 December 2008

Highlights: Secretary of Food and the Kitchen Cabinet

I am not done with papers. I have barely started my papers. So I'm not really "posting" today, just offering a couple of highlights that I cannot keep to myself. For a full round up of this week's ecovore news check out Paula's lovely summary at Civil Eats.

Paula mentions this too, but if you have not seen Nicholas Kristof's op-ed, you should really take a look. He writes about the need to re-evaluate the position of Secretary of Agriculture. When the majority of Americans are no longer farming, but all Americans are eating, why are we not looking for a Secretary of Food? Here is the opening of his piece:

As Barack Obama ponders whom to pick as agriculture secretary, he should reframe the question. What he needs is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed “secretary of food.

A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.

Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
If you did not already see it coming, he then refers to Michael Pollan. Kristof cites a statement made by Pollan:
As Mr. Pollan told me: “Even if you don’t think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on — health care, climate change and energy independence — unless we reform agriculture.”
Would the Secretary of Food be part of Obama's "Kitchen Cabinet"? The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Alice Waters and a letter she wrote President-Elect Obama, offering her services, along with Ruth Reichl and Danny Meyer, to form the initial "Kitchen Cabinet" for the Obamas. She would volunteer her expertise in food-related matters: from gardening to cooking. This is an excerpt from her letter:
At this moment you have a unique opportunity to set the tone for the changes we need to make in the way our country feeds itself. The purity and wholesomeness of your campaign can find a parallel in the purity and wholesomeness of the food at America's most visible and symbolic address: the White House.
The article also writes of her failed attempts to influence Bill Clinton's eating habits. Though she apparently had better luck with Hilary Clinton, who even planted a rooftop tomato garden at the White House!

You all know I love Alice Waters, and in a few weeks I'll even be eating at her restaurant in Berkeley (!!!!), so please take a moment to read this informative and entertaining little article.

Off to the Post Office, then to proctor a make-up exam, meet with a professor, then home to write!

P.S. I made apple sauce last night. It might have been the easiest thing I ever did.

09 December 2008

Food for Democracy: Sign this Petition!

Food for Democracy has composed the following letter to the President Elect Barack Obama, asking him to select a sustainable-minded Secretary of Agriculture. It is a petition, and I encourage you all to sign this petition, which can be found at this link.

Dear President-Elect Obama,

We congratulate you on your historic victory and welcome the change that your election promises to usher in for our nation. As leaders in the sustainable agriculture and rural advocacy community we supported you in record numbers during the caucus, primary and general election because of the family farm-friendly policies that you advocated during your campaign.

As our nation's future president, we hope that you will take our concerns under advisement when nominating our next Secretary of Agriculture because of the crucial role this Secretary will play in revitalizing our rural economies, protecting our nation's food supply and our environment, improving human health and well-being, rescuing the independent family farmer, and creating a sustainable renewable energy future.

We believe that our nation is at a critical juncture in regard to agriculture and its impact on the environment and that our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a broad vision for our collective future that is greater than what past appointments have called for.

Presently, farmers face serious challenges in terms of the high costs of energy, inputs and land, as well as continually having to fight an economic system and legislative policies that undermine their ability to compete in the open market. The current system unnaturally favors economies of scale, consolidation and market concentration and the allocation of massive subsidies for commodities, all of which benefit the interests of corporate agribusiness over the livelihoods of farm families.

In addition, America must come to understand the environmental and human health implications of industrialized agriculture. From rising childhood and adult obesity to issues of food safety, global warming and air and water pollution, we believe our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a vision that calls for: recreating regional food systems, supporting the growth of humane, natural and organic farms, and protecting the environment, biodiversity and the health of our children while implementing policies that place conservation, soil health, animal welfare and worker's rights as well as sustainable renewable energy near the top of their agenda.

Today we have a nutritional and environmental deficit that is as real and as great as that of our national debt and must be addressed with forward thinking and bold, decisive action. To deal with this crisis, our next Secretary of Agriculture must work to advance a new era of sustainability in agriculture, humane husbandry, food and renewable energy production that revitalizes our nation's soil, air and water while stimulating opportunities for new farmers to return to the land.

We believe that a new administration should address our nation's growing health problems by promoting a children's school lunch program that incorporates more healthy food choices, including the creation of opportunities for schools to purchase food from local sources that place a high emphasis on nutrition and sustainable farming practices. We recognize that our children's health is our nation's future and that currently schools are unable to meet these needs because they do not have the financial resources to invest in better food choices. We believe this reflects and is in line with your emphasis on childhood education as a child's health and nutrition are fundamental to their academic success.

We understand that this is a tall order, but one that is consistent with the values and policies that you advocated for in your bid for the White House. We realize that more conventional candidates are likely under consideration; however, we feel strongly that the next head of the USDA should have a significant grassroots background in promoting sustainable agriculture to create a prosperous future for rural America and a healthy future for all of America's citizens.

With this in mind, we are offering a list of leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to the goals that you articulated during your campaign and we encourage you to consider them for the role of Secretary of Agriculture.

The Sustainable Choice for the Next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

  1. Gus Schumacher, Former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture.
  2. Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, NE.
  3. Sarah Vogel, former two-term Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of North Dakota, attorney, Bismarck, ND.
  4. Fred Kirschenmann, organic farmer, Distinguished Fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Ames, IA and President, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, NY.
  5. Mark Ritchie, current Minnesota Secretary of State, former policy analyst in Minnesota's Department of Agriculture under Governor Rudy Perpich, co-founder of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
  6. Neil Hamilton, attorney, Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and Professor of Law and Director, Agricultural Law Center, Drake University, Des Moines, IA.

    08 December 2008

    School Gardens!

    It is the end of the semester and I should be writing seminar papers! I am writing papers, but thought to take a quick break to address my potential absence this coming week. I am currently working on a paper about the "post" gendered space of letters in a Romantic novel by Dorothea Veit Schlegel. Once this is done (or nearly done), I'll work on a "thought piece" concerning the structure and organization of my ideal German language program.

    I did post a recipe at Farm to Philly (take a look), and in my efforts to avoid cross-posting, I will offer you an article from Sunday's New York Times (of course). The article is about the educational benefit of gardening for children. Alice Waters was a pioneer in creating school gardens to allow children to learn about the origin and production of their food. The children grow the food that they then eat in their school cafeteria. The Times' article goes farther and suggests that gardens could lend themselves to almost any subject (math, science, language arts), and not only reinforce knowledge about food and nutrition (which alone is already a wonderful lesson for today's generation of chemical-food-replacement consumers).

    05 December 2008

    German Apple Cake


    A couple of months ago a recipe popped up on Smitten Kitchen (SK) which made my mouth water and stomach growl with excitement. The timing was perfect, as apple season was in full bloom and my CSA share was overflowing with crisp, delicious apples. If you haven't yet clicked on the click and the apple-reference wasn't clue enough: apple cake. Smitten Kitchen's mom's apple cake. Jewish apple cake. German apple cake. All one in the same: cinnamon-kissed apples suspended in moist, cakey goodness.
    Some of you might be comparing the date of my post and the date of the SK post and commending my self-control. Don't delude yourselves! I have made this cake three times now. A few days after the post I made a perfectly scrumptious cake which looked like it had come into contact with a bomb (not to be insensitive towards recent world events). In my gluttonous exuberance, I pulled the cake out of the oven and turned that tube pan over and attempted to shake the cake out. For some reason, I did not think to let the cake cool down before forcing it out of the pan. Instead of the intact disc you see in SK's picture, I had cake pieces. But oh was it good. And, yes, I ate it all by myself. How could I share such an ugly cake?
    A few weeks after that I went apple picking with friends. A portion of these apples were set aside for take two of "German" apple cake baking. This time I carefully cut out some wax paper to fit the bottom of the form and decided to not shake the cake out right away. I was too good at greasing, flouring and lining the pan, because the cake fell right out of the form (again while it was way too hot) when I attempted to let it cool upside down, and it cracked in the middle. Still, it looked a whole lot better, but I think it could have baked a tad bit longer, as it was TOO moist (in my opinion, though others -- yes, I shared it this time! -- claimed it was fine).
    So...take three! I mentioned yesterday that today is my last day of teaching for this academic year. I have been teaching an accelerated German language course (2 semesters of elementary German in one) and tomorrow I am treating my students to some breakfast: local multi-grain bread, organic butter, local swiss cheese, homemade plum-honey preserves, local raw honey and a "German" apple cake. Fingers crossed, I managed to finally make a cake that was both tasty and intact! Miraculous.
    Now, you might be wondering why I keep putting German in quotations. The original recipe is sweeter than any cake I have ever eaten in Germany. But fruit cakes abound in Germany, and though this recipe definitely comes from the USA, its origins clearly are German. I have tweaked the recipe (reducing sugar, etc), and I think this final version is just right.

    On another note: I am up and posting on Farm to Philly now! The first post is strikingly similar to my maiden post here, but I will attempt to avoid overlap with future posts.







    A couple of notes to the recipe: I used sucanat (organic) which I ordered in bulk from Four Worlds Bakery. It's darker than some of the organic cane sugars you get in the store, which lent the cake a nice rich, almost chocolaty color. The flour I used was also ordered in bulk from Four Worlds Bakery: local, organic Pennsylvania white pastry flour. Michael Dollich mills all of his own grains in his bakery, so I know that this is the freshest flour I could ever have access to. The eggs and apples were local and organic, as well. The original recipe calls for orange juice. I used to keep orange juice in the fridge for a friend, but, honestly, I never keep it in the house for myself, though I do like it. I had been using local apple cider instead. Today the co-op was out, so instead I juiced a couple of crispin apples myself. I don't know why I hadn't thought to do this for the other two tries; I always have apples and my juicer sits pretty in a corner on the counter.

    German Apple Cake
    adapted from the Smitten Kitchen recipe

    6 apples (I used york apples this time, but any firm, tart baking apples will do!)
    1 tablespoon cinnamon
    5 tablespoons sucanat (or any other, preferably organic, not too refined sugar)

    2 3/4 cups flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon fine sea salt
    3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil this time, canola and a canola/olive oil mix in the past!)
    1 1/4 cups sucanat
    1/3-1/2 cup apple juice (start with 1/3, add more if the batter is too too thick)
    2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
    4 eggs

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan and dust it with flour. Cut out a piece of wax or parchment paper to fit the bottom of the tube, to ensure the cake doesn't stick (If you have your own tricks for this, go ahead and use them -- I'm clearly no expert here!). Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.

    Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, apple juice, sucanat and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.

    Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean.

    Don't be too greedy and allow the cake to cool before shaking it out of the pan, unless you want to eat the cake crumbles by yourself (which is a valid option, of course!).

    04 December 2008

    Morning Ritual

    Tomorrow is my last day teaching this academic year and also my last day waking up at 6:30! I enjoy teaching and have lovely, motivated students, but I must confess to not enjoying waking up so early 5 days a week. There was a time when I voluntarily woke up early every morning. I am not quite certain as to what changed, but those days are long gone. Honestly, my ideal sleep pattern now would be to go to bed early, wake up late and take a nap in the afternoon. This isn't really possible (not always). Perhaps I think too much about sleep. I do not like being tired and know that I am less productive and function not as well on little sleep. The fact that I have been incredibly tired for over a month has done little for my academic work, but things will change soon (I hope).

    The earliest I have to be on campus (which is a less than 10 minute bike ride away) is 9am. So, I probably don't need to get up at 6:30. I do not take much time showering or "primping," but despite my busy schedule and dislike of prying my eyes open so early, there are certain rituals I am unwilling to cast aside. Or perhaps precisely because of my busy schedule and my exhaustion, I cling even more to my morning ritual. I wake up, I sweep up after the kitties and their dusty bran litter, I shower, turn on the npr, feed the cats, brush Firlefanz, make my tea, prepare breakfast (granola from the CSA or oatmeal), and then settle down to read the paper (online) and scan my food blogs. Everything leads up to dropping myself down into my comfortable desk chair and catching up on the world. I need time to enjoy, relax and reflect before facing a long day. I cannot imagine having to spend up to 12 hours on campus after a rushed morning; I'd feel frantic all day. And I know the cats appreciate my sloth-like presence. Usually Firlefanz finds repose on my lap (making sure I am extra furry before walking out the door), while I read the New York Times. Getting up extra early in order to have time to wake up and come to terms with the day means a lot to me. The same routine happens on the weekend too, though not quite as early.

    This morning while reading the paper I came across quite a few noteworthy articles. One New York Times article in particular dealt with the relationship between meat consumption and high emissions. It is definitely worth taking a look at it. Of course I am an ecovore and vegetarian (of sorts), but neither I nor the article is suggesting that meat consumption must be eliminated altogether. Rather, the article clearly and rightly states that meat consumption should be reduced and that the consumer should make wise choices when considering what kind of meat to eat, taking into account origin and farming practices.
    I encourage you to check out the article in full, but here are a couple of highlights:

    “It’s an area that’s been largely overlooked,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He says people should eat less meat to control their carbon footprints. “We haven’t come to grips with agricultural emissions.”

    The trillions of farm animals around the world generate 18 percent of the emissions that are raising global temperatures, according to United Nations estimates, more even than from cars, buses and airplanes.

    [...]

    A sober scientist, [Dr. Pachauri of the United Nations] suggests that “the most attractive” near-term solution is for everyone simply to “reduce meat consumption,” a change he says would have more effect than switching to a hybrid car.

    [...]
    Producing a pound of beef creates 11 times as much greenhouse gas emission as a pound of chicken and 100 times more than a pound of carrots, according to Lantmannen, the Swedish group.
    I believe that many are unaware of the true environmental impact of producing and consuming meat. I too was ignorant for a long time about these facts. Knowing these figures, however, is, for me, incredibly convincing. Again, I do not say that everyone must be a vegetarian, but reducing meat consumption is necessary for the future of our planet.

    30 November 2008

    What's Cooking?

    The sun has set on this rainy Sunday and tomorrow it's back to the daily grind of teaching and seminars. Despite the few extra days off, I must admit to not wanting to return to the old routine. I'd love nothing more than to stay at home, cook read and spend some more quality time with my cats. Only one more week, though, and then I will be done teaching and will only need to focus on writing papers.
    Since I last posted, however, I did find some nice time to cook a couple of good, local meals. Friday I had a few friends over for whom I made a butternut squash risotto, served with steamed broccoli glazed in lemon and mustard (like the brussel sprouts I prepared the other day) and a cabbage salad with pomegranate seeds and apple. I slowly heated some local apple cider, as well, with cinnamon sticks and cloves, which we mixed up with some bourbon for some tasty hot toddies!
    Tonight I returned to the leftover butternut squash (it was a big squash) and made a butternut squash soup following a recipe my friend Elisha just emailed me and along with it a potato-sweet potato-turnip gratin following an Alice Waters' recipe. I feel a cold lurking somewhere deep inside me, so the soup should hopefully help curb that (along with all the tea I've been drinking), and there's nothing more comforting than potatoes! I imagine I'll be feeding myself off of this CSA meal for a few days...

    Butternut Squash Soup
    variation of Elisha's recipe

    1 2lb butternut squash, peeled and chopped into medium dice
    1 tablespoon sucanat
    3-4 tablespoons butter
    1 small onion chopped
    1 qt water
    1 cinnamon stick
    2 ounces raw milk (the recipe calls for cream and Elisha has used both soy milk and soy creamer in the past with great success, so use what you want!)
    salt and pepper to taste

    In a soup pot sautee the squash, sucanat and some salt in the butter, covered, for 3 mins on a med-low heat. Add onion and sautee for another 10 mins. Add water and the cinnamon stick and simmer covered for 30 mins, or until squash is good and soft. Puree (in batches if necessary) in the blender until smooth (I used my hand blender). Finish with milk/cream/soy milk, salt and pepper to taste.


    Potato-Sweet Potato-Turnip Gratin
    adapted from Alice Waters' recipe for Potato Gratin in The Art of Simple Food

    3 small to medium potatoes (I used red potatoes, but Yukons would be good too)
    3 small sweet potatoes
    3 small to medium turnips
    ca. 1 cup raw milk
    3 tbs butter
    salt and pepper

    Thinly slice potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips. In a baking dish that has been greased with butter line the various roots in an order you see fit (I had a row of sweet potatoes, then turnip, then potatoes). Overlap the slices like shingles. Salt and pepper this layer, then add another layer. Salt and pepper it and add another layer if you have more slices (you don't want to make more than three layers). Chop the butter into pieces and disperse them over the surface of the gratin. Pour in milk carefully. You want the milk to come to the top of the bottom of the top layer. Adjust milk accordingly. Bake in an oven heated to 35o˚F for 1 hour, or until potatoes are soft and top is golden brown. (yum).


    Both recipes could be varied infinitely. I can imagine using coconut milk in the butternut squash soup and perhaps adding a dash of curry. Pure potatoes or any variety of root vegetables could be used in the gratin. I like the combination of the warm, buttery potatoes and how the sweetness of the sweet potatoes is curbed by the spiciness of the turnips.

    On another note: What's cooking is that I am going to start contributing posts on the Farm to Philly blog a few times a month! Look for me in the coming days. My bio is being set up, and then I guess I'll start posting. I am very excited to participate in this great Philly blog dedicated to eating local!

    27 November 2008

    Green Gratitude

    Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all enjoying/have enjoyed filling, local meals with family and friends. After a lively Friendsgiving this weekend, the cats and I spent a rather quiet day at home today. I had a Thanksgiving breakfast of local cranberry walnut bread, three minute local organic eggs and free trade coffee with a friend while listening to Radio Times on NPR, and then settled in to a peaceful day of reflection, relaxation and studying. I have yet to change out of my pajamas, though I foresee some yoga and a bath in my near future. My "big" meal consisted of pulling out the Four Worlds cranberry walnut bread again (it really is delicious!) and making a heavenly sandwich of local cheddar cheese and crisp local organic apples. Yum! Later I might juice some carrots, beets and apples from my CSA share. Throughout the day I have been indulging in nibbles from a chocolate babka (also from Four Worlds): so tasty! Not a traditional Thanksgiving, but a pleasant day all the same.

    While browsing through my usual food/news/eco links I saw that Green Options had a Thanksgiving post posing three "green" questions to be asked at the Thanksgiving table. The cats are sleeping, so I will provide answers for you. And if any of you readers feel like posting your answers to these questions in the comments, I'd love to read your responses!!

    1. What new local food did you discover this year?
    The Discovery of Michael Dollich's Four Worlds Bakery has certainly rounded out my local diet. Though I have trouble breaking away from his amazing mulit-grain levain, every other bread and treat (babka, croissants, bagels) I have tasted are equally wonderful.

    2. What bad food habit did you give up or replace?
    Not that it ever was a conscious part of my diet, but I have done a pretty good job of weeding out high fructose corn syrup (yuck!!). That evil ingredient hides in the most unlikely of places. I too have tried to become more conscientious in choosing fish off of the eco-best list (though I am all too often inconsistent in this!).

    3. What’s your most memorable meal of 2008?
    I find this question nearly impossible to answer! 2008 was a long year and I ate many excellent meals. Pointing out my failure at eating only the most eco-friendly fish or obstaining altogether, I could point out my birthday meal at Philly's Morimoto, where I indulged in the tastiest of sushi and heavenly dessert. Also questionable on the eco-best list could be the out-of-this world fish tacos and guacamole at Jose's Mexican Food (10th and Spring Garden....go now!). Totally not local. I can do better. I could pick any number of Wednesday dinners from the last spring semester. When I lived in Fitler Square I would pick up my Highland Farms CSA Wednesday afternoons from the Metropolitan Bakery and then make a meal based on these rotating ingredients for David and me. Always local, always tasty, always good company. Of course, my most memorable meal of the year might still be to come...I imagine that sometime between December 27 and Jan 2 (well, that would be 2009 then) I will eat many an ecovore dream meals. More about that next month!!

    Enjoy the bounty of the season and of your region and take care.

    25 November 2008

    Dragon Bowl Dinner

    My friend Paula introduced me to the most heavenly restaurant in New York: Angelica Kitchen. In their own words, Angelica Kitchen offers "organic plant-based cuisine." The menu feeds largely off of seasonal and local ingredients, everything is organic and vegan. Though vegan, the restaurant does not lean too heavily on typical "meat replacements" and instead lets natural vegetable products shine. I do not intend to blog about this at the moment, but protein and iron do not need to lack in a vegetarian diet, nor must they come from king crops like soy. A diet that consists largely of whole grains, legumes, vegetables (dark leafy greens, etc.) provides all the nutrients one needs, and if you are not a vegan and are throwing in some eggs and yogurt...well, you are eating pretty fine and leading a rather healthy lifestyle.
    I think of Angelica Kitchen (and when you read this, Paula, I'm hoping to be able to go with you soon!) this evening as I cook my dinner. My diet is at the whim of the CSA share. I draw inspiration from the content of my share, which varies each week. I love to cook and I love trying out new recipes or experimenting on my own. That being said, vegetables are so delicious as they are and I often keep things simple and delicious. What was that fundamental guideline of Alice Waters'? "Cook simply?" One of my favorite meals is a pretty basic one. It consists simply of an assortment of roasted/sauteed/steamed vegetables, often beans or a poached egg and maybe some brown rice. Angelica Kitchen has an item on their menu called "Dragon Bowl" which combines rice, beans, sea vegetables and a steamed assortment of the day's vegetables. Added to this is a dressing of choice. No tofu on my plate, but I'm sure you can see why my round up of veg combined with rice and beans reminds me of this gem of a dish. It's so beautifully straightforward, healthy and delicious.
    Tonight's Dragon Bowl à la Melanie contains a pitiful amount of brown rice (I had not realized I was almost out! I'll have to buy more at the co-op.); red beans I bought at the Farmer's Market that I cooked in water with a couple of fresh, local, organic garlic cloves, sea salt and a bay leaf;
    roasted delicata squash, which I halved, scooped out the seeds, thinly sliced (skins and all) and tossed in a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and rosemary;
    and steamed brussel sprouts, which I then sauteed in a bit of olive oil and glazed with a fresh lemon juice/dijon mustard mix.
    Inexpensive, nutritious, filling, easy, local, organic. What could be better?
    To read more about possible variations of the wonderful, budget-friendly rice and bean combo check out this piece from Culinate!

    24 November 2008

    What?

    Absurd tidbit from the web:

    Swiss Army bans vegans from military?

    Switzerland has mandatory military service, but apparently underweight males or males following a vegan diet are not allowed conscription.

    Sure.

    23 November 2008

    Friendsgiving: Cooking and Eating Together

    As this picture suggests, I am still a lousy food-photographer. And I am also bad at actually documenting my cooking. Somehow I manage to take hundreds of delightful photos of my cats, and while they are, admittedly, wonderfully photogenic, the food I make too is rather attractive (sometimes). I'll put it down to less than ideal lighting in my kitchen. Nevertheless, I managed to snap a few pictures of the preparations and results of my contribution for a "Friendsgiving" potluck I attended yesterday.
    In her cookbook The Art of Simple Food (a much cherished resource in my kitchen, given to me by an equally cherished friend), Alice Waters outlines 9 fundamental guidelines: eat locally and sustainably; eat seasonally; shop at farmers' markets; plant a garden; conserve, compost and recycle; cook simply; cook together; eat together; and remember food is precious. Now, reading this cookbook (which I did cover to cover) is like reading myself and my personal food beliefs. I admire Alice Waters, her cooking and her slow food ways. Though I respect her unyielding opinions, I do admittedly believe that there comes a point when reading her book that you must say to yourself: I don't live in the Bay area and do not always have access to fresh, local chervil. Bless her, but if food appreciation hinged on year round access to fresh herbs, this would be a sad thing.
    Regardless, she is wonderful and I am proud to say how strictly (and effortlessly) I follow her fundamental guidelines. I eat locally and sustainably. I eat seasonally (with special thanks to my CSA being offered all year round!). I shop at farmers' markets (every week). I planted a roof garden this summer (with mixed results). I conserve, would compost (eeeh, more about this sensitive subject at a later date) and recycle. I cook simply. I would like to cook more together and eat more together. I never forget that food is precious.
    That bit in bold there is kind of a lifestyle problem. I love to cook. I love to cook with others/for others and enjoy very much sharing great food with great people. I live a bit of a solo-life, however. I am rather quiet and independent, and I greatly appreciate time alone after too much time spent on campus. And I don't exactly have a built-in someone to cook for/with, if you know what I mean. I have some lovely friends though, and when our schedules cooperate we can do this cooking/eating thing together. Sadly, this rarely happens. However, I do sincerely hope to establish a weekly Sunday dinner with food-loving friends in the near future. This idea has been volleyed about for a few months now. New Year's resolution?
    New food-loving friends Nate and Rachel hosted the aforementioned "Friendsgiving" potluck yesterday. Bingo: a chance to cook and eat together and to live up to my Alice Waters wannabe status!
    I opted to make a Mushroom Pie with Sour Cream Crust, bookmarked in a 2006 Thanksgiving Bon Appetit since ... 2006, and a simple Pumpkin Pie à la Alice Waters. Friday night I prepped the two crusts and roasted and pureed a pumpkin (a CSA gem from a few weeks ago).
    Here is the prep for the sour cream crust:
    Freshly pureed pumpkin:
    Saturday morning I prebaked the pumpkin pie shell (it did not shrink at all, leaving a rather funny ruffle around the end. Aren't pie crusts meant to shrink?!) Later my friend Alex came over so that we could do that cooking together thing I was just going on about. We strolled (in the COLD weather) down to the farmer's market and picked up some local organic broccoli for Alex's contribution. We then strolled further to the co-op to get an organic lemon. Then home to cook. I mixed up the pumpkin pie filling (with Alex assisting with sugar/spice mix) and threw that in the oven. Then I began sauteing onions and mushrooms, which I had prepped before Alex's arrival.
    After taking out the slightly funny looking pumpkin pie,
    I was able to throw in pie number two (thyme and cream cheese were added to the mushroom filling).
    45 minutes later:
    Alex steamed some yummy broccoli and poured over it a lemon/butter/garlic sauce (thanks again, Alice Waters). This modestly resides in the yellow Le Creuset pot in the first picture.
    Firlefanz thoroughly enjoyed the slightly warmer apartment due to all the cooking, though he still opted to use Alex's coat for extra warmth.
    Upon finally arriving at Rachel and Nate's we were greeted by much cheer, warmth and food. There, of course, was a turkey (thank you, Kevin -- I heard it was delicious), gravy, butternut squash soup, an absolutely delicious potato-sweet potato-leek-goat cheese gratin (I'm waiting on that recipe from Rachel and Nate), cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, stuffing, vegetarian shepard's pie, cornbread, homemade white bread, green beans, and more. Oh yes, there was dessert too. On top of my pumpkin pie (which might have been a little bit sweeter ... or not, to my taste!) there was sweet potato pie, a pear pie, apple-berry crisp, rum cake, freshly whipped cream, maybe something else. And booze too, of course! Mulled cider with brandy, cranberry and vodka punch, wine, whiskey. As I am able to write this post today, I assure you I did not imbibe in everything. Though I did eat a considerable amount of food! And that cider was tasty.
    Assessing the crowd, I am confident that a lot of what was on the table was local and organic. (I know my npr-listening, green, food types). I hardly need mention that my contributions were local and organic (butter, sour cream and cream cheese were organic -- I can't say with total certainty that they were local).
    It was a great evening. Coming together to appreciate food is such a special thing.
    Speaking of special...it wasn't all serious business at this dinner (not at all). We green foodies like to have some fun too, and what is more fun than rummaging through the unique assortment of items (not all of which belonged to me), which had found their way into my bag. Brooke and Alex model their findings:
    Now let me wish you an early happy Thanksgiving. I hope that your meal will be local, organic and delicious and accompanied by lovely friends and family.

    21 November 2008

    Fishy Organic Fish Regulations

    I should be correcting essays right now, but to avoid slipping into non-blogging like I did last week, I am going to throw this out there right now.
    The USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed regulation for the definition of "organic" fish which are sub par to say the least. I already referenced Mark Bittman's article about the future of fish in one of yesterday's posts. Yesterday the NOSB seriously compromised the organic standard by allowing the label "organic" to apply to farmed fish which are being fed feed that is only 75% organic and up to 25% from wild fish (remember what Bittman had to say to this unsustainable practice!).
    Check out this Washington Post article for an overview of the ruling and this press release from the Center for Food Safety discussing the multiple holes of this regulation.
    I am an ecovore, near vegetarian who truly enjoys fish. I am going to consider very carefully the fish that flops onto my plate, however, before I will place my money and stomach in support of such disappointing and detrimental practices. Please think before you eat!

    20 November 2008

    A Model of Efficiency!

    Third and last post of the day, and I think I have now more than made up for my temporary absence!


    I referenced the Four Worlds Bakery in an early post. Right in my beloved West Philly neighborhood, Michael Dollich (aka the Challahman) bakes fresh, delicious breads nearly every day, delivering to local pick up spots and to individual homes. I generally order a half-loaf of his incredibly tasty multigrain levain and pick it up at the West Philly site. Sometimes I order bagels or some bulk items, such as Pennsylvania flour or sucanat or even kitty litter. Kitty litter? His story is an inspiring one indeed, but I will allow him to tell it himself through his blog or bakery website. I really want to blog about kitty litter and about waste.
    After one month of working in a professional baker's kitchen (the move from Dollich's own kitchen to the new bakery site was all done with the help of the pedal co-op), Four Worlds Bakery produced one single bag of trash. That is remarkable and commendable to say the least. This bakery takes trash and the environment seriously. Much waste is composted, a reusable bag system has been established for regular customers and now the bran that is left after milling (wheat and spelt is milled at the bakery for the freshest flour possible) is being sold for cat litter. I quickly jumped onto this band wagon. There are those who have mocked me for buying expensive wheat litter for my pampered cats, but now for $6.75 I can buy a 25lb bag of wheat and spelt bran that works just as well as any commercial wheat litters. The only downside is that this bran is a bit more powdery than S'wheat Scoop, and my furniture and my black clothes are under constant attack by dusty little paws.
    When ordering litter I take advantage of the delivery option (also done by bicycle), so this afternoon I enjoyed the delivery of 25lbs of bran, 1lb of sucanat and a still warm half-loaf of multigrain levain to my doorstep!
    If there ever was a model of efficiency and waste reduction it is Four Worlds Bakery. I just hope that other businesses slowly (quickly) consider the steps required to make their practices even half as efficient.
    Sosi inspects his bran and approves!

    Simple Fall Foods

    Moments later, another post! I'll try to better disperse posts over multiple days in the future.

    Monday I made a couple of extremely simple dishes using the ingredients of my CSA share, which have fed me over the week.

    Dish one was a lovely fall/winter slaw. I steamed a quarter head of green cabbage, and added to it grated raw carrot, beet and apple.
    To this I added sunflower seeds and a vinaigrette made from white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper a touch of honey. The picture doesn't do it justice, but it was delicious and the beets added a lovely color!
    While I was mixing this up, I had the easiest (no) cream of cauliflower soup ever simmering on the stove. I first sauteed one small diced onion and one minced clove of garlic in a tablespoon of butter until the onion was soft and glassy. To this I added two teaspoons of sea salt, a bay leaf and one cut up head of cauliflower. After sauteing them for maybe five minutes I added approximately 3-4 cups water.
    Once the cauliflower was tender, I removed the pot from the stove and carefully pureed the soup with a hand blender. I then added freshly ground pepper and enjoyed this tasty soup with a side of my winter slaw.
    Did I mention all ingredients (salt, pepper, oil, vinegar aside) were both local and organic?

    Apologies and a Week's Roundup

    If it wasn't obvious before, I have clearly given up on NaBloPoMo. I never meant to neglect this blog for over a week. Not that I assume the presence of hundreds of eager readers, but I know at least my mother is checking in (and Paula too!), and I hate to leave my reader(s) disappointed. An avid blog follower myself, I know the pang of disappointment when a favorite blog has not been updated for several days. It is certainly not for lack of blog fodder, all sorts of great articles have been presenting themselves as blogworthy, and I cook everyday. My sleeping disease, however, has gotten the best of me. I am always tired, and it is a bit of a struggle just staying awake long enough to plan lessons and read the tiniest amount for my seminars. But excuses aside -- I'm back and I promise to make a better effort! Of course, if you find my blog stale and lacking updates, don't forget my fantastic links!
    So what has been the buzz in the eco food world? Well, there's too much to mention here, but I will provide a few necessary links. On November 13th, the New York Times reported on a motion passed by the European Union to lift a ban that prevented supermarkets from selling irregularly shaped and sized produce. Sadly, the ban does not apply to all fruits and vegetables, but it is a beginning. An absolutely beautiful, moving and informative documentary by Agnès Varda from 2000, "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse" ("The Gleaners and I"), addresses the topic of such irregular and rejected fruits and vegetables and the gleaners who live off of them. When I have more time (?), I want to investigate the existence of gleaners in America, because if there are not gleaners, or if there are laws preventing impoverished, hungry people from benefitting from the tons of perfectly edible and nutritious produce being rejected by spoiled, western, capitalist consumers, I have issue. I know there are freegans, but I do not know enough about the presence of gleaners.
    Moving on. On the 16th Mark Bittman wrote a revealing article about seafood in the New York Times. He discusses the future of fish in light of over-fishing and wasteful fish-farming practices. Particularly alarming is a discussion of the waste of smaller fish such as herring, mackeral, anchovies and sardines:
    "But the biggest consumers of these smaller fish are the agriculture and aquaculture industries. Nearly one-third of the world’s wild-caught fish are reduced to fish meal and fed to farmed fish and cattle and pigs. Aquaculture alone consumes an estimated 53 percent of the world’s fish meal and 87 percent of its fish oil. (To make matters worse, as much as a quarter of the total wild catch is thrown back — dead — as “bycatch.”)"
    These ineffient aquaculture practices mirror the worst of poor land agricultural practices (of which there are many!). But there is hope. With some thoughtful fish consuming and the implementation of sustainable acquaculture practices, fish populations could be replenished.
    And last, but certainly not least, and certainly not really the last of worthwhile articles concering the environment and food, on the 17th the New York Times had yet another piece worth mention concerning the precesence of melamine. (And if there was ever doubt concerning my addiction to the New York Times, I assume you are all now perfectly confident in this undeniable fact. And I ask you not to interfere. I am rather attached to this addiction along with a handful of other addictions which seem to define me, including my love of all things melancholy, my need to worry excessively, and a habit of taking a psychotic amount of pictures of my cats.) This disturbing op-ed discussed the presence of melamine in the American food supply, forcing the consumer to stop casting all stones at China, since America too has a bit of a melamine problem. News like this only supports my belief in turning to local sources of food, getting to know regional farms and small businesses, and informing ourselves about how our food was raised/grown and brought to our tables. For far too long, we have turned a blind eye to food production and shoved into our bodies whatever was sitting on the shelf in all of its packaged, overly-processed, low-priced glory.

    11 November 2008

    Future Eaters

    I have other things to do, but I just can't seem to get away from the New York Times and their relentless coverage of issues that interest me. Yesterday's paper featured an article about the victimization of school bake sales in California. I wanted to write about this yesterday, but a bout of something won't allow me to stay awake long enough to actually sit down and write about it. After sleeping 9 hours the last two nights and taking a 2 hour nap this afternoon, I feel I have enough energy to quickly jot down a reaction while my maple-cinnamon-apple rice pudding happily simmers on the stove top.
    So, I'll keep this short. Certain friends of mine could attest to my current irritability (sorry!), and I don't care to rant in blog form. I merely want to outline the point of this article (it's short -- feel free to read it yourself), and to explain why California has surprisingly disappointed me. Of course, I mean surprisingly in regards to food; California already disappointed me when they voted yes on 8.
    Long heralded as a mecca of eating fresh, local, organic cuisine and to being at the cutting-edge of whole foods and ecovore delights, California skipped a beat when focusing solely on numbers and percentages:
    "The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat."
    Nutrition is, of course, very important. Raising children to be aware of what they eat leads to healthy eating habits and respect towards ingredients and food origin. But I fear that obsessing over calories and percentage of sugar and fat will lead to yet another generation of yo-yo dieting, calorie-crazed fanatics whose medical issues will put yet more strain on the health system.
    I would have had no qualms with this article had it told me that California had passed a law that regulated ingredients of bake-sale items: Bake-sale goods must be a) home made and b) be made of real ingredients (unprocessed flour, free-range eggs, organic milk, unrefined cane sugar, preferably everything organic, even more preferably local). Now others might balk at such a "wacky" idea. Yet isn't it better to involve children in the creation of food and draw their attention to the quality of ingredients than to teach them to freak out about calories? Perhaps a limit should be enforced on the quantity of baked goods bought per individual. Fine. Moderation is a great lesson.
    Now the article wasn't all bad:
    "In California, bake sales are waning because ingredients cannot be regulated. Sales are banned during school hours but may be held a half-hour before or after school.
    The ban on bake sales has not been met with universal enthusiasm. The Piedmont Highlander, the school newspaper, editorialized about “birthday cakes turned into contraband” and homemade goodies snatched from students “by the long arm and hungry mouth of the law.”
    Even some nutritionists question whether banishing bake sales is the best approach. “It concerns me we’re not teaching moderation,” said Stephanie Bruce, the president of the California School Nutrition Association, who works in the Ontario-Montclair School District in Ontario, Calif."
    Exactly. Regulation of ingredients and teaching moderation. This is good. Praising children to eat anything as long as it has low calories and a low percentage of sugar and fat, regardless as to whether the consumed item is actually food or just some potion of low-cal chemicals, is bad.

    Now, speaking of wholesome treats, I mentioned rice pudding. I love rice pudding. It is something I often eat in Germany, and wish I ate more of in the US. Admittedly, I have never made rice pudding. Until this evening, that is. In my under-the-weather, seeking-comfort state, I decided that exactly what I needed for dinner is some of that cozy and soul-soothing pudding. I tweaked the recipe as I went along as I wasn't really satisfied with the initial results, but in the end I think it came out decent, and if made under different milk situations (see below) it could be delicious.

    Maple-Cinnamon-Apple Rice Pudding

    Combine in a heavy small pot 1/4 cup Arborio rice, 2 cups whole milk (I used my sour raw milk, which might have been fine, but I think at this point it is more whey than anything else, and it might not be ideal for pudding), 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1 cinnamon stick. Heat over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Give it a nice stir. Add 1 diced apple, peeled and cored. Let simmer (bubbling but not boiling) for approximately 30-40 minutes (until thick and at your preferred rice pudding consistency), stirring occasionally to keep from burning on the bottom. You might want to turn heat down as it begins to thicken. Towards end add ca. 1tsp ground cinnamon (to taste) and the zest of half a lemon.
    Serve immediately. Garnish with cinnamon. Serves one person in need of much comfort or two more reasonable and moderate eaters (I'm attempting to put away the second serving for a later date!)

    09 November 2008

    Let Every Voice be Heard

    Truth be told, NaBloPoMo became more of a NaBloPoWe (National Blog Posting Week). I will still post regularly, but I do have other work taking up my time. My internal reflections about the current state of our environment, agricultural policies, the food on my table are endless, so I will make an effort to lend voice (a silent cyber blog voice) to these thoughts on a regular basis.

    It seems that our new president-elect has inspired any- and everyone with an agenda to put forward their ideas, hopes and demands for the next administration. I find it absolutely beautiful that with this election Americans have realized that their voices do matter and their opinions count. The eco-foodies and environmentalists have wasted no time to express the urgency of their mission. I already quoted Willie Nelson's open letter on behalf of Farm Aid. My friend and food-activist Paula posted her letter to the Obama administration at Civil Eats. Even before the election Michael Pollan wrote his open-letter to the next farmer-in-chief.
    And now Al Gore has published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, "The Climate for Change." You can read the entire piece following that link, but let me provide a few highlights. Firstly, he spells out the world's primary endowment as "the integrity and livability of the planet." He presses the urgency of the environmental crisis and underlines that facts that support its existence for any skeptics. Despite the tragic nature of the current state and trajectory of the environment, he does offer some good news in that "the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis." For those who believe that at a time like this, soft issues like the environment have to take the back shelf, he clearly shows how closely linked the economy and our environmental policy really are. He concludes his piece with a tidy five step plan:

    "First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

    Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

    Third, we should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

    Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings — and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

    Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation."
    Is the country ready for this? Is America prepared to become a role model in environmental policy? Are Americans willing to reconsider their relationship to the environment and alter some of their more wasteful habits? I hope the answer to these questions is a resounding "yes," but I have my doubts. However, by electing Obama, Americans proved that they are ready for change and they want our country to move away from its old, destructive ways. I'm doing my part; are you?

    07 November 2008

    Eating Local and Supporting Farms

    I have inspired two more people to participate in a CSA share with Keystone Farm. I do not believe that I can take full credit, as it is an excellent share, but it makes me feel good to think that in my own small, quiet way I am increasing the community of local, organic eaters and strengthening the foundation of consumers supporting the local economy and local farmers.

    Did you know that Willie Nelson is the president of Farm Aid? If you didn't, you do now. Here is an open letter he wrote to Barack Obama today, asking him to support a family farm system of agriculture:

    Dear President-elect Barack Obama,

    As President of Farm Aid, I'd like to take this opportunity to whole-heartedly congratulate you on your historic victory. I'd also like to offer you every resource that Farm Aid has available to assist you in creating a new farm and food policy that supports a sustainable family farm system of agriculture.

    I started Farm Aid in 1985 when family farmers were being forced off their land as a result of federal policy that paved the way for industrial agriculture. This shift replaced independent family farmers with factory farms that have wreaked havoc on our communities, our environment and our public health.

    There is broad agreement that our farm and food system needs to be drastically reworked. The good news is that the work of building an alternative to the industrial food system is well underway and Farm Aid is proud to have been a leader in this work, something we call the Good Food Movement. The Good Food Movement has grown and thrived almost entirely without the support of the federal government. However, now is the right moment for the leadership of our country to take a role in this important movement. In fact the future of our economy, our environment and our health demand it.

    Our family farmers are a national resource with incredible potential to be the protagonists in solving the challenges we currently face. Family farmers are on the cutting edge of thriving local food systems and economies, alternative energy production and environmental stewardship. Family farmers are marketing the fruits of their labor close-to-home at farm stands, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs), helping local money to circulate in local communities where it can do the most good. Family farmers are growing green energy and harnessing the power of the sun and wind. They are transitioning to sustainable production methods to grow food that is good for our health and our planet. These steps are strengthening our local economies, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, protecting our natural resources and increasing our national security.

    As the national organization working on behalf of family farmers for the last 23 years, Farm Aid has helped family farmers stay on the land, organized communities to fight factory farms in their own backyards, and educated eaters about the choices they can make to guarantee healthy, fresh food from family farms. Over our history, we have grown, partnered with, and sustained a network of more than four hundred grassroots farm and food organizations across the nation. As you begin to implement programs to support a family farm system of agriculture, Farm Aid and our vast resource network is here to work with you.

    Now is the time for our country to recognize and call on family farmers' ingenuity, strength and value to our past and our future. We can have strong local economies, green energy, a clean environment, healthy citizens and good food—all of these start with family farmers. I look forward to working with you to make this vision of a family farm system of agriculture a reality.

    Stay Strong and Positive,

    Willie Nelson signature

    Willie Nelson
    President

    Here's to supporting local farms and strengthening community: To the future of our health, economy and enivonment!

    06 November 2008

    Reflections

    Though it is already November, the leaves are only just changing now. The temperatures are high, and the wind scatters wet, orange and red leaves across the broken sidewalks and streets of Philadelphia. The change of the seasons comes late, but it complements the change happening in this country. The day after America surprised me and chose an intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded, far-sighted and careful man to be president, the rain poured down and the world became a bit cleaner, a bit brighter (and a bit wetter). The economy, Iraq, poverty, world hunger, the AIDS epidemic, racism, sexism ... these problems can not change overnight. But attitudes have begun to change. A certain demographic, amidst which I am privileged (yes privileged) to live, holds its head a bit higher, finds new self-respect and experiences a certain sense of achievement and pride. Children have a new role model and a noble goal towards which they can and will strive. This is real change and it has happened overnight.
    Add to my usual qualities of thoughtfulness, awareness, being informed a certain amount of respect for the other and for oneself.
    I believe that this subtle yet tangible shift in outlook by this aforementioned demographic, coupled with (caused by) a realization of being a part of something greater will bring great reward for the world we live in, and especially for the environment that houses us. Mother nature has suffered so.
    I do promise to return to the Goethe passage I quoted earlier. Now I will only touch on one point. Dear, nature-loving and respecting Goethe wrote: "Wir wirken beständig auf sie und haben doch keine Gewalt über sie" ("we constantly affect nature, but have no force over her"). I fear that with the rise of modernity and an increase in technology, man has found a way to control and damage nature in a way that Goethe and his pantheistic contemporaries could never have imagined. We have hurt nature and have done so carelessly and without much consideration.
    However, care and consideration could potentially enter the realm of the everyday. (The tragedy that these are not currently typical qualities of the average man is too upsetting a topic for me to address at this moment.) Barack Obama is considerate. He cares. He is a role model. A new generation will grow following his model and knowing only his leadership. Ritual and community will be respected. Food will gain its rightful place at the centerpiece of such ritual. Appreciation of food will bring attention to ingredients and their origin. Food origin and production will steer communities in the direction of agricultural practices and the environment. And mother nature will gain some respect.
    All thanks to Obama.

    05 November 2008

    Late Night Cupcakes

    I woke up this morning to the NPR reporting Barack Obama's landslide victory, winning 349 electoral votes (North Carolina and Missouri were still too close to call). This concrete information provided me with the final bit of proof I desperately needed, confirming that Obama had indeed won. I felt relieved and I dragged myself out of bed, telling myself that I could take a leisurely shower, read the news online and allow myself to be a bit late to the office, because what student would attend 9am office hours the day after such an historic event? Well, when I got to campus at 9:30am, two students were awaiting my German expertise.
    It was surreal returning to the daily grind after days of speculation and fear of the election's out turn. But life goes on, my work piles up and November is marching along. So after this post I will attempt to return to musing about the environment, food and how my food relates to my environment.
    I wrote last night that I had baked a pumpkin chocolate chip cake and that Alexis had used a paint brush (eyeshadow brush, actually) to apply the chocolate ganache I had made to create Obama's now famous features. Well, a sketch of our president-elect's face does not require much ganache, and I had poured a quart of steaming cream over two bars of organic, free trade extra dark chocolate (roughly chopped). In other words, I have a lot of ganache in the fridge. What to do with this ganache? Eat it; you say? I wouldn't put that beyond me, but despite the organic nature of the chocolate, I'd like to avoid sitting down with a big bowl of heavy cream and chocolate (which I would inevitably eat in one sitting and then feel ill -- surprise surprise).
    Nope. I decided to make cupcakes. A colleague has a birthday today and tomorrow we have 9am seminar. What better opportunity to bake, when I can actually give away my baked goods and not eat them all by myself. Also, baking and cooking are for me totally relaxing. Next to yoga and baths, the kitchen provides me with my own (free) therapy and stress relief.
    I have yet to master cooking/baking and photo-documenting my work. I always forget to pull out the camera. This means that I will only offer photos of one finished cupcake. But this is probably for the best, as I did about everything wrong (and I don't know if this is because it is now approaching midnight after a long day or if it is because I am not always 100% on top of things). For those who believe that baking must be precise and feel therefore intimidated when tackling a cake recipe, I stand as proof that this is nonsense. My baking is anything but precise, and I have had surprising success.

    So here is the recipe for my surprisingly good, despite my best attempts to sabotage them, last-minute, late night cupcakes:
    (adopted from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food "1-2-3-4 Cake")

    Whisk together in a bowl

    1 1/2 cups Pastry Flour (mine is local PA flour, freshly milled by Michael Dollich of Four Worlds Bakery)
    2tsp Baking Powder
    1/4tsp Sea Salt.

    In another bowl beat with an electric mixer

    1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter (or melted, as I accidentally melted my frozen stick of organic butter when I wanted to soften it in the often. You can also imagine the fun of cleaning up the melted butter on the bottom of the oven).

    Mix in to this 1 cup organic evaporated cane juice,
    continue mixing and add 1/2tsp Vanilla.

    The recipe asks to separate eggs, beating in yolks first and then at the end folding in beaten whites, but I screwed this up too and broke the yolk into the white...)

    Add to sugar, butter mixture two eggs (organic, cage free, free range, please!), one at a time.

    In my version of this recipe, you forget that milk is involved.

    Add flour mixture to egg/sugar/butter mixture in two parts. Mix until smooth.

    Then you remember the milk and realize you are out of milk. Luckily, I had a jar with sour raw milk from previous bottles of raw milk that I couldn't use before going sour. So I opened it up, discovered a fascinating thick layer of sour cream on the top, mixed it up, watched it bubble and then....

    add 1/2 cup of (sour, raw) milk to the batter and mix.

    Luckily, raw milk never goes bad like pasteurized milk does, it just gets sour and oddly bubbly.

    Divide batter into 12 large cupcake liners in a muffin/cupcake tin and bake for 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 350˚F (smoking slightly due to spilled, melted butter). They are finished when a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool and frost with ganache!

    One frosted cupcake:
    One half-eaten cupcake (note how light and fluffy it is...amazing!):

    Addendum: I decided to whip the too thin ganache to make more of a frostingy-frosting.