Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seduced by the first spring vegetables at the farmer's market

Kandinsky didn't like green. In On the Spiritual in Art, he describes it this way:

"Passivity is the most characteristic quality of absolute green, a quality tainted by a suggestion of obese self-satisfaction. Thus, pure green is to the realm of color what the so-called bourgeoisie is to human society: it is an immobile, complacent element, limited in every respect. This green is like a fat, extremely healthy cow, lying motionless, fit only for chewing the cud, regarding the world with stupid, lackluster eyes. Green is the principal color of summer, when nature has outlived the year's time of storm and stress, the spring, and has sunk into self-contented repose." (Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, edited by Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo, Da Capo Press, 1994, p. 183)

Clearly, Kandinsky never saw a Virginia spring after the leaves have filled in and before the dry heat of summer has cast its dusty, yellowing net. This green gathers sun to itself, transmuting it into a fiery halo that spreads its own light on the day. Not a contented cow chewing its cud, but a fierce green knight driving out the cold, gray ogre of winter.     

This potent green flashed in my eyes as I drove to the farmer's market, hoping that I might at last find some fresh vegetables and perhaps even some strawberries to dispel the doldrums of winter. And, happily enough, I did. Seduced by the offerings, I bought asparagus, spring onions, peas, fennel, and some ugly little purple carrots.


These may not be at the peak of their flavor, but they have the gift of newness, of being the first green foods to present themselves as miracles of sun and soil and rain. Now, what to do with them? Perhaps try one of Bittman's recipes for the asparagus? With the fresh Haskins bacon that I also purchased at the market? And what of the peas? A sweet addition to a nice pasta, perhaps? Or a stirfry? Perhaps a salad with the carrots?  And what of the fennel bulb? It's not a vegetable I am familiar with, but I am always excited to experiment, to try something new. The spring onions will of course add flavor to all these, and the green tops color. Most important is to have a light touch, to treat this lovely, fresh produce with gentle reverence, allowing their essential selves to sing.  

And what of strawberries, any luck there? Happily yes. Some bumpy, imperfect red beauties. These gems are too special to mess about with at all. Perhaps a few specks of sugar to bring out their flavor. Or even a tiny dusting of white pepper. Again, a light touch to allow their own true nature to shine.   

That's the beauty of real, fresh food, in season: You don't have to do much with it to make something extraordinary.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Where are the spring goodies? I've waited, haven't I?

In May, two of the farmer's markets closest to me will be opening up again, and I can't wait. Hopefully I will finally get some of the goodies I have been waiting so anxiously for, in particular, asparagus and strawberries.  Mark Bittman just posted a chart of various methods of cooking asparagus with some delectable variations. (Actually the graphic posted with the article would make a great poster: Get on it, NYT.) I am anxious to try at least a few of those variations, especially steamed with brown butter (I mean, it's butter, c'mon) and, of course, roasted with bacon. (I could go on all day about bacon, but I will try to restrain myself. I mean, seriously though, bacon...oh yeah, I was going to restrain myself.) I've got another favorite recipe for asparagus that came from the April 2001 issue of Bon Appetit magazine that involves roasting the asparagus and serving it with crumbled goat cheese, crumbled bacon, some lemon zest, and a drizzle of olive oil. So good. (You can find a more detailed recipe here.)

And then, of course, strawberries will be coming in soon. I finally had to cave and buy some organic strawberries shipped all the way here from California to eat with breakfast tomorrow morning (yes, yes, yes, I have decided to be ridiculous / have some fun and try to have crumpets and tea with strawberries and clotted cream to celebrate the royal wedding). My son (four) and I shared a few before dinner, and they were good, but definitely missing that otherworldly, almost savory quality that local, roadside-stand strawberries have. They were pretty though and not too big. The best strawberries are always small. (In fact, those giant strawberries that you sometimes see in the grocery store are octaploids, which means they have eight sets of chromosomes. That's why they get so big, but they are never so tasty.)

While waiting for the spring deliciousness to become abundant at the supermarket, I continue to work on depleting my freezer and pantry. Today's experiment was with red quinoa, a grain that I have never tried before in any form, but I thought that Heidi Swanson of the blog 101 Cookbooks might have some guidance for me, and indeed she did. I found this recipe, which I decided to riff on using the ingredients that I had at home. Instead of asparagus and walnuts, I dug a small piece of pork tenderloin out of the freezer, defrosted it, sliced it as thin as I could and marinated it in a combination of soy sauce, honey, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, dried lemongrass, one piece of star anise, black pepper, and coriander (the last four or five ingredients were sort of tossed in there with an attitude like, well, that's kind of Asian-y, right? I am afraid I am not at all expert with Asian flavors). Then, while cooking the quinoa according to package directions (it takes little longer than the time it takes to cook parboiled rice), I sliced carrots into matchsticks and an onion into slivers, stir-fried the veg in a wok with just canola oil, put that aside and stir-fried the meat, and finally put it all together. I served the stir-fry with the quinoa as a replacement for rice, for which it served its purpose adequately. To be honest, the flavor of the quinoa was pretty nondescript to me, nearly as bland as parboiled rice. The smell of the quinoa was a bit stronger, almost greener (not entirely in a pleasant way), however the little snap of the grains between my teeth was pleasant and kind of addictive. I don't love it, but I will probably try it again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Musing on American food, eating black bean and sweet potato tacos for Meatless Monday

The Three Sisters. Corn, beans, and squash. The three staples of many Native American diets and when planted together in a milpa, a remarkably sustainable way to raise crops. Eaten together, they form the basis of a diet that provides most of the nutrients a body needs. In a sense, these three form a universe.

Several years ago, I learned of the three sisters in Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, an excellent book that surveys much of the archaeological research about the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus. For some reason, much of the information, though no longer in doubt in the scientific community, has not made it into standard history books, leaving many with the impression that the Americas were wide open, naturally rich with game and edible plants. A garden of Eden, virgin, untouched, when in fact it was a cultivated space, designed to produce in abundance, then emptied of its people through the tragic introduction of a foreign virus. But that part of the story many know.

So why bring this up in a blog about food? Because food is one of the most immediate and powerful ways to experience and transmit culture. Recipes are handed down from generation to generation, telling us about our history: Who made this? How did he or she make it? What was the time and place like when this was made? Also, many people identify a sense of self and a sense of home through the foods they eat, through the smells that suffuse their kitchens reminding them of their grandmothers and other family perhaps long gone. And regardless of how much we experiment with foods from other cultures and are able to enjoy and appreciate them, when we need comfort and a sense of home, we make what we know, or we adapt the new to our old traditions.

America is and is not new to me. I have now lived here most of my life and I became a U.S. citizen in December of last year, but my family hails from the North, and I lived many formative years in Sweden. Most of my relatives still live in Iceland, Finland, and Sweden. That is the culture I was raised in. In those places, I feel history in the curve of a hill and the particular green shades of springtime. But America is my new home, and part of my search to connect with this place and feel as deeply attached to it is to explore local foods.

Sadly, however, it seems that the ancient foodways of this area of the Americas are not well known. Most traditional Southern foods (and yes, Virginia is southern) seem to have been brought over from Europe and Africa and adapted to local conditions--not a bad thing, simply not reflective of what natives ate here prior to the arrival of Europeans (and in many respects familiar to me). I think to understand more about what native Americans ate, you have to look farther south. In my case, I look to Mexico, because knowledge of traditional foods and practice with ancient cooking techniques seem strong there. Of course, I suspect this is only the beginning of my exploration of American food.

For tonight's dinner, I was inspired by a recipe by Brady Evans from Kalle Bergman's Honest Cooking magazine, but I had some local conditions I needed to adapt to (the tortillas in my freezer were too small to make burritos for one) and I wanted to play my own riff on the combination of sweet potatoes and black beans. This recipe features two of the three sisters, corn and beans (I can't bring myself to figure out what to do with my last remaining winter squash yet).

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos
These have three main components: beans, sweet potatoes, and chile sauce.

For the beans:
1 cup dried black beans
4-5 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped (you will use the rest for the sweet potatoes)
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp coriander
salt to taste

For the sweet potatoes:
2 medium sweet potatoes, 1/2 inch dice
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

For the chile sauce:
3 dried Ancho chiles (break them open and clean out the seeds)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup (or more) water
1 Tbsp dried oregano

To serve:
10 small corn tortillas
1 avocado, sliced into cubes
pepitas (toasted would be lovely, but I didn't have time to try it)
queso fresco, crumbled

  1. Pick over the beans and rinse them (sometimes dried beans can have small rocks or other debris). Boil in plain water (do NOT add salt or they will never soften) for 60-90 minutes (test after about a hour to determine if they are soft enough for you; they should maintain their integrity, but not be crunchy or hard). Set aside.
  2. Make the sauce: In a dry frying pan over medium heat (I used my trusty iron skillet of course), place your dry chiles and let them toast for a while. Turn them over from time to time until they blister a bit.
  3. Add two tablespoons olive oil to the pan with your chiles. When the oil has heated a bit, add your chopped onions. Let them cook low and slow with the chiles until they start to brown and caramelize a bit (adding some sweetness to your sauce). Then add garlic and let it become fragrant (but don't let it burn). Finally, add about a cup of water to the pan.
  4. Scrape the chiles, onion, garlic, and water out of the pan (set it aside for later) and into a blender or food processor and buzz until smooth. Add about a cup of crushed tomato. You can add more water if the consistency is too thick.
  5. Put the mixture into a small saucepan, add one tablespoon oregano, about a half tablespoon of salt (or more or less to taste) and let it bubble slowly on low heat while you work on the sweet potatoes and beans. Note that this mixture will be a bit bitter on its own, but will balance the sweetness of the sweet potatoes nicely.
  6. Add two tablespoons olive oil to the same frying pan you toasted the chiles in. Let the oil heat up, then add the onions. Cook them until they are translucent and then add the sweet potatoes. Let these cook on slow heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft and the onions are slightly browned. Add salt to taste and set aside (or keep warm).
  7. For the beans, add two tablespoons olive oil to another pan and fry the onions until they are slightly browned (I wanted to try using shallots, but alas, onions is what I had). Then add beans to the pan (be sure to drain them first; you can set aside the bean liquor for another use, such as for a soup, if you like). Add a  cup of crushed tomato, 1 tablespoon cumin, and 1 tablespoon coriander, and maybe a clove of crushed garlic if you like. Let the beans cook until most of the liquid evaporates and salt to taste.

Now, you have your components: tortillas (heat according to package instructions--yes I use packaged tortillas because I still don't know how to make them), beans, sweet potatoes, chile sauce, avocado, pepitas, and queso fresco. Set all these out in separate bowls to let people assemble tacos to their own tastes. These are a nice hearty meal for a Meatless Monday.



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

As I've mentioned before, I am pretty much done with winter food. I can't wait for spring. Visions of glowing strawberries and roasted asparagus with a touch of lemon and some goat cheese tempt my palate. But I must be patient. There's no local food right now. And I've got leftover root vegetables and squashes hanging around in my veggie basket and frozen fruits (mostly peach slices) from last summer at the back of the freezer. It's time to clean all of that out and make way for the fresh food that's soon to come.

Today's task was to get rid of the three celebration squash that I bought oh so many months ago from the good people at Glascock's Produce, back when I thought I should store away as much produce as I could and was feeling adventurous about trying unfamiliar squash varieties. (I love winter squash, but a long winter makes root vegetables and squashes boring, although I have no doubt I will be excited about them again come fall.) The celebration squash were pretty beasties back when I bought them: variegated orange and yellow, smooth skin. Now out of the basket, they seemed a little dusty and felt as though they had lost a lot of weight. (I guess the moisture was pulled out of them.) So I cut them open to see how they looked, and they seemed fine. No black spots, no sliminess, no bad odors. Probably OK to eat. There wasn't a lot of meat on them anymore, but I decided they would make  good cups for a stuffed squash dish. So I cleaned the seeds out of the six halves, sliced a small bit off the bottom so they wouldn't roll around in the pan, and placed them in a baking dish I had rubbed with some olive oil. Finally, I drizzled a little maple syrup into the cups because maple syrup works magic on squash.

Then, I had to decide what I could stuff them with. I happened to have some ground chicken. Maybe I could make a chicken-apple sausage to stuff the squash? No, no, no, these squashes didn't have enough meat to make a meal. We need some carbohydrates. So I looked in the veggie basket and found a decent-looking sweet potato, a bruised apple, and some slightly wrinkly red-skinned potatoes. Got it: Hash!

Now, before I go on, let me say that I am not a fan of bad food, or, to be honest, even particularly tolerant of it. I've known people to dump the contents of their crispers into a pot with some water or a couple of cans of commercial broth and call it soup. This is appalling to me. And, as a lover of soups, it's offensive. Would you also call the contents of your garbage disposal soup? Well, I suppose that's one thing you could call it. What I wanted to do was to transform ingredients that were past their prime into something yummy.

So I'd decided to make a hash. I finely diced a yellow-skinned onion about the size of my fist (this turned out to be a good dish for practicing your knife skills) and added it to about two tablespoons of hot olive oil bathing in my wonderful iron skillet. (Anyone who has ever gotten a good season on an iron skillet must love their skillets the way that I do. Or perhaps not. OK, I'll be over here.)

I slow-cooked the onions until they caramelized into golden-brown bits that crusted the pan, which gave me time to dice the sweet potato, two potatoes, and the apple into about a quarter-inch dice. When I was done, the ground chicken went into the pan until it was slightly browned and mostly cooked through. Next the diced potatoes and apple went into the pan, just long enough to brown a little. I added about a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of dried sage, and a generous pinch of white pepper. Then I threw in a handful of chopped almonds to get a little crunch.

The next steps were to fill the squash cups with the hash, top them with some fresh bread crumbs and a dab of butter, and pop them into a 375-degree oven for an hour. Because I had lots of hash left in the skillet, I popped it into the oven with the squash cups for about 20 minutes to finish cooking the potatoes and have some leftovers ready for tomorrow's lunch. (Just heat it up and fry an egg sunny side up to put on top. Yum. I love a good runny yolk on hash.)

I need to work on my food-styling skills.
This was my experiment. The verdict? The flavor was great. The sweetness of the apple and the sweet potato mellowed with the onions, the squash, and the chicken into a warm and savory mixture. However, the crumbs were a bit burnt, the squash a bit stringy, and the chicken a bit on the dry side. These flaws were not enough to kill the dish, but flaws they were. And yet, it tasted great, and I had managed to use several old vegetables and fruits that have been languishing for a while. A few more meals like this, and all the vegetables and fruits from last season will be gone, and there will be plenty of space for the fresh fruits and vegetables we will soon see in the markets. (And I don't have to feel guilty about wasting good food.)

If you want to try this "recipe," the steps are described above. Here are the general quantities used:

  • 1 lb of ground chicken (ground beef or pork with a slightly higher fat content would be a bit less dry; however, make it's not too fatty or the stuffing could get greasy)
  • 3 celebration squash, halved, seeded (if you use acorn squash instead, you may want to pre-bake it for at least 40 minutes before stuffing it because it's such a meaty, slow-cooking squash)
  • 1 large onion, diced finely
  • 1 sweet potato, diced (about a quarter inch)
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced (about a quarter inch)
  • 1 apple, cored, peeled, and diced (about a quarter inch)
  • about half a cup of chopped nuts (I used almonds because that's what I had, but most nuts would taste good here)
  • about half a cup of fresh breadcrumbs
  • some dabs of butter 
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sage
  • a generous pinch of white pepper

Saturday, April 16, 2011

In search of...perfect eggs

Don't know why...
There's no sun up in the sky...
Stormy weather...

Billie Holiday crooned on the car stereo. The rain pelted the windshield with big, fat, juicy drops. The interior of the car was warm and dry--a cozy bubble travelling through a chilly, soaking wet spring morning. Everywhere hazes of fresh green and the pale purple of the flowering redbud trees softened the horizon. I was on my way to Leesburg to see a man about some eggs.

I woke up this morning with a craving for eggs. But not just any eggs, specifically Haskins Family Farm eggs.  I know, weird right? Having a craving for eggs seems odd enough, but eggs from a particular seller? I mean, eggs are eggs, right?

Eh, no. I haven't eaten supermarket eggs in more than two years now. For a long time, I was a lucky recipient of my former boss and friend Jacki's chicken's eggs, but she left her job and now we don't see each other as often (sigh--and not just for the eggs). I had to find another source, because reading Omnivore's Dilemma and  watching Food, Inc. basically turned me off industrial food and especially animal products.

So I went to the winter farmer's market in Leesburg (discovered thanks to a Washington Post article I read a couple years ago). I tried eggs from a few different sources there, and most were excellent (although I did get a batch once that tasted strongly of fish; it was so revolting I actually had to throw the eggs out). But I always wanted to try the Haskins's eggs, but every time we got to their stand either to pick up our CSA chicken or to buy some of their amazing bacon, they were always out. But, finally, a couple of weeks ago, they had some left, and I bought a dozen. What a treat to open the box and find a lovely assortment of eggs in various shades of white, brown, and green; one was a tiny, speckled thing that seemed (nearly) too pretty to eat.

I got them home and decided to try some right away. I fried eggs, sunny side up, to serve on buttered toast--a simple dish I make several times a week for breakfast or lunch (and sometimes when in a hurry, dinner). Something was different about these eggs. When I cracked them, the yolk was an orangey yellow, the richest color I'd ever seen in an egg yolk (and remember, I have been eating excellent eggs for years ow), and the white didn't spread out all over the pan, but instead assembled itself into a neat oval around the yolk. I was enamored of the beauty of this egg, but the proof was in the cooking and the tasting. It cooked more evenly than many eggs that I have cooked. I didn't have the issue with a slightly runny white (yuck) when the yolk was cooked as much as I wanted it to be cooked. Then I ate it. In the same way a chicken that eats bugs and runs around freely tastes "chickenier," the egg tasted eggier. And the rich, unctuous mouth feel of the yolk was beautiful. This was why I found myself out in the pouring rain without an umbrella this morning, because I just had to have those eggs!

Soaking wet and returning home with my haul of two dozen eggs, I decided to test whether there really was a difference. After all, I haven't seen or eaten one in a long time. So I stopped at a local grocery store and picked up a dozen standard commercial eggs to do a side-by-side comparison (see the photographs). The yolk of the Haskins egg had a deeper color, and the white had greater viscosity and tended not to spread out as much. Next to it, the industrial egg looked anemic, and the white spread out in a most unappealingly watery way.

I am afraid I didn't do a one-to-one taste test. For one thing, I wasn't sure I could fairly judge the taste given that I would know which egg was which. But truthfully, my motives were less pure than a desire for fairness. The industrial egg simply gave me the willies. I even hesitated about adding it to the compost heap, but that's where it eventually ended up. The Haskins egg went into a pan with some olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and white pepper, and then served on toast. Yum.

The egg on the right is the Haskins egg. Note the deeper color and its general perkiness.

On the industrial egg side, the white spread out like water over most of the plate.
So now that I have my two dozen gorgeous eggs (minus one), I think I will try some new egg dishes. Just a few days ago, Görvälns Slott (a castle in the neighborhood where I grew up in Sweden that is now an inn) posted some beautiful-looking egg recipes, which I hope to try soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I am so over winter food!

I am so bored with food right now. When you eat seasonally, transitioning between seasons is always hard, but this time of year is particularly dreary. You are tired of eating frozen berries and mealy apples, but you know you need to clear out the freezer for all the good new stuff that will come. A few wrinkly sweet potatoes and rock-hard squash (what were those called again, celebration squash?) loiter at the bottom of the veggie basket, up to no good with some wayward onion skins. Most sellers at the winter farmer's market in Leesburg seem tired or bored, waiting for the release of spring and summer, oh sweet explosive gorgeous summer. When Mike says he was hoping to see some vegetables, one seller calls out, "No, won't be any vegetables until the end of the month." Haven't seen the carrot guy with his sweet little jewel-bright roots in weeks. The eggs are gorgeous with their perky, deep orange yolks and becoming increasingly abundant, but I feel as though my capacity to come up with things to do with them is waning along with the variety of foods available to me. I look around at the market, I see cupcakes, goat milk soap, honey, and lots of meats--all good stuff--but somehow much has lost its luster.

So what then? I guess I need to kick it in gear, get inspired, get  creative--try things that I might never try otherwise. Dig out the stuff from the back of the freezer and come up with a way to make it interesting (and good, of course). Try something I haven't done before. I've been toying with the idea of making noodles or pasta for a long time. Maybe now would be a good time for that. Maybe I need to learn to make a different bread (I make most of the bread we eat; when we first tried to eat locally and without a lot of industrial ingredients, we discovered quickly that most commercial bread is chock full of weirdness). I tried making sourdough once and failed sadly (tough stuff--should have used it for insulation or in place of concrete barriers), and I've been meaning to try again with another recipe, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

What I have tried to do recently is to institute Meatless Mondays and to start eating more fish. What both of these attempts have taught me is that I know less about some kinds of food and cooking than I thought. Creating vegetarian meals is hard because they frequently lack a centerpiece; it all seems like sides. They are often complex, too. I started my Meatless Monday career with a great pizza, but it was a fussier recipe than I typically do on a weeknight. (I will be using the pizza dough recipe again, however.)

And, despite my Nordic heritage, I am not much of a fish eater or cook. So far I have made one fish recipe that I like (the recipe is at the end of this post), which is a traditional Swedish dish that, believe it or not, I used to eat in grade school and like (unlike fish balls--gag--or blood pudding--gag even worse). In Swedish it's called mandelfisk, which translates into almond fish, and it's just a nice yummy, breaded fish with nuts (and lots of butter). I like to eat it with boiled Yukon Gold potatoes (or any other nice, buttery yellow-skinned potato) with some melted butter and parsley and some grated carrots, perhaps with a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar. Simple, clean tastes that bring up memories of better times as a kid in Sweden. Like when I spent a week on my aunt and uncle's boat in the Stockholm archipelago, eating a fresh fish stew with butter melting into rings in it ("leaden circles dissolved in the air"), giggling with my cousin while rosy, hot-faced, and sweetly tired from a long day in the sun and wind.

4 small files of white-fleshed, flaky fish (I use Chesapeake rockfish, because it's the one fish that I know I can get locally; it's a little strong, but still very tasty)
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup breadcrumbs (fresh preferably, which are really easy to make if you have a food processor: just throw some chunks of fresh bread in and whir it up until it's fine)
1/2 cup flaked almonds (or if you've got whole almonds, you can just chop them, which I discovered in a pinch)
a bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (if you have it); if not, use a Tbsp dried
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed

  1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees (Fahrenheit)
  2. Butter a baking dish
  3. Rinse your fish files in cold water, pat dry with paper towels, salt and pepper to taste
  4. Place your fish files in the buttered baking dish
  5. Meanwhile, in a pan over medium heat, melt the butter
  6. Add garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, and almonds; mix everything into a kind of crumble and take it off the heat
  7. Pack the breadcrumb mixture evenly onto the top of your fish files
  8. Put the fish in the oven and let it bake for about 20 minutes, or until the fish is flaky and the breadcrumb mixture is golden brown

Friday, April 8, 2011

So what am I doing with this blog anyway?

For weeks, perhaps months, I have been planning to start this blog about sourcing, making, and eating food, but I have procrastinated. I kept trying to decide what blog service to use and what to call it and what is it going to be about and do I have a point of view that's fresh.I hesitated, hemmed, hawed. A few nights ago, I was trying to sleep and writing my First Blog Post in my head, and I asked myself: What's taking so long? Why haven't you done this yet? The service and the name aren't that big a deal, are they? Then a tiny voice piped up from the back of the room (because I view my mind as a vast conference room with lots of people there to listen to what I have to say--no, I don't really, but I thought it was kind of fun to imagine anyway), so, where was I? Oh yeah, little voice, back of room, said "But what if it isn't any good?" Yeah, you nailed it, tiny voice: I was scared. I am scared. What if this isn't any good? What if no one wants to read what I have to say about food? And what is it exactly that I want to say about food? Food is good. Enjoyed with friends, it's wonderful. A lot of people are out there talking about food. What do I have to bring to the table?

Well, these are some reasons I want to write about food:

About a year ago in January, my husband Mike and I borrowed an audiobook version of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. When we were done with that, we went on to Omnivore's Dilemma, which more than any other book made us want to opt out of the industrial food chain and so we set out to do that. It wasn't easy, and it still isn't. We have changed our behaviors with regard to getting and making food, and we have changed the way that we think about food, but the practices of avoiding food shipped from halfway across the world (especially in winter), of making your own, of trying to eat mostly local and sustainably raised food are hard. But to us they are incredibly meaningful and so we keep at it. In fact, trying to eat the way that we want to eat is so meaningful to us that I hope to be able to share some of what we have learned and hopefully get others to opt out of industrial food too. Because I also think that the more people opt out of it, the easier getting local, sustainable, nonindustrial, and seasonable food will become as local food distribution becomes more efficient. So there's a selfish aspect to it: I want you to do what I do so that it gets easier for everyone.

Then, there is the love and passion aspect to it, and that encompasses so many different components that I easily get lost. There's the quality of the food that I get from people I directly support. There's the sense of belonging to a community, a place, where I have a stake in the soil, in the air and water, and in the people who live near me. One of the most potent ways I know to connect to the world is to eat. Food is a distillation of sun, soil, place, air. In his book,  NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine and in his food, chef Rene Redzepi talks about this connection between what we eat and where we are as a way to create sense memories, and in a sense to create an ephemeral art. I cannot create the kind of art that Rene creates, but to take some of that spirit and infuse it into the quotidien is something I want to strive for. I think that the practice of thinking and writing about food can help me to make daily life an art form, which makes my life more meaningful and more beautiful and hopefully does the same for my family.

Finally (at least for this post--there are more reasons and I will develop them as we go along), I want to teach what I know about cooking by passing along my successes and sharing my failures. Hopefully in the process I can keep getting better and learning more.

So this blog will be a mish-mash of recipes and tips, of food politics, of raving about the good (and perhaps the bad), of sharing stuff I learn, of creating art. Hopefully it will entertain, inform, inspire--I mean, why else would anyone write?

And to get started with the recipes, here's my recipe for roast chicken (which I planned to have for dinner tonight, but a family thing suddenly came up):

1 whole chicken (I get mine from Haskins Family Farm, which I will rave about at another time)
salt, white pepper
2 lemons (unfortunately usually not local, but I do have a lemon tree now!), one juiced, the other cut in half
herbs to taste or as available
unsalted butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
  2. Butter a baking dish (you want it to be deep so that it can hold some water)
  3. Rinse the chicken with cold water, inside and out
  4. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels
  5. Grab about a tablespoon of salt and rub the inside and outside of the chicken (sometimes you will need more--don't be afraid to salt a lot!)
  6. Rub the inside and outside of the chicken with white pepper
  7. Stuff the lemon halves inside the chicken along with any herbs that you have available (if you don't have any, you can skip this)
  8. Place the chicken in the baking dish, fill the bottom wiht about an inch of water
  9. Put it in the over for 30 minutes
  10. After 30 minutes, pull it out, turn the chicken over in the dish, and pour lemon juice all over it
  11. Back in the oven, 20 minutes
  12. Pull it out, turn it over, and rub the chicken with 1 tablespoon of butter
  13. Back in the oven, 20 minutes
  14. Out of the oven, pour pan drippings over the chicken, flip it over, in again, 15 minutes (you will keep doing this last step for 2-3 more times depending on the size of the chicken). I usually check doneness by poking the joint between the leg and the body to see if the juices that run out are clear. Others prefer a thermometer, which should read about 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.
  15. When it is done, remove the chicken from the dripping and let it stand and rest on a platter for about 10 minutes.
In the meantime, you can make gravy with the drippings. Use a fat separator and let the drippings divide into two layers. Grab about 2-3 tablespoons of the fat and put it into a pan. Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour to the fat and cook for a few minutes (don't let it burn). Then whisking fast, add the drippings (minus fat) to the fat and flour in the pan. It will thicken quickly. If it gets too thick, you can always add some milk, cream, or stock to thin it. Salt and pepper to taste (mine is usually pretty salty, so I definitely check the salt before adding any).

I usually serve roast chicken with roasted root vegetables (whatever is in season or I have around the house) and some kind of salad. Again, it really depends on what's available and looks good at the farmer's market.