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?!