Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Eaters Unite!

Michael Pollen for Secretary of Food!
Please sign the petition now!

This is wonderful, a grass roots movement set into motion to try and prevent the nomination of Sec. of Agriculture nominee, Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack.

Check out the previous posts here to find out more about the corn-loving, agribiz gov.

Also, if you want to hear Michael Pollen speak he was interviewed on NPR, it's 4 and a half minutes and well worth the time. He's so well spoken and has such a grasp of the issues from all sides. Sustainability can be profitable. Corn is the problem not the solution.

How do you change the business of agriculture? It's so huge and multifaceted, it's an incredibly daunting challenge. A challenge an insider, with no motivation has any chance of surmounting. Why should he? He's doing just fine under the current system.

I talk all the time about how food is such an integral piece of global warming, the government subsidized corn industry, that feeds corn to cows that make them sick. The methane gases caused by cows belching, and farting makes up 5%, yep that's right, 5% of all global warming gasses. Somehow in the discussion of corn this fact is often over looked.

Could someone tell me again why the tax payers give money to subsidized this lucrative business?

Well lucrative for everyone, but the farmers.

Monday, December 29, 2008


December 23rd
Dinner with Chris and Draper, Jorge and Michael

Walsh rarebit
with house made Icelandic Seed Bread, roasted potatoes,
local heritage apple slices, assorted chutneys

Local Onion Custard Tart

Cabbage Salad
with currents and walnuts

Cranberry Upside Down Cake
with whipped cream

December 24th
Dinner with Sarah, Rebbecca and Natan Theise & Craig

House-made Latkes
with wild caught Pacific Salmon, Cream cheese and
home made apple sauce

Organic Local Greens
Grain mustard vinaigrette

Traditional Lasagna
with home made whole wheat pasta, mozzarella and ricotta
and tomatoes sauce with Thyme and Rosemary

Boozy Chocolate Cake
(with lots of ground almonds and hazelnuts)
and a big dollop of unsweetened whipped cream

December 25th

A selection of artisanal cheeses from Saxelby Cheese Mongers
Sour Dough walnut cranberry bread, selection of chutneys

Chanterelle Risotto

Organic Local Greens
Grain mustard vinaigrette

Pear Mincemeat Tart
Cranberry Upside Down Cake*
with whipped cream

*my new favorite winter dessert.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tin Penny Jenny's Blueberry Chutney

Sorry for my absence from writing, but I have been too busy cooking to think about anything but chopping, baking and eating (not to mention a fair amount of wine consumption).

I hope that everyone has had a good, restful holiday filled with good cheer and even better food.

We've had company 4 of the last 5 nights, every meal had several condiments, but my new favorite is the above named wild, organic, blueberry, chutney my friend Jane gave me.

Jane's daughter, Jenny, and Jenny's husband, Hugh, have a wild blueberry farm in Maine:
Intervale Farm, wild blueberries, 199 North Main Street, Cherryfield, ME 04622, 207-546-2589

Hugh's nickname for Jenny is the name of the chutney:
Tin Penny Jenny's Blueberry Chutney

I highly recommend you give them a call and get some or, if I'm not mistaken, they also still have 5 and 10 pound boxes of frozen wild blueberries for a really exceptional price.

This is a very small farm that is run by just Hugh and Jenny (and friends during harvest time), they are loving stewards of the land and support themselves almost exclusively from their blueberry harvest, maintaining sustainable, organic farming practices and growing an indigenous crop.

I heartily recommend you give them your support.

And if you want to know more about Maine wild blueberries here's the site for you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

another side of the Vilsak debate

Here is an article that I am copy and pasting from the Huffington Post. It is far more diplomatic then I usually am, but even so, it warns we need to cautious and "alert".

Worth the read I think.

And I promise for the next few days it'll all be about recipes and festive holiday spirited fun!

Obama's Choice of Vilsack: AgriBusiness as Usual at USDA?

Subdued approval greeted President-elect Obama's choice of Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture last week. This came from mainstream environmental groups, such as Sierra Club, and even organizations that have been critical in the past of the Iowa governor's policies. Vilsack comes across in nearly all of the stories written last Tuesday and Wednesday as a solid choice, someone reliable from a farm state who understands farmers.

But, a day or two later the complexion of the Vilsack nomination had changed somewhat. First, the announcement was made in a slightly odd fashion, leaked out ahead of time, as though the Obama transition team were expecting some flak for their choice. In addition, Vilsack -- notably -- had removed himself from the running before jumping back in just prior to his selection by the president-elect.

Today, the lukewarm reception Vilsack initially received has turned into real heat as the Obama transition team finds itself in the fire over the former Governor's appointment. President-elect Obama identified Vilsack as representative of the kind of "new leadership" Washington needs. But now, even those who initially greeted the nomination with some enthusiasm are wondering if Vilsack isn't a signal of business as usual at the USDA, and beyond.

First of all -- as Politico reports -- there is the farm subsidy money that Vilsack has received over time from USDA. According to the piece, from 2000 to 2006, Vilsack and his wife collected $42,782 in subsidies from USDA. In addition, "Vilsack is a partner at a lobbying law firm (Dorsey & Whitney) that trumpeted his advice to clients on agribusiness development and renewable energy -- a job that appears to bump up against Obama's promise to bar appointees from working on issues related to their employment for two years." The former Governor recognizes the conflict of interests, and claims he will do everything he can to address the problem, and if he must, he will forgo the payments.

If only that was the sole reason to question the choice of Vilsack; $42K may not be enough of a figure to inspire concern. Vilsack's positions on biotechnology and ethanol are far more troubling.

For those of us who have serious health and environmental concerns about genetically engineered (GE) crops, cloning, and industrial agriculture in general, it would be difficult to pick someone with a worse track record. Vilsack was even named "Governor of the Year" by the Biotechnology Industry Organization for his "support of the industry's economic growth." Small wonder. Under Governor Vilsack, the state of Iowa invested millions of dollars of taxpayer funds in dubious biotechnology start-ups, such as cow cloner Trans Ova Genetics ($9 million) and pharmaceutical corn developer, ProdiGene, Inc. ($6 million). Iowa's investment in ProdiGene was particularly unfortunate. The company not only proved a financial failure, but in 2002, an Iowa cornfield that became contaminated with the company's genetically engineered pharma corn had to be destroyed. One hopes Mr. Vilsack has learned from this experience. He also supported (some say instigated) a bill in 2005 that pre-empted cities and counties from regulating GE crops more strictly than the state or federal government. On biotechnology policy, Vilsack is far from the visionary we had hoped for.

Vilsack has also been a big supporter of ethanol, as is President-elect Obama. On this issue, they're clearly in synch, but their enthusiasm is terribly misplaced. The latest science demonstrates clearly that corn-based ethanol exacerbates rather than mitigates global warming, while so-called "cellulosic" ethanol from crop waste and prairie grass (which might have value, the jury is still out) is years away from commercial use. Even some of ethanol's strongest supporters in Congress, like Senator Tom Harkin, have come to question corn-based ethanol. President-Elect Obama and Mr. Vilsack should make elimination of federal subsidies for corn-to-ethanol -- which now total several billion dollars per year -- a top priority.

However, Vilsack has made some promises that are easy to rally behind. He says he supports biotech firm liability in cases of contamination episodes. He has also said that USDA should require companies to demonstrate no harm to markets for conventional and organic crops before approving new GE crops.

All this would be welcome, but so far, there is little to indicate that Mr. Vilsack would be the watchdog so promised. There is increasing disappointment in the choice, so we must watch his actions to see if he deserves the public's trust. If he fails on any pledge, it's up to consumers, farmers, and lawmakers to hold his feet to the fire. Ultimately, it is the President-elect's food, farm and energy policies that will guide the USDA in the new administration. While not perfect, there is much promise in these policies.

There were high hopes that Obama would choose a Secretary who would bring real change to the beleaguered USDA. Though more progressive candidates were passed over, Tom Vilsack may not prove to be the AgriBusiness-as-Usual choice that his record would suggest. Some who know him say he is a good listener, and we should not rule out the possibility of change. A president elected on a platform of change needs to implement it nowhere more urgently than in food and farm policy. This nation needs nothing short of a New Green Deal to reverse the Bush administration's abysmal food safety record and assault on the environment through its promotion of industrial agriculture. Although we remain hopeful with the choice of Tom Vilsack, we also have to remain very alert.

Subdued approval greeted President-elect Obama's choice of Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture last week. This came from mainstream environmental groups, such as Sierra Club, and even organizati...
Subdued approval greeted President-elect Obama's choice of Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture last week. This came from mainstream environmental groups, such as Sierra Club, and even organizati...

Friday, December 19, 2008

More on the Secretary of Corn nominee

Another of the many articles questioning the nomination of former two term Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack questioning his qualifications to be Secretary of Agriculture.

From what I can see it seems like a very bad idea. Another way of putting it is that it is more of the same, that Obama really isn't into change in this area other then as a campaign slogan.

The article, by Sharon Astyk (self described "small farmer, teacher and writer living in upstate NY") is here.

The author raises many good questions like:

Tom Vilsack is going to be secretary of agriculture, hmmm ... Let's see, ethanol proponent, enthusiastic supporter of GMOs and biotechnologies, and political debtor to agribusiness. Yup, it seems clear that Obama really took Michael Pollan's "Farmer in Chief" piece to heart. Short of actually appointing, say, Monsanto's chairman, it is hard to imagine a choice less likely to make real shifts in our food system.

Then she points out the real downer:

Obama couldn't possibly come to power without indebting himself to people who are more invested in the status quo than in improving lives.

So all those 11 months of campaigning were just theater? The hope that was raised was simply a feel good way to get out the vote?

For a president that speaks so much about the environment and the urgent need to make changes the Department of Agriculture should be the first place to start. Of course suggesting that Iowa abandon corn and its subsidies and its disastrous affect on our land (fossil fuel based pesticides, genetically modified seeds, fossil fuel based fertilizers, etc) isn't apparently going to start any time soon, even though sustainable family farms are far better stewards of the land and organic farms produce healthier, more nutritious food, in greater abundance.

For us to seriously tackle global warming we have to change the way we grow food and raise animals. This isn't something that can wait. Sadly, I seem to be in the minority here in the U.S., because all people seem to really want is "cheap" and they don't care if "cheap" makes them fat, gives them diabetes, or ruins the Earth for their children.

Healthy, sustainable food is not intrinsically expensive. It doesn't even have to be organic, it can just be local.

American farmers need our help and they need change they can truly believe in and they need them now. We all do.

Finally, at the end of Ms. Astyk's article there were numerous comments, the one I think is probably closest to reality doesn't make me happy and ends with urging us to have "patience." This made me want to scream WE HAVE NO TIME LEFT FOR PATIENCE, we've sat through 8 years of incompetence and time is running out. This issue is not a side priority, but it looks like we'll have to wait another 4 years before we get true change in this area. Before I get any more worked up let me share this comment with you in full:

Buying off Iowa 2012

We can be dang sure that Obama is going to pee in some special interests cornflakes because if he doesn't he might as well hand the White House to Jeb Bush in 2012.

So he's decided to buy off the Iowa primary now and get it over with. The majority of the US doesn't understand ag policy and doesn't care as long as the price of milk, eggs, beef and chicken remain affordable. That means corn, lots of it, subsidized by the USDA.

That ag policy fish fry isn't going to happen till 2013 at least when he can pull out his veto pen and beat up on Congress a little. Right now it's just a dream of enviro's that won't see the light of day. Patience.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Secretary of Corn, Rick Warren and the politics of abandonment

I wrote a huge essay that took me all afternoon about my feelings on the mind boggling decision to have Rick Warren deliver the Invocation at the inauguration and the irresponsible appointment of Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. Blogspot somehow deleted it for me and now I can't get it back (if anyone knows how to do this please, please, please write me and let me know).

I think both of these men are crooks and the reason I went searching for the above video is because my lost essay ended with saying it is indeed a sad day for America when someone who spreads hate and intolerance is part of the inauguration and when someone who is in the backpocket of agribusiness is named Secretary of Agriculture.

This isn't change we can believe in, this is politics as usual. I didn't give money and support Obama so he could be McCain lite, so that he could support the corn industry by appointing one of their toadies.

It's time for me to move to Vancouver, because the only thing that's not going to change is politics as usual in Washington.

Women, environmentalist, foodies, people who believe in choice, progessives of all stripes, we have all been thrown under the bus before we were even allowed on.

Here is an article from ABC on scumbag Vilsack.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grace Jones in Chocolate

I love her so much.

This is just one of a series check out the whole series here.

Park Slope Food Co-op

An impromptu tour of the Park Slope, Brooklyn food co-op.

Sorry about the camera work! Enjoy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday Night Supper

Indian Spiced Cashews and Almonds
with lemon juice and Fresh Cilantro

Iceandic Seed Bread {home made}
with sesame, flax and poppy seeds

Welsh Rarebit {for bread dipping}

Cabbage Salad
with currents and pecans

Cranberry Upsidedown Cake
with Creme Fraiche Sorbet

Friday, December 12, 2008

An apple a day: A Challenge

OK well pears are fine too for while.

Here's the deal I'm not going to eat any fruit this Winter except for what is local.

I'll use some citrus (lemons, limes) in cooking, but that will be my only exception.

Join me! Imagine how good the first berries of Spring will taste after a winter of apples?

Vegans and Vegetarians

This is so embarrassing to admit, but after months of short subway rides I am still reading Barbara Kingsolver's book: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle."

It's so filled with information, recipes, and ideas that I find I can only take in so much (just an excuse for my laziness), but for me it really shakes the foundations of everything I believe in about food. It makes me really want to change the way I live and points out how my occasional slip into eating some sort of mystery meat isn't good or even acceptable - so no more! I put my foot down. I can no longer eat BBQ pork buns from China Town, even if it is only once a year, and Lardon is not edible unless I know where it comes from (my new favorite salad is Frisee with a poached egg with lardon - it's great if you're trying to avoid carbs, but treacherous).

It's really a burden eating out.

I now really understand what it must be like to grow up in a family where because of religious or other reasons you have a very clear list of what is acceptable and what isn't.

One of the quotes from "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" that I find so eye-opening is about how even if you try your damnedest, to be the most compassionate non-animal killing person on the planet, there is no way whatsoever that you can live in this world and not affect the lives of animals - EVEN IF YOU ARE A STRICT VEGAN YOU HELP KILL ANIMALS. Here's the deal:

"An estimated 67 million birds are killed each year from pesticide exposure on U.S. Farms. Butterflies, too, are universally killed on contact in larval form by the genetically modified pollen contained in most U.S corn. Foxes, rabbits, and bobolinks are starved out of their homes and dismembered by the sickle mower. Insects are 'controlled' even by organic pesticides, earth worms are cut in half by the plow. Contrary to lore, they won't grow into two, both halves die.
To believe we can live without taking life is delusional." (my emphasis added)

Then there are the non-edible realities of life: copper wiring which is in all buildings is coated with lanolin, an animal product (mostly sheep).

It is impossible to really be vegan unless you live in the country in a house with no wiring in a field where you grow everything you eat, don't use any pesticides or a plow, and only eat seasonally. That's a very steep challenge for most, I would think.

The idea behind this is very noble. I was a vegetarian for many years. Now, I think the most responsible way of going about the dilemmas that challenge us in finding a "morally aware" way of eating is to encourage traditional local farming methods before genetically modified everything and deadly, fossil fuel-based pesticides.

Again, I'm not forcing anyone to eat anything they don't want to, all I'm saying is have your eyes open and your mind informed so you actually know what it is you're doing, you're not just making a knee jerk response.

One could even ask the question to vegans: How is it acceptable to buy a box of California Big Organic Food Corporation Spinach that boarders a CAFO with a shit lagoon next to it that infects the fields around it (causing salmonella poisoning of the spinach, my what short memeories we have)?

That wouldn't happen if we supported local farmers and got over our over-privileged selves and didn't insist on eating fucking spinach in February in NYC.

I know I sound like a broken record, but the fact is our culture, our world is based on money.
As long as people who consider themselves "aware" keep buying this shit then we are never going to move forward. And it's hard, I'm not saying it isn't and I'm not saying I'm perfect, all I'm saying is that we, collectively as a nation, have to make drastic and dramatic changes in the way we eat and the way we farm. Maybe it's 22 years of living with a child of a holocaust survivor or my past life in the theater that makes me feel so dramatic and panicked, but regardless of the cause of the anxiety, the reality is if you read and look around you it is impossible to ignore how tragically wrong we have been on the production of food in the modern age. Time is of the essence, we have to act now or it may well be too late.

Recently, I read a story (alas, I don't remember where) of a farmer who had a farm on two sides of a country lane way. The one side of the street is where his home and first farm was - a farm he had that since inception was an organic farm that used no pesticides. When he took over the farm across the street, which had been a "commercial" farm, you could notice how the corn on the organic side of the street was healthier and produced more then the farm that, even though it was now organic, was going to take many years to get back to being as healthy as the farm that was organic from the start.

The other, corollary anecdote I remember from all my reading is how an organic farmer had taken over a farm in Oregon in the '60's. His family has farmed that land for 40 years, and still when he gets soil samples done, on what appears to be a pristine organic farm that hasn't used a pesticide in over 40 years, he still had trace elements of DTD in his soil. That's today in 2008: still trace elelments of DTD in the soil, ergo in us. After 40 years of organic farming.

And don't forget kids, when we banned DTD in this country we didn't just stop making it. No, we shipped it to other countries that didn't have a ban on it - places like Mexico. So you know that Mexican mango you want to buy in the grocery store for 99 cents in March? I bet if you did a chemical analysis of it you'd find things you really wouldn't want to eat.

After our massive deforestation in Vietnam in order to make the Ho Chi Minh trail more obvious from the air the US Army dumped tons of agent orange on the poor people of Vietnam, women there still have deformed babies because of the lasting effects of this poison in their soil.

Sure, maybe we as humans can withstand a little DTD in our Mango every now and again, but the overriding affects of pesticides on our water, the birds, butterflies etc., affect our health twice - the first time when we eat what ever it is and then the lasting, maybe more devastating affect of it's lingering poisons in our land for generations to come.

Think before you eat.

It's incremental, we all slip, we all have exceptions, but I'm curious what's acceptable and what isn't, where do you draw the line?

Write and tell me how you are changing how you eat.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Secretary of Food

Nicolas Kristof has a wonderful piece in the Times today suggesting we re-think the idea of the Department of Agriculture and call it the Department of Food.

He ends with a quote from Michael Pollan (the patron saint of this blog):

“Even if you don’t think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on — health care, climate change and energy independence — unless we reform agriculture".

This reminds me of something I wrote last week in my Microwave Oven digression:

"The food on our plates says everything about our world view: the environment, global warming, torture, fossil fuel dependence, terrorism. It's all there, staring at you from the gloaming of the open microwave door: your spicy chicken and chili bean whole wheat burrito with real cheese. It says everything, don't you think? If we were concerned about any of those things, how can we so cavalierly eat food that destroys the environment, helps create global warming, keeps us dependent on imported fossil fuel, and tortures and mutilates the animals their entire caged

Seems to me like maybe we are reaching a tipping point.


Yes you read that headline right. My friend Craig just sent me this article on genetically engineered meat that is being promoted by PETA as a safe sane alternative to factory farming.

One would be hard put not to ask the question of PETA why not eliminate factory farming instead of inventing a whole new fake way of making meat?

Here's the article

Farm animals and people depend on each other. Farm animals can't live in the wild.
Responsible farming of animals is not the problem the problem is CAFO's, mass produced tortured, antibiotic filled "product" meat. To replace one kind of artifical process with another doesn't really make sense. I for one don't believe there is anything wrong with the humane raising of animals for food and think it is preferable to meat that is raised in a lab?

The message is clear: factory farming of animals is wrong and ultimately costs more and is so detrimental to our health and the health of the planet that we have to act now to change the way we feed ourselves, and that may mean eating less meat until we can figure out how to get rid of factory farmed meat altogether.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Hour: In Defense of Food

Good interview with Michael Pollan about his last book In Defense of Food. I had to use this interview because it was done by the CBC.
Go Canada!

A letter from Michael Pollan


Thought you'd want to know about this letter going around, urging
President-elect Obama to nominate an agriculture secretary committed
to reform. I've signed it, as you can see, and if you share the goals
the letter outlines, I hope you will too. Thanks for considering it.
Best regards,

We would like to invite to sign this live petition effort to encourage
President-Elect Obama to consider a Sustainable Choice for our next Secretary of Agriculture.

The letter is at: http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/

Time is of the essence…

Within the next few days President-Elect Obama will be naming one of the most important posts in his cabinet — our next Secretary of Agriculture.

For those of us who care about the environment, sustainability, healthy food, animal welfare and creating local food systems, NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT.

A groundswell of grassroots support is needed to encourage President-Elect Obama to nominate a Secretary who will bring sustainable change to the United States Department of Agriculture.

A grassroots effort has taken flight.

We invite you to JOIN US in this grassroots effort by signing this live letter advocating a Sustainable Choice for the next Secretary of Agriculture.

Current signers to this letter include Rick Bayless, Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, Marion Nestle, Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson, Catherine Sneed and Alice Waters among many others.

Please join them by once again casting your vote for change by
supporting a Sustainable Choice for our next Secretary of Agriculture.

Help make this type of change possible by signing this letter. Our
work has only begun.

PLEASE SIGN this letter at: http://www.fooddemocracynow.org

And then FORWARD to all your friends.

As you may know that this effort has appeared in numerous blogs,
including Grist, Salon and in the New York Times online:


We thank you for joining this grassroots effort!

Dave Murphy
Clear Lake, Iowa

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


OK, so I meet my friend Pam, who works downtown, for lunch at my new favorite Chinatown spot, Fuleen. After some discussion we order one of their "specialties" a half soy sauce chicken and some weird veggie and bean noodle casserole that was delicious. They were both really good the thing is this, the chicken came to the table on a platter chopped up into 8 or so pieces, the entire platter was "garnished" with Pringles.

At first I thought potato chips, but as Pam so astutely pointed out:

"no see, they all fit together, they're Pringles".

You got to love that, it's so off the wall and insane but there it was staring at us from the platter. Next time I'll ask for them to hold the Pringles.

And then somehow, just now looking for a Pringles image I got linked to this press release from Proctor and Gamble, it's hysterical.

My favorite line:

"Procter & Gamble pointed out that, unlike potato crisps, Pringles had a regular shape “not found in nature” as well as a uniform coloring and texture and a “mouth melt” taste".

Mouth melt taste..why doesn't that sound good?

Pringles are not potato chips

Unlike regular crisp makers, Pringles manufacturer Procter & Gamble, is exempt from paying VAT on the product.

A British judge has ruled that Pringles are not potato chips, even if they do look and taste like them.

The judgement means that unlike regular crisp makers Pringles manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, is exempt from paying VAT on the product.

The High Court passed its ruling after an inquiry into the ingredients, manufacturer, packaging and public image of the tube-packaged snack.

The judge allowed an appeal by Proctor & Gamble against a VAT Tribunal decision that Pringles should be standard-rated at 17.5 % as falling within the definition “potato crisps, potato sticks, potato puffs and similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour, or from potato starch”.

Most foodstuffs are zero-rated for the tax, but Revenue and Customs argued that Pringles fell within the “potato crisp” exception. Procter & Gamble pointed out that, unlike potato crisps, Pringles had a regular shape “not found in nature” as well as a uniform colouring and texture and a “mouth melt” taste.

The judge said a potato product “must be wholly, or substantially wholly, made from the potato”. Pringles, he said, were made from potato flour, corn flour, wheat starch and rice flour together with fat and emulsifier, salt and seasoning, with a potato content of around 42 %.

For further information contact:
Procter & Gamble

Fresh Chicken

Christina House / Los Angeles Times

For the last couple of months I've had a copy of the Urban Homesteader by
Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne in my knapsack for subway reading.

It's great and constantly inspiring, especially to someone like me who loves the city but wishes he could do things like, have chickens.

The LA Times just did this article on the authors, who have recently bought some chickens for their suburban LA home.

The article is titled: Chickens as Pets: City Living with a Farm Feeling.

Can chicken's be pets? And doesn't farm yard feel sort of imply a nice plump roast chicken somewhere along the way?

It's a farm animal, they provide us eggs and meat and we provide them (in an ideal situation) with a nice place to grow up, where they are allowed to do all their chicken things.

Now, if you're a lucky chicken who gets to live in LA you can have an
architecturally designed coop, all the scraps you can eat and grow gray.

Some birds have all the luck.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fuleen's seafood restaurant. Is Chinatown an alternative reality?

One night last week Neil and I were looking for some late night (well 10ish, which would be early in Barcelona) Hot and Sour soup.

One thing lead to another and we ended up walking several blocks to 11 Division street and Fuleen Seafood.

I'm so glad we did.

I've been back once again with my friend Keith when he was visiting from Berlin. We got a whole crab with ginger and scallions, the waiter brought a huge live crab in a bucket to our table for inspection.

Eating crab is labor intensive! It was delicious but it took a long time to actually crack and suck and pry all the meat out of that crab. Luckily, the salt and pepper shell on shrimp were succulent, instant gratification.

Sauteed Chinese greens came with a generous portion of shrimp and Neil's Soy Sauce Noodles were an instant hit. A pile of curly egg noodles tossed with scallions and soy, so good.

The prices are reasonable for the quality and quantity. Beware the large portions! If you want to order a good selection go with a group!

The room is large, bright, run down, tacky, typical Chinese decor.

It's open to 3 a.m and both times I've been I'm the only Caucasian in the place. Gotta love that.

I can't wait to go back.

Is Chinatown an alternative reality?

The reason I ask the question is because I often let down my guard and do thing that I wouldn't normally do, like eat meat, in particular barbecue pork buns. Warm out of the oven filled with chemically red chewy, sweet, tender pork inside a warm white bun; a savory doughnut of delight.

When I first moved to New York in 1986 I lived on Monroe St in Chinatown. I was very poor living on an arts council grant. I could eat three of these buns and call it dinner for $1.50.

Hot and Sour soup is another one.

Fuleen's was awesome, spicy ground pork is an essential part of the broth, it's one damn classy bowl of soup. Regardless, I often have a craving for a bowl of Hot and Sour and will stop in whatever place is closest. Certainly the prices down here can't be beat 1.50 to maybe 2:50 for a 2 cup container, and the big quarts are 3 to 4 buck-ish. You can't beat them, but now I feel obliged to at least ask for them to leave the pork out or if they have a veggie one.

Duck. Duck. Duck. In a take away container sitting on a bed of rice, all crispy, sweet, dark, dripping, wonderfulness. Or in Thai restaurants with red curry and Jasmine rice. Peking style wrapped in a crepe.

Dumplings, soup dumplings still make me very happy. Shrimp shumai, steamed veggie make it a dumpling I'll eat it!

My rational is this, the Chinese eat parts of birds (like chicken feet) and want to see it's eyes, which is why you see them in the windows head dangling. I admire this part of Chinese culinary culture it strikes me as a very honest way to relate to your food. It all leads me to believe these animals are not factory farmed, in CAFO* cages their feet would be clipped as would their beaks.
As for the pig or beef I tend to doubt it so I steer (no pun intended) away except when I don't, like with the pork bun (really it only happens very, very rarely, I swear.)

Lastly, on the alternative reality theme, on the streets of Chinatown, on Grand street blocks from our apartment fruit and vegetable vendors whose life is spent almost entirely in a Mandarin speaking world. They know how to do the needed transactions but that's it.

Come have come seafood and change your reality.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Indian Curry Mixes

MDH is this great Indian masala mix company, here I just show off the packaging and try to talk about why they are so tasty!

The Last Word: Odetta -- nytimes.com

This is a wonderful interview with the altogether brilliant Odetta.
May she rest in peace.

Microwave Ovens: a digression

For months now I've been trying to find information that I feel is sound about the safety and use of microwave ovens. There is a ton of shit out there, ranging from: Danger! Danger! Beware! to: It's the safest device ever created!

To be honest, what I wanted was some definitive study that said microwave ovens were horrible, evil weapons of mass destruction. Sadly, none were to be found. At least not scientific ones. I wanted to get to the bottom of why it is I hate them so much. They've never done anything to me personally, I just don't think they are something we need, even though the makers and fans of microwaves say: "It makes our lives easier! We can't live without them!"

I'm all for easy, don't get me wrong.

It's just that I'm a food snob and using a microwave is not cooking. Sure, yes, I know, you only use it to reheat your coffee. Or to help soften really hard ice cream. It's a re-heating/thawing device? You know how when you order pie at a diner and it comes to you so hot you can't eat it, the pastry has gone soggy in an eerie kind of limp way and the a la mode too quickly becomes soup?

Do we need that? Is that an improvement?

One of the articles I came across talked about how you could never cook meat in a microwave; it never tastes "right". Imagine making brisket from scratch for a special dinner in a microwave. What would that taste like? Isn't taking the flame away from cooking somehow taking the flavor away as well? I mean essential flavor; how can something that has been braised and cooked slowly for hours taste the same as something accomplished in, what, 20 minutes?

People seem to love putting complete meals in it, touching a button, waiting a minute or so then opening the door and there, in front of them, is a steaming tray of previously frozen processed product (and I include organic fast food in this as well) awaiting to be devoured, quickly, while Anderson Cooper brings you up to speed.

Do we need that?

Someone told me it ruins all the nutrition in the food. I couldn't find any proof of it. I like that idea, it makes sense to me, but I have an admitted bias. Many people say,”Who has the time to cook? I get home from work and all I want to do is have a drink and unwind. We both work, it would be different if one of us was at home. How could we afford not to both work?” So we work, I mean, we both work, in order to afford the good things in life like a microwave, because a microwave, a fast food meal, bottled water, are all way better than making less money and staying at home and preserving food, buying daily from the market, serving food to the ones you love and sharing time each day with each other?

The food on our plates says everything about our world view: the environment, global warming, torture, fossil fuel dependence, terrorism. It's all there, staring at you from the gloaming of the open microwave door: your spicy chicken and chili bean whole wheat burrito with real cheese. It says everything, don't you think? If we were concerned about any of those things, how can we so cavalierly eat food that destroys the environment, helps create global warming, keeps us dependent on imported fossil fuel, and tortures and mutilates the animals their entire caged life? Don't blame it on the microwave, mister! Basically what I really hate about microwaves is that for me they represent the worst in our culture. We have been sold a bill of goods, happiness through consumerism, but are we happy now? We buy new things that do things we don't really need, yet which somehow become essential.

Why don't we have the time?

Somehow over the last, what, 30 years or so, we've decided to cuddle up to our microwaves and TVs and computers and forgo the very time-consuming activity of sustaining life. (Full disclosure should be made. I love my computer and spend way to much time attached to it. and DVD's are my winter rescue remedy.)

I grew up in a single parent home for many years and I understand what it's like when there is no money and you buy what ever is cheapest. Still I guess as I sit here, I wonder about these things. Have we really gotten so lazy that we'd rather sustain Kraft Foods, Mobil Exxon and LG instead of sustaining ourselves and our planet?

But we saved $2.99!

It's hard and it's a struggle. You can't help but feel that you are on the outside of the world looking in at people who are all happily eating their frozen, recently reheated food product and wondering, Why I can't be happy doing that as well?

When ignorance is bliss, a shred of information can destroy everything you believe in and what has always given you comfort. I also wonder why, given the opportunity with all the time I find myself with, in my unemployed and seemingly unemployable slump, I don't revel in it. Why I don't embrace it and become a super "housewife". Partly because I don't want to be one, because I'm a man and I think and have been told all my life I need to "bring home the bacon," but in lieu of that why not change the structure of our lives? Why not explore what it would be like to live in a manner that reflects what I believe in?

That's where I find myself, in the limbo land of having the knowledge and having to decide how to proceed. I started by not having a microwave. The rest I'm making up as I go along.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Craig's Birthday Menu

Warm Olives with herbs and citrus

House Roasted Almonds with sea salt and thyme

House Made Foccacia
filled with Gorgonzola

Persimmon, Pomegranate and Watercress Salad

Striped Bass Fish Cakes
with tarragon mayo

Butternut Squash, Chestnut and Sage Risotto

Lemon Layer Cake
with lemon curd whip cream "icing"

Monday, December 1, 2008

China Town Packaging

It's a bit long but I think it's kind of fun. It's my journey into the world of Chinese packaging.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Germany's first climate-neutral restaurant

My friend Keith moved to Berlin to live with his significant other Christian a little over a month ago.

I realized last night he was going to be spending his birthday by himself in Berlin, this sent me into a frenzy of research on where to send him to eat in Berlin. In my searching I came up with this very stylish place that just happens to be right in their neighborhood of Kreuzberg.

Check it out.

Other places that looked worth a visit:

An upscale, mostly Austrian focused cooking, a real dedication to organic meat and veg in new versions of traditional Austrian and German dishes. Looks great.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

As Time Goes By

with your popcorn

Microwave Popcorn

Unless your popcorn comes from a farmer or certified organic source...check this out.

The line that gets me is:

"The department is constantly considering whether to take steps to protect workers against hazardous substances. Currently, it is assessing substances like silica, beryllium and diacetyl, a chemical that adds the buttery flavor to some types of microwave popcorn".

Chemical, buttery, dangerous flavor...and we need this because? I mean really? Diacetyl yummy! We need more of that in our diet. I don't even think I can say it.

I sometimes break down in theaters, but I never get the "topping." However, bottom line: if someone isn't going to be up front about where the corn comes from I'm going to assume monster corn from Monsanto.

And as for the "not butter"...just say no.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Grain Grinder

Scroll down and you'll see my post about whole wheat versus whole grain. It motivated me to look for a hand grinder. I found it on a site called: beprepared.com (pretty scary, eh?) I guess there are some people out there waiting for Armageddon or something and are stocking up now. Me, personally, Mark I just want to have better flour. It costs $79.99 and because it's not electric it works during black outs, environmental disasters, and invasion by space aliens.

Here Mr. Martian, I just baked some bread!

Network - Mad as Hell Scene

Perfect - funny how little things have changed since this was made.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Republic Noodles on Union Square

I had a most unfortunate incident tonight trying to be fed at Republic, a place I have always loved and have eaten at since they opened.

I wanted to share with you my letter that I sent them, just in case any of you were thinking of eating there:

Dear Management and Owners of Republic,

I've been going to your restaurant on Union Square since it opened. I'm also a fan of Town. I eat at the bar at Republic a fair amount. I usually order the spicy duck soup. I tried to order that tonight, with some hot over priced green tea. Like usual I asked if I could have it without noodles, a request that has never before caused a problem, but tonight it was met with great confusion. I'm not sure if I said the wrong thing or if the waiter misheard me or what but I was told clearly that no substitutions were allowed and it was impossible to replace the noodles. Just to be clear, I don't like to be difficult, but I'm diabetic and so I really can't eat carbs, or least not very many. I said to the waiter good-humoredly that if he couldn't do it I would eat around it - because what I mostly wanted was the broth. What I got was a pile of noodles, curried duck noodles, not spicy duck soup. Not a big deal right? Well apparently I'm wrong on that score. Not one of the three people who I asked offered to change my order for me, no one in fact seemed to even care. The rude cashier woman said and I quote: "Do you want me to get a manager? I can't do anything." The waiter was happy to get me my check so he could turn over the chair and the guy who brought me the food was clueless.

So I left a complete plate of food totally untouched and none of your staff could care less. Not one of them seemed to realize that you are in the hospitality industry, not the hostility industry.

This is the first time I have ever written a letter to a restaurant, but what happened tonight was appalling - even if I had ordered the wrong thing what's so bad about making the customer happy? Or is that not part of your business plan?

I find it increasingly difficult to eat out at restaurants like your's who do things like have a "seasonal specials" menu, but have nothing on the menu that is seasonal (or local, for that matter).

Nor do I want to support restaurants who still do not offer organic free range local meat on their menu. If Bonita can offer me an all organic delicious chicken burrito for 9 bucks why can't you do something similar? The answer is: because you don't want to.

Also, you offer a presumably vegetarian dish, it's relatively new to your menu, but it's made with red curry and red curry isn't vegetarian it's made with shrimp, I'd think your veggie and kosher customers would be very angry about being deceived.

I've learned my lesson and promise to never suggest to my friends, or eat, at either Town or Republic again. I've gotten over my nostalgia for comfort food from the past.

I think you need a new manager who is able to train the staff so that they are able to do their jobs properly. Maybe think about hiring people who are interested in being nice and actually hospitable instead of moody twenty-somethings who just want to make a buck and leave.

I was so upset tonight (not to mention hypoglycemic because I was starving and ready to fall into coma) that it was the first time in my life I didn't tip the waiter. I'm 48 and have been a waiter - I am very sympathetic and understanding of what it takes to be a waiter.

I've worked in the food and hospitality industry all my life and am a professional cook. I understand how things can go wrong but what happened tonight in your restaurant is inexcusable. I mean, if you have such disregard for your customers why do you run a restaurant?

I want you to credit my account with the $16.26 I spent on not being fed tonight. The check number is 4163, the lack of server was named Dillon, I also notice now that your cashier gave me the wrong copy, I have the merchant copy - aren't you the merchant? Date Nov 25 '08 @ 6:48 authorization code 491749.

I'm not so into angry letters and certainly don't usually waste my time with them, but there was something about this incident that got under my skin. Here we are in the middle of a massive financial crisis, I'm unemployed, and the last thing I want to do is go to a restaurant that can't even get an order right and then penalize me for it.

The real reason I wanted to share this is that it is true, and not just an empty angry threat, that I find it increasingly hard to eat out at my usual "cheap and cheerful" places because it so bothers me that we have built a food culture based on what's cheapest, not what's best. The tacit understanding that we have been sold is that good can never be cheap. This is a lie. If we prioritized what was good (local, fresh, seasonal, organic) and we all bought it - it would be much cheaper. Simple fact.

If we cared at all about farmers or our health or the environment or were we in the least bit aware of the catastrophic affects humans have had on the planet maybe we would change our behavior? CAFO's*, feeding corn to cows, pesticides, genetically modified seeds, fossil fuel fertilizers, etc. are all contributing to the destruction of the planet. What is our response? Well it would seem to be that a lot of restaurateurs in this city's response is: "go fuck yourself." We want short sighted, high turnover, industrialized food "product" that can be consumed and paid for in 20 minutes and to hell with everything else (including it would seem hospitality).

It never used to bother me. Hell - like most people I was unaware it was even an issue. Over the years as I have read and learned more from all sorts of sources, as it is indeed now a regular conversation in the media, food safety, the environment, etc, it amazes me how cavalier we are as a culture. We'd rather speed ahead to our inevitable destruction then stop and think for a moment what might be best for all of us. Of course, I'm very sympathetic to the fact that everyone needs to make a living (lately I'm keenly aware as an unemployed person) but I see restaurants like Back 40, Bonita, Diner, Marlowe, City Bakery all making a living while maintaining a commitment to safe, healthy, properly raised, real food from farmers not factories.

Apropos of the clip from "Network" I think it is time that we all start to put our feet down and scream out our windows: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more! We have to collectively say: I'm not going to allow farm animals to be tortured, poisoned, mutilated and slaughtered so I can save a buck a pound on my hamburger and I can survive January without buying a cantaloupe from Guatemala and I can make it a part of our weekly schedule to make it to the market. We have to commit ourselves to being diligent in saying "I will not support organizations be they large corporations like Monsanto or local restaurant chains like Republic who still are maintaining a status quo that is not only bad for the planet but bad for us."

Change is hard, hard to manifest, hard to maintain. The only way we can effectively create it is if we see clearly and believe in our hearts and minds that we have the power as individuals to make a difference. Without that belief we are lost.

I encourage you all to write to every restaurant you eat at and tell them what is important to you.
Oh, and it might be better if you do this before you have a horrible experience there, as I believe people respond better to kindness then anger.

Write a letter, and send it to me, I'd love to publish the best ones here.

Whole Wheat vs Whole Grain

A while ago I was reading some food blog or article and I read a comment where the person writing went off on our misguided belief that whole wheat flour was somehow better for us. Now, I have to admit, I always thought it was. Then I started reading more on the subject and looking into the nutritional breakdown between whole wheat flour and white flour. I was only looking at high end organic products. White flour has 1 gram of fiber, whole wheat on average has 4. Well, as a diabetic, I know that anything with less than 5 grams of fiber is not significant. Meaning, I think, from neither a statistical nor a health point of view, that it makes really no difference if you eat whole wheat or white flour. The idea that whole wheat is better for you is nothing more then another market ploy. This is very apparent when you start to look at loaves of bread. Most whole wheat products have molasses in them to make them appear browner and healthier then they really are.

In trying to find out more about this I came upon some interesting articles that have lead me to believe: we need to buy grinders (I saw a hand one at my local hardware store for $35) and grind our own WHOLE GRAINS. Alas, even if we choose to grind our own, we will never find whole grains at a grocery store because whole grains are filled with nutrients and therefore, being appealing to organisms that can eat them, have a short shelf life and so make terrible "products".

The other drag to this realization is that freshly ground whole grains are not consistent like processed flours so you have the problem of having to adjust your baked goods recipes to work
with this new substance. I think it would be really interesting to have a business, a bakery or cafe, where you made all your bread, pies, cakes and cookies from local grains that you grind as you need.

Sounds like a lot of work and I imagine it really is. First you have to find a source for your grains, then you have to buy a grinder and actually use it. And this returns us to the dilemma of who has the time to make food properly so that one can eat properly? This is a full time job! And so, we return the historically true, but currently radical idea that someone in a home needs to actually work full time in the home so that members of the household can eat well.

But everything is so expensive now. How is it possible to have such hyper-consumer lives and pay the mortgage and afford health care and pay for our kids' tuition and, at the same time, not have someone working not for a salary, but in the home, to obtain and prepare the food for us? And so, to pay for it all, we have let go of something that is so essential to our health and well being: the food we eat.

Why is something that is so essential so disregarded? Why have we as a culture chosen to moved the preparation and eating of food to the back burner? If it can't be accomplished with a microwave in 5 minutes from freezer to plate we can't be bothered? Yet everyone who visits our home and eats one of my honest, home cooked meals goes on about it like it was a great mystery, that i must have some special and elusive talent.

As a middle aged man who has never really worked for "the Man" and who is now in his 6th month of unemployment, I am beginning to wonder about how our culture is set up and why it is we perceive the idea of a "housewife" with such disdain? In part, the history of sexism that goes along with the concept of "wife" in our modern age has helped to create this idea that women have every right to find meaningful employment. This leads me to the radical idea that maybe, just maybe that a man might actually in some couples be more suited to the job of home caretaker and that the assigned gender roles are only in place because a hundred years ago it was unheard of that a woman would work. Things are different now, but it doesn't stop me from feeling badly that somehow I have failed to be a proper man, that being at home, which has no doubt improved the quality of our lives leaves me feeling like a failure. Even though I see clearly the advantages, our cultural constructs (or at least the ones in my head), suggest to me we still live in a time when men are the bread winners and if anyone is going to stay at home it's "the wife."

And even though there are many cliches that abound about gay men I don't really want to be anyone's wife. I find such terminology emasculating and uncomfortable. I want to be someone's equal partner. Is that possible or some crazy ideal? And can you ever possibly be equal when the thing our cultural values more then anything is money.

Of course the other dilemma is: "how are we going to make ends meet if we both don't work?"
Good question and I'm not sure what the answer is for you, but for us, I'm amazed we're doing ok and constantly anxious about whether it will continue. I thought for sure my unemployment would signal the end to everything (yes, I'm a drama queen) and indeed our lives have changed because of it, but we're still managing to keep our heads above water (though sometimes barely).
[Neil chimes in: And the fact is that while the money isn't there for luxuries or even minor extravagances at the moment, there is NO question that our home is more of a home, and that we're eating more healthily, cheaply, and deliciously than ever - because Mark has the time to really do it well. If/when he goes back to work, our life at home will not be as complex and delicious and "sustainable" in the ecological sense. What will we give up in order to have the extra money?]

I seem to have a lot of questions and not so many answers, but I feel it is impossible to talk about food and sustainability without beginning to think about the tough questions of how can we re-organize our culture, change our priorities and move forward to living more meaningful lives that are not only good for us but good for the planet.

OK - well - that really got off topic now didn't it? Here is an article that talks more directly and clearly about the whole wheat vs whole grain controversy. Oh and here is part two of that article.

Move over Paris...

The very disguised Michelin Guide folks have given more stars to the kitchens of Tokyo then any where else in the world. Read all about it here.

3 of the 9 restaurants awarded the ultimate 3 star rating serve french food, the other 6 Japanese, so I guess we shouldn't feel too sorry for Paris.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Creme Fraiche Sorbet

This is so easy and so damn tasty! I served it with Concord Grape Pie and it was a winner.

Mix in a blender: 2 cups creme fraiche, 2 cups buttmilk, 1/3 cup lemon juice and 1 1/4 cups sugar.
Blend until smooth and creamy - about 2 minutes.

If all of the ingredients are cold you can go ahead and process in your ice cream maker. If not put them back in the fridge until the mixture is well chilled, then process in your ice cream maker.

Simple, easy and so tasty!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Virunga National Park Congo

People seem to have a way of f#@king everything up.

Over the last 4 or 5 years I've been hankering to go to Rwanda and see the gorillas. Through super human efforts the gorillas and their habitat have managed to live through the genocide in that country and now are thriving. But I'm sorry to hear that the situation in the Congo is not so good. Apparently the rebels run guns through the mountains where the gorillas live.

Over the years I've become aware of the term "Jungle Meat" usually a reference to gorilla meat. I can't image killing one of these majestic beasts - of course starvation would be the only exception, but from what I gather mostly it's sport or aggression that causes people to kill them, not necessity.

Take a moment and check out this site for Virunga national park in the Congo and see how you can help. I have linked right to the blog part of the site where they give suggestions on giving and show how even $10 can really help make the lives of the rangers better and help to save the gorilla's from further devastation.

There are reports of gorillas being shot execution style by the rebels. As if the gorillas had anything to do with their stupid conflict.

Please check out this site and make a donation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beautiful Food

Here's two in a row of this brilliant faux cooking show from the BBC.

Posh Nosh - Sauces

These two make me laugh so hard.
"Meat Isn't Curtains!" Hysterical!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grace Jones - Corporate Cannibal

Totally gratuitous digression here.

Grace Jones released her first album in 20 years and this is the video of Grace singing a song on the album called Corporate Cannibal. It's long and fairly abstract so it might be best viewed after a few glasses of a fine single malt scotch or whatever else might suit your fancy.

Mark Bittman on Seafood

Yet another update on the state of our oceans.

He says that the only fish that is farmed in any kind of sustainable way is tilapia, but that it is so tasteless you might as well eat tofu. The most upsetting thing I thought was his observation on small fish like anchovies, sardines and herring, all of which I thought were very responsible to eat. Oh, but not so fast! It turns out they are the fish that are used to feed other fish and some farm animals and are also being depleted.

The conclusion is that our Oceans are a mess, but we can fix the problem if we were to manage our resources better. If not by 2048 it's game over.

Here it is well worth the read.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Philip's Birthday Dinner

November 15th 2008

Philip’s 49th Birthday Dinner


House Roasted Cashews

Watercress, Pear, Pomegranate & Pecan Salad

Vegetable Pakoras
with homemade peach chutney & sour cream

Sautéed Brussel Sprouts
with Homemade Paneer Cheese, Red Peppers and Cashew

Seasonal Garden Vegetable Stew

Fish Masala

Brown Basmati Rice

Lemon Layer Cake

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Paneer from Scratch 1 of 3

Paneer from Scratch 2 of 3 and 3 of 3

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pizza Pizza Pizza

After years of trying out every pizza dough recipe I could get my hands on I feel like I have finally found the one that works best for me. It's a thin, crunchy, crust pizza that originated in the kitchen of Alice Waters. The recipe below, however, is from two of my other favorite chefs, Rose Grey and Ruth Rodgers, who have slightly adapted Alice's recipe. It's a winner, as far as I'm concerned, and with a pedigree like this how can you go wrong?!

Fill a heavy duty mixing bowl with hot water; pour out water and dry.

Add 4 teaspoon active dry yeast and 1/2 cup warm water (100-110 F) into the warm bowl; stir to dissolve. Stir in 1 cup rye flour to make a stiff dough.

Cover and leave in a warm place until puffy, about an hour.

Add 1 cup warm water, 2 T Milk, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 11/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, 3 1/2 cups unbleached flour to the yeast mixture. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with a paddle, and mix into a soft dough. Change to the dough hook, and knead for 10-15 minutes. The dough will be quite wet and sticky (this texture will make a crisper crust).

Place the dough in a bowl greased with olive oil, and turn to grease top. Cover and leave rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Knock the dough back, and knead a couple of times then return to the bowl and let it rise until almost doubled, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the over to 450 F, and have ready a large flat baking stone.

When the dough is ready, divide into six pieces.and individually form into balls. Roll out each ball on a floured surface with quick light motions as thinly as possible. A dough should roll out to make a 10" pizza base.


My favorite new pizza topping is Smoked Gouda (about a cup shredded) sprinkled on the pizza dough and baked until the dough is crisp and brown and the cheese is bubbling and nicely melted. The minute you take it out of the oven cover it with at least 2 cups of sorrel that has been lightly tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper.

In a similar vein I also like to melt Ribiollo cheese and instead of sorrel and then use arugula that's been lightly dressed with lemon juice olive oil and salt and pepper.

My last "classic" at home pizza is made with a ton of caramelized onions - 3 or 4 large ones that have been cooked soft and golden in olive oil in a frying pan. Cover the pizza crust with the onions, roughly chop a handful of pitted Kalamata olives, spread them over the onions, julienne a half of a roasted red pepper and add that on and then if you like add anchovy fillets (the more the better as far as I'm concerned) and top it all off with about 6-9 ounces of fresh goat cheese.
When it is cooked sprinkle the entire pizza with a handful of fresh thyme.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chocolate that makes you feel good

This was in the NYT. My favorite is Dagoba, which they hate. Go figure. They only really like one of the bars and are a little bit too bitchy for me. I also like Endangered Species chocolate, but my favorites are the ones with things in them not just the plain ones. Anway, I thought if for no other reason that it was nice to see them all listed I would post it. So next time you are at your favorite grocery store you can do your own taste test.

Food Responsible Chocolate, Anyone?

organic chocolate

(Lars Klove for The New York Times)

On Wednesday I wrote an article in The New York Times about Kallari, a group of indigenous Ecuadorean cacao farmers and self-taught chocolate makers, whose bars are now sold at Whole Foods markets across the country. Kallari’s story is a rare one in the history of chocolate, a history that has been dominated by conquerors and industrialized countries.

I was curious about how Kallari’s bar would stand up to the other organic, Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance bars on the Whole Foods shelves. I admit I’ve always been skeptical of organic chocolate. In my experience, most of it tastes awful. Organic certification of chocolate is different than organic certification of local produce, or at least this was the case three years ago, when as a part-time job, I was handing out samples of a high-end, non-organic-chocolate bar at Whole Foods stores around Manhattan.

A lot of small-batch cacao farmers do not have the money for organic certification. Yet they also can’t afford chemicals and fertilizers, meaning their products are organic anyway, only without the official designation. So when the customers turned away from my sample chocolates and reached instead for a bar of terrible organic chocolate, I was disheartened. We, the consumers, are always looking for a label so that we don’t have to do the research ourselves for the stories behind our food. “Organic” and “Fair Trade” just so happen to be the latest.

I brought the chocolates listed below to Chanterelle restaurant in Manhattan for a side-by-side tasting with the pastry chef, Kate Zuckerman, who has a palate I trust. Such tests are the only way to know how good a product really is. You hear about wine tastings all the time, but few chefs and consumers sample chocolate this way. It’s so eye-opening that I strongly recommend trying it.

Buy bars of the same or similar cacao percentage. If your tasting includes milk and dark chocolates, start with the dark and move toward the sweet. Put a piece in your mouth, let it melt slightly on your tongue, and then swoosh it around. Cleanse your palate between tastings with water or bread. And don’t forget to take notes. For more feedback, do it with a group and taste blind if you can.

Below are my notes from our chocolate tasting. Perhaps I was a bit biased. But try it for yourself.

* poor
** satisfactory
*** good

Theo 75 percent cacao, Fair Trade, single-source chocolate made from Ivory Coast beans: acidic, bland, astringent (drying) finish, not worth the calories. Suggestion: chop and toss into cookie dough. *

Kallari 75 percent cacao, organic, Rainforest Alliance, single-source but bean blended Ecuadorean chocolate: fruity, dried cherries, vanilla, smooth, cacao finish. Suggestion: serve it as is at the end of a dinner party. ***

Endangered Species 70 percent cacao, organic chocolate: sugary, moldy taste, had to spit it out. Suggestion: perhaps it was just a bad batch. But if dogs could eat chocolate, I would have given it to the dog. *

Chocolove 73 percent cacao, organic chocolate: not smooth, dried cherry, astringent. Suggestion: keep it in your purse for one of those unpredictable and desperate cravings. **

Dagoba 73 percent cacao, Fair Trade, organic, single-source cacao made from Conacado beans: moldy taste, astringent, acidic, over-roasted beans, not smooth. Suggestion: give it to your next-door neighbor who eats everything. *

Vintage Plantation 75 percent cacao, Rainforest Alliance, made from Ecuadorean beans: some fruitiness, cacao flavor, slightly dry finish. Not bad. Suggestion: make brownies with it. **

Equal Exchange 71 percent cacao, Fair Trade, organic chocolate made from Peruvian and Dominican beans: so much vanilla it almost overpowers all the cacao flavor, the finish is cacao, a little sweet, but not offensive. Suggestion: more cookies, anyone? **

Green and Black’s 70 percent cacao, organic chocolate: not much going on other than cacao flavor, a little moldy tasting, astringent. Suggestion: put it out on the giveaway pile for the office mooch. *

Read previous Jill Santopietro columns.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rum Raisin Squash Bread (with optional toppings)

I've made this cake a couple of times and really love it. I've been playing with the shape. It works well as a loaf, muffins and a square. Today I think for me might be best as a round, although a wide muffin might be nice if you wanted to serve individual portions. Really it depends on why you are making it - if you just want a tasty tea cake, a loaf or muffins would be best, but if you want to dress it up then make it into a large square or round cake.

Regardless of the shape this is one damn fine recipe, especially good for cool autumn days or winter evenings with a hot mug of mulled cider, but it also works surprisingly well as a dressed up, after dinner dessert.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Butter and flour a 10 x 10 x 2 square tin or a 10 or 11" spring form pan or a 12 x 5 x 3 loaf pan or muffins tins.

Sift together in a large bowel 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 T baking powder, 1/2 tsp Baking Soda, 2 tsp kosher salt, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg.

In another large bowl whisk 2 eggs then add 2 cups cooked spaghetti squash,combine then add 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup Canola Oil. Stir in 1/2 cup milk and 1/4 cup rum.

Add the dry ingredients to the squash mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.

Add 1 cup of chopped Pecans and 1/2 cups raisins or currants (I soak them in the rum first for about 10 minutes but it's optional).

Empty the batter into the prepared pan of your choice.

Cook for 1-1 1/4 hours. The top of the cake should be brown and tooth pick should come out clean. Be very careful with this cake especially in the loaf form as my first attempt seemed great but was this undercooked in the center so you really want to make sure you cook it enough.


The simple approach is to dust it with some organic icing sugar and serve it with unsweetened whipped cream. I have this thing for molasses so I made up this caramel colored icing that is really intense and seems to have people divided, but if it interests you I'd try adding less molasses at first and increase it as your taste buds desire.

Take an 8 oz package of cream cheese and 4 T of butter out of the fridge and bring to room temperature then cream them together with a whisk or beaters (I use my Kitchen Aid).

Add 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup icing sugar to the cream cheese mixture and cream together (I added some dark rum as well but that's up to you).

Spread the icing on top of the cake and decorate with roasted Pecans.

The other option would be to make a plain cream cheese icing.

Good however you have it!

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