• Tuesday, August 29, 2006

    A note from yours truly, the “inhumane boor”

    Brad King an “Organiser” [sic] of the “South Florida Animal Rights Meetup Group” did his cause no good by stooping to the same tired tactics as the name-calling, blood-tossing PETA fanatics. His broad, sweeping generalizations are typical in the food morality screeds these days.

    King Brad, oops, I mean Brad King, takes it a step further by making completely incorrect and unfounded assumptions about my values, my lifestyle and my socio-economic status. For this he gets a “Bravo” from one of his followers, the only one of the few dozen members of his “meetup group” that are active on his message board to respond. From the looks of it, this group is pretty small in terms of actual active membershiop. It has 20 or so members that are listed as inactive and 14 that haven’t even posted on the message board in over a month.

    Hopefully this means other members are sincere advocates for animal welfare and are too busy doing something meaningful like lobbying for school-based anti-hunger programs to bother with me or Brad and his message board. Or maybe they're:
    • raising awareness of the many harms brought on by mindless intolerance?
    • helping to raise funds to spay and neuter strays? Anyone who's been knows this is a huge problem in South Florida. Animals going hungry and suffering. Brad, are you there?

    Maybe they’re helping friends find local South Floridian wines to enjoy with their vegan meals. That way they won’t harm the environment by senselessly importing wines or beers or trucking such items cross-country.

    Could be they’re rescuing cows on their way to slaughter for use in leather shoes or sandals.

    Well, if anyone other than Brad and his singular fan, care to actually read anything I’ve written, I wanted to offer a link or two here.

    On the Locavore and 100 mile diet advocates:
    Locavores and 100 mile dieters

    One of my many pieces on the joys of sustainable, local agriculture and heirloom breeds:
    Heirloom tomatoes - Apples of Love

    On the value of farmers’ markets and the questionable “benefits” of Walmart’s entry into the organics market:
    Farmers Market or Walmart

    On a unique and wonderful oregano, hand-harvested by the Seri people (dwindling in numbers) and a cutting-edge, fair-trade project bringing the product to consumers and profits to the Seri people of the Sonoran desert:
    All Oregano is not created Equal

    I, unlike King Brad and his ilk, will also openly tell you of my conflicts and contradictions. Being human and all, I figure there’s no shame: I love foie gras, could eat a ton.

    I really don't love of food McCarthyism:First it was lobster
    My hatred of intolerance:When Foie Gras is Outlawed...

    My hope that all sides will recognize something familiar in this satirical “battle.”
    Epic battle or excuse to turn on, tune in, drop out?

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    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    Local food news

    Food and Wine Festivals:

    • Foxwoods Food & Wine Festival September 8-10 includes local stars of the kitchen, Divas Uncorked and celeberity chefs. See Foxwoodsfoodandwine.com
    • September 28-30 in Newport RI, wine dinners pairing Newport's chesf and great wines from all over, auctions, demos. See Newportmansions.org for more info.

    Garlic & Sapphires & the Emerald Necklace.

    The Herald's Donna Goodison reports a deal has been struck between Gourmet Magazine and WGBH for a 20 part series "Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie" premiering on October 8. Ruth Reichl and executive editor John Willoughby, food editor Zanne Early Stewart will explore "global food destinations and local players, new food trends, and ingredients."

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    Wednesday, August 23, 2006

    En papillote with corn husks. Tamale style!

    Wrapped up in Summer is another spin on the en papillote technique I covered in my recent column. Cooking with this technique is much easier than most people imagine and quite fun and dramatic.

    Whether you use foil (very easy) or parchment paper (also pretty easy) or fresh corn husks (moderately challenging), you'll find that the method has many benefits. Easy clean up is one, great flavor, less fat. But how about drama? Isn't it fun to serve something unexpected? Imagine these little steaming packets, each diner gets his or her own to unwrap?

    Contents and combinations are limited only by your imagination and what's available.

    Give it a shot. Write me for tips if you're nervous. Remember: food should be fun.
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    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    A voice of reason from the wilderness of Chi-town

    Chef Allen Sternweiller owner of Allen's The New American Cafe is suing the confederacy of dunces - er, I mean - the Chicago City Council.

    I wondered why it took someone so long. I know I haven't practiced law in ages, but since when can the city council with no overriding public danger tell a lawfully operating restaurant, that they can no longer sell a legal product, regulated by the USDA?

    Guess that's the point. Bravo Chef!

    Don't let the bastards wear you down. When you win, I'll fly to Chicago and we'll raise a glass (Sauternes perhaps?)
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    The Dutch Oven that Ate America!

    Okay, maybe it 's not that big, but it is huge...by nearly any home cook's standards. I can't wait to use it, but this is part of the thrill. What will be the inaugural meal? A brisket? A small turkey? A big stew?

    Send me your recipes! Maybe I should hold a contest and offer a prize? Hmmmm.
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    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    An epic battle or an excuse to turn on, tune in, drop out?

    In Voting with their Forks Special Writer to the LA Times and my favorite Gastropod Regina Schrambling notes the confluence of thought in the food world, resulting in four books published in this "summer of food."

    The article draws several points from various corners of the debate about the consequences of
    our food choices, policies and daily practices. When is “organic” not better than “local”? Whose formula do we use to measure impact?

    I can see it coming into focus now....

    [It's a smoky arena. A dark place where something deep in your DNA tells you aggression has reigned supreme. Down there, I see a ring. Wait, it's a boxing ring, the mike is lowered.]

    [Ding! The fight bell rings. We're just in time. We hear the Ring announcer: ]

    "In this corner, hailing from Long Island New York, but currently with the UC Berkeley team, champion Omnivore - Mi----chael POllan!"

    "And in this corner: the evil megamart, the ones we love to hate, the challenger whose motto is "an organics plan for the common man", Wal-----Ma-a-a-rt!!"

    [Boos erupt from the crowd. One portly elder statesman type cheers. He's a little sedate, a little Academic in repose, and yet he looks earnest and familiar somehow. The announcer, now somewhat perplexed continues, as he notices a third contestant.]

    "And ...in this corner.... hailing from the epicenter of good food and political activism, the Locavores, teaming with the 100 mile dieters..."

    [Ring announcer, now totally confused, turns to the fourth corner. It's empty.]

    "And, just a moment please, Ladies and Gentleman....

    [Covering the mike, he's delivered a message from ringside.]

    "I've just been informed that there's been a slight delay in our final contestants' arrival. Unfortunately, they were held up at the door, through an honest mistake, I can assure you...

    Join me in welcoming our final contestants and former favorites: --- running to compete with big agribusiness, breathless from double shifts to keep the family farm -- they have made it to the battle--- our Dis----placed Local Farmers!

    And their teammates in this epic battle tonight, I've just been told, we have a rare appearance, ladies and gentlemen......all the way from inner-city USA, calling in sick for the third shift to join us tonight, no money for books or Holy Food prices, but they scraped together bus fare.....former favorite underdogs before geese displaced them... they changed buses three times just to make it to the ring here at Ceasar's Palace tonight. What stamina, what heart, ladies and gentlemen....they have made it!!!

    Let's hear a big round of applause for our Lower income citizens!!"

    [Bewildered, the crowd, hungry for a fight, usnure of what spectacle they are about to witness, is somewhat quiet. Some muffled discussions can be heard faintly...]


    Well kids, it's up to us to write the ending. These kind contestants have given us a great head start. Let's just keep focused on the big picture...let's not forget a time when liberals valued the fight for school lunches over the battle for duck and goose rights...

    Let's not forget to keep asking the right questions. A few suggestions humbly offered:

    - Who wins while we're salivating over this battle? The cattle industry who just got a gift from the USDA currently proposing to cut BSE testing from 1% to 1/10th of 1%?
    - Who loses when Wal-mart, that steadfast champion of the little man (you know, the ones they locked inside, with no OSHA breaks...) gets great deals on organics from Chile while our family farms fold?
    - Who will hold them accountable? Is that you, Al?
    - Whose environmental footprint is more damaging than whose?

    If only if it were the Summer of Love instead. We could just wait for something else to catch our attention, I guess. Too bad there's no war to protest or corrupt politicians to impeach...
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    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    En papillote, en papier du cedre?

    Encroyable! C'est magnifique!

    Forgive my bad French. Have you heard about these cedar papers now available for use on the grill?

    In "Grilling in, not on Cedar" Joe Yonan of the Boston Globe writes about these new cedar sheets, likening them to cooking en papillote. I used these for the first time about a week ago and was delighted. I think the re-use possibility is, perhaps just wishful thinking (and/or clever marketing) but don't let that deter you from trying this out.

    For more on cooking en papillote check out my Suite101 article.
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    Sputnik, Purple Peppers, Pickled Peppers

    Another bountiful day at the Farmer's Market day in Dewey Square. Gorgeous day and beautiful selection of produce, flowers, herbs, oils, soaps, pickles. Anyone ever seen kohlrabi? I read somewhere it's also referred to as "sputnik" vegetable given its odd appearance. It was my first (at my age, "firsts" are harder and harder to come by. Part of the reason for fascination with Chef Ferran Adria's techniques of presenting the familiar in completely new ways.)

    This vegetable can be cooked, but is often eaten raw in salads. The flavor has been described variously as: similar to, but sweeter than broccoli stems; milder than a turnip or radish but also similar to those. It's texture is somewhat like jicama or radish. We had to try it. Off to our friend J's for a bbq, we volunteered to bring a salad. Fresh peppery arugula; cherry tomatoes, sweet as candy but full of tomato flavor yellow; a purple bell pepper (landing just about midway between a green bell pepper and a red, yellow or orange one) , cucumber and one delicious tomato from my father-in-law's garden (what was left from our pancetta, lettuce, tomato snack - so good I got goosebumps!)

    We picked up a purple bell pepper, now a regular purchase, and our first Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers. We also bought a lemon basil plant from our friends at the Herb Lyceum. I'd never tasted this type of basil before. Love it. A few leaves went into my pickled peppers, too. I'd have to say the kohlrabi did not win me over. Not bad, but I prefer jicama. The purple bell peppers, big hit, are a regular on the list now; and the Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers were so good I'm growing them in the container garden.

    Check out my Suite101 column for my recipe for sweet and hot pickled peppers.
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    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Ensalada Rana? Tapas, steaks, sushi and more...

    Seems likely this Frog Salad is a product of photoshop rather than a true amphibian surprise, but you know those immigrants are getting craftier and craftier. If people can get sewn into van seats to cross our borders, why wouldn't a frog travel in bagged salad? Go ahead W., build that wall. See what good it does.

    The ensalada rana reminds me of Caleb's story about the huge bug in his salad at a local fancy-pants (in their own estimation) restaurant. When he called it to the waiter's attention the response was a less-than-admirable, "Well, our greens are organic." I suppose that might be French-Cambodian for "unwashed." I'll have to check with my Khmer expert, Catherine.

    By the way, I can think of a few organic things I would not want on my plate.

    Feast for the soul
    But seriously, I've just come off a mini-hiatus and wanted to catch up in case anyone was noticing my absence. Two of the best girlfriends one could ever hope for (Oprah's got nothing on me!) were in town on overlapping visits this week. These are the kind of friends who know you completely and love you anyway. You know the friends with whom you can be your un-edited self.

    Of course, there was much eating and a little drinking involved. We're not kids anymore but we still indulge as if we have the metabolism of a 20 year old; even when Catherine reminds me: "we're double-legal now." I am translating "double-legal" as "illegal" which sounds much more risqué and fun. (You know, like a double negative, that makes a positive...oh, trust me, it sounded much more clever over martinis.)

    Catherine who's been in Cambodia, has been deprived of human-grade (versus livestock-grade) corn and proper steaks. We had to visit Smith & Wollensky. And cocktails are de rigueur in a steak house. Her father was the Manhattan maker extraordinaire I've written of, and it's either a Manhattan or a martini before dinner at a steak house. Plus, she's wearing custom-made shoes, for crying out loud! You can't rush to the table without giving folks a chance to admire that kind of ensemble.

    She shares photos of fabulous temple visits (Go Lorraine!), volunteers in rice paddies, gorgeous markets. And she almost failed to notice when an ancient Chinese woman stopped dead in her tracks on School Street to look me over and register her disapproval of my too-American pudgy mid-section. Aiyaa!! Catherine announced that some societies see such things as a sign of prosperity. Well, we'd only had one G&T with our onion rings (a must-try, those onion rings) at Ruths'Chris, so we didn't try to communicate the news flash.

    Sujata and I laughed over stories of past parties, oysters on the half in a snowstorm, Paellas, and divas while munching on sushi one night and tapas another. I get to see Kiri's first trip to Italy. I share my fantasy of a rented house in Italy for the half-century mark. I get a crash course in using a blackberry. After winning an Ipod for an impromptu sculpture contest, she'll have to give me insights into that type of "third screen" too.

    Since tapas tonight, I am now inspired to actually make that Paella I've been promising Caleb. I even have Bomba rice now, good saffron, a proper Paella pan, and Teresa Barrenechea's fabulous book, Cuisines of Spain. At least I've made a good batch of Gazpacho. I have Calphalon tapas pans so I may even try my hand at Gambas al Ajillo. (I'm sure your handmade Paella plate is in good hands, too sweetie!)

    With both girls, I shopped (exchanging quick, efficient vetoes and approvals), walked, ate, drank, laughed and talked and talked. (Have I really been talking about perimenopause for ten years? Can't be.)

    I've had a week of good food (Hei La Moon, Douzo, Tapeo, Smith & Wollensky) and good laughs. The guest cards for the gym are still in my drawer, but there was just too much Capogiro gelato to taste, cobbler to bake. And we walked the city.

    Both these women cook - literally and figuratively. They have style, grace and wisdom. They take risks. They relish life. They inspire me. Catherine made the first crown roast I ever had, and I recall some gold-toned hydrangea nearby. It was the holidays, after all. Then there was the 80 foot tree in the loft. How about the film- fest fundraiser where the kid filmmaker told me I "looked good for my age." Remember that one?

    Sujata effortlessly whips amazing things together out of whatever was best at the Saturday market or in the CSA box; then serves it to you under a chandelier picked up during the last Paris trip. Not even kidding. I will be feasting on the dinner party memories alone for a long time after they've returned home, the memories of this week will take over after that.

    A gift of a week
    The most satisfying thing is to be in the company of such amazing women. These are the kinds of friends that make you shake your head in wonder at your luck for finding.

    One thing these two share, I found out, is their tendency to create little fictionalized vignettes embellishing on my qualities and accomplishments. Let me just say that their stories of my supposed strengths are simply stunning. You should ask them, go ahead. Don't forget to ask Catherine about my financial wizardry.

    And remember: never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
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    Friday, August 04, 2006

    "If you're looking for a fish, don't climb a tree"

    A favorite saying courtesy of a wise old Chinese father...might well apply to the news I read today.

    The Boston Globe reports that (formerly of Excelsior, Biba, Locke-Ober, Pignoli, et alia) has filed a complaint against her business partners at Excelsior with the MCAD (Mass. Commission Against Discrimination). This is an obligatory first step before filing a civil suit claiming employment discrimination (in this case age bias) suit in the Commonwealth.

    I have certainly enjoyed my share of Chef Shire's pricey food, and I've had my share of drinks at the bar of her restaurant (while she and her husband held court at the other end.) I've also enjoyed my share of the scoop on "the industry" here in Boston. Word has it that Chef Shire has had issues similar to those cited by her erstwhile partners in the article (cost overruns, mismanagement) with at least one prior engagement on the left coast...

    Reading the Globe article in the best light for each party, knowing what I know, I can guess that this has great potential to get ugly for both parties. More likely, (hopefully) they'll reach a settlement before we get wind of all the dreck that's out there to be plumbed. And (hope springs eternal) the litigants will be the wiser for the experience.

    Don't forget folks, Boston is a very small town, full of people with long memories. From my own experience I can tell you we also have no shortage of men running businesses here (whether 60 or 30) who believe any woman of substance or age over 30 deserves nothing more than lip service.

    Gentlemen: If you're looking for just a name, or some window dressing, don't hire a woman of substance with a well-established big personality.

    And if you're looking for a fish, don't climb a tree...
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    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Epicurious Announces Anti-Hunger Initiative:WineDineDonate

    I’ve just learned about a new initiative launched by Epicurious.com to address the issues of childhood hunger. It’s stunning to learn that our own U.S.D.A. estimates that in the U.S., 14 million children live in households that are “food insecure.” We hear so much about childhood obesity these days, it would be easy to overlook the face of hunger in the U.S. Perhaps it's because obesity and related public health issues are easier to face. It is only somewhat disturbing to watch news about issues of plenty, problems of “too much.” It is much more sobering to face the reality of scarcity, the issues of “not enough;” particularly when we're talking about our most vulnerable citizens.

    I’ll admit that I find it easier to ignore the public health issues associated with obesity. I find it much more difficult to reconcile the value I place on personal responsibility with the hard facts surrounding hunger in the U.S. It's hard to accept that millions of fellow citizens are going hungry when I’m stuffing myself with good food and ranting about people taking away my "right" to foie gras.

    Happily, I have just been given an opportunity to turn my discomfort into action. Please join me in supporting this fantastic project addressing hunger relief. Tanya Wenman Steele, Editor, CondeNet staff, and top chefs like Michael Mina and Michael Schlow, are working together with America's Second Harvest to feed our hungriest children.

    There are three basic ways to support the anti-hunger initiative called WineDineDonate:

    1. Host a fund-raising dinner party for a few friends and share the opportunity to support hunger relief. The WineDineDonate project will provide menus by top chefs, invites, even placecards.
    2. Attend a WineDineDonate dinner at restaurants like Michael Mina in San Francisco and Via Matta in Boston. Half of all proceeds go to America's Second Harvest.
    3. Make a donation.

    The Boston dinner will take place at Via Matta on October 3, 2006.

    Click on the links below to learn more, download menus, make donations, or buy tickets to events.

    Epi-log, Ms. Steel's blog on Epicurious.com introduces the project, click here to read the Announcement and learn more.

    Visit the WineDineDonate project website.

    In the Boston area, another hunger relief organization is Project Bread.
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    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Why my garden smells like a British pub...

    I began a on the "balcony" last year (because to do so on the fire escape would violate condo association rules...) and it's become quite a more central thing in my daily life than I'd anticipated. Others in the neighborhood have begun putting out a pot or two, we've gotten quite used to fresh mint in our iced tea...we've had a hummingbird, butterflies, and tomorrow ladybugs will arrive.

    Fresh herbs are so wonderful to use in cooking and you really don't have to do much to grow them successfully. I've got rosemary, lavender, parsley, chives, thyme, lemon thyme, basil (Italian, Thai, Lemon), sage, cilantro. Almost any dish is improved by the and the "garden" is a little separate space mentally and physically which is critical to sharing a loft, no matter how much in love you are with your roommate.

    You may recall from my herb garden blog post in Suite101 that my mother always had some garden to relax her and provide at least a few tomatoes and some fresh parsley. Now she has the most gorgeous peonies, too! On extra crabby days, my husband encourages me to "go check on your garden." It works.

    Geraniums, Impatiens (above - named after my friend John), marigolds, salvia, lobelia...it was so much fun.

    This year's garden
    I got excited about expanding my garden this year and trying to grow some tomatoes. We had so many weeks of torrential rains that one trip after another to the nursery got postponed. Finally we took a trip with John (of Impatiens fame) to "the 'po" (Home Depot.) They had cherry tomato plants in several varieties, so cheap, I thought, what's the risk? That's a photo of my first tomatoes! I learned that tomatoes love a fertilizer called fish emulsion. It's about as ickly as it sounds, and I got the "odor-neutralized" formula. But the plants love it.

    My motto is always, "if some is good, more is better..." as another friend adds, "...and too much can be just fine."

    So here's this year's garden. Well this year, I got a little crazy... (click on the photo to enlarge)
    You might be able to see the petunias. They're the purple ones, about in the middle. They were a recent acquisition from a very high end Connecticut nursery. They also introduced APHIDS AND BUDWORMS to my urban oasis.

    Now, dear readers, let me assure you, I am not a violent person. My late grandmother used to catch houseflies in her hands and gently release them. When I saw the first little "caterpillar" munching on a petunia, I thought, "that's okay, it's nature, I can share."

    From Gandhi to the Terminator in ten clicks
    Nothing like a little dip into web research to change a girl. I learned these critters will devour my entire petunia. They camouflage themselves, too. When they're on a green stem, they're green; munching on a purple petunia, they turn purple! And they love to stick their heads into the new buds and eat them up. I started getting swiss cheese blossoms or "blossoms" that were completely chomped down to the stem. I learned that aphids are born gravid - that is to say, bearing the next generation.

    It's war now
    I found a wonderful "bug farm" on the 'net that ships ladybugs, among other beneficial bugs. I like the idea of using nature and not pesticides, if possible. Ladybugs, it turns out, love to eat aphids.

    For the budworms, I need some bacteria I can't find (it's harmless to anything else, but gives a case of fatal stomach flu to budworms.) In the interim, my new best friend and bug guru, Jim Kluttz, told me to mix up a solution to spray on the buggers. Murphy's oil soap, Isopropyl alcohol and water. The alcohol disintegrates their little exoskeletons, the oil soap suffocates their breathing apparatus.

    So, between the faint remaining scent of fish, you now also smell a bit of that Murphy's Oil Soap. Hence: the lingering vague feeling that one has just walked by a place that serves fish and has just washed their wood floors...

    Perhaps I should have named this post Pubs and Grubs?

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