Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Read the less sarcastic version in Juliet Eilpern's article in the Washington Post.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
When I was young and didn't care about what I was doing, which is to say when I took it for granted, I was cocky and insouciant. I also had a group of willing sous chefs who I didn't mind putting to work. Age has made me more controlling and questioning. Any willing helper arrives as a guest to a party that has already begun. Things that once gave me a thrill now give me agita.
Take last Sunday for instance. What on earth was I thinking when I decided to make home made ravioli? For guests who have spent their entire lives going to Italy and know Italian food better then I could possibly ever know it? Well, I blame it on the ramps. They were the only thing at the market that was local and fresh and new. I wanted to highlight this uniquely local ingredient for our friend visiting from London, show him how we do it in the colonies.
Saturday I did my usual tour of the Union Square Green Market - I was hoping for asparagus or rhubarb, maybe a morel. Ramps, ramps and more ramps. I come up with this idea of doing a very delicate filling of fresh ricotta, Parmesan with lightly sauteed ramps in the middle of light and perfect pasta pillows. Generously doused in butter sage sauce. Sounds easy! What could be so hard?
The night before I make Calvados ice cream or at least I make the custard which needs to cool over night and I start the bread. As usual I stay up too late and wake later then I want, but that's OK - I have already bought the cheeses to go with the bread, but lament that the end of the season is also the start of the season and all my homemade chutneys and pickles are long gone. I push that thought out of my head. I put the cool boozy custard in the ice cream maker and check in on my bread dough, adding flour and giving it shape.
Last night in a quagmire of indecision I also pulled out a bunch of frozen fish bones and fish with the idea of making a spicy fish stew in addition to the pasta. It all seems doable at 1:30 AM. I make a new pasta dough recipe (note to self don't try something new for a dinner party of people you want to impress) and it has 9 egg yolks and 6 eggs and needs to be refrigerated for 3 hours. I have this old idea of making coconut cookies and chocolate sauce to go with the ice cream. Shit, I need more butter and more coconut and I want to alter the recipe for the cookies so I don't have to use sweetened coconut. Then angel food cake comes into my head, Passover had me looking at recipes and I remember a chocolate angel food cake that's perfect, it calling for 2 cups of egg whites which is exactly what i have after using so many yolks for the pasta and the ice cream. So I make the angel food cake. Somehow I'm thinking angel food cake, home made ice cream and hot chocolate sauce aren't enough, so I am still insistent on the coconut cookies. Besides, it's beautiful outside and I want to at least go for a walk to the Avenue A market to see if maybe there is something new there, something that might have sprouted since yesterday. Besides I need to pick up butter, coconut and, Oh Shit, sugar, too. It's getting on 3 PM as the angel food cake comes out of the oven. It looks great, if kind of pale for chocolate, I wish it were darker, but oh well the chocolate sauce will make up for that.
Out the door, it's wonderful to feel the sun. I go by Gracefully Market on Avenue A and think I should just go in there and get what I need, streamline my shopping, but it's horrifying. A half pound of butter here is what a pound is at Whole Foods and the coconut is equally over priced. I'm indignant and leave empty handed.
The market is lovely, I buy some Empire apples (just in case I want to make a cole slaw) and a 5 buck dozen of farm fresh eggs. Even though it's starting to get later then I want it t be I need to go to Whole Foods or at least I feel driven to walk there and get these few sundries that in reality I end up never using.
Once home it's almost 4. The pasta will be easy I tell myself. Jane comes by with a case of wine.
They'll all show up by 7. I shower. I look at the wild salmon cake batter I had made and frozen, it looks wan and pale, I'm anxious about the ravioli and take the dough out of the fridge. Maybe I should nix the fish cakes? Is it too late to make the fish stew?
The bread dough was proofing in a cotton dough rubbed with flour, but it's so warm out and in my kitchen and my trip out took much longer then expected I see the bread has leaked out of the towel and pooled into a gray mass on the stainless steel counter. I start to sweat profusely and swear loudly. I add a bunch of flour and swear some more. Pounding and kneading the dough into some shape, I take the dutch oven out of the preheated oven and put this limp flat disk of dough in it and cover it with the lid, I'm convinced it will look and taste like eating a brick, I'm furious. Stupid idiot! You should have done this sooner, you should have stayed home, you should have...back to the ravioli dough, it's very yellow from all the eggs, I dredge it in some corn flour.
In re-reading the extensive instructions I see I have to roll it through the widest opening on the pasta maker then fold it in thirds then repeat 10 times. This takes a while, but then I get the hang of it, I decrease the width of the rollers and try again this time for 6 go through, the pasta starts to shred, I start to sweat with anxiety. I breath and try again, every time I think it's working I move to a thinner setting on the pasta making machine and it shreds the dough into an unrecognizable heap. At one point I get out my rolling pin in hopes of trying to flatten it out again. I'm sweaty profusely, I scream, I swear and I slam the ruined and shredded dough angrily with my rolling pin. Then I walk away, it's almost 7 and now, instead of being ahead of the game, I feel hopelessly behind.
In the end I use the technique from another easier recipe with out all the folding and repeating, it works OK, not great, but with the calming help of my friend Debbie (who thought she was attending a party and not being a sous chef, though she's always game) I am able to abandon the idea of ravioli and make a lasagna with a last minute tomato sauce and a ramp infused cheese layer. In the end I was amazed how good the difficult pasta tasted, it was silk and melted in my mouth. Thought it wasn't particularly subtle nor did it reflect the season in the way I wanted it to. The fish cakes were a disaster and I new from tasting them in the kitchen that although looking good they tasted bland and boring and even the sour cream and flying fish roe couldn't save them (note to self, if you taste it in the kitchen and don't like it, don't serve it).
The final misstep in this meal of missteps was the broccoli rab. For some strange reason at the market the other green that I saw that appealed to me was broccoli rab, it was hardy with thick stocks and yellow flowers. My usual way of doing it is to poach it quickly in boiling water then chop it up and fry it in olive oil, garlic and hot peppers, finishing it off with lemon juice. The end result tasted fine, and was eaten with enthusiasm, but as one guest pointed out vegetebales need to be taken out of the water before you think they are cooked as they continue to cook, a nice way of saying it was a bit soft. Flash back to my mother's green beans which were almost a puree they were so over cooked. Indeed I will cut myself some slack here as I don't like how bitter late in the day broccoli rabe can taste so I guess if I had to make a choice I preferred it a little soft and tasty to cooked to crunchy perfection and bitter. Or maybe I'm just being soft on myself?
Dessert was just fine, I was able to sit and relax and drink some wine and feel a sigh of relief that I had made it through.
Here is the thing: don't make something new for a new crowd. Make simple things that make you happy, taste good and aren't going to make you crazy. It's important to tell this story because even cooks like me who people think are good cooks have off days. Oh and that I am my own worst enemy and critic. So note to self, and anyone else who might be able to relate to this, take a weight off your shoulder and prepare ahead of time!
Relax, this is suppose to be fun. And in the end no one else cares, everyone is happy to be eating something not out of a microwave or from a fast food chain, which is why at the end of an evening no matter how successful or not you think your meal was you spent time with friends old and new and you shared with them some love from your kitchen.
Well no news there. I love the writing, here's a sample from the first sentence:
Lovely. Instead of just listing the link I will cut and paste the entire article here, it's fascinating, but not so shocking really. It's reminiscent of the spinach poisoning that happened a few years back turns out the spinach farm was next to a factory meat processing and slaughtering facility, the horrors and power of the meat industry has been thoroughly laid out in Eric Schlosser's brilliant book Fast Food Nation. The movie is so upsetting I couldn't finish watching it.
Here's the rest of Mike Davis's article from The Guardian:
The Mexican swine flu, a genetic chimera probably conceived in the faecal mire of an industrial pigsty, suddenly threatens to give the whole world a fever. The initial outbreaks across North America reveal an infection already travelling at higher velocity than did the last official pandemic strain, the 1968 Hong Kong flu.
Stealing the limelight from our officially appointed assassin, H5N1, this porcine virus is a threat of unknown magnitude. It seems less lethal than Sars in 2003, but as an influenza it may be more durable than Sars. Given that domesticated seasonal type-A influenzas kill as many one million people a year, even a modest increment of virulence, especially if combined with high incidence, could produce carnage equivalent to a major war.
Meanwhile, one of its first victims has been the consoling faith, long preached by the World Health Organisation, that pandemics can be contained by the rapid responses of medical bureaucracies, independent of the quality of local public health. Since the initial H5N1 deaths in Hong Kong in 1997, the WHO, with the support of most national health services, has promoted a strategy focused on the identification and isolation of a pandemic strain within its local radius of outbreak, followed by a thorough dousing of the population with antivirals and (if available) vaccine.
An army of sceptics has contested this viral counter-insurgency approach, pointing out that microbes can now fly around the world (quite literally in the case of avian flu) faster than WHO or local officials can react to the original outbreak. They also pointed to the primitive, often non-existent surveillance of the interface between human and animal diseases. But the mythology of bold, preemptive (and cheap) intervention against avian flu has been invaluable to the cause of rich countries, like the US and UK, who prefer to invest in their own biological Maginot lines rather than dramatically increasing aid to epidemic frontlines overseas, as well as to big pharma, which has battled developing-world demands for the generic, public manufacture of critical antivirals like Roche's Tamiflu.
The swine flu may prove that the WHO/Centres for Disease Control version of pandemic preparedness – without massive new investment in surveillance, scientific and regulatory infrastructure, basic public health, and global access to lifeline drugs – belongs to the same class of Ponzified risk management as Madoff securities. It is not so much that the pandemic warning system has failed as it simply doesn't exist, even in North America and the EU.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Mexico lacks both capacity and political will to monitor livestock diseases, but the situation is hardly better north of the border, where surveillance is a failed patchwork of state jurisdictions, and corporate livestock producers treat health regulations with the same contempt with which they deal with workers and animals. Similarly, a decade of urgent warnings by scientists has failed to ensure the transfer of sophisticated viral assay technology to the countries in the direct path of likely pandemics. Mexico has world-famous disease experts, but it had to send swabs to a Winnipeg lab in order to ID the strain's genome. Almost a week was lost as a consequence.
But no one was less alert than the disease controllers in Atlanta. According to the Washington Post, the CDC did not learn about the outbreak until six days after Mexico had begun to impose emergency measures. There should be no excuses. The paradox of this swine flu panic is that, while totally unexpected, it was accurately predicted. Six years ago, Science dedicated a major story to evidence that "after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an evolutionary fasttrack".
Since its identification during the Great Depression, H1N1 swine flu had only drifted slightly from its original genome. Then in 1998 a highly pathogenic strain began to decimate sows on a farm in North Carolina and new, more virulent versions began to appear almost yearly, including a variant of H1N1 that contained the internal genes of H3N2 (the other type-A flu circulating among humans).
Researchers interviewed by Science worried that one of these hybrids might become a human flu (both the 1957 and 1968 pandemics are believed to have originated from the mixing of bird and human viruses inside pigs), and urged the creation of an official surveillance system for swine flu: an admonition, of course, that went unheeded in a Washington prepared to throw away billions on bioterrorism fantasies.
But what caused this acceleration of swine flu evolution? Virologists have long believed that the intensive agricultural system of southern China is the principal engine of influenza mutation: both seasonal "drift" and episodic genomic "shift". But the corporate industrialisation of livestock production has broken China's natural monopoly on influenza evolution. Animal husbandry in recent decades has been transformed into something that more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in school readers.
In 1965, for instance, there were 53m US hogs on more than 1m farms; today, 65m hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities. This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.
Last year a commission convened by the Pew Research Center issued a report on "industrial farm animal production" that underscored the acute danger that "the continual cycling of viruses … in large herds or flocks [will] increase opportunities for the generation of novel virus through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human to human transmission." The commission also warned that promiscuous antibiotic use in hog factories (cheaper than humane environments) was sponsoring the rise of resistant staph infections, while sewage spills were producing outbreaks of E coli and pfiesteria (the protozoan that has killed 1bn fish in Carolina estuaries and made ill dozens of fishermen).
Any amelioration of this new pathogen ecology would have to confront the monstrous power of livestock conglomerates such as Smithfield Farms (pork and beef) and Tyson (chickens). The commission reported systemic obstruction of their investigation by corporations, including blatant threats to withhold funding from cooperative researchers .
This is a highly globalised industry with global political clout. Just as Bangkok-based chicken giant Charoen Pokphand was able to suppress enquiries into its role in the spread of bird flu in southeast Asia, so it is likely that the forensic epidemiology of the swine flu outbreak will pound its head against the corporate stonewall of the pork industry.
This is not to say that a smoking gun will never be found: there is already gossip in the Mexican press about an influenza epicentre around a huge Smithfield subsidiary in Veracruz state. But what matters more (especially given the continued threat of H5N1) is the larger configuration: the WHO's failed pandemic strategy, the further decline of world public health, the stranglehold of big pharma over lifeline medicines, and the planetary catastrophe of industrialised and ecologically unhinged livestock production.
Monday, April 27, 2009
My thought on it is that after genetic modification and all the processing that goes on the Rabbi's don't consider it corn or soy any more.
My over all feeling is, as you already well know, manufactured foods are a bad idea, and maybe it's a wonderful feat of science to be able to do all this cool and nifty stuff with corn and soy, but I think we'd all be better off if it was left at the very least in it's original non-genetically modified form before we went ahead and changed it.
My favorite thing in the list below is that in some form or another corn is used in explosives. Nice.
This list was provided by Casco a commerical corn processor in Canada. I cut and pasted from a chart so I haven't a clue what all the dots are next to the products, if you really want to know more you can download the chart from this site.
Beer, ale • ••••
Brandy • •
Liqueurs •• ••
Wine ••• •
Cat ••••••• ••• •
Cattle •• •••• ••••• •
Dog ••••••• ••• •
Fish •••• ••• •
Poultry • •••• ••
Sheep and goats • ••••• •
Swine • • ••••• ••
Baking powder •• • •
Biscuits ••••••••• •
Breads and rolls ••••••• •
Cakes ••••••••• • •
Cookies ••••••••• •
Crackers •••••••• •
Donuts ••••••••• • •
Extracts and flavours •••••• •• •
Food colouring •• • •
Frosting, icing, glazes ••••••••• •
Pies ••••••••• •
Potato chips ••• •• •
Powdered sugar •• •••
Spices •• • •• •
Yeast • •••
Carbonated • ••••• • •
Fruit drinks and juices ••••••• • •
Powdered mixes •••••••• • •
Cork products ••
Fibreboard, plywood •••
Glass or rock wool ••
Paints and varnishes •• • •
Tile, ceiling ••• •
Wallboard ••• •• •
Wall treatment compound • •
Candy ••••••••• • •
Chewing gum •••••••• • •
Chocolates • ••••• •
Licorice •••••••• • •
Marshmallows •••••••• •
Nougats •••••••• • •
Cheese spreads and foods ••••• ••• •
Coffee whitener ••••••• • • •
Condensed milk •••• •
Frozen cream ••••• •
Cooking oil • • •
Margarine •••• • • •
Pan coatings • •• •
Shortening • •
Frozen puddings or custards ••••••••• • •
Ice cream or milk ••••••••• •
Powdered mixes ••••••••• • •
Sherbets, water ices •••••••• •
Fuel alcohol •
Candles • •
Cleaners • • • •
Crayons and chalk •• •
Typewriter ribbons •
Trash bags ••
Twine, cord, string ••
Fruit butters ••••••••• • •
Jams ••••••• • •
Jellies ••••••• • •
Marmalades ••••••• • •
Preserves •••••• • •
Breakfast meats • ••••
Chicken products • •••• •
Dried meats • •••
Fish, seafood •• ••• •
Hams ••• •
Hotdogs • ••• •
Sausage •• •••
Surimi •• • • •
Electroplating • •
Metal plating • •
Ore refining, separation •••
Baby food ••••••••• •
Desserts (puddings, custards) ••••••••• •
Dietetic preparations ••••••••• • •
Invalid feedings •••••••••
Peanut butter ••••••
Precooked frozen meals •• •••••
Rice and coffee polish • ••••
Boiler compounds • •
Filters •• •
Leather, tanning • • •
Lubricating agents •
Oil-well drilling •• ••• •
Plastics, incl. degradable •• •
Plasticizers ••••• • •
Polyurethane foams •
Protective colloids •• •
Refractories • •
Rubber (cold process) •
Rubber substitutes •
Tires (rubber) •
Water recovery (industrial) •
Cake, dessert mixes ••••••••• • •
Dried foods ••••••••• •
Eggs, frozen or dried ••••••• • •
Frosting, icing mixes ••••••••• • •
Gelatin mixes ••••••• • •
Gravy mixes ••••••••• • •
Instant breakfast foods ••••••••• • •
Instant tea •••••••• • •
Pancake, waffle mixes ••••••••• • •
Quickbread mixes ••••••••• •
Seasoning mixes •••••••• • •
Soups, dried ••••••••• • •
Abrasive paper and cloth •••
Bookbinding ••• •
Glassine ••• •
Paper ••• •
Printing inks ••• ••
Wallpaper ••• •
Adhesives ••• • • •
Binders, binding agents ••• •
Glues, mucilages ••• •
Gums ••• •
Pastes ••• •
Chocolate, cocoa •••••••••
Dessert toppings ••••••••• • •
Fruit and table ••••••••• • •
Low calorie sweeteners ••••••• • •
Soda fountain •••••••• •
Cord polishing •• •
Dyes and dyeing ••• •
Printing ••• •
Sizing materials •••
Windowshades, shade cloth •••
Tobacco •••••• •
Berries •• ••••• •
Fruits •• •••• •
Fruit fillings •• •••• • •
Fruits, candied •••• •
Fruit pectin ••• •
Soups •••••••• •
Tomato sauces ••••••••• •
Vegetables •• • • •
Cereals ••••••••• • •
Acetic acids • ••• ••
Antibiotics • • ••• •
Coatings (food and drugs) •••••••• • •
Cosmetics •• •• •
Dispersing agents •• •
Distillation processes ••
Drugs ••••••• •• • •
Enzymes •• ••• • •
Fermentation processes ••••••• ••••
Food acids •• ••• •• •
Industrial alcohol •• •• ••
Insecticides •• ••
Intravenous solutions • • •
L-ascorbic acid •
Lecithin • •••
Medicinal syrups ••••••• ••
Organic solvents ••••••• •
Pharmaceuticals •• ••• • ••• •
Shampoo ••• •
Surgical dressings ••
Ketchup •• •••• •
Gravies •••••••• •
Mayonnaise •• ••••••
Mustard •• •••
Oriental sauces •••••••• •
Pickles, pickle products • •••• •
Relishes • •••••• •
Salad dressings ••••••••• •
Sauce mixes ••••••••• •
Vinegar • •••
Worcestershire sauce • ••• •
and put them in a tree museum
and they charged the people
a dollar and a half just to see em
don't it always seem to go
you don't know what you've got
till it's gone
they paved paradise
and put up a parking lot
Hey farmer farmer
put away that DDT now
give me spots on my apples
but leave me the birds and the bees
Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi
Something is a foot, a tipping point of sorts. Yesterday I was talking to a dairy farmer from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy at the Avenue A market. She was telling me about why they choose not to have organic certification, it costs $35,000 to get (yikes, why are we penalizing farmers for wanting to be come organic and making it so out of reach?) and there are lots of ways around it. She suggested that if for example you had an orchard that was certified organic yet you had three other orchards that were not you could easily mix and match your fruit so the consumer would see your organic certification, but you would not necessarily be getting an organic apple or grape or whatever. So I thought I would write an post today called Talking to Farmers, something I do a lot of these days. Then this morning I was reading Ann Saxelby's wonderful weekly newsletter where she talks about all the wonderful things that are happening in the world of food and sustainability, she mentions my favorite FoodDemocracyNow.org then goes on to talk about a site by the radio show host Majora Carter ThePromisedLand.org. She talks to "inspiring people from around the world" and has a ton of great interviews, I'd never heard of her or the site before and I can just tell from my brief visit I'm going to be spending a lot of time there! Finally the site that I most was excited about is the brainchild of a local couple retrovore.com. I love this site, it's all beige and brown and very Williamsburg retro funky in it's aesthetic so it's no surprise that there slogan is: The Future is in the Pasture. So you see where this is all going? Just yesterday I was talking to a farmer and a few days before that I wrote a posting here that started: let us begin on a journey backwards that is all about slowing down and re-evaluating our ideas about food, cooking and time well spent. Retrovore is a great site and low and behold what is on their home page, audio clips of interviews with farmers talking about their products.
It reminds me of the Tom Waits song I Never Talk to Strangers from his album Small Change, it's a duet with Bette Midler and at one point after she has just perfectly nailed him and his wayward ways he exclaims: "you must be reading my mail!" It always makes me laugh and today it just seems downright prescient. Not that what I do here is at all unique or that I ever thought I was the only person that was doing it, but look their is a lot of people thinking the same things and feeling passionate enough about it to start writing about it bad talking about these issue so important to the way we live now. Or more to the point the ways in which we need to change how we live in order to maintain our health and the health of the planet. Very exciting.
The interview that peeked Anne's interest on The Promised Land was with a guy named Andy Lipkis who is the founder of an organization called www.TreePeople.org certainly you need to take a moment and listen to this inspiring interview. The real nugget of what he suggests is that about schools, he has the really amazing idea, he convinced the school board of LA to tear up asphalt in school yards and plant trees instead. How amazing is that? I grew up going to public schools in Hamilton, Canada. Every school in this 6th largest city in Canada is surround by large swaths of asphalt, just think what it would do to the landscape of the city if these graveyards of asphalt where we expect our children to play was a forest, filled with shade, birds and soft moss and wild grass patches to play in? Creating better air and cooling the schools in the summer time and cutting down on air conditioning costs. Now I have to wonder where did the idea that asphalt was a good thing? That this hard dead fossil fuel based substance that needs constant maintenance at great expense was better then nature? That's a rhetorical question because I think we all know the answer. The good news is thanks to Tree People and Andy Lipkis we know what the future of school yards should look like.
As an urban guy I find it very exciting to see how people are working towards making the city a place that isn't just about concrete, asphalt and the occasional park. For years I have walked up and down the streets of New York and gotten angry because you could walk for blocks and blocks and never see a tree on a street. Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg's commitment to planting tress and Andy Lipkis's visionary ideas I feel like the whole concept of what a city is and can be is changing and greening for the future.
Joni Mitchell is a Goddess and in re-reading those lyrics above I realize what a profound influence she has made on my life, an influence and an inspiration that has been, well as constant as a northern star.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
As any of you who read my blog or know me know I am a huge fan of Saxelby Cheese mongers at the Essex Street Market here on the Lower East Side. So you can imagine how guilty I feel to have to admit that there is actually another cheese shop in the market a European style cheese and gourmet shop called Formaggio Essex a satellite of their Cambridge , MA. store.
They sell all sorts of good things and I highly recommend you check them out when next you are in or near the Essex Street market. What I discovered on a recent visit is that they sell in bulk Sherry Vinegar from Spain and Olive Oil from Sicily. It cost a dollar to buy the green glass small wine bottle to put it in , but after that all you have to do is take in your bottle and get refilled. I love this! I love that smart shop owners are selling in bulk and reducing the waste of always having to get a new container!
I'm sitting in my community garden right now enjoying the sun and having a glass of wine with my friend Craig. It was so cute, when I walked into the garden a family, mom, dad and three kids had set up chairs and were watching the tree trimmings cutting down big branches. Fascinated and totally focused on it like it was a performance, very lovely.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
What exactly is the hurry every fast food TV commercial talks about? Ready in 3 minutes? Just pop it in the microwave - ready in seconds!
Since when is one of the most primal, important and pleasurable activities of human existence - eating - something to be not thought about and enjoyed leisurely? Why is it now we have created a culture where it's an inconvenience to feed yourself? How has eating and cooking become some hasty, nasty necessity, something that has to be gotten over as quickly as possible instead of enjoyed?
Would we ever think about sex in this way? Of course not, or at least I hope not. So why do we think about food this way? Who brainwashed us into believing we should not spend time with our family over a meal, that we should not prize quality healthy ingredients over cheap manufactured ones? Who made it so that the choice between cheap and expensive was so great and that a grocery store like Whole Foods, which actually tries to educate its consumers about the food they are buying by listing the place of origin and farming practices used is systematically smeared by campaigns calling them "Whole Paycheck?" This smear is a falsehood: sure they have high end products as part of a vast selection, but that selection also includes store brand organics that are cheaper then the closest equivalent at Fine Fare. This is something I've pointed out here repeatedly. Take olive oil. It's way cheaper by many dollars at Whole Foods then at Fine Fare (a popular grocery store in poor neighborhoods).
Also studies have shown that it is harder to find healthy food at stores in poor neighborhoods. Healthy and organic foods are also way more expensive, if you can find them, in a poor neighborhood grocery store. Why even buy vegetables when you can get cheap fast food? The price of two hamburgers at a fast food chain are cheaper then a pound of green beans, so why buy green beans which aren't going to give you that full feeling? Once again we show our cultural disdain for the poor by not only giving them the least healthy foods in their neighborhoods, but also encouraging them to eat badly by filling their neighborhoods with cheap fast food outlets. Corporate America at it's worst.
It reminds me of how we dealt with DDT, after it was vilified and banned here in the States, corporate America just changed its marketing strategy and started selling it to developing nations. Mexican Mango, anyone?
What is the solution to all this madness? It's not easy and it doesn't seem to me that there is anything near to a quick fix at hand. What I do see is a new generation of young people who are ready, willing and able to give up on the existing food structure and go backwards. People here in New York, like the Mast Brothers, Anne and Benoit at Saxelby Cheese, Vere Chocolates, Rick’s Pickles, all the folks at the New Amsterdam Market, Brown Cafe, Broadway East, Marlow and Sons and Daughters and Diner and Bonito and so many more; people who have chosen to make nurturing themselves and their communities a top priority. They do this by eschewing the big bucks, choosing quality over quantity, and rejecting the mass produced commercial to embrace the authentic.
In this time of great economic despair and increasing unemployment we have to ponder how it is we live and what it is we do with our time. The last ten months of unemployment have given me the opportunity to wonder what do you do with your time when you have so much of it and so little money? What is my time worth? Does being home make me the de facto house slave? If I was one of those people who was preparing and eating my meals in minutes this gives me all the more time to ponder: now what? After a great deal of struggle I've discovered a night of making bread can be fun and very cheap, given a loaf of artisanal bread can easily cost 6 bucks it’s a thrill to discover I can make that same loaf (or similar) at home for a fraction of that price. You see, I'd rather take to the kitchen given these circumstances then take to my bed and watch Oprah. It's a choice.
It's also intensely gratifying to give to my friends as a present a loaf of bread or a pint of homemade ice cream or a container of wonderful stew or some chewy sweet home made caramel that you know now tastes so delicious made the old fashioned way, with brown sugar, butter and cream, and no GMO high fructose corn syrup required. You see immediately from the reaction on your friends' faces that they love this kind of gift way more then some plastic wrapped rose, from some chemically fogged, slave labor dependent, green house in South America.
There are so many ways to change how we do things. Prioritizing food, family and artistry in our life is, to my mind, an easy choice. I'd much rather spend time with friends leisurely over a meal then watch TV with a microwave dinner. I'd rather spend what little income I have on seeds to grow food at my community garden or buy groceries then on a grossly sized flat screen TV that's going to cost a fortune and raise my electricity bill (so much so they are banned in Europe).
Call me madcap, but I love being in the city sitting around the dinner table with friends in a room lit by candles sharing stories of our lives, being passionate about politics or whatever else our hearts and minds want to express. We don't need to escape to an idyllic country setting to accomplish this, we don't need to have a car and drive for hours to get there, we don't even need to have a fancy cut of meat to feed our friends, In our home some cheesy, homemade lasagna goes faster then almost anything else, add a salad and a sweet and you have an entire evening of fun. I don't see this as cutting back, it's more consolidating. It's the art of living. It's not complicated or expensive, it's actually really simple and straightforward.
Lastly, it's important for all of us to embrace diversity. It's hard to be home and unemployed as a man because you are brought up with the expectation that you need to be the breadwinner. Increasingly, in these times, if you are lucky enough to be sharing your life with someone you love what does it matter the gender of the person who stays home? And although it will cause anxiety and readjustment we need to really enjoy and appreciate (note to self: quit being so damn critical!) the fact that two people have come together to help each other out. Maybe if you get really lucky, when your loved one comes home from work you can say:
"Hey honey I made dinner. It's simple, but I made it myself, from real ingredients and love, for us to share." Hokey? Maybe, but true none the less.
This is how we start to create the change we need, to replace industry with artistry, at home in your kitchen, with some simple ingredients and a friend.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Vilsack said the U.S. experience with such schemes had shown it was better to focus on technical advances in irrigation, seed varieties, machinery and farming methods.
The article in Grist ends with:
Is that really the lesson we want our ag secretary to be drawing from the last 50 years of U.S. food history?
Grist and I agree, bio tech is not the solution for the future, bio tech is a way to make sure there isn't a future. Some real solutions as I see it are to re-introducing traditional farming methods, get rid of commodity based mono-cultures, eat less meat and get rid of corn subsidies, as a start. Oh and I would add for the record that I think GMO products are dangerous and the making of them should be stopped immediately for at least another 20 years until we see what effects they have in the long term. I would also over turn the law that allows companies to patent nature. You can patent a discovery but you can't have the right to own nature. Only bad things will come from a furthering of the GMO agenda, the proof is everywhere that this technology doesn't work, look at the article quote and the subsequent article it quotes in Reuters or google GM foods and ignore all the sites run my the companies who make them. It is very scary and I don't think this is something we can shrug, feel dis empowered by and go out an by a diet Coke to mull it over. At the beginning of this posting I evoked ACT-UP, probably the most successful grass roots movement in the last 50 years. Why? Because you had a group of people who were dying and had nothing to lose taking to the streets and getting their message out there. I believe it's the only way to change the entrenched, super wealthy, corporate structure that is killing our planet and making a future for your children look less and less likely. As long as you read these words and think I'm crazy the clock will only tick closer to what I see as an inevitable reality. We can no long be silent about this, because our silence will indeed result in our illness and our death at the hands of the bio tech chemical boys who really only care about their bottom line. If this isn't something to be really upset about then what is?
I'm going to spend most of my afternoon today blogging. A big part of that will be sharing with you the video's I receive today from all the various organizations I support and believe in.
Greenpeace are on the front line of environmental activism and I respect their work greatly.
Let the revolution begin!
Are you DEMANDING better quality, regulated, safe, wholesome food? It's never to late, although sometimes these days it feels like it. Write your favorite restaurant and demand organic chicken and dairy products, it's a start towards a sustainable and healthy future. I'm going to write a letter and send it off this week to all the local restaurants I like to go to (even though due to unemployment I'm not really eating out much any more).
Happy Earth Day!
I'm including both this extended "credits" trailer and the fast action cinema trailer. Finally a movie that tells it like it is, I hope we listen. This is all the stuff and more that I have been ranting about here for the last year. Apparently from something gleamed in the other trailer my criticism of products and images of industrial farms is something Monsanto and the Agri-Biz folks would like to make illegal! Yes you read that correctly, telling the truth about agribusiness should be against the law. Or at least in the Bush/Cheney cabal's Orwellian world view it should be. That's really American isn't it? I guess the First Amendment isn't really so important now is it? Criticizing big industry should be a crime, yeah right, let them poison the planet and make us sick and also make it so we have no recourse? How fucked is that?
The sad news really is Vilsack the new Monsanto toady appointed to the Department of Agriculture is just more of the same. I just spent about a half hour going over every new appointment at the department of agriculture and I am happy to say that even though the Department is headed by Mr. Monsanto the rest of the appointees seem to be reasonable people, a few obvious political appointees of people who help get Obama/Biden elected and the rest industry professionals. No one's resume that I read had any corporate affiliation listed, which doesn't mean that they don't have any, it just means it isn't listed. Overwhelmingly Democratic, I hope this signals change we can believe in. My anger over the destruction of our food systems over the last 8 years (and well before I'd start with Nixon) makes it impossible for me at this point to really be to hopefully that any government will have the dedication, resources, will power and desire to take on big agribusiness in the radical way it needs to be done.
Thankfully there does seem to be an increasingly large number of people all over this country that are waking up to the horrific reality of how dangerous and unhealthy corporate food is.
My wish this Earth Day is a return to sustainable farming practices and a renewed awareness and dedication, by everyone, to support healthier, locally grown (when possible and practicle), organically farmed (or beyond) not factory based foods.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
The Daily Mail reports.
The population can only be saved by a complete halt to fishing in May and June, when the fish swim to the Mediterranean to spawn, the WWF says. The call comes as the two month tuna fishing season begins.
‘Bluefin tuna is collapsing as we speak and yet the fishery will kick off for business as usual,’ said Sergi Tudela, of WWF. ‘It is absurd and inexcusable to open a fishing season when stocks of the target species are collapsing.’
I predict in weeks or months to come we will be reading the same about Atlantic Cod, so you should hurry down to Whole Foods as they are having a sale.
We realize that every person, every business, every product has a carbon footprint. And wine is certainly no exception. September Wines is committed to minimizing our footprint and here are some of the steps we've taken in an effort to protect our planet:
We make annual donations to carbonfund.org, an organization that supports carbon reducing projects like renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects. We encourage you to look into reducing your own carbon footprint by visiting www.carbonfund.org
- We use green energy at the store through Accent Energy - Accent Energy is committed to supporting the development and adoption of clean, renewable power. If you're interested, www.accentenergy.com
We ask customers if they'd like a bag instead of just giving them one.
- When we use bags, we use paper. The only time we use plastic is when it is raining substantially. (If you don't need a bag, please don't take one - it is not illegal to carry a bottle of alcohol if it has not been opened).
We use recycled paper products and organic cleaning supplies.
We make over 95% of our deliveries on foot, via bicycle or mass transit.
When selecting our wines, we favor producers who are employing sustainable or organic farming methods.
Over at Huffington Post I came across this article called "Mothers Against Plastic" by Kimberly Brooks and I nearly shouted out loud when I read it "Finally!" Not only are we talking about it, but the grassroots movement to actually do something about it is finally gaining traction, so do yourself and the planet a favorite and bookmark ithinkihateplastic.com. I've just looked at it briefly and can already tell you it is going to be a great resource.
The first article is about stainless steel water bottles (which was also discussed in last week's NYT). I have one and have been trying to get Neil one, but as it turns out maybe it's not such a good idea. Just another ploy to get you to buy something else.
What we need to be doing is sending letters to Mayor Bloomberg asking for more public drinking fountains, remember like in the old days (or maybe you don't and I'm just aging myself)? Once upon a time we had a city government that made sure water fountains were conveniently located all over, but why provide something for free, like water, when you can sell it for 2 bucks in a plastic container with your advertising on it? I say let's put bottled water companies out of business. In NYC south of 14th street the only water fountains I can think of are in Tompkins Square Park and they are seasonal so you can only have water in the Summer. You'd think that in this day and age we could figure out how to provide water in pipes that don't freeze mid winter. Sure it may cost more and even use energy to make work, but it has to be far less then the energy and resources used in making the uncountable numbers of plastic or stainless disposable bottles.
Go ahead be an activist I dare you! ;-)
When I was a child one of the only two cooking shows on TV that I was aware of was The French Chef. The other was Graham Kerr's The Galloping Gourmet. Needless to say, it was the boozy, funny, flirty, irreverent Galloping Gourmet who got my vote, so I always thought Julia was boring. Years later I worked for a food stylist here in New York who knew her, she was still alive at that point and I was saddened to hear that even though she had lived in France for years and worked in TV she was no fan of "the gays." Not that I can hold that against her, it was indeed a different time, but it did sully her for me, so I'm glad the amazing Ms. Streep is going to be reinterpreting her.
Funny side note, I worked for another food stylist for a while and his other assistant was leaving him after many years to go do the food on the Julia Child movie! Such a small world.
Lately I've been sort of out of it and distracted by the realities of life and have not been to a Saturday Union Square Green Market in far too long. This Saturday I managed to get up my courage and brave the crowds and boy am I glad I did, for I was rewarded with the first ramps of the season. Ramps are a wild spring onion and one of the first green things to appear at the market in early spring. I snatched up a couple of bunches and made a warm ramp vinaigrette with Sherry vinegar that I tossed with wild dandelion greens and the last of the wintered over beets I got from the Gorzynski Ornery Farm, probably the only beyond organic farmers at the market.
The thing I like to do most with ramps is pickle them. My friend Michael turned me on to the original version of the recipe from David Chang, chef of one of my favorite restaurants in NYC: Momofuku (which means wild peach). He has a way with pickles and if you ever get a chance to go I highly recommend the pickle plate. This is my version of the recipe:
Place the prepped ramps into whatever sterilized container you are going to pickle them in. I use the recyclable jars that have glass lids attached by a metal hinge. They look nice and can be placed on the table next to a cheese course adding a nice visual touch.
In a large heavy bottomed pot add: 4 cups of water, 2 cups of rice vinegar, 2 cups organic cane sugar, 2 T kosher salt, 2 t Shichimi Togarashi* turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar has all dissolved. Turn off the heat and pour liquid into your ramp jar. Fill the containers so the ramps are totally covered with fluid. I always have left over liquid.
Cool to room temperature. If you want, process in a water bath for 15 minutes, don't over do it or they will loose their crunch. I never bother and just keep them in the fridge. They last several months.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
A recent study from the Stockholm International Water Institute estimates that as much as 50 percent of our food supply is wasted, as they put it,"from field to fork." Inefficiencies in production and distribution add up to substantial losses. And wasted food, they point out, equals wasted water, as food production is "the largest human uses of water." Fight food waste on your end with simple strategies:
Plan meals so that leftovers can be transformed into the next night's meal.
Buy in bulk only if the food is unlikely to go bad over time.
Make less then you think you'll need, not more.
Clean out the fridge and cupboards regularly to avoid buying more then you need.*(I particularly need to pay heed to this one. I'm really terrible at it.)
When all else fails. give your food back to the earth - turn your scraps into compost. (Admittedly harder to compost in an apartment. I did it for a while, but the smell and fruit flies drove me crazy, in part because I waited too long to get rid of it and needed a better container. Soon I will make another stab at it!)
Saturday, April 18, 2009
This shouldn't even have to be a discussion at this point: Old growth forests or soft pieces of paper to wipe my butt crack with so I can flush it down the toilet? That's a real tough one. Yet dear friends of mine don't really want to see the stark options here and still find themselves buying the same old forest killing chemically dependent paper products. Please I beg of you please try Marcal or Seventh Generation or any other recycled paper products, Marcal as I have mentioned here before is actually a bargain, pricing themselves way under the commercial old growth forest killers products. My personal testimonial is that after an adult lifetime of using recycled paper, my noise and my butt still haven't fallen off, nor have they ever been chaffed or really anything, now when I run into one of those soft perfumed versions I'm sort of revolted by it, think of it as the Ford Escalade of paper products.
Think about toilet paper the next time you go for a walk in the woods, visualize the trees being torn down, loud buzz saws, mud, the faint smell of chemicals from the dying plant in the distance, then ask yourself if this is the world you want to be part of, realizing you have a choice.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Last Sunday was, if memory serves me, and it so often doesn't, one of the first sunny days of Spring. I was walking about in the East Village and went by Hearth restaurant. Years ago before this space became Hearth it was an Italian place (I forget the name) that Neil and I used to love to go to, way back when we had disposable incomes. It was particularly exciting because you could sit at the bar and face the kitchen and watch everyone work, this was so long ago that this kind of thing was still a novelty. They also had a small room adjacent to the kitchen that you could eat in with a party of 8 and feel part of the excitement.
Anyway I digress, after that place closed it became Hearth, I was excited by the look of it and organized a dinner there with our friend Jane and a friend of hers at the time. We sat in the front room at a square table for 4 more or less in the middle of everything. Our wine steward was familiar to me from Gramercy Tavern, he'd been introduced to me by my dearly departed friend Brigit years before. Everything was in place for a great night, but it wasn't. It was too loud the food mediocre and the wine disappointing. It had gone from a local place with heart that was homey to something new, cold and just not very interesting to any of us, so I was never motivated to go back.
Over the years I've been thinking it would be fun to try again as it has mellowed (as have I) and become such a standard bearer of quality in the East Village. When I stopped last Sunday to view their Spring Menu I wasn't expecting anything just the usual spring onions with pork belly, rendered pork fat fried potatoes, a local grass fed burger, with Niman bacon and Vermont Cheddar, Salad with dried meat in it and of course some nice suet pie for dessert. You know the usual fare in trendy NYC restaurants of a certain ilk these days.
It is a credit to Chef Marco Canora, Chef de Cuisine Jordan Frosolone that they have created such a perfect, simple, classic and reasonably priced menu for Spring, it got me all excited so I wanted to share. It's nice to see a restaurant that could rest on it's laurels, not. And the rest of the menu is equally interesting and "clean" in it's conceptualization. Olive Oil poached Halibut with spring veggies - how perfect and simple. I look forward to one day being employed again and having some money to try Hearth again (hopefully soon, cross your fingers!)
Often I complaining about what I don't like so I thought it would be a nice change of pace to write about something that is exciting, smart and bucks the: "add pork to it and people will come" mentality that has run rampant these last couple of years here in NYC.
with Walnuts, Red Onion and Aged Pecorino
* Torrontes, Yellow + Blue, 2008, Cafayate (6 oz.)
BRAISED GOAT with Rapini, Cannellini Beans and Gremolata
* Côtes du Roussillon, Georges, Puig-Parahy, 2005, Roussillon (6 oz.)
HAZELNUT BUDINO with Whipped Cream and Candied Hazelnuts
* Moscatel, Emlín, Emilio Lustau, NV, Jerez (3 oz.)
Menu 35. *Wine Pairing 15.
Fava Bean Tasting Menu
FAVA BEAN AND PECORINO SALAD
with Spring Onion and Pepperoncini
POACHED ROCK SHRIMP
with Fava Bean Tortelli, Fava Beans and Leeks
with Fava Beans, Braised Rib and Lemon
with Toasted Pistachios
with Milk Chocolate Sauce
Anson Mills Polenta 7.
Hen of the Woods Mushrooms 11.
Potato Purée 7.
Go, enjoy, report back and tell them the Urban Food Guy sent you!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The dinner tonight:
Seared Hudson Valley Duck breasts with a spicy Thai Red Curry sauce
Potatoes fried in rendered Duck Fat.
Homemade Chocolate Truffles
Lots of wine ;-)
It's so amazing here off season, chilly and over cast and perfectly wonderful. Just in from a long walk on the moody beach gearing up for some cooking.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Most herbs are considered weeds, dandelions are a major pest to most suburbanites who prize their lawns over the future of the planet. I mean you wouldn't want a plant that grows freely and for free in your yard that makes a delicious salad, provides a beautiful flower and can even be made into wine. Why would you want that when you can spray deadly pesticides on them?
Saturday, April 11, 2009
They say it so well:
The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has a bone to pick with Michelle Obama.
MACA represents chemical companies that produce pesticides, and they are angry that - wait for it - Michelle Obama isn't using chemicals in her organic garden at the White House.
We are not making this up.
In an email they forwarded to their supporters, a MACA spokesman wrote, "While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder." MACA went on to publish a letter it had sent to the First Lady asking her to consider using chemicals -- or what they call "crop protection products" -- in her garden.
Michelle Obama and has done America a great service by publicizing the importance of nutritious food for kids (she's growing the garden in partnership with a local elementary school class) as well as locally grown produce as an important, environmentally sustainable food source.MACA's letter is part of a larger propaganda effort to convince people that chemicals are a necessary part of produce growth - when we know that's not true.
There is steam coming out of my ears and my eyes are popping out of my head. Please go to this link right now, drop everything and go here now. Please. Tell the chemical companies what you think of their products. Tell them what you think about giving the First Lady a hard time about setting a good example for the nation. Then tell them how you aren't so happy with how their products destroy our planet. Tell them a new age has arrived and maybe they should re-brand and start making composters or something more worthwhile.
Of course they could care less, but that shouldn't discourage you. We are more aware and more active now than ever before. The chemical industry has been peddling their poisons since the 1950's, destroying bio-diversity, fish and bird populations (remember how pesticides nearly sent the Bald Eagle into extinction?), forests, and many bodies of water, not to mention the poisoning of the water table and giving people cancer. Agent orange, used to defoliate the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam 40 years ago, still causes birth defects in the Mekong Delta to this very day .
If you want some reading on why the chemical companies like Monsanto are so destructive (besides how huge and rich they are) read Rachael Carson's ground breaking work Silent Spring, readily available in paper back. I'd prefer you to buy it at a local book store, but just in case that's too hard, Amazon has it. It may have been written in 1962, but it is every bit as relevant today.
Please post this everywhere. And please leave me a comment - I'd really like to know how many letters are sent from people who read this blog. These people are literally poisoning us and making a profit on it while they do it. Hell, what's so bad about that as long as Monsanto's bottom line stays healthy?
Friday, April 10, 2009
The North East has lots of water and some of the best land for agriculture in the country. So why do we still need to get our celery from California? Ditto fresh herbs, and is it just me or do you wonder why fresh herbs have to be packaged in those little plastic boxes? I see mint, parsley, cilantro and sometimes chives roaming free and unfettered in the produce section. It would be nice if Satur Farms would convince one of their local farmer friends with a green house to start a business up supplying fresh herbs to city folk in a way that didn't require fossil fuel packaging.
The other night Neil and I went to Two Boots pizza for a bite to eat. Feeling in need of greens I ordered a House Salad, when it arrived it was absolutely smother in canned "ripe" olives. One of the most loathsome food products on the market today, and something that I really hate and don't understand. Mostly because I hate the taste, and for the most part are a totally bad use of a good thing:
The lone exception to this rule is the "olive" which more Americans eat than any other-the canned "black-ripe" olive. These olives are picked green, then (for reasons unknown-greater marketing appeal?) pumped with oxygen to turn them black, their new color fixed in place with ferrous gluconate. Since they taste like no other black or green olive (in fact, they have almost no taste at all), it is impossible to put them in the same class as you would any other olive. "Black-ripe" olives are to a hand-picked Kalamata olive what Wonder Bread is to a great loaf of double baked rye.
I picked them off, the waitress was very sweet and offered to bring me a new salad, I refused thinking it wasteful, but also because they were easily picked off, I just don't understand why you would add them in the first place? We're in a recession why are you adding extra things that make your salad inedible and what has become of the American palate when these are preferable to real olives?
And for all you die hard New York's, let it be know that the famous and first fancy grocery store of Manhattan has announced it's closing, we will now have to deal with the sorrow of living in a world with out Balduccis.
This was an off week for me having to prepare for Passover and cook to Seder's.
I promise more consistency hitherto.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Apparently it was dying after being snared in a fisherman's net. So...
Read the story here...sometimes I have the feeling that the world would be far better off with out us...