11 October 2009

Food Issue(s)

I've decided the New York Times Magazine "Food Issue" warranted a brief break from my blogging hibernation. It's autumn, the weather is crisp and cool, farmer's markets abound with the diverse and colorful bounty of this year's harvest (though the summer's dismal weather certainly put a bit of a damper on certain crops): perfect time of year to direct people towards their pantries and cupboards, asking them to reconsider the food they consume and the implications of their dietary habits (which, as we know by now, go well beyond mere nutrition... Anyone remember this whole health care reform? Sucky economy? Energy issues? It's still all related.). I'm living by the same old mantra: eat and purchase local food, supplement with organics, cook at home, support small (local) businesses and fair trade, no meat, but some eco-friendly fish on occasion. I continue to manage this on my skinny budget (with seriously obese debt - yay, capitalism-infected higher education!) and hope that this bug (the healthy and affordable eating bug, not the capitalist or even h1n1 bug) is spreading.

Parting paths with my blog resulted from an inability to keep up a front of promoting anything. I'm not much of a spokesperson. I've already suggested here that I prefer example and quiet means of action, and I had lost my steam in writing here. I did not want to just post recipes, nor did I want to spout ecovore propaganda. I know many a very talented writers and food activists who serve the food-revolution cause much better (hi, Paula!). I am a very tolerant and excessively patient person (generally) and want people to find habits of eating and buying that best suite them -- with the hope that this will involve a certain level of being an "informed" eater. This makes all the difference. Understanding that food relates to so many elements of the lives we live and the world we live in (culture, tradition, environment, health, economy, blah blah blah) could bring so much positive change.

Thus I felt particularly drawn to Jonathan Safran Foer's contribution to the magazine: "Against Meat." Foer traces his twisted road to vegetarianism, highlighting major stops along the road, indicating key factors which supported certain decisions and ultimately re-evaluating the importance of food culture and what traditions and rituals around food mean.

A certain self-reflexive, self-deprecating and humorous yet informative style make the article worth reading. When discussing one moment in his and his wife's quasi-vegetarian history he writes of being vegetarians who sometimes ate meat and fish:

I assumed we’d maintain a diet of conscientious inconsistency. Why should eating be different from any of the other ethical realms of our lives? We were honest people who occasionally told lies, careful friends who sometimes acted clumsily. We were vegetarians who from time to time ate meat.

In the end (or at present) Foer and his wife do decide to be consistently vegetarians, though they are not idealistic or Utopian enough to insist that this indicates a true aversion or dislike of meat. They like meat, but the repercussions of a (western) world that consumes an excessive amount of meat, which for the most part is mass-produced, brutalizing the environment and our bodies, outweighs the taste of good steak -- for them:

I love calamari, I love roasted chicken, I love a good steak. But I don’t love them without limit.
This isn’t animal experimentation, where you can imagine some proportionate good at the other end of the suffering. This is what we feel like eating. Yet taste, the crudest of our senses, has been exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses. Why? Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to confining, killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it. Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals.
I appreciate the realism in the first quote. Eating meat sometimes is, at heart, the best and most universal message. Understand what you are eating, know where ingredients come from, get the fact that what you eat might come to you via a harmful path, and moderate. Some people feel committed to vegetarianism, while others might be unwilling, for a variety of reasons, to make that final step. Then compromise. Of course, the final quote makes a crucial point. Self-satisfying logic really does fuel the human mind in all of its decision making. I respect Foer's point and find it intriguing and think that it rings with truth. But we are human-animals and perversity and self-satisfaction reign. So, once more, balance. Some will devote themselves to vegetarianism on varying levels, others will continue eating meat -- hopefully with a knowledge of the origin of and production-involved in their roast beef sandwich.

09 August 2009

Gone Fishing....

My posts have been few and far between these last few months. The reasons for this are multiple. At this point in time, however, my time and energy for posting are limited to the extent that I would like to officially signal a break in posting. I continue to eat and live eco and avidly follow the wonderful sites listed to the right (amongst others), but right now I personally need to reserve my own (silent) voice for other projects.

I might be back....

18 June 2009

Urban Farming!

Is there anyone out there still? I'm afraid I've lost some steam in my posting here. I continue to live and eat verdantly, but I do not seem to manage writing as much as I initially did. Partly, I am trying to divorce myself from excessive time spent on the computer. I already wreak havoc on my eyes by writing long seminar papers, translating articles, reading pdfs and ... obsessively checking my email (but this is a common obsession, no?). I want to green myself and my eyes (they are actually green!) and enjoy all of my local food sans ordinateur.

Nevertheless, I would like to find a rhythm in my ecovore blogging. I am posting about once a week at Farm to Philly, reporting on my Keystone Farm CSA. So that's something. I have in the back of my mind a fuzzy plan to focus more on budget ecovore living here at "Verdant Thoughts." Money's tight. It always is. And I'm sick of hearing that eating well (ie organically or locally) is only for the elite. If I, who pays more on loan interest than on rent each month, can eat and live as green as I do, than you can too!

For the time being, though, I am going to put in some shameless plugs for my awesome friend, Paula, who is a huge inspiration for both this blog and how I live and eat. Paula (you might remember she is the managing editor of Civil Eats), has really made quite the name for herself in the world of food activism and food politics. Besides regularly contributing on her own site and on the Huffington Post Green Blog, lately she has posted on Mark Bittman's blog "Bitten" about sustainable food blogs, and her roof garden was featured this Wednesday in a New York Times article about urban farms. I was lucky enough to see this roof garden a little over a week ago, and it is impressive! She has a column, "Roof Garden Rookies," where she regularly posts about the progress of her garden over at Civil Eats. Take a look!

I'm gardening again this year too, but sticking to herbs after last years misadventures with raccoons....

Here's what it looked like a few weeks ago (pre never ending rain). Needless to say, the rainforest conditions have made things a bit lusher since then. If the sun ever shines again maybe I'll take another picture!

05 April 2009

West Philly: Mecca of Sustainability!

Michael Dollich of Four Worlds Bakery sent out a link for the following video about the Pedal Co-op in Philly. I've mentioned both the bakery and the pedal co-op before, so I'll spare you the introductions. The video below discusses the ways in which the pedal co-op and Philadelphia (West Philly, especially!) are models of sustainable practices. Check it out!

31 March 2009

Yogurt, a love affair... and a fancy schmancy cake!

I love yogurt. Plain, whole milk yogurt. Local yogurt. Pequea Valley Farm is, hands down, the best. My love, however, goes beyond its creamy texture and tangy flavor as when in a bowl alone or with granola. I find that yogurt is a very versatile ingredient and can be used in any number of cooked items: in curries or soups, in cakes, pancakes, breads (similar to buttermilk), as a replacement for cream or sour cream. Recently, I've been on a real kick, using yogurt in a new quiche recipe, in pumpkin pancakes and, last week, in an amazing chocolate cake recipe. After not posting all month, I finally put up a post at Farm to Philly. Go there to find the pancake and spinach quiche recipe.

Here, however, I'd like to offer pictures and a recipe of the cake I made for a friend's surprise birthday party. My friend generously organized this surprise party for her boyfriend and, with her photoshop talents, created the image that would be placed on the cake (edible paper and ink). I was in charge of baking and frosting. I've never undertaken such a cake before and there's something to be said for beginners luck!

I decided to turn to Smitten Kitchen for the cake recipe and chose a chocolate cake inspired by ding dongs, devil dogs and, in my opinion, whoopie pies (yum): basically a moist chocolate cake with marshmallow (7-minute) frosting. This isn't exactly the most verdant recipe, but the flour, eggs yogurt are all local; the butter, vanilla and evaporated cane sugar organic; the chocolate, coffee and cocoa powder organic and free trade - so not terrible! The adapted recipe will follow.

Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow Frosting
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Cake: (I made a 9x13 rectangular cake, but this batter can also make two 10" round layers)

3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 and 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
2 and 1/2 cups sugar (sucanat/evaporated cane juice)
2 and 1/2 cups flour (I used a local PA white pastry flour)
1 and 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used organic sunflower)
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300˚F and grease and dust pan with cocoa powder. Line bottom of 9x13" rectangular cake pan with wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, yogurt, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool completely in pan. Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert rack (or cake plate). Carefully remove wax paper and cool completely. Cake may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Marshmallow Frosting:

4 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup simple syrup*
4 tablespoons water
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine frosting ingredients with a pinch of salt in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and beat with a handheld electric mixer at high speed until frosting is thick and fluffy, 7-8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat until slightly cooled and forms peaks. Mound frosting on top of cake.

*The recipe originally called for corn syrup. I could not buy or use this ingredient. The sugar syrup worked fine. To make bring to boil 1 and 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice and 3/4 cup of water. Boil until the liquid has reduced and when dropped onto cool plate is of a syrupy consistency.

09 March 2009

Seeing Red

After a busy week that involved an incredible conference on Penn's campus and a lovely weekend filled with local food and good friends (I hosted a local/sustainable potluck this past Saturday and the range of dishes was fantastic!), I awoke to an opinion piece in the the New York Times that makes my blood boil and heart sink. Stanley Fish is, at best, polemical, but really he is curmudgeonly and pig-headed. Last summer he used his status as "public intellectual" to childishly rant about the "inconvenience" of eating organic, recycling and being green. In this previous post, Fish writes, "I resist and resent the demands made on me by environmental imperatives. I don’t want to save the planet. I just want to inhabit it as comfortably as possible for as long as I have." He goes on to whine about toilet paper, gloat over a hidden stock of paper napkins, bemoan the ugliness and dim-lighting of "environmentally approved lightbulbs" and then takes a stab at organic and humanely raised meat.
Meanwhile, by the weak light shed by the virtuous bulbs, I am eating local meat — meat from cows organically raised and humanely slaughtered (what a phrase!). It is of course expensive, but what is worse, it tastes bad. That is, it tastes like real meat, gamy and lean, rather than like the processed, marbled, frozen, supermarket stuff I had grown up on. I’m sure it is a better quality, and that buying it sustains the local community and strikes a blow against agrabusiness, but I just don’t like it. And since I hate vegetables, becoming a vegetarian is not an option.
These opinion pieces supposedly allow for reader responses and commentary. However, they are monitored and not all comments are allowed. Both Paula from Civil Eats and I submitted comments that were rejected. Admittedly, my response was heated, but I had a feeling it would be rejected (Paula's already had been), and I didn't want to tailor my reaction to suit the comment-moderator's conservative filter. Here is my unpublished comment:
Dr. Fish,

I'm afraid your latest blog entry has seriously ruffled me. It angers and saddens me actually. I feel it speaks very directly to "tree-loving rustic wackies who don’t like to have any fun" (with a nod to comment 11), like me. I'm just a "nut-case" environmentalist (ref. comment 4), but ... come on! You write yourself into a disappointing stereotype of western (American) [wo]man: selfish, closed-minded, short-sighted and resistant to change! I am very concerned about the environment and conscientious in my own private life, though I don't generally preach my views and force change on others. I'm certainly a bad environmentalist for this, but I do honestly believe in making an impact on a small scale and inspiring change through example. Outspoken, "popular", read figures who laud their own ignorance and laziness and who clearly reach an audience of like-minded or on-the-fence readers really make me want to grab a jar of my homemade vinegar (made with local honey and local plums -- thank you http://alucidspoonful.blogspot.com/) and toss it into the eyes of those blinded by their own self-importance.

I find no inconvenience in maintaining a low carbon footprint. A true gastronome, I rejoice in my (vegetarian) meals which consist mainly of local and organic ingredients. Living an environmentally conscious life has in no way affected my studies (I am graduate student of literature at UPenn), nor has it cramped my style.

I urge you to use your well-trained mind to read your actions and your here voiced opinions and consider whether or not you want to stand behind a statement which encourages laziness, recklessness and human-elitism.

-- Melanie, a tree loving rustic wacko who doesn't have any fun in Philadelphia
I should mention that some of the comments that were published were nearly as bad as Fish! "Tree-loving rustic wackies who don’t like to have any fun" is a direct quote from a comment, as is the "nut-case" environmentalist.

Moving on to today's opinion piece, Stanley Fish returned to familiar grounds and decided to defend his support of the professionalization of academics and his closed-minded belief that academics should not mix politics and the classroom. Academic freedom, according to Fish, does not extend beyond the wall's of the academy, and a scholar, therefore, should not apply his expertise to the greater questions that trouble the world at large.

There is no denying that the academy is becoming more and more professionalized. Fish himself sums up pretty well the extent to which universities have been affected by neoliberalism:
Faced with this situation universities have responded by (1) raising tuition, in effect passing the burden of costs to the students who now become consumers and debt-holders rather than beneficiaries of enlightenment (2) entering into research partnerships with industry and thus courting the danger of turning the pursuit of truth into the pursuit of profits and (3) hiring a larger and larger number of short-term, part-time adjuncts who as members of a transient and disposable workforce are in no position to challenge the university’s practices or agitate for an academy more committed to the realization of democratic rather than monetary goals. In short, universities have embraced neoliberalism.
At an attempt to be "objective," Fish neither claims to support nor reject this occurence. I, however, am not being objective and will say that this embracing of neoliberalism both depresses me and makes me want to jump up and start a revolution. In their new status as "consumers and debt-holders," students are becoming victimized by higher education. I can personally attest to the burden of excessive student loan debt. Being a graduate student who will eventually enter the job "market" (I find that the farmer's market is starting to be the only kind of market I can stomach) in order to find a position as a professor, the trend to hire more adjuncts and decrease full-time tenured positions is alarming and disgusting. With the commodification of education, instructors are being exploited as cheap labor, hired to "educate" a bunch of kids who are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars.

Again, Fish defines academic freedom to exist only within a given university. Academics should publish in their field and not look to attract controversy. He sums up his opinion on this matter and the counterargument as follows:
By defining academic freedom narrowly, as a concept tied to a guild and responsive only to its interests, I am said to ignore the responsibility academics have to freedom everywhere, not only in the classroom or in the research library but in the society at large and indeed in the entire world. In the view of the critics of the neoliberal university, a limiting definition of academic freedom forfeits the good that academics, highly trained and articulate as they are, might do if they took a stand against injustice and unfreedom wherever they are found.
I, honestly, want nothing to do with an academy that looks like Fish's model. I believe that my training in close reading, criticism and sensitivity to detail and nuance should be applied to the current state of affairs. I hope to train students to learn how to take the skills they have learned in analysing literature and use them to better understand the world they live in. The ability to think critically and to learn to be reflective and thoughtful should not be stifled by greed and professonalization.

Enough about Stanley Fish. His caustic opinion piece turned my verdant thoughts red, and I had to let off some steam. I have a few days off from classes this week. I will be doing a considerable amount of work, but hopefully I will manage to put up a few posts concerning my usual food and environmental concerns.

04 March 2009

Being an informed eater

In today's New York Times there is an article questioning the legitimacy of the "organic stamp," pondering whether organic is really better. Organic peanut butters have been effected by this current salmonella outbreak, just like other commercial products. So why buy organic? There seem to exist the same pitfalls.

I think the emphasis here should be taken away from organic and moved to "commercial." Commercial, large scale, industrial agriculture is detrimental whether organic or not. Organic monocropping will not aid in restoring our environment. A diet of organic cookies and processed foods will not heal our bodies and reduce the obesity epidemic and all of its related ailments. "Organic" is not a magical term that makes birds sing and people thin and happy.

I do buy organic. I supplement my largely local diet with organic products. However, I generally attempt to buy from non-commercial or smaller labels. I try not to support big industry. When buying food (and other products) I make an effort to be informed about its origin. I have a pretty good idea about where the ingredients in the food I cook and eat come from and how they were produced. The growing trend of salmonella or e coli seems proof enough that large scale industrial agriculture and food production is not ideal. I feel confident in my diet: it not only nourishes me, but is also in tune with the environment and supports small industry.

16 February 2009

On being an *academic* environmentalist gastronome...

I am noticing a trend. Perhaps you have noticed too? I am not keeping up with my blog very well. There was a moment when I was posting multiple times a week. This is no longer the case. I had thought that I would have much more time to devote to my blog this semester, because I am not teaching. I am not teaching, but I am taking reading-intensive seminars and "preparing" for my first comprehensive exam. Of course, up until this point, "preparation" has consisted mainly of writing lists and finding room on my bookshelves for the books I have commandeered from the library. I continue to cook and go to the farmer's market and enjoy in general my eco- and local food resources, but I just do not seem to manage to sit down and write about it all that often.
This is where the "academic" enters the title of this post. You clever readers might have already noted that this title plays with the subtitle of the blog: "Reflections of an Ecovore - or - On Being an Environmentalist Gastronome." Up until now I might occasionally refer to my studies (or cats), but I mainly wanted to focus on ecofood musings. My being a graduate student has thus far played a role in that I eat as well and as environmentally in tune as I do despite living off of a modest stipend (and don't forget my student loan debt!). However, as my studies continue to impede on my blogging time, I thought I might as well share a little bit about what I do. I recently applied for a "Graduate Certificate in the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality," and for this application I needed to submit a brief statement about my research. Paula graciously edited this statement and I was accepted. This was the first time I tried to sum up my research coherently and attempted to project a general idea of what a future dissertation might possibly look like. It's deliciously vague, and yet hits upon the key points of my interests. I though I'd share this with you (leaving out the final bit where I explain why the certificate and the Women's Studies program will play such a central role in my work). When I am not being an ecovore, this is what I do. Or actually -- I do both at the same time.
I am a second year doctoral student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. My work focuses on the intersection of epistolarity, spatiality and gender in narratives. Specifically, I study the space created by a letter, embedded in a fictional text, and consider the implications of this space particularly as it pertains to gender. Most recently I considered this space as gender neutral when investigating the function of letters in Dorothea Veit Schlegel’s Romantic novel Florentin (1801). The lack of gender within the epistolary space allowed women to shed the restrictions of gendered stereotypes and expectations when picking up the pen (assuming a phallus?) and allowed them to gain authority. Men too would be able to assume a voice outside of the limitations of their gender as it was understood at the time (the pen/phallus then acting as key and not gendering tool). I continue to work on an article about missives in Arthur Schnitzler’s Fräulein Else (1924) and the effect these have on the development of the plot and more specifically the role they play in Else’s demise. I am currently in the stage of establishing a theoretical foundation in epistolarity and in gender. Tentatively, in my dissertation I hope to establish a gendered theory of the letter as it is portrayed in 20th century German and Austrian fictional narratives.
If you come here for seasonal and eco recipes along with pictures of food, these will continue to appear. I offer a picture of a rather delightful winter vegetable soup (turned purple by red cabbage) as a concession prize. You can find the recipe at Farm to Philly.

08 February 2009

Making Sweet Treats Local

I've noticed that other bloggers feel no need to apologize profusely after not having posted in ages. Perhaps because I am relatively new to this game I feel otherwise. Or maybe because it is in my blood to live a life fueled by a guilty conscience (thank you, Oma!). While struggling to do the reading and writing I need to do for grad school and in the process cutting out most contact with the outside world (probably not the best method), I feel a little voice in my head, berating me for neglecting my blog and thus being a failure, unable to get anything done. It's not a friendly voice, no. However, I do continue to eat and cook eco - it's really a no-brainer for me at this point, so I might as well have something to show for it and do my part in helping others see that the locavore or ecovore life isn't one merely for the elite, but also for the stressed out, poor graduate student types (and others!).
If you follow my reading tips, you may have noticed that there has been (or had been, I'm a bit behind the times...) a flurry of posts about the evil that is high fructose corn syrup. I told you from day one that I abhor this sneaky commercial sweetener that pops up in the most unexpected of places. There are many reasons to be suspicious of this government-preferred sweetener, but I am not going to get into it right now. You can look it up yourself, or check out these three posts. The former two were cross posted at Civil Eats, which is always a good place to start to see what is going on in the food and agricultural world these days.
Over at Farm to Philly we have monthly "challenges" which help contributors think creatively about local eating and cooking issues. Because of aforementioned abhorrence and having seen a similar challenge elsewhere on the blog-o-sphere, I recommended an alternative sweetener challenge, with a local twist! So obviously no refined cane sugar or coconut or palm based sweeteners (bummer) or agave, for that matter. But we do have at hand here in the North East (or Mid Atlantic - where is Philly?) honey, maple syrup, molasses (made from sweet beets), and fruit-based sweeteners like apple juice and applesauce. Delicious desserts can be made from local sweeteners.
Experimenting for a potluck I will host in a few weeks and wanting to play around with recipes to make something that uses no sugar, I came up with the following recipe for a honey applesauce cake. Now, I have never really "made" my own recipe. I certainly like to experiment, and this recipe too starts from a really standard recipe for a 1-2-3-4 cake that I alter a lot. Regardless, enough changes were made that this is pretty much a new recipe now, and I am excited about that! The frosting was adapted from a lovely blog, The Nourishing Gourmet, whose author attempts to promote "nourishing," and frugal cooking.

So here is how my Honey Applesauce (Cup)Cake(s) with Honey Vanilla Frosting came together.
Yesterday I made apple cider applesauce with CSA apples and local cider.

Today I started with the cupcakes themselves. I tried to make a recipe that could easily be doubled (or tripled).

Honey Applesauce Cake
preheat oven to 350˚F

1 ½ cups flour (local white pastry flour)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

½ stick unsalted butter – room temperature (1/4 cup)
1/3 cup honey
1 egg yolk (white to follow)
1 cup applesauce
½ tsp vanilla

½ cup milk

1 beaten egg white (soft peaks)

whisk together dry ingredients and set aside
separate egg
with electric mixer beat butter until creamy (about 1 minute)
add honey, beat for another minute
add egg yolk, beat for one minute (if multiplying the recipe, add egg yolks one at a time, beating for one minute each)
mix in applesauce until well blended and then vanilla

alternately, starting with flour mixture, add in flour and milk. do this by hand so as not to over beat ingredients

mix in half of the beaten egg white. fold in the second half.

divide batter amongst 12 cupcake liners or pour into one 9” cake pan.

bake cupcakes for approx. 20 minutes, cake for approx. 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

You can see in the picture that the cupcakes fell a bit. Oh well.

Then came the very exciting frosting!

Honey Vanilla Seven Minute Frosting
adapted from The Nourishing Gourmet
2 egg whites
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla

In a double boiler or in a metal bowl over a pot with hot water, combine egg whites and honey. Beat with electric mixer until water comes to a boil. Continue to beat until soft peaks form (ca 7 minutes). Remove from heat and add vanilla. Beat until it seems substantive enough to frost with (medium peaks).

should be enough to frost 12 cupcakes or one 9” cake (I had some left over and made meringues).

Another first: I spooned the frosting into a plastic storage bag (I have about a trillion of these from the weekly granola I get in my CSA share), cut a hole in the corner and then piped the frosting onto the cupcakes. Don't they look like a delicious little army of local sweetness?!

23 January 2009

Green Juice

Before you say it: no, this juice is not of a green hue. Rather, it is orange. Very orange. But it is actually very green. A few years ago my parents generously gave me a juicer for my birthday, and though I rarely bought juice, I found that freshly squeezed juice was far superior and a true healthy treat. The juice pictured is a favorite of mine: carrot-apple. Sometimes I add beets for extra sweetness and a beautiful ruby color. The carrots and apples are both local and organic (from ... my CSA share, of course!). Now one might might look into the environmental impact of my electric juicer, but I blend only until juice is made and never leave any appliances plugged in when not in use. So for the sake of argument, let's say that the electric juicer is not detracting from the green goodness of my tasty juice.

(Side note: As friends and family know, I have an obsession with never leaving anything plugged in but the bare essentials: alarm clock, fridge and oven. I neurotically unplug every charger, my modem, radio. Lights are not left on. And until it was freeeeeezing out, I gallantly used cold - cool water for hand/face/dish washing -- some hot for dish washing -- and turned off water when not rinsing soap/shampoo in the shower. That being said, it is incredibly cold of late and I have started using more hot water. Oops! This is my attempt at low electricity bills and a delicate carbon footprint.)

Back to the juice. Why post about local, organic, fresh-squeezed carrot-apple juice? It's delicious. Nutritious. And about 1000 times better for the envirnoment than your average commercial orange juice. Starting locally (no pun intended), making anything from scratch is generally better. You know what the ingredients are, where the ingredients come from and know that the waste from the creation of dish, drink, whatever is disposed of properly. So with my juice, I know that the three carrots and three apples are local and organic. I know that the remaining pulp will be composted (yes -- I am composting again: thank you, pedal co-op!). I can feel good about this juice and feel confident that the ingredients were grown in the most environmentally-friendly way possible, because I know the farmer.

Of course, not everyone has a juicer. Not everyone has time to make their own juice. But many people like juice, buy it regularly and drink it daily. I was never one of these people, though I admit to stocking juice at times for others. Bought juice does not always have to be bad for the environment. The farmer's market here sells local apple cider and pear cider too (yum). There are smaller companies that sell organic, small-batch juices which are shipped in eco-friendly ways. This kind of happy, green juice, however, is almost never going to be America's favorite juice: orange juice -- the anti-green juice! (And, yes, this is the juice I stocked for said friend -- I'm such a sucker.) If you live in the midwest or northeast, oranges will never be local. I know! It's horrible. Why should Berkeleyians have lemon trees lining the streets, while I go through major internal conflict every time I consider buying an organic lemon and feel the need to turn a blind eye and repent later when I eat tasty mexican food with lovely limey-zest? It is not fair, but that is life. There is a reason why lucky, good children would receive an orange in their stockings at Christmas: Oranges are exotic!

Yet, it isn't even the shipping or mass production of orange juice that is the worst (though these things don't exactly tread lightly in terms of carbon footprints). Enter my beloved New York Times. Yesterday in the "Business" section of the Times there was an article about the environmental cost of orange juice. PepsiCo, which owns Tropicana, did a study of the environmental impact of orange juice, and its affect on global warming:
PepsiCo hired experts to do the math, measuring the emissions from such energy-intensive tasks as running a factory and transporting heavy juice cartons. But it turned out that the biggest single source of emissions was simply growing oranges. Citrus groves use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer, which requires natural gas to make and can turn into a potent greenhouse gas when it is spread on fields.

PepsiCo finally came up with a number: the equivalent of 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere for each half-gallon carton of orange juice.
Big surprise, commericialized citrus groves use practices that are harmful for the environment. So what is do be done? Stricter regulations of green practices for companies are on the rise, but the results are not always 100% legit. Aiding the environment and commercial success seem to have a way of getting mixed up. Suddenly it is popular to advertise how green you are, and this in turn becomes a marketing ploy -- and who knows the accuracy or reliability of the data shared.

It is a start though. Hopefully with increased awareness, more people will start asking questions and looking to uncover questionable commercial practices.

In the meantime, drink your juice -- but try to make it green!

(And to my orange-juice consuming friends and family: Don't feel personally insulted, just think a little longer about the environmental consequence of your juice of choice. You do not have to stop drinking orange juice altogether, and I bet that when visiting my juice-drinking friend this weekend, I might even have some orange juice myself! And if you do choose to consider phasing out orange juice: You are not going to get scurvy!)

15 January 2009

The ChallaMan!

I have mentioned in the past that I order my bread, flour, sucanat and even grain litter from a West Philly based bakery, Four Worlds Bakery. Along with his goods, customers and community member receive email updates with new, order information and feedback. This week found a video embedded in the email. When Michael Dollich moved his bakery from his own basement to a professional bakery space several blocks north and west, he chose what some might consider an unconventional means to transport the heavy wares: bicycles via the Philadelphia Pedal Co-op.
In the video Michael discusses his aspirations for having a carbon neutral business, serving the community and why he believes being a baker suits him much better than his previous career: law.

Check it out!

14 January 2009

Shared Local Meals - even when it's cold!

In the past I have discussed my desire to cook more with others. I love eating and cooking and realize the benefit of sharing this love with others. But I also crave solitude and quiet. In the new year, however, I am trying to find a balance of these two wants, and I think I am doing alright so far! Later in the month I will attend a sustainable foodie potluck in New York, and I hope to recreate the event in Philadelphia sometime in February. Not all local shared meals have to involve large-scale planning. Sometimes it is nice to just share a home cooked meal between two or three people.
Last night I had a dear friend and neighbor over for a festive meal to celebrate her birthday (happy birthday!). It was an excellent opportunity to use up some of my CSA goodies and make a local meal, despite the limited produce of winter. On the menu was tortilla española, a green salad, marinated beets and for dessert crepes with apple butter and lemon.

A tortilla is a great thing to make in the winter: eggs, potatoes, onions. (A lot of) olive oil and some salt go into this dish, which is not necessarily local (though I harvested sea salt from the Jersey shore this past summer!), but the rest is readily available in the winter and for this meal the ingredients came from my organic, local CSA share. It is easy, filling and delicious, if perhaps a little time intensive for all the chopping and slicing, and perfect for entertaining, because tortilla only gets better the longer it sits (and can be eaten, warm, cool or cold!). I recall picnics in Spain of cold tortilla on bread. The very first time I made my own tortilla I discovered that the left overs were even more delicious than the original meal. The salt and onion flavors settle with time.

Phylann, the Keystone farmer, has started growing lettuce in greenhouses, so I was able to offer a local green salad (in the winter!). I dressed it with a simple vinaigrette. The beets were from a previous share as well. I roasted them, chopped them into inch cubes and tossed them in a little olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

The entire meal was reminiscent of Spain with the tapas-like nature of the individual dishes. My friend contributed a carrot, coconut milk soup, made with carrots, onions and garlic from her CSA share (also Keystone Farm).

Dessert too was local! I get Pennsylvania flour from the Four Worlds Bakery, so I was able to make a totally local batter (minus pinch of salt): flour, egg, water, raw milk. The other day I made apple butter from my backlog of CSA apples. The crepes were delicious with a sprinkle of lemon juice and apple butter. I was always intimidated by crepes, but I've been shown the simplicity of the batter and I think I have mastered them! (No pictures of the crepes, but of the apple butter...)
While in California I fully embraced the local avocados (tears flood my eyes as I think of their ripe, green, luscious availability), fawned over the lemon trees lining the streets and marveled over the variety of local produce available in late December. The average Californian probably eats about 100% better than the average East-coaster. In retrospect, however, I realize that eating well is based totally on convenience and not on awareness or a desire to eat in tune with the environment and season. It would be wonderful if healthy, local ingredients were the norm everywhere, but they are not. I imagine that those who unknowingly consume better quality "eco" foods would eat the same non-seasonal, non-local foods that most other less fortunate eaters do were they to leave food paradise. Here in Philly (and beyond) there is a strong locavore and ecovore movement. People are making efforts to inform themselves about food origin and local food resources. Once the puzzle pieces fall into place, eating local is actually not that difficult.

That being said, being committed to local ingredients ALL year requires some dedication and innovation. It is exactly that dedication and innovation, however, that makes me truly appreciate a largely local diet in a place that does not benefit from the growing season of California or the south. With my CSA share I am faced with ingredients that I had never considered buying at a conventional grocery store. For example, I receive turnips ad nauseum. What on earth am I meant to do with turnips? Soups - check! Roasted root vegetables - check! Mashed turnips with roasted garlic - check! This last dish was a first for me. Never had I mashed a turnip or even roasted garlic. I love cooking new things. The apple butter too was a first. And boy is it good. I have extra too!! Making meals that compliment and respect the environment is incredibly rewarding for me, and I hope it could be for others as well.

Tortilla Española

5 small-medium potatoes (yukon gold or red ones) peeled and sliced thin (1/8 inch)
3 small-medium onions, diced
5 eggs
olive oil
pepper (optional)

While preparing potatoes and onions heat (medium-high) enough olive oil in a pan with high sides or pot so that the potatoes might be submerged totally. This is a lot of oil, (1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cup), but you drain it later and can reserve it for future tortillas. Sprinkle sliced potatoes with salt. Test heat of oil by dropping in one slice of potato, if it sizzles without browning, it is ready. Carefully drop sliced potatoes into oil. Stir occasionally with slotted spoon (try not to break potatoes). After about 8 minutes add the diced onion. Stir occasionally. Cook for another 7 minutes, until potatoes or cooked, but not burnt and onions glassy. Poor potatoes and onions into a colander over a bowl. Meanwhile gently beat 5 eggs and a pinch of salt. Add potatoes and onions to egg and mix together. It is OK if some potatoes break. Heat (medium high) 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan until very hot (I use 8 1/2 inch, I prefer a fat tortilla, use a larger pan for a thinner tortilla). Carefully pour egg/potato mix into pan and spread. Let cook for 1 minute at higher eat. You should see the sides set nearly immediately. Lower heat to medium low and cook until halfway set in the center (8-10 minutes). Make sure tortilla is not stuck to the sides (should jiggle freely in the pan; if not use a spatula or knife), and flip it. To do this take a flat plat, place it over the pan and (I do this over the sink) flip over onto plate. Then slide flipped tortilla back onto plate, tucking in sides. Cook another 5-6 minutes until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out clean without any uncooked egg on it. Flip back onto a plate and let cool at least 10 minutes. Trust me, this tortilla tastes better the longer it sets!

p.s. I have double posted this at Farm to Philly! Hope you don't mind!!

11 January 2009

Sunday Repose - and - Three Local Restaurants

After nearly a month of celebrating, catching up, visiting and more or less constant companionship, I am enjoying a quiet, solitary Sunday. Please do not misunderstand, I thoroughly enjoyed my holidays and was lucky enough to be surrounded by family and friends, all of whom I care for very much. But I am a quiet person and need to remove myself from the world at large from time to time. I have my work, cats and kitchen (and a couple of films) and intend to spend a couple of quiet days at home. There is nothing more relaxing or therapeutic then standing in my pajamas, peeling, coring and chopping something (in this case apples) while listening to the npr or, today, Bach's Goldberg Variations. It is very important to focus on your chopping (if you care to keep all fingers, that is), and I find that cooking allows me to rid my head of other thoughts more than (almost) any other activity. I love yoga, but even then my brain runs ahead of me.

So now I find my mind more peaceful than of late and while my apple sauce cools, readying itself to be pureed and further cooked into apple butter and my lunch of leftover lentils (with carrots, potatoes, onion and garlic from my CSA share) digests, I will finally address those three local restaurants I keep referring to, but not writing about.

By local, I do not mean local Philly restaurants, but rather I refer to three restaurants in three different cities (towns) which organize their menus around the cuisine local to their location and season. My winter break was divided between Woodbury, CT, New York City and San Francisco/Berkeley and in each place I enjoyed delicious locally-influenced cuisine.

One summer after my first year of college, I had the great fortune to work for the catering side of Carol Peck's culinary services. Carol Peck, like Alice Waters (indeed, she has been named the Alice Waters of the East), is world-class chef who focuses on cooking largely organically, seasonally and connecting to local farms in order to create her gastronomic masterpieces. There is a pronounced French influence to her cooking, so dishes are often simple, made to highlight the individual ingredients. That being said, it is not rare to find Asian touches. Her restaurant, Good News Cafe, opened in Woodbury in 1993 and has enjoyed great success ever since. Though not exclusively so, her restaurant is very vegetarian friendly, and there are certainly vegan options as well. She employs excellent local bakers and pastry chefs, which means that I generally tailor my meal around dessert. My latest visit (or two, and I fear I might be combining various visits to this, my favorite restaurant in CT, but I am rather predictable in my order, so...) with my parents found me sticking to my usual plan of salad entree and saving room for dessert. On the daily specials was an incredible salad of shaved fennel, greens, feta cheese, shrimp, scallops, oranges and a citrus dressing. Yum is all I have to say to that. The dessert I saved room for was also a special: chocolate layer cake, with hazelnut buttercream frosting and brandy-poached prunes. I love dessert and these are the best. The greens in my salad very likely came from the greenhouses across the street. I also overheard Carol on the phone, speaking to the fish-monger across the street, looking to find todays fresh fish to feature on the menu. Obviously, such moment-specific ingredient choices can be much more stressful and perhaps risky in terms of cost, but I do greatly appreciate these efforts.

Before heading to San Francisco, I had lunch in New York with my friend and food-activist role model, Paula, at a restaurant I've already mentioned, Angelica Kitchen. As opposed to Good News Cafe, Angelica Kitchen is an entirely vegetarian/vegan restaurant, focusing on "organic plant-based cuisine." Their menu changes daily based on the season, weather and food availability. I love eating at Angelica Kitchen because of their innovative meals, using only plant-based ingredients to make the most satisfying of dishes. There is always a raw option and the daily specials get "recycled" the next day at a lower price. This economical and waste-less-minded reusing of food that might not have been consumed on day one, but is still perfectly edible (and delicious!), is an excellent restaurant model. I shudder to think how much perfectly edible food is thrown away if not eaten by customers. Why not serve the same special two days in a row (and owe up to it!)? For our lunch, Paula and I both partook in the lunch deal, which included kukicha tea, the soup of the day (a "creamy" root vegetable soup), a salad (filled with lots of goodies like sprouts and carrots), a bread (we chose the whole grain sourdough) and a spread (ginger carrot). We also indulged in one of their yummy desserts: a cranberry, hazelnut parfait; in place of yogurt there was a hazelnut cream. Good food, good practices and excellent company.

This meal was good preparation for all of the excellent organic/local/innovative/vegetarian/raw/delicious food that I would enjoy in the Bay Area. Let me tell you -- so good. But for now I am just going to focus on my dreamy, dream come true, meal at Alice Waters' restaurant in Berkeley, Chez Panisse! This was a much anticipated meal and outting and it did not disappoint. Compared to the other two restaurants I mentioned which either cater to or devote themselves entirely to vegetarians, Alice Waters does not. At least not in the restaurant downstairs, where each night's fixed menu features various (local, free-range, organic, etc.) meat courses. The cafe upstairs, however, does offer some vegetarian options and the weeknight fixed menu which accompanies the à la carte menu is (nearly) always vegetarian. That's where we ate! My dear friend gifted me a dinner at the cafe and had made reservations for our first night in Berkeley. I must note though, that while the building is utterly charming and the food delicious, the popularity of Ms. Waters' restaurant leaves the dining room packed to bursting, which makes savoring each and every last bite somewhat strained in the loud and cramped setting. I point this out, as the enjoyment of food is an important element of Slow Food and perhaps fewer diners at any given point should be considered for the return of intimate dining. That being said, it was such a lovely meal and generous gift (and the lights were not bright and the company and food both excellent, which distracted from the commotion in the rest of the place). I opted for the fixed menu: a green salad with avocado dressing and marinated beets, winter vegetable cous cous with harissa and, for dessert, tangerine sherbert with a wafer thin cat tongue cookie (the meyer lemon sherbert originally featured on the fixed menu was out). My friend had a salad that consisted of an unusual relative of the artichoke, potatoes, cauliflower with an anchovy based dressing, an incredible baked steelhead fish (perfectly cooked and unbelievably delicious -- yes, I tasted!) and burnt caramel gelato with chocolate crinkle cookies. Needless to say we split the desserts 50-50, because I could not resist that caramel gelato (my companion graciously ordered it upon my greedy request). So, you see, even the crowd could not prevent this from being a memorable meal. And I am very thankful for having been taken.

You might notice that there are no pictures. I was not a very good photographer during this trip - as in I took next to no pictures, and definitely not of food. Hopefully, you will be able to imagine the beauty of these foods on your own. Use your imagination!

(and while I wrote, my apple sauce was pureed, spices and sucanat were mixed in, and it is slowly bubbling - making incredible noises - its way towards apple butter goodness)

09 January 2009

Hold the Presses!

I finally posted again at Farm to Philly about my winter CSA and a tasty recipe for a winter cabbage salad, and I was just about to sit down to post about three locavore restaurants in three very different cities to be followed up in the coming days by a more general post about the pleasure and ease of eating local in the Bay Area, when Mark Bittman sidetracked me big time. Now, my New York Times obsession has been well-documented and my respect for Mr. Bittman nears that of my adoration for Alice Waters. I am proud to say that I even gave the gift of his updated cookbook, How to Cook Everything, to a worthy omnivore this Christmas. Admittedly, I had already envisioned pointing out that Mark Bittman had also blogged about a cabbage salad in his blog, Bitten, though my salad might be indeed all the tastier for the addition of tart apples, red onion and walnuts. I did not, however, intend to devote this post to Mark Bittman, whom I now hold in even higher regard. But a quick browse through my food and eco links led me to Grist and a post honoring Mr. Bittman, who has a new book, Food Matters. The brief article also included an incredible video clip, which I am (attempting to) embed here.

Mark Bittman held this talk last year (or 2007) at TED. This is an invitation only based conference and covers a plethora of topics. Bittman was, obviously, talking about food. Not only food, though, but the way we eat and how this impacts the environment and our health. Sound familiar? Topics that interest me a tiny bit? Matters that should concern everyone, as this is a global problem that could actually be controlled by simple life style changes? Oh yeah. For some, what Bittmann says here is not news, but he, like Michael Pollan, addresses these issues simply, with great lucidity and with humor. Also, like Pollan, Bittman is not a vegetarian and he is not insisting that the world stop consuming meat, but he does candidly address industrial agriculture and its (massive and horrendous) implications on the environment. He also points to the corruption of the food pyramid and the strong relations between how we are told to eat and the economic desires and greed of agribusiness. In short, take 20 minutes and watch this video. He has some nice visuals, but, if need be you, you could listen while you go about your day.

05 January 2009

Happy New Year!

I am returning to Philly tomorrow and with that I will be returning to my blog. Get ready for posts about new year's (food) resolutions, eating my way through San Francisco and the East Bay and various restaurants dedicated to local food, as well, of course, to posts concerning environmentally friendly eating in West Philly and beyond. In the meantime I bring you a video introduced to me by my friend Alice. It depicts the history of modern warfare through food. The food shown isn't exactly representative of the Slow Food movement, "ecovorism" or anything close to it. But it does make one (or at least me) stop to consider the role of food culture in relation to larger cultural conflicts.