Saturday, October 31, 2009

Slow Food Goes Digital

This week I received the fall issue of Slow Food USA's quarterly magazine, The Snail. In a surprise twist, it arrived quietly in my e-mail inbox rather than falling with a thud through the mail slot of my front door. In an effort to deliver news to its members in a greener fashion, Slow Food has done away with the old print format and now delivers the mag through an on-line viewer. As a life-long reader who dearly loves the feel of paper pages in her hand, this member was skeptical at first. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy (dare I say enjoyable?) it was to read the magazine on-line. There are even virtual "pages," that turn in a remarkably realistic manner. The content, as always, was inspiring and informative. Below are a few of the highlights included in the current issue. Enjoy!

*Michael Pollan's September op-ed in the New York Times, in which he links health care reform to the reform of our food systems.

*The new USDA "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" campaign, which aims to create more and stronger connections between producers and consumers, all while strengthening rural communities, supporting small growers, and promoting the importance of knowing where your food comes from.

*And update on Slow Food's "Time for Lunch" campaign. Over 20,000 people attended the campaign's "eat-ins" on Labor Day weekend, and there are many ways you can still get involved before Congress votes on the Child Nutrition Act next spring. Click here to find out how you can help get whole, healthy foods into our nation's public schools.

Interested in receiving The Snail in your inbox? Click here to find out how you can become a member of Slow Food USA.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Great Gratin Experiment. Or, Celeriac is My New Favorite Thing.

After days of staring down small mountains of root veggies in my fridge, I finally got inspired enough to attempt a little cookery. As mentioned in a previous post, I've never cooked turnips or parsnips before, and I've never even tasted celeriac. I've also never made a gratin, but somehow this seemed like the perfect vehicle for the veggies in question. I had a hard time finding any recipes that didn't rely heavily on potato, but decided to go for it in spite of some worries that so many root-ish flavors might a little overpowering...

Result? Delicious!

My measurements were rather imprecise (as usual) so I can't provide a formal recipe here. But, I can tell you that I used both chicken stock and half & half for the liquid (rather than oodles of heavy cream). This resulted in a very rich flavor without overwhelming the tummy, and would probably make a nice substitution in any gratin. I can also say that any combination of root veggies and cheese (I used a little sharp cheddar and parmesan) will make for a delectable and satisfying dish, with or without potatoes. Although celeriac may not be pretty, the flavor is such a treat--much like celery, but richer and more full-bodied. Combined with the parsnips, turnips, and kohrabi, each bite was packed with distinct flavors, all brought together with the sauce and the cheese. Very, very yum, and very, very hearty on a cool fall night.

So, next time you're thinking of a regular potato gratin, give some less typical roots a try. I promise you will not be disappointed!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nice Move Necco!

With halloween just around the corner, it's nice to see that Necco Wafers, a classic, local candy (and one of my dad's favorites) have made the switch to all natural ingredients. When you just have to indulge that sugary urge, much better to ingest a little beet juice than artificial coloring!

Click here to read the full Boston Globe article on the new Necco Wafers.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Root of the Root

This week, fall officially arrived in my ever-fabulous farm share from Red Fire Farm. In addition to some wonderful greens and winter squash, we got to pick from an astounding assortment of root veggies, many of which are new to me. Along with some lovely onions, we stocked up on parsnips, turnips, daikon and celeriac (that would be the lumpy, rather unappetizing orb hanging out front and center in the photo above). While I've eaten my share of parsnips and turnip (and maybe daikon, according to some vague memories from my youth), I have never actually cooked with any of them at home. And celeriac? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Happily, all of these new veggies mean I get to have an extra experimental week in the kitchen. Hopefully I'll devise some winning recipes to share...and if you have your own fabulous root preparations, please do send them along!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eat Well, Buy Fair.

These days, lots of us do our best to eat fresh, local food as a favor to our bodies, our palates, and our planet. But, no matter how devoted we are to keeping it local, there are some things that can be awfully hard to give up. Take coffee, for example. I only drink one cup a day, but that cup is oh so very special. Wrapping my hands around that warm, steaming beverage makes early mornings at my desk feel like a treat rather than a chore. And while it's not a local treat, there are ways the conscious consumer can keep such simple pleasures from becoming guilty ones. What's the best place to start? Buy Fair. When you make the choice to buy a Fair Trade product, whether it's coffee, chocolate, or bananas, you're ensuring that small scale producers receive a fair price for their goods, which often enables them to raise themselves out of poverty. It also allows these producers to invest back into their community, which leads to countless social and environmental benefits.

This past week, I had the opportunity to learn more about Fair Trade at a dinner at Garden at the Cellar hosted by Green Mountain Coffee, which has a growing line of Organic Fair Trade coffees. I also got to taste some delicious dishes prepared by chef Will Gilson, whose culinary beginnings at the Herb Lyceum contributed to his focus on fresh seasonal food. The meal, which combined Fair Trade and local ingredients along with a tasting of Organic Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain, was a preview of the Eat, Drink, and be Fair event happening this Wednesday at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter in South Boston. The event will feature creations from Chef Wilson, as well as chefs Jay Silva, Richard Garcia, and Peter McCarthy. It's a great opportunity to learn more about how you can buy Fair in your daily life, as well as to sample dishes featuring Fair Trade ingredients like coffee, tea, and vanilla. The event will celebrate the fact that October is Fair Trade month, as well as Boston's efforts to become a Fair Trade Town in 2010. (Go Boston!)

Below are some highlights from chef Gilson's meal last week. Based on this very yummy preview, this is one cook-off you do not want to miss!

Our meal began with a delicious amuse of heirloom pumpkin soup, pumpkins courtesy of Sparrow Arc Farm in Troy, Maine. These tiny cups were packed with rich fall flavors, and a lovely hint of spice for yet another layer of warmth.

The soup was followed an incredible plate of locally foraged mushrooms along with a slow-poached egg, black truffle, and a house made duck neck rillette that was breaded and fried. I had never tried duck before, but I dove in whole-heartedly and was amply rewarded. It blended perfectly with the full, earthy flavors of mushroom and truffle, all of which was brought together beautifully with the soft egg yolk. So yummy and satisfying on a cool fall night.

Our next dish incorporated the Green Mountain Free Trade coffee in a coffee and sunchoke puree that provided a perfect compliment to some slow-roasted chicken and a savory, house made chicken sausage.

For dessert, one of my favorites: a poached pear with a little something sweet on the side. In a delicious twist, the late season pear was tea-poached, lending it a subtle jasmine aroma. And when each bite was topped with a bit of caramel and vanilla bean whipped cream...perfection. Knowing that so many of the ingredients were Fair Trade, including the tea and the vanilla, made it all the more enjoyable.

Over dessert, we also had the opportunity to sample two of Green Mountain's Organic Fair Trade blends. We tried a Kenyan blend that was bright and fruity, along with a Sumatran that had a deeper, earthier flavor. As a lover of strong coffee, the Sumatran was my favorite, but it was surprisingly fun to taste coffee in a way that's usually reserved for wine. With the help of a Green Mountain expert, my fellow diners and I threw out words like "round" and "chocolatey," focusing on flavors and aromas that often go overlooked. It left me thinking that a coffee tasting brunch might be in order...all organic and Free Trade, of course.

For more information on Wednesday's event and how you can buy Fair, visit

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pick a Peck of (Frozen) Peppers

One of the joys of having a farm share this year has been learning more about the seasonality of the foods I eat. Some produce, including the delightful garlic scape, comes on line for a tiny little window that adds a special excitement to the month of June. Others have a much longer season, which in the case of lettuce has been a pleasant surprise for me--we are still getting incredible salad greens in our share each week, in spite of the increasing chill! I'm also learning that early fall is apparently peak season for all manner of peppers, as we've come home with at least two pounds of the beautifully colored fruits for the past few weeks. And, although we've enjoyed many of them on our salads or as a light, crispy snack, our refrigerator space has been increasingly consumed by bags full of reds, yellows, and greens. One can only eat so many peppers in a day!

Lucky for me, a quick internet search revealed that preserving peppers through the winter takes just three simple steps:

1) Wash.
2) Chop.
3) Freeze.

Suggestions for chopping varied, with some preservers going for a full dice and others simply halving and de-seeding their peppers. I opted for strips, as these can be kept long for stir fries or chopped smaller if needed. Now, I have a bag full of tasty, colorful ribbons to provide a taste of the farm throughout the winter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Good News for the Monday Blues

At long last, the business practices of Monsanto are being investigated by the Justice Department, with a focus on whether the company violated antitrust rules on its way to getting patented Monsanto genes into 96% of the soybean crop and 80% of the corn crop in the United States. Monsanto has long been acknowledged as a dangerously powerful bully in the seed industry, with films like Food Inc. documenting their ruthless tactics for squeezing out smaller competitors and farmers who refuse to buy their patented seed. Here's hoping this case marks the beginning of a return to the days when the best seed was part of the public trust, rather than a for-profit commodity.

Click here to read the full news item from the New York Times.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Food, Food, Food.

Today's Times magazine is devoted to all things food, the perfect compliment to Sunday morning coffee. In addition to issues like hunger, malnutrition, and obesity, several of the articles present interesting ideas on moving toward healthier, more sustainable ways of eating, including:

*Mark Bittman's musings on how on-line grocery shopping might help the conscious consumer to eat fresher, more locally sourced food.

*A profile of Jeff Ford, a Wisconsin baker who uses organic, locally sourced grains and a natural fermentation method to make delicious breads that are not only sustainable, but also digestible for many people diagnosed with wheat allergies (Ford's theory is that the wheat varieties used in industrial production are better designed for monocultures and machine processes than the human digestive system). The article includes one fabulous looking recipe for whole wheat bread!

*And, of course, a contribution from Michael Pollan, "Rules to Eat By," a brief consideration of the role that culture can play in helping us to make smart food choices in an era of nutritionism and supplemented, processed foods. Pollan echoes some of his themes from In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, but also looks forward to a new book he's working on, in which he'll gather some common sense eating wisdom from regular people like you and me (as opposed to a bunch of scientists). You can post your own rules and read Pollan's favorites through links at the end of the article.

Happy Sunday reading!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Red Meat, Clean Conscience.

When I was fourteen, my biology teacher showed the class a film strip about industrial meat processing. Based on the terribly disturbing images and information I'd seen, I became an instant convert to vegetarianism and followed a meat and fish free diet until I moved to Spain after college. (It's tough to be a vegetarian in Spain--apart from the fact that the concept is not really understood, I had a hard time finding vegetable sources of protein, so I began eating seafood. Although I felt guilty at first, I quickly realized that this was an excellent choice for someone living right on the Mediterranean!) Even after adding seafood back into my diet, I continued to avoid meat for several more years, and I never once missed it. I happen to be crazy for veggies and grains, so vegetarianism was a natural fit. Then the hamburger dreams began.

About three years ago, I started dreaming, nearly nightly, about eating red meat. By day, I continued my regimen of zucchini, rice, and beans. But by night, I ate thick, juicy burgers and tender steaks, savoring every bite of rich, beefy flavor. When barbecue season hit, the smell of burgers sizzling over charcoal fairly sent me over the edge, and when my now husband began to rediscover the joys of grilling...well...I caved. I reasoned that these cravings, the likes of which I'd never experienced before, meant that my body needed something that meat had, and who was I to deny my body? All things in moderation, I told myself. To test the waters I had one little bite, and it was every bit as good as in my dreams. From single bites I moved down the slippery slope to mini-burgers and shared portions of steak, until I was finally ready for my own full servings (my husband let me know I was ready when I started eating half his dinner).

Now, I eat red meat with regularity, about once or twice a month. And, although this rate of consumption is much lower than that of the average American eater, I am plagued by my knowledge of where that meat comes from, how it is processed, and the animals and people who are exploited along the way. But, as I've discovered, finding guilt-free meat, especially beef, can be challenging. And, even when you do, a grass-fed (and grass-finished), locally and humanely raised piece of steak does not come cheap.

This, of course, is a big part of the problem; whereas red meat used to be an occasional treat for a special meal, we've come to think of it as a nearly daily staple, and an affordable one at that. Of course, the costs that used to be born by the consumer have now been buried in less visible places, as reported in today's New York Times (click here to read the article). Producers now use meat (and questionable meat-like by products, often processed with chemicals) from several different sources in order to make cheap, mass-produced ground beef of a particular fat content. And, under the not-so-watchful eye of the USDA, not nearly enough testing goes on to monitor whether these many beef sources contain E. coli, not to mention their general food safety practices.

This is nothing new, of course. Such issues have been covered by many an author and filmmaker at this point. And, although I am happy to see these issues being covered in front page newspaper stories, I was disappointed that such a large and thorough article on this subject made no mention of the role that corn feeding plays in the increase of dangerous E. coli in our food supply. As has been documented in many places, cows are not meant to eat corn. They are meant to eat grass. And although we have grown to love the fatty, marbled beef that corn feeding produces, one of the many terrible by-products of that method is a huge increase in E. coli. (A 1998 study by Cornell University showed that grass-fed cows have at least 80% less E. coli in their digestive tract than grain fed cows.) When cows are forced to eat corn, it acidifies their digestive tract, creating an ideal environment for acid resistant strains of E. coli to live and replicate. Because cows are immune to the bacteria's effects, they have become breeding grounds for strains of E. coli that render our normal defense against them--stomach acid--totally useless. Combine this reality with the reality of poor oversight and regulation, and you have one worrisome food system. Most disturbing to me is that so much of this processed "meat" winds up in our schools as part of the federal school lunch program. Yet another reason to support organizations like the Healthy Schools Campaign, who are fighting to give our children safe, well-regulated, whole foods.

So, how can someone who enjoys a good burger once in a while possibly do so in clean conscience, given all of these realities? A couple of small changes can actually go a long way in this regard.

First, stop expecting meat to be cheap. Although it can be shocking to read that grass fed beef is $22/lb., you can get a very delicious, reasonable portion for around $8. And, importantly, you know that you're paying the costs for its production up front, rather than waiting for them to surface in the form of a huge E. coli outbreak or a new strain of antibiotic resistant bacteria. You're also probably supporting a small and/or local farm, rather than a massive industrial producer.

Second, grind your own burger (or have someone do it for you if you're squeamish). To avoid hamburger that contains mystery meat from countless cows and often several plants, buy one piece of meat and make your burger from that. Most grocery stores will grind it for you if you ask, and any local butcher shop certainly will. You can also invest in your own grinder, which come in everything from old school, countertop hand cranks to stand mixer attachments. This may seem like a pain, but trust me: just knowing that you are eating real meat from only one cow makes it taste infinitely better.

Finally--and this is the one that's hardest for some people to stomach--eat less meat. It's a big change for some of us, but it's also relatively easy and could have a huge impact if we move in that direction as a society. As with other dietary changes that are better for our bodies and for the planet, I try not to think of it as giving something up. Instead, it's an opportunity to gain a better food source, and to get creative--on a night when you'd normally just grill an easy burger, you can break out a new recipe or try a new veggie instead. Although you may not always wind up with something quite as satisfying or delicious as you'd hoped, one thing is for certain: you, your neighbors, and your planet will be a little better off as a result.

Photo by Josh Bancroft on Flickr Creative Commons.