Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Obama's eat farm fresh meal cooked in plastic at Blue Hill

When I was a little boy my mother, who was hopeless in the kitchen, would buy "freezer bag" meals, frozen food in a plastic bag that you boiled. My favorite was the Salisbury Steak (hamburger in a tangy mushroom sauce). It reminds me of sous vide - cryovacing food in a plastic bag and then cooking it at a low temp for a long time.

Cooking in plastic with machines? Yeah, I know all the hot chef's are doing it and I understand there are benefits; consistency and food costs come to mind, but, for me it takes the art out of cooking. I mention it today because President and Mrs. Obama were in NYC last night and they went to Blue Hill, whose Chef Dan Barber is a huge sous vide fan. To me there is a big disconnect between the image of "farm fresh" and the reality that this video shows. I understand this may make me look old and retro, but so be it. If you call yourself a chef then you should be able to cook, right? Cooking is an art, making food taste amazing and look beautiful is part of the craft of cooking, the reason you spend a lifetime working on it. This is not about cooking, it's about easy. Plastic?

Great, I'll have the non-biodegradable lamb chop in plastic please.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why cooking is good for us

Neil forwarded me this fascinating review of Richard Wrangham's Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.

It's basically about evolution and how the discovery of fire lead to cooking and that lead to all sorts of other changes that help to create humans as we are today.

Here's a quote from the review:

“Cooked food does many familiar things,” he observes. “It makes our food safer, creates rich and delicious tastes and reduces spoilage. Heating can allow us to open, cut or mash tough foods. But none of these advantages is as important as a little-appreciated aspect: cooking increases the amount of energy our bodies obtain from food.”

Apparently he's not a big fan of the raw food movement either. This is definitely something to look for at the Strand!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random New York Moment

I was in the Meatpacking district and saw this wall of graffiti and thought it was worth sharing. My narrative is a tad confusing, for the record I think of graffiti as art, street art, I was just having a brain fart or something...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roberta's Pizz in Bushwick

Every day I get a few emails from Tasting Table, one of the recent ones was about this pizza restaurant in Bushwick, an up and coming, industrial area with several live, work lofts that's attracted lots of arty hipsters.

Depending on the train you take it's about 5 stops out, living on the Lower East Side as I do I took the J train to Flushing and walked through the projects for about 10 minutes or so. It was really eye opening. I live surrounded by projects, but somehow the uber-gentrified and gentrified LES has had a taming affect on the 'hood. Also the projects here have been around since the sixties and are now surrounded by large trees.

Listen to me being a back seat Jane Jacobs, anyway my point is simply where I live, even though it's got a huge density of subsidized housing, it seems livable and safe. This walk from the J train did not. Grim, barren, densely packed cheap fast food outlets, low end chain stores, elevated train, bleak, with lots of industrial emptiness and not so safe feeling.

Not that I felt threatened. I didn't. But if I was to go again I'd take the L and get off at the Morgan station, which stops just around the corner in the heart of the burgeoning industrial loft neighborhood that Bushwick is becoming known for and is nothing like the walk there from the J train. It's one of those typical New York things where you can be walking along one stretch of a block and be skeeved out and turn the corner and all of a sudden it's a whole different vibe and you are, in this case, in a very friendly pocket of cool and groovy.

Funny, Neil and I were at a party on White street a few Winters back at our friend Christian's place before he moved to Berlin and opened up his art gallery. Anyway, that night it was impossible to tell there was anything but vast empty lots, and lots of trucks. Today when I went I got the feel for this funky, few, blocks that was very appealing. A grocery store, wine store and several restaurants have all popped up to make this outpost of hip very livable, even desirable. The idea of space to grow your own garden in is more and more my idea of a place to call home.

Roberta's caught my attention because they are taking the local idea and running with it. Roberta's as you can tell from the video below is a non-descript grey brick building with a basic sign outside. The inside is like some turn of the century tavern, old wood, retro grunge feel, with a view out onto what looks like was a parking lot.

What the adventurous and smart owners of Roberta's have done is gotten some old shipping containers and are in the midst of building themselves a garden, rumor has it in addition to the garden they are also getting themselves a green house so that they can have tomatoes either fresh or ones they put up, all year round. They source everything locally and soon that source will be just outside. How cool is that?

I find the entire enterprise wildly exciting, so much so I left them a resume. I'm sure they laughed at me and wondered what such an old un-hip guy like me was doing applying for a job, but I figure it's better to try and work at places that speak to you.

My pizza was great, charred and chewy, with a perfectly cooked egg in the middle, tangy tomato sauce and wonderfully unctuous/crispy guanciale - a type of "classy Canadian Bacon", so said the perky waitress. In truth, speaking as a Canadian, it has little to do with Canadian bacon, which we in Canada actually call peameal bacon and is really a fatty pork loin, cut thick, rolled in pea meal.

They have a great selection of beer and a limited selection of red and white wine. It'd be nice to see some mention of organic or biodynamic on their wine menu given how important it is to their food.

I can't wait to take Neil here. In the video near the end you'll see guys on top of the containers planting tomatoes. In the early part of the video I go up close to the pizza ingredients, those aren't canned "ripe" olives are they?

Asparagus Pickle Tipping Point

For nearly a year now I have shared with y'all my enthusiasm for canning, in particular pickling. Recently I mentioned in a post, over Memorial day weekend, about an idea I had for Asparagus pickles. So then today I get up early and am going through my usual routine of checking in on all the blogs and newspapers I read on line in order to find cool, informative and hopefully interesting stuff to post or comment on here and what do I see in the New York Times today? Go ahead, guess!

Why I find an article, recipe, slide show and video about making asparagus pickles and canning promoting Eugenia Bone's new cookbook "Well Preserved" (published by Clarkson Potter).

Apparently this is the asparagus pickle tipping point. Don't you think the New York Times should give me a job? The great thing about having this blog is that for the first time ever I actually now have proof of my prescient nature. If you want to know what the trend is going to be before it gets into the mainstream, then you have come to the right place!

My ideas for Asparagus pickles are more exotic than Ms. Bone's, I'm off to the market and as you can imagine, I will update you with a recipe soon.

Oh, and one more thing. In the article she talks about not putting the pickles in the fridge (until you open them I'm assuming). For me, as an urban dweller, one who has yet to buy an official canning set up, I often only make one batch in a large jar with a resealable lid (you know that fancy kind). The jar is sterilized, I just don't give it a hot water bath, and after it's reached room temperature I put it in the fridge. So far this has served me well, the pickles I have made are all highly acidic and they last for months or as long as it takes to eat them. If you are truly putting up a lot of pickles this isn't a very practical idea, but I usually only have enough money to do a pound or so of something and I'm also leery to commit to a recipe until I have tasted the results first.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CSA still has some space

A while back I posted about Paisley farm in Tivoli NY that has started a CSA, I was on their site today wondering what the first boxes would be filled with and see that they still have some spaces so if you haven't joined up and are still interested click on the link and drop them a line.

White turnips
Bok Choi
Lettuce, head
Lettuce, mix
Collard Greens
Spring Onions
Braising Greens
Baby beets
Mustard Greens
Swiss Chard
Heirloom Tomatoes
Beefsteak Tomatoes
Cherry Tomatoes
Green Beans
Squash blossoms
Tatsoi greens
Basil and other herbs
Braising greens
Brussels Sprouts
Butternut Squash
Hubbard Squash

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some interesting articles

Two great articles in the Times today:

Eric Asimov tastes Rioja (I love Spanish wines)

Then Anne Barnard (funny how close and appropriate for this article is that her name sounds a lot like barnyard) writes what I consider to be a very exciting piece on the revival of local slaughterhouses and butcher shops mostly supported by an ever increasing immigrant community. She manages very nicely to work in the locavore angle and that the animals in these small local slaughterhouses are brought from local farms not factories.

It's one of the reasons I will occasionally eat Duck or Chicken in Chinatown restaurants is that the Chinese like so many other immigrants want to look into the eye of the animal they are going to eat. The lack of squeamishness of people from other cultures about their meat is very healthy, in North America we like to see our meat in the form of a hamburger, it's hard not to wonder what would happen to our meat eating habits if we actually had to witness it's slaughter?

Speaking of our eating habits, my friend Craig sent me several links the other day, my favorite one is this picture show of what different people have in their fridge.

Create Beer/Great Bear

Yesterday Neil and walked across the Williamsburg bridge enjoying the sun and walked up Bedford avenue (with several detours). There is something about the low rise buildings and the vibrant, youthful neighborhood feeling that I just love. Mostly we fantasized about houses we'd like to own and how we'd fix them up. We went down North Third street and visited the Mast Brothers and bought an almond dark chocolate and sea salt chocolate bar, then went by and checked out the action at Relish, but didn't stay for food. They have a great big back yard for dining in the Summer, I just wish they had more concern for quality ingredients, no organic anything here, nor anything local as far as I can tell from reading the menu.

It's such a wonderful old diner, I really enjoyed the vibe when I ate there, but when I'm in Williamsburg surrounded by restaurants that prize locally sourced meats, cheeses, produce and artisanal local cheeses the choice is easy, quality over vibe any time. Besides you can go to Diner and get pretty much the same feel with food that is not straight from the factory.

Back on Bedford Ave we went into this retro flea market type store called Ugly Luggage
and there before me was a carboy, which as I recently learned is a large multi gallon glass or plastic container with a narrow opening. Neil was not so convinced: "it's a water cooler jug"
In my excitement I countered: "no it's not look here it says right on it create beer". Carboys being used for wine and beer fermentation mostly.

Well that what you get for reading upside down with out your glasses, indeed it was a water jug and it says on it Great Bear which used to be (and may still be) a spring water company. The good news is that it doesn't matter, apparently the same qualities needed for a water cooler are the ones needed for fermentation.

The reason I've wanted one is that months ago I saw a recipe on a site called which I am a member of on how to make probiotic soda's. It captured my imagination, home made burdock sarsaparilla soda, ginger ale, cola, root beer and ginger beer all naturally fermented, low in sugar and probiotic to boot! So exciting I can't wait. I tool my ginger starter out from the fridge this morning and will see tomorrow if it's still good or if I'll have to start again.

Meanwhile that 10 grain bread I was trying to make, I had to add more water and more yeast and then today I stir up the foaming mixture and added more flour. Not really feeling great about it, but I kneaded it into a loaf and am going to let it sit for most of today to see if there is enough yeast action going on to let it double in bulk.

Off to the market to see if I can find some tarragon, I have this crazy idea about Asparagus pickles...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The New Improved Old Fashioned Pesticide

Check out this article about how in Israel and Jordan they have found a better way of saving their crops than pesticides.

Coca-growing in Peru's Amazon - 11 May 09

I find the voice over a bit sensational, but the topic is well covered and deeply troubling.

Saturday May 23rd 2009 - Green Market Update

Saturdays are really becoming a challenge at the market. With the construction and the hordes of people it's almost unpleasant. Almost being the key word, as this is the market with the most vendors and best selection, everything it would seem is a trade off.

In no particular order:

The first sighting of fresh local Morel mushrooms, they were $49.99 a half pound and they were pretty much gone by noon.

Ramps and Fiddle head ferns are over, I was hoping for some fiddle heads to make pickles with, but I guess I waited too long. So I'll just have to make asparagus pickles.

Speaking of Asparagus, there is tons of it, Mostly $4 a pound some more and one stand has it two for $6 (needless to say that's where I get mine).

Second sighting of strawberries, also from a NJ farm, but not in my opinion as good as the ones from Wednesday.

Rhubarb is still going strong and seems to be $4 a pound across the boards. I bought mine from the Gorzynski Ornery Farm, the beyond organic people who I love.

In searching for information on farmers I was on the Council for the Environment's web site and discovered that they had a download-able PDF that tells you all of the names and locations of farmer stands on any given day at the market, made me happy.

Today I'm making an experimental bread from 10 grain blend cereal from Wild Hive farm.
It's all whole grains, in order to eat it they suggest you soak it for about 2 hours in three cups water to one cup grains. Then spend another hour cooking it. I added some salt and when it's cooked and cooled I'm going to add some yeast and let it sit over night. I'm in search of a high fiber whole grain bread that isn't too heavy. More on this later.

Finally in a totally unrelated to the market topic, today is our 22nd anniversary. To think Neil and I were 28 when we met and this year both of us will turn 50. Given how many perished in those early years to AIDS I feel luckily that we survived and doubly so that we have managed to stick it out and bare witness to each others lives. In the end there is nothing better then a dependable dinner companion.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend everyone.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Strawberries Are Here

On Wednesday at the Union Square market at the Kernan Farmer stand I saw what I have been waiting for all these long cold months (while chewing on my apple) the first Strawberries this season. I asked the farmer how it was he was so a head of the pack with his strawberries and he said it was all about how much further south his farm was compared to upstate New York (he's in south Jersey).

A quart was $7 and worth every penny. The berries were on the big side, full of flavor some sweeter others are more tart. Immediately I walked over to Neil's place of work and had him join me downstairs for a taste.

Last Saturday I had asked the gal at Berried Treasures farms from Delaware County, NY, how long it would be before she had her berries, she told me a month. She has the reputation of having the sweetest, best berries in the market. They are pretty damn good and tend to be smaller then most.

My favorite strawberries dessert is something called Eton Mess, it's really easy and not something you see very often at restaurants. Years ago when I lived in Toronto and had just finished university I worked at the fanciest restaurant in town, if not the entire country called Fentons, it was there I discovered Eton Mess a boozy sweet tart creamy pile of heaven.

People have their own ideas about this dessert , it's simple to make, this version is the Proustian memory of what I remember Eton Mess tasted like at Fentons. Oh and about the name supposedly from what I have found on the inter-web this is the traditional dessert serve at Eton College in England on June 4th, although it's unclear why, but I'll go out on a limb and say it's because strawberries where in season and that in and of itself is something to celebrate.

Eton Mess

Stem and hull about a pound of strawberries, chop them in half, keeping smaller ones whole and bigger ones maybe quarter. Place in a bowl and add 1T of kirsch and 4T sugar you can add more, but in this instance I like the berries to be a little on the sour side to give them a nice contrast to the sweet baked meringue, taste them after they have macerated and adjust to your taste, better to have to add sugar then to make them too sweet. Stir the berries minimally with a wooden spoon to just incorporate the sugar and kirsch (some people use port or other liquors, or you can just omit it all together), cover the bowl and place it in the fridge while you make the baked meringue.

Place 4 egg whites in a chilled bowl. You can use a whisk, but if you have a Hobard or hand held it will make it a much less athletic experience. Beat the whites until they are frothy then add
1/2 t cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks start to form, then gradually add 1 cup of sugar. Whisking/beating until it the meringue forms stiff peaks. It should have a glossy, luscious look to it. Make sure the sugar has dissolved, if you use regular sugar I suggest pulsing it in a food processor until it is ultra fine, or if you want use Castor sugar. If you think the meringue is done taste a bit of it and if it seems granular keep beating or simply feel the meringue between your fingers, it should feel smooth and silky.

Preheat the oven to 250F

Cover a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment and using a spatula spread the meringue mixture into a 1" or so mass all over the parchment. No need to be fussy here as it is just going to be broken up after cooking. Baked for an hour or more until the meringue comes away from the parchment easily, turning the cookie sheet half way through to ensure even baking.

When done turn the oven off and leave in the oven with the door slightly ajar for another 30 or so minutes.

Remove from oven and cool, once cool using your hands break it up into bite size chunks.

Just before you are ready to serve whipped 1 cup of heavy cream in a large bowl. Throw in a few hand fulls of meringue chunks and using a slotted spoon add the strawberries, trying to use a little of the sugar juice as possible. Stir only to incorporate. Using a large spoon plop a heap of mess on a plate. Serve the strawberry juice on the side if you wish, I like this dessert to look a mess not some prettified pink thing. The aspect of discovery, the boozy berry the sweet crunch of the meringue suspended in airy cream can't be beat.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A glass of wine with Alice Feiring and Dinner at Hearth with Jane

My friend Debbie gave me a copy of Alice Feiring's book: The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.

For some reason it had never occurred to me, even though now in retrospect it seems obvious, that wine is being altered and changed in similar ways to food. In a world run by the bottom line it shouldn't be surprising that of course wine makers want to expand their yield and cozy up to the critics by making wines that suit his taste. If that means keeping the grapes on the vines longer so they will be sweeter, then so be it, even if it means that the naturally occurring yeast needs to be supplemented by genetically modified yeast in order to get these over ripe grapes to ferment, what the hell, reverse osmosis, stainless steel tanks, quicker maceration, pesticides, irrigation, mechanization - Hell yeah!

Ms. Feiring does a good job of pointing out all these new fangled ways of making wine and showing us how the famous and influential Robert Parker's palate help influence wine makers. To her credit she is fairly well balanced and fair to Mr. Parker, she has a specific point of view about wine making which is that she prefers her wine made in an "authentic" or I guess some would say "old fashioned" way. She often refers to these big bold purple fruit bombs that Mr. Parker likes (and I too must admit in my past have drunk and enjoyed) as a "beverage". Something about the idea of a "wine beverage" that sums it up so well for me, a Vitamin Water for wine drinkers who want something friendly and easy, something consistent and more or less guaranteed. Wines made in traditional ways tend to be more fickle in their presentation, or so I would be lead to believe, I have only now, thanks to Alice to explore this new world and I find it very exciting. My favorite local wine store September and Astor Wines both have informed help and in the case of Astor lots of signs and descriptions of the wines allowing you to know if the grapes were hand picked, if they use old oak and if they are bio dynamic or organic and sometimes informative Staff Pick narratives.

It's a short book worth the read check out her website for the Amazon link and much more:

Last night Jane and I went out to dinner to Hearth to try out the previously mentioned Cucina Povera, the reasonably priced ($35) 3 course traditional Italian offering at Hearth. In truth Jane had the more deluxe Fava Bean tasting menu ($85).

We got there early (6:30) with no reservation. No problem, we were offered and quickly excepted one of the 4 stools at the bar that faces the kitchen. I love watching chefs at work and so does Jane so we were in foodie heaven. The service was very gracious and the executive chef was there over seeing the preparation for a large group eating a roast suckling pig dinner. Like reality TV or this was reality, there was kitchen drama, at least a spark of it, which made me uncomfortable, but I guess that's what you get when you sit de facto in the kitchen. Jane 's tasting menu had one more course then mine and the chef was so very kind to send me out a plate of perfectly light, butter and Parmesan coated gnocchi to pass the time with while Jane ate her tortellini with wild caught Maine Shrimp.

The food all looked beautiful, my main dish was a goat with white beans in a tomato sauce with broccoli rabe. The Goat meat came in a thick round, like a hamburger place artfully on top of the bean ragout. The dark, vaguely gamy goat meat was perfect when you had it in your mouth some some saucy beans, but on it's own was kind of dry, really not a big deal as there was lots of saucy beans, but it made me wonder how much we sacrifice for presentation at restaurants, why not just make it a stew? In part I think that the answer is that it wouldn't look as good. Jane commented about her first dish, fava beans with Pecorino, a dish she has great fondness for as it conjures up her youthful visits to Italy and having it for the first time. The Pecorino in this instance was cubed, mixed with the fava and placed on a thin crispy piece of bread. The cubed shape was a tad reminiscent of a suburban cheese try, she would have preferred shaved Pecorino. Again, small points in an otherwise lovely evening. If you go by all means try and get one of the seats looking into the kitchen, great fun - reality beats reality TV every time!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

rhubarb pickles, smoked bluefish pate

This pate is so easy and so delicious it has become a new must have in the fridge favorite.
There is a fish monger at the market that sells house smoked blue fish for about $6 a pound. It is also available at the Chelsea Market from the Lobster Place for $9.95 a pound.

In this instance I used a pound and a 1/4. This was not made in a very scientific way so please feel free to adjust this to your own taste.

Smoked Blue Fish Pate

Remove skin from the fish (1-1/4 pounds) and break it pieces into the container of a large food processor. Add 1 T horseradish, 2 t Dijon mustard, juice from half a lemon, 1/4 t cayenne pepper, 1/2 t celery salt and 8 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature (organic, or if you can the best cream cheese I've ever had is from Russ and Daughters). Process until well combined, make sure the cream cheese is thoroughly mixed in, if it's not quit room temp it can be lumpy. You could also had a few mild onions to this if you were so inclined, but I prefer the pickled ramps on the side.

Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. Spoon into a serving container and refrigerate. I used a 50's style square glass refrigerator box (storage container) it would also look nice in one of those fancy European preserving jars with the resealable glass lids and the metal hinges (is there a name for them?)

Served with pickles and some good bread this is a wonderful way to start a warm weather meal.

Rhubarb Pickles

Slice into bites size pieces (1-2") a pound or so of fresh rhubarb. Place it in a non-reactive bowl and toss in 3 T of salt, put a side for an hour to let the rhubarb sweat.

Meanwhile, roughly chop 2-3 good sized onions and finely chop 2 green Thai chili peppers with seeds (without seeds makes it less hot or use only 1 or use Jalapeno which are milder) saute the onions and peppers in 1/4 cup of canola oil until the onions are golden (about 10 minutes).

Add to the onions 1 t ground cardamom, 1 t dried ginger, 1 t ground cloves, 1/2 cup white seedless raisins (I used Sunview which are available at Whole Foods, but you could use regular raisins as well) stir over medium heat for a minute to incorporate the spices. Set aside.

When the rhubarb has finished sweating, discard the liquid that has accumulated in the bowl, rinse the rhubarb, dry it off with a towel and place in a clean, sterilized jar for preserving (in truth I just use a jar hot from my dish washer and because this is not such a large amount and is highly acidic I just keep it in the fridge, but if you are going to make this in larger batches or in smaller containers and are going to water bath process it, please make sure to sterilize your jars).

To the onion spice mix add 1 cup sherry vinegar, 1 cup white grape juice and 1 cup dark brown sugar and bring just to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to make sure the sugar has completely dissolved, remove from heat and pour over the rhubarb. Cool to room temperature then cover and put in the fridge or process if you're putting them up.

Great with smoked blue fish pate or cheese!

Spring Menu

This was the menu for our friend Draper's Birthday. I'll post some the recipes later in a separate post.

White Truffle Popcorn

Baked Bufala Milk Ricotta with herbs and pepperBoldserved with homemade whole grain bread

Smoked Blue Fish Pate
accompanied by pickled ramps and rhubarb pickles

Chilled Asparagus Soup
with lemon and Parmesan

Roasted Asparagus
on white miso with poached eggs

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Fiddle Head Fern and Pea Shoot Salad
in an Asian vinaigrette

Sticky Toffee Cake
with caramel sauce and sour cream whipped cream

Rhubarb Crumble
with sour cream whipped cream

Monday, May 18, 2009

BURMA VJ Trailer

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Harpers "findings"

We're big Harpers magazine fans around our house. At the end of each issue is a page of "findings" here are some from this months issue:

American children are smoking and snorting Smarties; doctors warned that such practices, by introducing sugar (er, corn syrup - me) into the warm, moist nasal environment, could cause bacterial infections.

The children of mothers with negative emotions were found to eat more junk food.

German children are less likely to become fat if they have access to water fountains.

Male chimpanzees who share their meat with females copulate with those females twice as often as when they decline to share.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi Imprisoned

Just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse, the Burmese junta have removed Suu Kyi from house arrest, taken her to a prison and disbarred her lawyer. Obviously they feel like the time is now to kill her by putting her out of site of the international community in a Burmese jail. I can only hope this does not happen and that the world community finally steps up to the plate and acts decisively to free her. Of course China, Burma's parent state has remained silent.

Below I have posted the letter being sent to the UN secretary general, I urge you to please take a moment right now and go to the US Campaign for Burma's site and sign the petition. It would be a tragedy to let China and the Burmese Junta to get away with the murder of this great woman, a Nobel peace prize winner and rightful, democratically elected leader of the Burmese people. Political power will only be moved to action if the people rise up and let their will be known.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to do this.

Dear General Secretary Ban Ki-moon,

"Until all of our political prisoners are free, none of us can say that Burma is now truly on the road towards democratic change." Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, held under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

The military government - the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – must immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Khun Tun Oo and Min Ko Naing.

The release of all political prisoners is the first and most important step towards freedom and democracy in Burma. We, the undersigned, call upon UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to make it his personal priority to secure the release of all of Burma's political prisoners by the SPDC.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Market Update - The new folks in town

Before I tell you about some of my new favorite vendors at the market can I just say how much I am looking forward to strawberries? It's like I've been standing around tapping my foot with my arms crossed for weeks now.

Some of you may remember that I made a commitment to only eat apples all winter and I have to admit that I did fall of the wagon for a few in season in Florida pink organic grapefruits, but otherwise I have staid true to my apple focus. And can I just say I love apples and am not bored at all, to spite what I said about anxiously awaiting strawberries. Mostly I look forward to strawberries as something to mix into my rhubarb crumble, which I made for the first time last night, and as I write that I guess rhubarb is my first new fruit of the season, except of course it's not actually considered a fruit. I digress. Strawberry and Rhubarb are just a great, classic combo based on seasonal availability. It irks me that so many recipes you see (and this applies to cranberries as well) use orange rind and juice in them. Often these are recipes from chefs who give voice to seasonality. Oranges are great, I love them and as I've stated here before if they are in season in Florida or Texas or somewhere even vaguely closer to the Atlantic then California then give me an orange or a tangelo or a grapefruit. Otherwise if you are making a recipe with this in season quintessential "fruit" why add something to the recipe from thousands of miles away? This is just one of those things that in contemplating food and the idea of local I am trying to get to the bottom of.

Enough of the digressions:

Buffala di Vermont
These people travel all the way down to Union Square to sell their water buffalo milk products, it's a real trek, but it's way closer then Italy and until now if you wanted ricotta or the much cherished "bufala" mozzarella that is where you had to get them from. I made some roasted herbed and pepper ricotta last night and it was very yummy. An 8 oz container of ricotta is $8, check them out when you are next at the market.

Cayuga Pure Organics
I've often been perplexed buy the lack of what I would call larder supplies at the market, sure fresh is the main reason to go, but finding good dried beans, grains and flours has been hard. No more, Cayuga Pure Organics has a great selection of particular interest to me is there dried pinto and black beans.

As many of you know I have been threatening to get a grain grinder and make my own flour at home, but it seems less and less like something I need to do, in addition to Cayuga there is
Wild Hive Farm who carry a diverse selection of preground flours, multi grain, rye, whole wheat and all purpose. They also sell whole grains if you just need to mill them yourself. I love their whole wheat bread flour. Their flours start at $3.50 for a pound and a half and go up to $5.50 - certainly more expensive then your regular bag of flour from the grocery store, but I think well worth it. Also it makes you use your flour when it is fresh, as opposed to the big bag you leave in the cupboard for months on end, give them a try and you'll never turn back!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Urban Gardening

I'm a bit rambling and not the best camerman around, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Story of Stuff, Full Version; How Things Work, About Stuff

This video has become a "sleeper hit of classrooms" according to the Huffington Post.

It's 21 minutes long and even though it may be a lot of stuff you already know it really is worth the investment of time .

Simple graphics, straight forward and friendly narrative, it's really informative, but not boring or preachy.

it's really good news that this is what kids are learning in school.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The 7 buck dozen eggs

Lately it's occurred to me that my narrative is starting to sound a lot like my grandfather. You know the "When I was your age that cost a nickel!" lecture. The one I always rolled my eyes at and thought, yeah, but that was twenty years ago Gramps, get with the program.

Now, flash forward, as I go about my day to day life, I notice something. Stopping in at a favorite cafe that I've been going to for 15 years and being shocked that a very small amount of Bok Choy, a modest amount of Mac n' Cheese, and an Ice Tea cost $18! Or the other day, at a coffee shop near Gramercy Park, a modest sized chocolate chip cookie cost $3.25! You can sort of dismiss this by saying "oh well it's an expensive neighborhood and their rent must be insane. "

Then it started to dawn on me that for years I bought my eggs at Knoll Crest farms and their eggs, depending on which you buy have hovered in the 3-4'ish buck range (large brown dozen $4.25 ish). And still, when I buy eggs from Saxelby's Cheese they are under $4. At Whole Foods, if you buy organic eggs, they again hover around $4.

So now seemingly all of a sudden I see eggs for 5, 6 or even 7 bucks a dozen! Wow. I'm not sure I have much to say about this other then I can't believe an item that was always "cheap" and the basis for so much baking, like Angel Food cake, ice cream, pasta and more has become almost as expensive as buying a chicken, which would after all be an entire meal. Since when did we all of a sudden start living in a city/economy where our choice, by price, is eat chicken or have an omelet? They used to be two very distinct things, people who ate eggs for dinner were, to my mind, usually old ladies on a budget.

Sure, as Michael Pollen points out in his book "The Omnivores Dilemma" we have to look beyond the price point of any given item and try to suss out what the real cost is. Does the 2 buck dozen in a Styrofoam box really cost less? Given that that dozen supports factory farming and all the pesticides, GMO feed, torture etc that goes with it? If you don't have the money to spend then it's not much of a question, as I think it is hard for anyone living in this country to start thinking about eggs as a luxury item. It's also hard to try and reach those people and explain that in the long term, taxes, health care cost, enviromental costs that those 2 buck eggs aren't maybe such a deal and that you pay for them in other ways.

Ultimately it feels like a shift is happening. All our notions are being challenged about what is affordable and what is of value. The trick is to convince the average consumer that they can buy a cheap piece of steak and a potato for 7 bucks, certainly you could have a feast at a fast food hambuger joint for that, so why buy a dozen eggs?

There is a bunch of answers to which I could proceed, but I think if you are here reading this blog you hardly need to hear me go on about it again. The answer to me is to searchout the best value and buy from the farmer who sells the 4 buck eggs not the 7 buck eggs. Neil and I have all but stopped buying bread as I am making it so often now myself. A thick cut slice of homemade bread, toasted, buttered and salted, and topped with 2 eggs scrambled with some more salt and some pepper is to me preferable to any of the above mentioned alternatives as to how to spend $7 of your food budget. And if you do the math 12 eggs eaten in meals of 2 each gives you 6 meals.

All of this to say I don't really have much of an answer to this conundrum, the economy is in free fall, we live in a very expensive city and the first thing to go up when things are down is food prices.

I never thought I'd say this, but as I age and worry about how I will be able to take care of myself in my old age, should I reach it, I realize that the goal is to live in a way that I am as self sustainable as possible.

Yesterday I spent the better part of my afternoon working on my garden plot at my community garden at La Plaza Cultural. Can I just say it beats any anti depressent I have ever taken for effectiveness in raising my spirits and giving me excercise. If you are ever in the East Village on a weekend, come by! It's a wonderfulplace to hang out. Last year we installed a bunch of public raised beds in a sunny spot and I think it's time for me to think about planting some tomatoes and herbs in one of them, to subsidize our CSA deliveries which start in June.

Now if only I could figure out a way to get me some chickens.

Orangutan causes evacuation at Adelaide Zoo

I can relate. Sometimes you just need to escape your day to day reality.

Alvin Hall Ostrich Attack

totally silly. I never knew I loved Ostriches so much!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fondue Pots

My brother David who was in town visiting this week bought me an amazing old Dansk cast iron with a white enamel interior fondue pot. We were at the Diabetes's Thrift store on 12th street and I pointed it out, I had been coveting it since I saw it last week waiting to be priced. In trying to find out more about it I came across the above picture and just wanted an excuse to post it.

Fondue isn't a traditional Spring or Summer dish, but earlier in the week David and I went to Momofuku and had the first night of their new 4 course prix fixe ($30), which on this Monday included a creamy leak crepe with a dribble of mild honey.

It's hard for me not to imagine how delicious a creamy Ramp fondue would be, made with Fontina or some other mild-ish cheese with a buttery light sauteed ramp kick. A little butter lettuce salad, home made bread and a glass of white wine? Mmmmm, maybe the time for a fondue revolution has begun! Freed from the chains of Winter confinement, it's Spring Fondue!

OK now I really need to go to Yoga.

News Flash: Grey Poupon Mustard made by Kraft Foods

When I was a little boy my favorite food experience was to go to the counter at Kresges with my grandmother and order french fries, gravy and a coke. When the waitress would place my order in front of me the first thing I would do is cover my gravy sodden fries in ketchup. I loved the sweet, savory interplay on the hot, greasy, fried potatoes. It seemed important to start this post about condiments out with a whiff of condiment nostalgia.

You probably already have heard that the pundits on the far right, or the lunatic right, a more apt description of Faux News et. al. have taken President Obama to task for ordering Dijon mustard on his burger. Sean Hannity snidely remarks "Ketchup isn't good enough for the president". Of course I thought that's because Obama knows that Ketchup is made with two kind of GMO corn syrup (regular as a thickener and high fructose as a sweetener) and is trying to keep his figure. Or maybe he just likes spicy mustard? As a land of immigrants spicy mustard is not a new item here. Spicy is something a lot of Americans seem to enjoy, so much so that Kraft Foods who makes Grey Poupon, one of the more high profile Dijon mustards in the world thought it would be a good brand for their portfolio. What is more all American than Kraft? Really? Don't they make Velveeta?

For goodness sakes, Dijon is so all American at this point the ne plus ultra of American bourbons, Jack Daniels, makes their own uniquely zesty version of it, which they sell in 6 packs!

Obviously, this is all silly distraction from anything more substantial or significant. Just another way for the wingnuts to try and find some criticism, anything really, to say that might tarnish the presidents image. Just imagine how the news would have played if the president had asked:

"Is that burger made with local grass fed humanely treated beef or is it factory farmed?"

Fuck the Dijon let's get to the heart of the matter. What does it matter what condiment you use when the burger itself is tortured, antibiotic ridden, poison? Sorry, I don't mean to sound like a PETA activist. The good news is that I am not part of a fringe minority any more, look at the people of California who passed, this last election, proposition 2 a law requiring more humane treatment of factory farm animals .

The real issue here as I see it is choice. If you're at a restaurant and you want the chicken quesadilla, but there is only one kind of chicken and it wasn't raised on the farm, it was processed in a factory, what are you going to do? Most people are going to order it. We should all have the ability to choose between mustard or ketchup, farmed or factory. Making those decisions based on whatever sets of personal criteria we have decided are important to us. Hopefully irrational xenophobia won't be one of the criteria (did anyone else have a freedom fries flashback with this mustard nonsense?)

The problem of course is that we've reached a place where we know better, but it's all kind of overwhelming. Why can't I just go into a greasy spoon and order a burger and ketchup and not have to have anxiety over the quality, safety and ethical concerns of the food that will be presented to me? Why have we, the consumers been so undermined by agribusiness and our government in the form of the inept, corrupt and criminal FDA?

My fantasy is that we will one day live in a world where president Obama, instead of asking about the mustard, asks about the meat.

It's Saturday morning, the birds are amazingly loud given I'm no the 14th floor of a high rise on the project strewn lower east side. I'm about to make my way to the market (I finally did get that rhubarb, pickles, crumble and chutney are on the to do list today) and it isn't raining out!

If it had just been called American Spicy mustard none of this would have happened.

Can I have some bourbon with that?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Prince's Rainforests Project Awareness Campaign Video

Thanks and credit to Joe.My.God for turning me onto this and the Jackie Beat parody below. Who knew the Prince of Wales had a sense of humor? I like anything with Daniel Craig in it ;-) Oh and I guess this means Frogs Legs are definitely off the menu!

High-Fructose Corn Syrup Spoof

Drags Queens you got to love them. Jackie Beat does this over the top spoof of those insipid corn syrup commercials. I think she makes her point. Not for the sensitive!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fiddlehead Ferns, Asparagus and Social Intercourse

After all the stormy wet weather today I had this seasonally inappropriate desire to make hot chocolate. It was after I'd been soaked going from the subway to therapy, somewhere between walking Casa Mono in Gramercy to meet a friend for some wine and tapas feeling like a human sponge, that it came over me, the craving for something warm and reassuring. It took a few more hours before I was actually able to reach home and the stove. Whole milk heated to just before the boil, chopped up left over chocolate from passover and a teaspoon of sugar and cocoa finished off with a titch of cinnamon. All is better now.

It's been a very social week, with lots of house guests. My older brother David was down for a few days, I made dinner for him and Debbie on Saturday, spicy fish stew and a fricassee of ramps, asparagus and cream served with home made ramp pancakes (think scallion pancakes only with ramps). Pea shoots with a black pepper honey dressing. Lemon ricotta ice cream served with a lemon ricotta torte (lots of almonds and hazelnuts).

The pancakes need some work, crunchy roasted potatoes would work just as well and be easier to make. It also occurs to me that you could easily interchange fiddle head ferns for the asparagus.

It's an easy recipe, melt 2 T of unsalted butter and 2 T olive oil in a large frying pan, when the butter is melted added a bunch (about 8) ramps, roughly chopped using as much of the green stem as you like. Saute for several minutes.

Meanwhile blanch the asparagus in a boiling lightly salted water, cut up about 1 pound of asparagus (or fiddle head ferns, they don't need to be chopped use them whole) into bite size pieces, reserve the tips. Cook the thicker bottom part of the stems first, as they take a little longer, you don't want them soft, just bright green and still crunchy, don't even bother to blanch the tips unless they are very thick.

Toss the blanched asparagus into the sauteed ramps and stir over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Pour in about 1/2 heavy cream, bring the mixture to just a boil then take off the heat. Stir in 2 T of chopped lemon Thyme season with freshly ground black pepper and salt (maybe some hot pepper flakes) and serve.

David left Tuesday morning and Tuesday night I went to a fancy literary party in Chelsea with my friends Chris and Draper. The event was to celebrate the publishing of Vestal Mcintyre's new book, Lake Overturn. I had no idea I knew or at least sort of knew Vestal, but not for his literary talents, Vestal had been for many years the cute and very charming waiter at our much beloved and very much missed Florent. So it was nice to meet him officially without a pen and pad in his hand. Everyone there was an author with a book or two or more under their belts or at the very least a book on the way. To say I felt intimidated would be an understatement. Chris introduced me his friend Stephen Bottum, we share a mutual love of Burma (Myanmar) although Steven and his partner where far more adventuresome on their trip then I had been. Still, it seems everyone who has gone there comes away infected by the Burma bug. My hope is maybe with our regime change here we will change our foreign policy there and maybe the Burmese people will finally get a break (for more on this just type in Burma in the search engine here it's a favorite topic). Anyway turns out Burma isn't the only thing we have in common, Stephen is also a writer and has a site called Band of Thebes (love the name).

All in all it was quite the night, the apartment was amazing with a lovely large balcony and a Steinway grand in the living room. My only small quibble was the lack of food, I think next time they should hire me to help them out on that front. Although, it is amazing how happy literary types seem to be just with booze.

Wednesday Mary came and we went to another favorite restaurant Brown, just around the corner on Hestor street. I was very pleased that both Casa Mono and Brown note on their wine lists "traditional" or "organic" or "sustainable" next to wines where those categories apply. Debbie gave me a copy of Alice Feiring's book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization. It's great and has really opened my eyes to the shenanigans going on in the wine making industry.

More on that later, my hot chocolate is gone and bed beckons.

Elusive Rhubarb

Since Saturday I have been told that rhubarb has been at the market, but it's still very new and in scarce quantities. Lazy bones that I am it's always noon-ish or later before I get to Union Square from the Lower East Side and by then it's gone. I love rhubarb. When I was a little boy in Hamilton, Ontario Canada my brother and I used to live in with our Grandparents in the Summer, they had a small house on a dead end street with a neighbor whose back yard opened up into this unkempt abandoned lot, rhubarb grew there like a week. My favorite thing to do was to pick as much as I could carry and bring it back to my grandmother, she give me a jar of sugar and sit down and put one end of the rhubarb into my mouth to make it nice and wet then dip it into the sugar, biting off the sugary coated part, loving the pooh pooh platter of mouth water sour rhubarb juxtaposed to the granular sweetness of the white sugar.

For the last several weeks I've been craving Rhubarb crumble with Strawberry Ice Cream, so in advance of actually getting my hands on some rhubarb and probably several weeks before we see a strawberry here's some recipes to to get you ready for that magic convergence that will soon be upon us.

Rhubarb Crumble
(this is a reprint from an earlier posting with some slight variations - obviously I'm obsessed)

Chop 4 cups of rhubarb into roughly 1” sections, add 3/4 c-1 ½ cups sugar* -(I like it sour so I use less, but this is a good range – try a cup and then vary it as you see fit) and 2 T unbleached all purpose flour and toss it together until the rhubarb is well coated, put into whatever baking dish you want to use (it should be able to accommodate 2 quarts). Place 1 cup walnuts (or pecans or even almonds in a pinch) in a food processor and process until the nuts are ground, but still have a diverse texture. Add 1-cup whole-wheat flour, 8 T raw cane sugar (like Demarrara or 6 T brown sugar and 2 T white sugar), 1 t cinnamon, 1/2 t salt and mix, using your hands incorporate 12 T unsalted butter a few tablespoons at a time. This mixture is very moist. Spread it over the rhubarb and bake in the middle of a 375° oven for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling and thick around the sides. I love to serve this with unsweetened whipped cream or with a few tablespoons of crème fraiche – go ahead and add some sugar if you like it sweeter and, depending on how sour the crumble, this might be a good tack for those at your table who prefer their crumble sweeter.

Strawberry Ice Cream

Clean, hull and roughly chopped 2 cups of strawberries, toss with 2 T of sugar and set aside to macerate.

Separate 9 eggs, reserve the egg whites for another use (Angel Food Cake!). Place the 9 egg yolks in a big bowl, add 3/4 cup sugar.

Mix 2 Cups of Heavy Cream and 2 cups of Half and Half in heavy bottom 2 quart pot and heat until just starting to boil. Turn off heat and add a 1/4 cup of the hot liquid to the eggs yolks, stirring to incorporate, add another 1/4 cup of hot liquid and repeat. Finally add all of the hot mixture to the egg yolks and once well mixed pour back into the sauce pan.

Over medium heat stirring constantly warm the mixture until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature then place in the fridge until cold (preferably over night).

When the custard mixture is cold fold in the macerated sweetened strawberries, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 2T vodka (optional*). Place into your ice cream maker and process as per the manufactures instructions.

Serve with Rhubarb Crumble.

*The reason I like to add a small amount of alcohol to ice cream is because it prevents it from getting really hard and gives it a nice reliable texture.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Here's your chance to join a CSA

Sara Grady who runs the wonderful Gradywood sent out a newsletter a few days ago announcing a Ramp Foraging expedition and the rare opportunity to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) weekly food from the farm you can pick up at one of 4 convenient locations from Paisley Farm. It's $500 for a season of fresh, local produce, you can't beat it! So hurry and join up now while space is still available.

Gradywood also gives you all the information on Sarah and her chef partner Jason Wood who do have supper club nights every now and then, often as benefits for good causes like the Queens County Farm Museum.

The Queens county farm is someplace I've only become aware of in the last couple of months and am going to make it a point to go visit this summer. Here is the description from their website:

The Queens County Farm Museum's history dates back to 1697; it occupies New York City's largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland and is the only working historical farm in the City.

How cool is that? The more I discover NYC the more I realize how vast and diverse it is. Just the other day I went to breezy point in Brooklyn with my friend Jane who has had a house out there in a small beach community for years. Yes, you read that correctly beach community at the edge of Brooklyn, on one side is the Atlantic Ocean on the other is Jamaica Bay. It's not far from the Rockaways and Reise Park, where else can you go from historic working farm to white sandy ocean beach all on a subway or bus?

Just last night my friend Draper was telling me about a recent visit to Coney Island and how it's been cleaned up and the beach there is delightful.

In these tough economic times it is nice to know that this year if you have a staycation you need not feel like you have to do without, there is so much to do and all you need is a metro pass! Well and a picnic and a nice cool bottle of white wine ;-)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Amsterdam Market

Saturday, May 2, 2009

City Timelapse

My nephew Natan did this wonderful time lapse sequence of our skyline from the living room window during passover dinner.

Funny when I see the city like this I realize all over again why I have been in love with it since I was a boy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Moderate Wine Drinking is good for Men

photo by Christian Siekmeier

OK so this seems to be old news, but there is a new study out as reported in the Guardian saying that men, in particular, who drink red wine outlive their "teetotaller" counter parts by 5 years .

"The researchers concluded that drinking up to 20 grams a day could extend men's lifespan by up to two years over those who avoided alcohol.

They also found that men who drank only wine, and less than half a glass a day, lived for about two and a half years longer than those who drank beer or spirits, and almost five years more than teetotallers?"

1 ounce is 28.35 grams so what I want to know is who drinks less then an ounce of wine? WHO? If you know of someone who does please write me I'd like to meet this person. It's like you you are taking it as medicine in a dosage. The article also states:

"Long-term wine consumers had about five years longer life expectancy at age 50 compared with non-alcohol users. Of these five years, about two years can be attributed to an effect of alcohol intake. The remaining three years can be attributed to an effect of wine consumption."

Again I wonder if the men interviewed really only drank one glass or less a day? I don't think I've ever met anyone (oh maybe Neil) who could just drink a glass of wine, most people are up for splitting a bottle between two people which means two and a half-ish glasses. And again a glass is 4-8 ounces not less then an ounce.

Of course the article had to end on a sobering note from the spokesperson for Alcohol concern:

"Some evidence shows that very moderate alcohol intake can be beneficial, but this must be weighed up against the serious harms caused by drinking more than moderate amounts. For example, in men, drinking more than half a glass a day, there's a drop in life expectancy.

"And individual risk must be taken into account. Research earlier this year found that drinking a small glass of wine per day increases the risk of cancer in women. The notion that we can somehow use alcohol for health benefit is a dangerous one. Swapping a healthy lifestyle for half a glass of wine a day would be counter-productive."

It's confusing to me that he refers to a "half a glass" when the study refers to 20 grams which according to my sources (Wiki-answers) is less then an ounce, no where near my idea of half a glass, but maybe in Britain they think differently? Bottom line seems to me that in all things moderation and maybe people who drink every now and again just have more fun then teetotallers and that explains it? Or maybe that's just the observation of someone who likes to drink wine and thinks longevity is over rated?

In the end it's all about quality of life.


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On a lighter note the first Spring Asparagus hit the market on Monday!

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