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


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.


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

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

06 November 2008


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.

04 November 2008

Obama Cake

For an election party, my friend Alexis skillfully decorated the pumpkin chocolate chip cake I had baked.
I am thankful that this cake was enjoyed in honor of our new president elect, Barack Obama. The tension leading up to this election has completely drained me and I am without words. I leave you with the pictures of Alexis and her excellent work at painting Obama's face with the chocolate ganache I made (I didn't have the heart to buy corn syrup icing at the store).

03 November 2008

Don't Forget to Vote Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is perhaps one of the most important elections many of us will have ever experienced. Please vote. I am not telling you for whom you should vote, but I am telling you that I am voting for Barack Obama.
In my very first post I discussed a certain mindset that reflects my food beliefs, but in no way is limited to food: being aware, informed and thoughtful. This way of being signals an intelligent, reflective individual who can rationally survey a situation, consider options and take time for consideration of the implications of certain actions before acting. Now is not the time for rash decisions or short-sighted plans. I believe that Barack Obama embodies the qualities that I praise when approaching food and life; he is thoughtful, well informed and completely aware.
I urge you to vote in this election, not merely because it is important for America over the next four years. The ramifications of such an election are much larger than our country and of our generation. I firmly discourage and protest American elitism, but there is no denying that what we do (wrong) in America impacts the rest of the world. Iraq, economic crisis, need I say more? We are a large country, with a large economy and a large military. We stand under a magnifying glass, and what we do can be felt across the globe. Not to sound melodramatic, but the outcome of tomorrow's election has the potential to change the world (not overnight, but with time, and for better or for worse).
Please vote.
To bring this home to my particular blog and to my own causes (obsessions), I leave you with a quote by Barack Obama in an interview with Time Magazine (I won't link to it, as the link keeps crashing my internet!) in which he comments on Michael Pollan's insightful, inspiring, humbling and informing letter to the next "Farmer in Chief", which was published in the Food Issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Those of you who read this blog because you share similar opinions will most likely have already read both Obama's commentary and Pollan's letter (or have read about it on other blogs). If this is all news to you: set aside some time to read Pollan's letter. And now, Obama's response to Pollan's message:
There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy. I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.

02 November 2008

Die Natur

For the German speakers (readers) out there I offer a quote. It is from an essay fragment on nature by Goethe:
Aus "Die Natur" (1782/1783)
"Natur! Wir sind von ihr umgeben und umschlungen - unvermögend aus ihr herauszutreten, und unvermögend tiefer in sie hinein zu kommen. Ungebeten und ungewarnt nimmt sie uns in den Kreislauf ihres Tanzes auf und treibt sich mit uns fort, bis wir ermüdet sind und ihrem Arme entfallen.
Sie schafft ewig neue Gestalten; was da ist war noch nie, was war kommt nicht wieder. - Alles ist neu und doch immer das Alte.
Wir leben mitten in ihr und sind ihr fremde. Sie spricht unaufhörlich mit uns und verrät uns ihr Geheimnis nicht. Wir wirken beständig auf sie und haben doch keine Gewalt über sie."
I intend to return to this quote at a later date (and at that point I will provide some English insight to those who do not do German).

And now a photo essay (of sorts) depicting the local fall fare I had for dinner...
I took butternut squash and brussel sprouts from yesterdays share,tossed the cubed squash with olive oil, sea salt and rosemary before roasting them (à la Elisha),
sauteed the brussel sprouts in olive oil, sprinkling them with sea salt and thyme,
and served both with red beans I had bought at the market yesterday, simply cooked with sea salt and a bay leaf. While I ate I reviewed the chapter I will teach my German students this week.
Firlefanz and Sosi also enjoyed their natural dinner.

01 November 2008

Fall Bounty and a Challenge

Though I am barely a week into my blogging career, I thought I would attempt the challenge of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). I actually view writing as a weakness of mine. I love to read and think, reflect and comment, but when it comes to sitting down to write I often feel intimidated or become somewhat frozen. This is problematic. A large portion of my chosen career involves writing. Indeed, I am a "writer" (or I should be). A very smart someone commended me for writing a blog and praised the value of regular writing and of attempting different kinds of writing (i.e. not merely academic writing, which can become overly jargonistic and stiff fast). I don't actually think that my academic writing fits that bill; it probably could do with a bit more jargon. Regardless, I want to be a writer and I want to limber up my fingers and get them used to regularly typing acceptable prose. Admittedly, there are many things about which I should be writing: Gershom Scholem's theory of silence, the collecting eye as flâneur, the silent female voice in Dorothea Schlegel's Lucinde, teaching methods, and then there's this article I meant to write this past summer about letters in Fräulein Else. Those things will get written too. A month of daily blogging will hopefully get me ready for the intense academic writing that will begin in December (maybe even late November). The posts will not always be long. There will not always be pictures. I hope, however, that at least one of thirty posts this month will bear some meaning for you.
The first day of November brought mild temperatures and sunshine (for most of the day) to Philadelphia. My usual stroll to the Saturday farmer's market in Clark Park made me feel both relaxed and excited to be outside on such a perfect fall day. The first tree to really turn in the park this year lies magically in the center of the park. Someone described it to me as a jewel. The real jewel today, however, was my CSA share. I praised the great bargain of this share before, but today's bounty really outdid itself!
There were the usual dozen eggs, two granolas, a local cheese (this week baby swiss!), and then so many delicious fall vegetables and apples: Twelve apples in total, a stalk of brussel sprouts, eight sweet potatoes of varying sizes, butternut squash, eight tomatoes, five small onions, two turnips, a head of brocolli and two heads of romanesco brocolli.
Here is Firlefanz investigating this alien brocolli:
All of these local, fresh, organic goodies costs only $20. Half of the share goes to Elisha (so $10 a piece). I can't get over what a great deal this is. It is possible to eat well, support local small farms and be kind to the environment without spending an arm and a leg. In addition to the share I bought a bag of red beans and two quarts of apple cider. Looks like I have a week's worth of fine dining ahead of me.
I had great hopes for a lovely vegetable meal tonight. But playing with my vegetables will have to happen at a later date, because something terrifying scurried into my life this evening and I have lost my appetite. I guess that leaves me with blog fodder for another day.