Posts Tagged 'Local Farming'

Escarole and White Beans

My family’s CSA weekly pick up started last week! So far we have had lots and lots of greens, meaning we have been busy trying out new recipes. I decided to make this beautiful and enormous bunch of escarole into a side dish. Escarole is a rather bitter green, so I think it’s best when cooked into a dish like this.

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This recipe took about ten minutes to make, but it looks very complex and impressive so I got much more credit for it than I deserved. (Always a nice bonus!) Thanks to grandparents.com for the recipe that I adapted!


You will need:

3 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch of escarole (it looks like a lot but remember that greens wilt as you sauté them)

1 cup of vegetable broth

1 cup of white beans

1/2 a cup of tomato sauce

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

optional additions if you like spiciness: 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Directions:

1. In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant. (Make sure you have the escarole ready to add because the garlic burns very quickly)

2. Gradually add in escarole leaves and stir them around until the oil is evenly distributed. Add all of the remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly to combine. Reduce heat to medium low, and cook – stirring occasionally – until the escarole is wilted.

And there you have it! Simple, tasty and seasonal. I put the dish over some bulgar, but it would also taste good over some crunchy bread or pasta.

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“Big Food” at the Yale Peabody Museum

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“Big Food” is an exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven about the complexity of American eating habits. It looks at how a person’s environment can affect his or her food choices, explaining things like food deserts, food swamps, and portion sizes. 

The most amazing thing about Big Food, I think, is that it exists. Who ever would have thought that a museum would market an exhibit on the evolution of food? It shows how much more important food choice has become to people, and how much people are willing to think about it. 

The exhibit’s target audience is families and kids.  I appreciate the notion of getting younger kids to think about which snacks are healthy and where their food is coming from. The chosen wording was perfect – understandable and relatable. On industrial farming, it read, “Did you know that it takes more than 14 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef? Or, put another way, the wheat used to produce one large hamburger can make five loaves of bread.”

The exhibit shows the shift from living in rural to urban areas, and how this change has affected eating habits. It reads, “Rates of obesity are far higher among city-dwellers, particularly in developing countries, as people shift from producing their own food to purchasing processed foods.” The exhibit also introduces the terms “food desert” – places where at least 20% of people live at or below the poverty line and without a supermarket within a one-mile radius, and “food swamp” – neighborhoods filled with fast food restaurants and stores that sell unhealthy foods. The exhibit expertly delivers hard-hitting facts, including, “There are now five fast food restaurants for every one supermarket in the United States.” 

Under the heading “Community Collaboration,” there are explanations of what we can do to improve our eating habits. Guess what? Buying local is featured! There is a chart showing foods grown in Connecticut on a month-by-month basis.

If the best part of the Big Food exhibit is that it exists, then the second-best part of is that it hosts events. Tonight there was a (sold out) event that featured Claire Criscuolo of Claire’s Corner Copia, Jason Sobocinski of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro, and Tagen Engel, Chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council. They were answering questions and giving samples! Big Food is running until December 2, and there are tons of more events to come. To see a listing, click here.

In the back corner of the exhibit, there is a darkly lit wall that reads a quote from Alice Waters. “If we are what we eat, then Americans are cheap, fast and easy.” The display of the quote gives an ominous tone, different than the rest of the exhibit. The contrast, I think, works beautifully, providing a sense of urgency to take the knowledge the exhibit has to offer and use it to make a change.

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Miya’s Sushi

“because man cannot live on rice alone”

The menu at Miya’s Sushi in New Haven is more like a novel. Each item on the menu has a paragraph beneath explaining where the ingredients came from. There are pages expressing the philosophy of the restaurant, which is to bond people and culture with sustainability in mind.

In working towards this goal, Miya’s Sushi is not your average sushi. There are rolls with cheese, chutney, nuts, white pine needles, and peanut butter. The weirdest thing about this sushi is that it works. As for fish, Miya’s does not use typical sushi components. Over one third of all caught fish is used as food for aquaculture. Miya’s, therefore, offers many herbivorous fish that are much more environmentally sustainable. You will see tilapia, catfish, carp, bluegill sunfish – fish that not only are used less often in sushi but are also caught locally. Check out fishchoice.com to see how to find sustainable seafood in Connecticut. Miya’s also has a whole section of the menu devoted to sushi made from invasive species. Every time they make those sushis they’re helping ecosystems rebuild themselves appropriately.

Over half of Miya’s menu is centered around local, organic vegetables. Miya’s is the largest buyer from the Yale Sustainable Food Project. The menu reads, “Fortunately, the most delicious ingredients tend to be the most sustainable too!”

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It All Comes Down To Taste

When I did some research on Alice Waters, I found both articles of extreme praise and subtle condescension. Some people love her through and through, attempting to emulate everything she stands for. Others, though, while complimenting her talent and intentions, quietly allude to her hard and fast philosophies as elitist; they say her lifestyle is not one that the average American can live up to.

I say you can hate on Alice Waters if you want, but you have to admit that people respect her first and foremost because her food is legendarily delicious.

A quick review: Alice Waters opened her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, in 1971. Today it is one of the most highly regarded restaurants not only in the United States, but in the world.  Chez Panisse was one of the first restaurants to use local, organic ingredients and hormone-free meats. Waters’ choice for fresh and local food was initially just because she knew that these ingredients gave her food the best flavor. Now, though, people know Alice Waters as a local and organic food activist, crusader for the Slow Food movement, and mother of The Edible Schoolyard. Slow Food USA works to globally promote “good, clean, and fair” food and the “from plate to planet” ideology. Slow Food emphasizes that food is a universal right, and highlights the link between the food we eat and the health of the earth. The Edible Schoolyard sets up farming programs in schools, where children learn to organically grow and cook produce.

No one would listen to Alice Waters or travel thousands of miles to eat at Chez Panisse if her food didn’t taste good. And that’s what initially drove her search for organic ingredients – taste.  In a 1996 interview, Waters was asked why she prefers organic produce and she responded, “Taste, for sure.” She then continued with her other reasons, “And I’m interested in it because I know I need to support the people who are taking care of the land and thinking of the future, people who are thinking about how communities come together. It’s my feeling that that can happen when the person growing the food is connected with the person who is eating it.”

I think that many Americans have the same line of thinking – taste is the initial draw to local and organic ingredients, and the environmental benefits are an added appeal. The environmental impact may gain importance for some, but I’ve found that most people were originally attracted by taste.

I talked to my class’s Head Adviser, Ben Taylor, who also happens to be a food enthusiast, and he said the same thing. Mr. Taylor is a dedicated cook; a subscriber to Cook’s Illustrated, he said that cooking is the center of gravity for his friendship circle. “It would be lying to say that the environment is my primary motivation,” he said. “The best taste is my priority.”

Mr. Taylor’s high standards for ingredients, though, go hand in hand with the local food movement – he referred to tomatoes that hail from afar as “phlegm balls.”

Often times the terms local and organic are clumped together, but I saw organic strawberries at the super market grown in Mexico, and there’s a farm in the town next to mine that uses pesticides. One does not necessarily mean the other. “Local means more to me than organic,” Mr. Taylor said. “From an environmental standpoint it can be superior. You could have an organic product that has created a gigantic carbon footprint to get to your supermarket.”

And, to those Alice Waters critics out there, you can shop local without breaking the bank. You don’t have to spend your whole paycheck at Whole Foods to find local food. There’s Elm City Market, for one thing, which I wrote about in a previous post. Mr. Taylor recommends Big Y. He said that when the grocery store near his house turned to Big Y, he was initially disappointed. A lot of the imported ingredients he liked weren’t there. But then he noticed a lot more local produce. And it’s true – in the name of local economies, the earth, and health, Big Y is working to promote local ingredients.

The subtle criticism of Alice Waters that I have encountered suggest that she is unrealistic with her expectations that everyone will soon enough live as she does. These same articles, though, always mention the delectable flavor of her food and the beauty of the ingredients. So no, we can’t all live like her, buying solely from farmers’ markets and cooking with fireplaces in our kitchens. But if we follow our taste buds, we will be on the right track.

Claire’s Corner Copia

Claire’s Corner Copia is nestled on the corners of Chapel and College Streets in New Haven. The vegetarian restaurant, founded by Claire and Frank Criscuolo, is committed to sustainable and organic food. 10% of the restaurant’s profits are donated to charities. The food, ranging from smoothies to omelets to sandwiches to quesadillas to enormous baked goods (and so much more), can’t be beat.

I think that, usually, when you hear about a great vegetarian restaurant that uses local ingredients, the first thing that comes to mind is man that must be expensive. But I have to say, as a student who goes out to lunch in New Haven a lot, I don’t find Claire’s much more expensive than most other options. What’s more, I think that the quality of the ingredients and the causes that Claire’s supports is reason enough to pay an extra dollar.

Claire’s is currently working with The Growing Connection, a foundation whose mission is to bring food gardens to schools and teach students how to maintain them. Through the foundation, Claire’s is working with Barnard School and Jepson School, two magnet schools in New Haven. I think that Claire’s is very conscious of the cost of eating organic ingredients, as their goal is to give children the skills to grow their own food in their own backyards.

Although not all of Claire’s ingredients are local (especially not all-year-round) the restaurant does use local farming when possible. Many of Claire’s ingredients come from Urban Oaks Farm in New Britain, CT. I also admire the restaurant’s dedication to sustainability through its use of organic produce and its environmental initiatives. These initiatives include switching to a low water use dishwasher and to Energy Star lighting.

Claire also has three cookbooks, Claire’s Corner Copia Cookbook, Claire’s Italian Feast, and Claire’s Classic American Vegetarian Cooking. There is also an assortment of recipes on the restaurant’s website.

While I was at Claire’s, I picked up a booklet titled The Earth Dinner that was propped up on a stand near the door. Earth Dinner, a creation of Organic Valley, celebrates eating sustainably, locally, and organically with others. The idea of sharing food and conversing about where that food came from is essential to Earth Dinner. Inside The Earth Dinner booklet were quotes from authors, chefs, foodies, celebrities – anyone you could imagine. Here are some that I found especially exceptional:

“One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf

“It’s difficult to think of anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” – Lewis Grizzard

“My definition of sustainable cuisine is rather simple. Sustainable cuisine means nurturing that which nurtures us.” – Michael Romano: Chef, Union Square Café

“We started out to save the family farmer and now it looks like the family farmer is going to save us.” – Wilie Nelson

“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” – Elizabeth Berry

“In 1950, average Americans spent over 30 percent of their income on food; in 2000, about 10 percent. In 1950, the farmer received over fifty cents of every food dollar spent; today, less than twenty cents. Consumers spend less of their income on food than ever, and farmers receive a smaller percentage of that lesser portion.” – Ronald Jager, The Fate of Family Farming

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Nothing like fresh eggs and fresh rhubarb for a delicious cake.

In the middle of suburban Fairfield, not five minutes from Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Party City, Old Navy, and about seventy-five other stores, is a farm. A real farm, too, with cows, chickens, horses, and organically grown vegetables. The real farmer? Wyatt Whiteman.

Mr. Whiteman knows all there is to know about farming – he has spent his whole life living on this farm, inheriting the home and the land from his parents. He teaches a course on canning at Motherhouse Farm, which also has classes on plucking chickens, making butter, and other skills that promote self-sufficiency. He knows all sorts of tricks to farm efficiently: “Anyone who is seriously thinking about gardening should have some rabbits,” he said. “You can feed them all your scraps and then they’re natural fertilizer for the soil. It’s all a cycle.” Sustaining yourself – that’s what Mr. Whiteman is all about.

Mr. Whiteman has more helpful information on local farming than I could ever gather, because he has experienced farm-to-table living his whole life. He had started a website about his farm that was going to include tips for gardening, cooking, and other valuable farming advice. He said he knows people could benefit from what he has to say, but “really – who has time to sit around and make a website?” Well, me. And other bloggers with CSA memberships. But that’s because we don’t need to spend all of our time farming, we just pick up our food every week. The farmers – the people who really have the best advice – are the ones who don’t have time to peruse the blogosphere. Of course, the enthusiasm of local eaters is essential to the livelihood of the farmers, and the blogosphere has expanded the “community” aspect of CSA to include people from across the country… pretty cool stuff. But talking to Mr. Whiteman reminded me that when it comes down to it, the farmers are the ones who know it all.

I had initially stopped by Mr. Whiteman’s farm to buy some fresh eggs that he was advertising with a sign on the edge of his lawn. But we got to talking and he told me about a rhubarb upside-down cake that he’d made from the rhubarb that is currently thriving in his garden. I decided I had to try that, and asked if I could buy some rhubarb, too.

He grabbed a knife that was stuck in the fence and snipped me some rhubarb on the spot. He cut off the green leaves that sprout from the stalks, because the leaves are poisonous, and handed me the stalks, which have a sweet, tart, and refreshing taste.

So, inspired by Mr. Whiteman, I set out to make rhubarb upside-down cake with fresh eggs and just-picked rhubarb. I got the recipe from this page in The New York Times, but I made some adaptations to the instructions:

What you need:

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, more to grease pans

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 cups cake flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Zest of 1 lemon, grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1/3 cup sour cream

Lemon juice from half a lemon

Prep the pan:

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 inch circular pan with parchment paper butter it. Wrap a layer of foil around the bottom of the pan, and then set the pan on a baking sheet.

Make the topping (or the bottom, depending how you look at it):

In a medium bowl, mix rhubarb, cornstarch, and ½ cup of granulated sugar. Set the bowl aside. Then, mix the brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Then set the stove on low heat and leave the pan until later.

Make the batter:

Whip two sticks of butter with a mixer. Then add in the remaining 1 cup of granulated sugar and the lemon zest. Cream together at high speed. (Don’t forget to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally) Add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, then the lemon juice. It’s ok if the mixture has a weird consistency at this point. Slowly add the flour, about ¼ cup at a time, until well combined.

Assemble the cake:

Pour the brown sugar mixture into the cake pan, the spoon in the rhubarb and its yummy juices. Pour in the batter so that it covers all the rhubarb. It’s ok if the batter is a little thick.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is firm to the touch and you can stick in a tooth pick and it comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 15 minutes before flipping it onto a plate. Don’t wait any longer or it will stick.

Local Farms Are In

Whenever I explain my blog to someone, I’m bombarded with names of shops I should visit, restaurants I should check out, and recipes I should try. I love it – people are really enthusiastic about the local eating movement.

Why, though, have so many people started to take notice? Opinion pieces in The New York Times constantly discuss food, urban gardens and CSA memberships are considered very hip, and people rave about restaurants that use local ingredients. Locavore was the 2007 word of the year for the Oxford American Dictionary. I’m curious as to what has sparked this line of thinking that wasn’t nearly as prevalent in America only a decade ago. I have a few theories and as I continue my research I intend to add to this list. If you have your own ideas or disagree with mine, I would love to hear your contributions.

Food Lovers Have Faith in the White House

The Obama administration promised right off the bat to hold a commitment to nutritious and sustainable food. Michelle Obama started a White House garden in 2009, a few weeks after Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, drilled into the pavement in front of the USDA and introduced “The People’s Garden” initiative. The USDA came out with the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which promotes local food systems. Check out ObamaFoodorama for more info.

Pioneers of the local food movement, including Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse, one of the first restaurants to use local organic ingredients and hormone-free meat, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, now have someone listening to them. When I say listening, I don’t mean directly following their instructions – if we had it Alice Water’s way, we’d be tripling the budget for school lunches, something that most people would say we cannot afford – but their voices are not completely lost. Many members of Congress have been seen carrying The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Alice Waters visited Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden last week. Michelle’s fight against obesity, with her “Let’s Move!” campaign, also goes hand-in-hand with the push for fresh grown ingredients. She wants to eliminate “Food Deserts,” underserved communities without access to supermarkets that have fresh food.

I’m not saying that the road for small local farmers has suddenly been paved with gold. But these White House initiatives have provided an ideal climate for celebrity food advocates, and made the idea of local and sustainable farming less foreign to the general public. And with her great style and great arms, Michelle Obama is very trendy – her support for the local food movement can guarantee that of many Americans.

Urban Gardens are the New Victory Gardens

Okay, so I wasn’t around for Victory Gardens, but I get the idea. Also known as war gardens or food gardens for defense, they were planted during World War I and II to lessen the strain on public food supply during wartime. Eleanor Roosevelt started a Victory Garden on the White House front lawn (sound familiar?) and families across the country cultivated their own produce. With the start of the People’s Garden movement discussed above came the induction of urban gardens, which are also very hot right now. The New York Times did a feature on roof gardens in Manhattan, and people compete to see who can have the most creative location for a garden. Check out this Truck Farm video, an idea that has gained popularity:

Pink Slime is a Quite the Catchphrase

When Gerald Zirnstein coined the term pink slime for what Beef Products Inc. (BPI) calls Lean Finely Textured Beef, people took notice. How could you not stop and pay attention when people use the term pink slime to describe what your hamburger is made out of?

A brief recap: About ten years ago, BPI had the idea of taking fatty beef trimmings that had been previously deemed appropriate for pet food and cooking oil and to instead use them for ground beef. This had never been done before because these cuts of beef were extremely susceptible to salmonella and E. coli. To solve this problem, BPI sprayed the trimmings with ammonia. Presto, no more bacteria. This ground beef was then mixed with “normal” ground beef and then sent off to places like your Stop & Shop or school lunch tray.

It is, in a sense, beef so nasty that they clean it with ammonia.

The public lashed out against pink slime, and major grocery stores along with McDonalds pledged to stop carrying BPI ground beef. As a result, three of the four BPI plants have been temporarily shut down.

In response, Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Terry Branstad of Iowa, and Sam Brownback of Kansas, have spearheaded the “Dude, it’s beef!” campaign. They are determined to make pink slime a term of the past, and promise that Lean Finely Textured Beef is leaner and less fattening than typical ground beef.

Opinion writer for The New York Times Mark  Bittman weighed in on the issue. He points out that pink slime came into existence as a way to resolve the E. coli dilemma. If pink slime was the solution, he says, what then is the problem? He answers his own question: factory farming. He insists that in order to truly address pink slime, we must see it as a symptom of the larger issue of industrialized farming.

Pink slime, then, increased public apprehension towards factory farming, maybe even pushing towards local or grass-fed beef.

More theories to come about the popularity of local farming.


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