Saturday, February 27, 2010

Winter Blues

Last summer marked the end of out-of-season berries for me. After devouring a few pints of sweet, local strawberries from the Copley Square farmers market, I just couldn't fathom eating colorless, tasteless fruit shipped all the way across the country. Such berries aren't good for the planet or the palate. Much better to dream of sweet perfection through the cold winter months and enjoy that brilliant taste of spring when it finally comes.

Yesterday, however, I discovered a large bag of frozen, organic blueberries in my freezer. I have no idea when or why I purchased said blueberries, but as a cold, dreary rain fell outside my winter window I felt my spirits lift a little. What to do with this accidental bounty? The clear choice: muffins. After a few minutes gathering ideas on the internet, I put together a recipe that turned out warm, blue, and delicious. Only one thing could make it better, and I can't wait to make these again when the blueberries are big, fresh, and plentiful. Perhaps this year I'll grab a few extra pints and freeze them myself, preserving a little taste of locally-grown sunshine to combat the February blahs. In the meantime, I would make them again with apple pieces, dried fruit, or sans fruit altogether. There's nothing bad about a cinnamon oatmeal muffin, after all!

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

1/2 c all purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 c oatmeal
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c water
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 T vanilla
1 c blueberries (thawed and drained if frozen)
2 t sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400.

In large bowl, mix first 8 ingredients. In small bowl, mix egg, water, oil, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the first bowl and stir until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Spoon into greased muffin tins filling each cup about 2/3 of the way.

Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops. Bake for 20 minutes and enjoy, preferably while they're still warm! They also make a delicious next-day breakfast: warm them over in the toaster, top with plain yogurt and drizzle with honey. Heaven on a plate.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Un Petit Cafe

When it comes to eating a diet that is as sustainable as possible, one of my daily struggles is coffee. I generally only have a cup in the morning, but boy do I need that cup to start my day. Not so much for the caffeine as for the rich, comforting warmth that only the aroma and flavor of coffee can provide. (I have nothing against tea and drink plenty of it, but it's just not the same.)

For years now, I have been buying only Fair Trade, Shade Grown, Organic coffee. But, one thing I have never managed to do is get up early to brew this sustainable coffee and take it into work with me four days a week. The result: I, like so many tired, coffee-loving people, find myself at Starbucks, ordering coffee whose origins are unknown to me and drinking it out of a bleached paper cup. Sure, from day to day it may not seem like a big deal, but when you think about how many of us grab a quick cuppa Joe each day (or two, or three), it adds up very quickly on two fronts. First, there is the quantity of waste we generate with all of those disposable cups, the most offensive arrangement being the giant plastic iced coffee cup doubled up with an even bigger styrofoam one (shame on you Dunkin Donuts). But, even more importantly, there's a great deal of power being exercised when that many consumers make a repeat, daily purchase. We could all walk out tomorrow and tell Starbucks we're not coming back until everything they serve is shade grown. And guess what? They would have to comply. It's easy to forget that, added together, our daily personal choices do make for a serious force in the business world. As Gary Hirshberg, the owner of Stonyfield, points out in Food, Inc., it's the reason that Wal-Mart no longer carries milk from hormone-treated cows. We do have a voice, and even our smallest choices matter.

With this in mind, I recently made an investment in a teeny tiny French press, pictured above next to some lovely fruit courtesy of Enterprise Farm. I used it at home this morning for fun, but starting this Monday I will get my daily coffee at my desk rather than at a counter. Thanks to this adorable contraption, I will know where my coffee comes from and how it was grown. I can drink it out of a ceramic mug that makes a much better hand warmer than cardboard. And, I can change my part of the group message to places like Starbucks, no longer sending the signal that everything they're doing is a.o.k. with me. All this, while saving myself a good bit of money as well. Tres magnifique!

Update: As noted by a coffee-minded reader (see comments), Starbucks does have better practices than many coffee retailers when it comes to how their beans are grown and traded, all of which is detailed on their newly revamped (and rather impressive) website. While I am aware that Starbucks does have some good practices, the issue for me is that I can't be sure what lies behind the daily variety on any given morning. According to the site, 75% of their coffee is currenty "repsonsibly grown, ethically traded," and they have set goals for environmental responsibility, though nothing I can see on shade growing. You can let them know that you appreciate their efforts to be responsible, transparent corporate citizens, and that you'd like to see them reach 100% by dropping them a line here. If they can reach that goal, busy coffee-lovers no longer have to worry that the variety in their re-usable mug falls into the 25% whose provenance is questionable. If you are a devoted Dunkin' drinker, or Peet's, or elsewhere, encourage them to raise their sustainable standards as well!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tatsoi is the New Green

Last week, I discovered an unfamiliar stowaway in my farm share box: dark little bundles of greens, clustered together on short, delicate stems. Perplexed and excited as always by the discovery of a new veggie, I dug up the Enterprise Farm e-newlsetter from the day before and discovered I was holding tatsoi, grown by Eastern Carolina Organics as part of the winter food shed. Seeing as I'd never heard of such a leaf, I decided a little research was in order.

Per Wikipedia (which I will deny using as a source if you tell any of my former writing students), tatsoi is also referred to as spinach mustard, spoon mustard, or rosette bok choy for the shape of the clusters the leaves grow in. For such a crisp and seemingly delicate green, it's apparently very hearty--it can tolerate temperatures as low as 15 F and can be harvested from under the snow! (If so, it seems this might be a good candidate for growing more locally, even through the coldest winter months.) The kitchen dicitionary at RecipeZaar likens the flavor to bok choy, but I would argue it's got a little more bite--it's grassy, lemony, and mustardy all at once, and boy does it jazz up a bowlful of red leaf lettuce! RecipeZaar also suggests tossing it into soups just before serving, which I imagine might work well with Asian flavors.

Though I haven't tried it yet, there was also a delectable-sounding recipe in the e-newsletter. You can find it below, and you can bet that I will be giving it a shot the next time these yummy rosettes come my way. Keep your eye out for them at your nearest winter farmers market--they are a lovely treat!

Chilled Sesame Ginger Tatsoi,
From the Enterprise Farm Newsletter

1 1/2 lbs Tatsoi, washed & dried
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 c soy sauce
2 T sugar
4 dashes Tobasco sauce
1/4 c white vinegar
2 T sesame oil
1 T ginger, minced
1/4 c sesame seeds, toasted

Bring a large pot of salted water to a roiling boil. Add the tatsoi, blanch for 1 minute, drain, and immediately plunge into ice water to stop cooking. Drain again.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, sugar, vinegar, and Tobasco. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the tatsoi and dressing. Mix well and refrigerate until well chilled. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love and Fortune

Tonight, I am headed to Cambridge to celebrate Valentine's Day with some lovely ladies. Seeing as my hostess already has a fabulous menu planned, I wanted to bring something sweet and fun to add to the party. Since today is also the first day of the Chinese New Year, I thought it would be extra fun if this something held a message for the New Year to come. As it happens, I have a box full of fortunes on hand on the kitchen (seriously), and although I have no idea how to make an actual fortune cookie, I do know how to make a chocolate one. And with a little dab of icing for glue, each cookie becomes a messenger of fortune, holding a special sentiment for its consumer. Some are silly, some speak to matters of the heart--it's Valentine's Day after all--and others are good old-fashioned fortune cookie food for thought.

My favorite? "A contented mind is a perpetual feast." With that thought, and with this recipe, I wish you a happy Valentine's Day and an even happier New Year!

Chocolate Shortbread Refrigerator Cookies,
adapted from an old and yellowed page from the New York Times Magazine

1 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, coarsely chopped
1.5 t vanilla extract
3 T ice water

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor. Pulse just to sift. Add butter and pulse until combined. Sprinkel water and vanilla on top and pulse until combined. This is a dry dough, so do not be alarmed if it's not all sticking together!

Divide the dough in half and shape each half inside waxed paper into a cylinder about 7 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. (The cookies will spread a bit when baked.) Refrigerate the dough for at least several hours or for as long as 1 day. (You can also freeze the dough for several weeks wrapped in foil.)

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and set them 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the tops are firm.

Transfer to wire racks to cool. Icing optional!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Give Love, Get Love: Local Treats for Your Sweet

This Valentine's Day, The Channel Cafe has planned an inspired "Local Love" meal featuring local, organic produce from Enterprise Farms and libations from Narragansett Brewery. The four course dinner will also include locally foraged mushrooms and locally raised meat. Yes, that is a lot of local!

The dinner, which will take place on Saturday the 13th (perfect for surprising that special someone!), is just $30 per person, including beer. Quite a deal for a meal that features such special ingredients. Indeed, everything on the plate that night will have been produced with tremendous care, the very type of attentive devotion that the holiday should celebrate. It's a perfect opportunity to give a little love back to your local farmers and to celebrate love in your own life, whether with friends or a sweetheart.

My husband and I can hardly wait until Saturday, and I imagine that spots are filling up quickly. Call 617-426-0695 to reserve your place at the table!

*The lovely gift tag in the photo comes courtesy of Central Bottle, where the owner's seven-year-old nephew is officially in charge of all signage. There is a basket full of these gems by the register, perfect to go with a gift bottle for your special someone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15"

These days, most of us are conscious of many different issues when we wander the aisles of the supermarket. If you're reading this blog, you probably try to avoid corn syrup and processed foods, you might keep your eye out for locally-produced products, and you certainly buy organic whenever you can. But, if you're like most consumers, your budget is not limitless, so price is also a factor when deciding between the healthiest option and the next best thing. If the difference between organic and conventionally grown broccoli makes your heart skip a beat, the choice can be a tricky one.

Well, thanks to a fabulous interview with Michael Pollan on DemocracyNow, I've learned of a very helpful list put together by the Environmental Working Group. Referred to as the "Dirty Dozen," the list contains the 12 fruits and veggies that soak up the most pesticides when grown conventionally and are therefore the most important to buy organic. It also names the "Clean 15," for which the opposite is true--these items absorb much less of whatever they might be sprayed with, so buying them non-organic is less worrisome than most. With this list in hand, you can see that it's better to splurge on the organic apples and save a little on some conventional broccoli. Or if conventional strawberries are all that's available, better to wait until next week.

You can download a pocket-sized copy of the guide (or the iphone app!) by clicking here. Happy shopping, and healthy eating!

Click here to watch Pollan's full interview--it's packed full of nutritious information!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sustainable Seafood with Slow Food Boston

This Sunday, as part of their 3rd annual Winter Film Series, Slow Food Boston will be offering a screening of The End of the Line, a documentary that explores the many complex issues surrounding seafood consumption. From environmental impacts, to mercury levels, to the people whose livelihoods depend on healthy oceans, the film promises to be an informative look at a complicated web of relationships. The film will be followed by a panel discussion including Jacqueline Church, founder of Teach a Man to Fish; Heather Tausig, director of conservation at the New England Aquarium; and Niaz Dorry, and activist who works with groups like Cape Ann Fresh Catch.

If you're a die hard Saints fan (or a fan of that other team), not to worry. The screening is at 3:30--perfect timing for a dose of good-for-you food knowledge before you head home to enjoy the game...and probably some not-so-good-for-you snacks.

Click here for directions and details!