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.