Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eating Local Through the Winter

An oldie but goodie from Gourmet talks about the challenge I and other locally-minded New Englanders face every winter, and states what I've come to believe, myself: eating local is more important than eating organic, if you have to make that choice at all.

A trip to Green Fields Market last night illustrated the problem. Their modest, yet immaculate produce section featured lots of beautiful, seasonally-appropriate, organic vegetables: winter greens like rainbow chard, winter squashes, root vegetables. But not one of these items came from New England -- rather, they've been shipped in from California and Mexico. It's a tough time of year, and our local farmers may have sold through much of their stock -- the Winter Fare was a great success -- or it may also be that the Co-op puts more importance upon organic foods, and there are just no small-farm organic winter vegetables to be had right now.

So next winter, I'm planning to rely upon a personal supply of local produce, purchased through the spring, summer, and fall. From where will I source that produce?

I'm still debating whether to risk committing to a CSA membership (looks like the closest available CSA that aligns with my schedule will require a drive to Sunderland each Saturday), or to try to support an innovative local delivery business once our growing season finally resumes, which would be more convenient, but perhaps a bit more expensive. I am planning a backyard vegetable garden, but also know I'll need to supplement that yield, particularly in the first year which will likely involve a lot of trial and considerable error. I like the "grab-bag" concept of a CSA; I'll have to cook, pickle, can, or freeze everything that I get each week that will arrive at its absolute peak of freshness. But it might be more practical to sign on with Valley Green Feast and supplement with trips to the Greenfield Farmer's Market each Saturday.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to this project, and I promise to be more diligent about documenting and posting my successes and failures!

Next up: planning a raised-bed vegetable garden.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Filling the Freezer

Better late than never, here's a great post by Ruhlman on the "Freezer Pantry." I was pleased to see from the comments that I'm not the only person who keeps chicken feet in her freezer. I've been making a concerted effort to freeze things before they spoil; particularly bread, which can always be turned into breadcrumbs. I haven't been freezing herbs, but I should give that a try.

Cooked dried beans can be frozen in their liquor -- better than canned, I say.

Also, in same post, note Ruhlman's/Bittman's take on a quick stock!

Monday, February 2, 2009

It's the Economy, Stupid...

Interesting US cooking trends from lookups, via Publishers Weekly:

Particularly of note, the interest in home preservation!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

To the Editor

As usual, read my copy of Bon Appetit cover to cover when it arrived yesterday. But I couldn't let this one slide--

To the Editor:

As a book publishing professional, I was flummoxed by your breezy suggestion in February's issue to "save a tree" by checking Michael Pollan's new book out from the library or buying a used copy online. At best, your idea is ill-conceived -- there is hardly (yet) a "sustainable" business model to encourage future publication and dissemination of important concepts like Pollan's if no one buys new books. At worst, your statement is hypocritical, coming from a magazine publisher who is a prime consumer of paper and likely pulps thousands of unsold copies of its own issues annually. Among your "50 Easy Ways to Eat Green" I did not see a suggestion to "share a friend's" Bon Appetit or read your content online-only.

As paper-free publishing is not (yet) a fully profitable reality, let's agree that our respective industries should broaden their support of sustainable methods for producing books and magazines -- using recycled material where possible, doing business with paper companies who rely on renewable forestry methods, and continuing to explore new technologies.

Also, I would encourage readers to "buy local" by supporting their community bookstores.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Consider the Lobster

Don't even tell me, because I know -- this is just about 100% O/T. My town is more than 100 miles from the coastline, so it seems unlikely lobsters fall into the "locavore" or "sustainability" category, and I'm procuring these guys from a (small, family) Maine purveyor using non-earth-friendly packing and shipping methods. Except that I've been reading Trevor Corson's The Secret Life of Lobsters, while musing over what to serve for my first at-home Christmas Eve dinner, which means SEAFOOD under one of the very few family traditions I follow, and...inspiration struck, what can I say.

The Maine lobstering community in the Cranberry Isles, ME, reminds me a lot of our local farmers here in the Pioneer Valley. Some of the same concerns prevail -- market conditions, large-scale, outside corporate and governmental influence and regulation, the changing environment, and managing for sustainability. They are specialists in their field, conscientious about not over-fishing, and while they compete for product, they seem to have a great deal of respect for one another.

A few fun facts about lobsters (there are more here) -- did you know:

*There are more than 50 species of clawed lobsters
*There are hunchback locust lobsters, regal slipper lobsters, marbled mitten lobsters, velvet fan lobsters, musical furry lobsters, unicorn and buffalo blunt-horn lobsters
*Female lobsters choose the males they want to propagate with
*Lobsters of the same size may challenge each other using a form of claw-wrestling. After about 15 or 20 seconds the "loser" will try to back away, and the "winner" will release his grip.
*There are, occasionally, blue Maine lobsters.

Read Corson's book to learn about "superlobsters" -- a brief point in a lobster's development, when they can almost "fly" through the sea before finding shelter, shedding their shell, and growing larger.

Or for more fun facts -- just don't rely on them to be true -- check out John Hodgman's unique coverage of lobsters in The Areas of My Expertise.

I was always a little queasy about the idea of cooking lobster at home, and you'd think reading this book, understanding how special lobsters are, might not have resulted in my ordering lobster for Christmas Eve dinner. Maybe I just got hungry... But I'd rather think I was inspired to participate in the process a little more actively as opposed to occasionally driving to a shoreline and having a cooked entree appear magically before me. I want to take a little more responsibility for what I'm eating, and understand it better.

So, four 1.25 pound lobsters (smaller are sweeter) will show up at my door on Christmas Eve, and after reading up on many options for their dispatch, I plan to boil about an inch of water in a big pot, thank them, drop them in, hold down the lid, and try to forgive myself. I don't think I'll be naming these guys -- couldn't possibly top what's already been done before.

I'm going to stop whining about "the kill" now because I'm starting to remind myself of my absolute favorite poem...

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Distinctive Tastes

We ordered takeout from China Gourmet last week, and I was looking for something spicy and savory that had no relation to turkey, potatoes, or winter squash, so I ordered the shredded pork with black bean sauce -- and wow, it was just the thing to completely reboot my palate. It was tangy, sharp, and completely memorable (was it just umami? or something more?). I had only ever read about fermented black beans in More Home Cooking by the wonderful and much-misssed Laurie Colwin. She says,

"I have not been without fermented black beans since I first encountered them years ago in a dish of shrimp in black bean sauce. These are pungent little beans preserved in salt and ginger. ...They are heavenly in vegetable pastas: Chopped up cauliflower or broccoli sauteed in olive oil and garlic and sprinkled with some fermented black beans on top of linguine is fast, easy, and totally delicious. This basic method works well with any kind of vegetable, including eggplant, which has a deep affinity with pasta. You can use them as an interesting substitute for capers and sprinkle them on top of foccacia or homemade pizza."

I'm still not sure I actually liked eating fermented black beans. But tasting something new and distinctive can be exhilarating, and I think I want another hit. It's not hard to understand why Anthony Bourdain or even a sensationalist like Andrew Zimmern have devoted careers to seeking out new flavors and textures that fall outside of what most eaters, even many chefs, have encountered. I can't say I'd care to bother with rooster balls or giant flying ants, but on an adventurous eating scale I'm probably about a 7 or 8 --limited less by prejudices; more so by resources and opportunity. Most of us can't drop everything to jet off to Uganda...or even Southern California.

Meanwhile, cauliflower and fermented black bean linguine, cooked and served right here in Western Mass, might be just the thing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Advocacy

Carol Blymire is much more eloquent, organized, and effective that I could ever possibly be on this topic, so I'll refrain from making much more of a pitch, other than encourage you to donate to the Food Bank of Western MA, Share Our Strength, and/or any other local food and shelter service organization. We're all experiencing tough times, but our economic problems have put a great strain on these organizations' resources, as they struggle to serve growing numbers of families in need while facing brutal state and federal funding cuts.

Please make every effort you can to support local charities and local businesses this holiday season.