Archive for March, 2007

After all the lovely suggestions, I decided making more yogurt was probably my best bet in terms of using up this raw milk. Then, I got a call from Lauren (the friend to whom I was planning on giving the other 1/2 gallon) who was not just down the street from me, but in Baltimore. All week. So I had a full gallon of milk after all. I was about to try my hand at rice pudding, when John made a request: mac and cheese. Fortunately, I’ve got him off that boxed crap, Annie’s or otherwise, so that meant good old fashioned gooey with a crispy layer on top macaroni and white sauce with cheese extravaganza. I forgot to take pictures, but trust me, it was good.

This morning, though, I realized the best possible use of this overabundance of dairy (can there be such a thing?). Chai!

Now, I have to go off on a rant for a moment about chai, namely the prepackaged, concentrated “chai tea,” sold by Tazo and Oregon and various others. Why would people buy this? Because they think it’s exotic. They see a mile long list of spices on the package and think, “I’ll leave it to the experts,” buy a carton of tea extract and just add milk. Actually, I think this is reflective of our attitudes on food as a whole these days, but I’ve talked about that before.

As a disclaimer, I’ve only had genuine Indian chai, and despite the fact that it is a miraculous beverage, India does not have a monopoly on chai. There are many, many countries who call their tea chai, and each region does it differently, but I have a sneaking suspicion that none of them is quite so elaborate as these cartons and boxes would have you believe. And to those who have the gall to put pictures of Ganesh on these packages, I’m through with you.

I love my Indian chai, and right now, I’m going to tell you how to make it. Do it right now – it’s perfectfor a lazy sunday morning, and nothing could be easier. Measure out your water so that it fills whatever cup(s) you’re using to about 3/4 full. Boil that in a saucepan. When it’s boiling, dump in about a tablespoon of tea leaves per 8 oz serving. It seems like a lot, but this stuff is strong. Don’t even try to drink this without milk. Add sugar to taste. Most of the chai I had in India was tooth-achingly sweet. The drink is practically a vehicle for the sugar. Bu let your taste buds decide. Finally, add a pinch (just a pinch!) of one of two things: cardamom or ginger. I seemed to notice a pattern that in the cold months, people use ginger (fresh grated, don’t use powder) for a spicy tea that somehow manages to keep you warm longer,  and in the hot months, they use cardamom. I like cardamom better, so I’m ignoring the snow on the ground outside my window and using that. Using a whole pod is best: crush it up a bit (in your teeth even: it’s easier) and dump the whole thing in, or you can be lazy like me and use ground cardamom. Let it boil for a few minutes until it’s very very dark, then pour in your milk. I’m not sure how much I use, but add a big glug that will turn the drink a beautiful color roughly approximated by khaki pants: it’s better to add too much than too little. Bring it back to a boil and immediately take it off the stove and pour it through a strainer into your cup of choice. While I was over there, I only ever had chai in two kinds of cups: 6 oz stainless steel cups that burn your hands, or teeny tiny glorified shot glasses, which also burn your hands, and can’t hold more than 4 oz. This is a travesty. I need more, so I use my scandalously large coffee mug. Do whatever feels right to you. Drink as soon as it’s not so hot it will scald your tongue, and feel good about the fact that you haven’t paid an exorbitant price for what is really a beautiful and simple thing.

One more use for milk I’m excited about: my mom keeps talking about this not-quite-yogurt thing her grandparents made called fee-lee-uh (it’s Finnish, I’m not going to bother trying to spell it because I know I’ll get it wrong). I remember that she made it once when I was a kid, and I loved it. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted; thinner and more elastic than yogurt, and I think there was cinnamon in it. I’ll be seeing her tonight, and I’ll ask how she did it. Hopefully, sometime in the next week I’ll be making some of my very own. Has anyone else heard of this? I don’t have any Finnish friends around here, so I’m at a loss.


Read Full Post »

I was temporarily distracted from the writing of this thrilling post, but the house is now empty, the dishes are done, the cats are healthy, and I have time at last to type. As was the case last year, “working” the conference mostly meant sitting at a booth for a couple of hours to make Barb happy, then running off to eat good food and sit in on workshops I wasn’t invited to attend. I can’t say I have a problem with that.

I sold more tote bags for the C.S. Mott Group (designed by a company called, aptly enough, Eat Local Food), bought one for myself, along with some whole what pastry flour from Westwind Milling (not much of a link, sorry) and some garlic from Owosso Organics. I then ran off to eat a tasty brunch, the highlight of which looked something like this:

It was a salad made with all local ingredients, save for the marinade and dressing: tofu, black beans, baby greens and various sprouts, on a crispy wafer of bread. The tofu was marinaded in something that involved sesame oil and spiciness, and the dressing was gingery, with mustard and horseradish in there somewhere. It was incredible. I basically skipped the rest of the options and ate three salads instead. Apparently, the recipe will be made available sometime next week, and you can bet I’ll be making it at least once a week.

I went to two workshops. The first was called “A Day in the Life of an Organic Farmer.” The speakers were Lee and Laurie Arboreal of Eater’s Guild Farm in Bangor, near Kalamazoo. They are the super-cute couple I sat with for dinner the previous night. They have a 30-acre farm where they grow veg for a year-round CSA, and sell greens to Organic Valley and Whole Foods on the side. As an interesting aside, we talked over dinner about John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) and his proposed moves toward supporting local farms. It turns out these efforts are indeed trickling down to the Arboreals, who say it’s getting easier now that in the past to get their produce into Whole Foods stores, and that they’ll soon be applying for funding from Whole Foods to start converting some of their mechanical equipment to biodiesel.

The workshop they hosted didn’t offer much of anything new: they gave an introduction of organic standards and “beyond organic” concepts that I already knew plenty about. But I don’t know many farmers, and it was nice to see faces attached to these practices I hear so much about. I’ll admit (and I know that this is bad of me), but I was a little turned off by the hippie-talk in the presentation. I’ve been known to eat my fair share of granola, but I just can’t swallow the idea of plants absorbing the “good vibes” we put into the earth. Nope. But they absolutely have their hearts in the right place, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for the both of them.

The other session was on community food systems development, and it was wonderful. There was a panel of four representatives from different community food organizations from around Michigan, one of whom was my friend and former roommate Julia, from the Allen Neighborhood Center down the street from me.  There was also another woman, Katie, from the Northwest Initiative Food Systems Project (also in Lansing, not quite so near me). I liked what the other panelists had to say just fine, but Julia and Katie were wonderful. The Northwest Initiative is a very small, poorly funded non-profit serving a very poor segment of the city. Their food systems project is creating elementary school garden projects, taking farmers’ markets to senior centers in town, and forming partnerships with convenience stores int he poorest parts of town to provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables where otherwise there would be none. It’s horrifying to think that there are large parts of my city where the only accessible grocery store is not a grocer at all, but a gas station. But there it is, and grocers seem reluctant to move into these neighborhoods, so the Northwest Initiative is helping to make these convenience stores better, healthier places to buy food. While talking about the school garden project the Northwest Initiative had started at an impoverished elementary school, Katie said there were children in the class she was working with who literally could not identify a raw tomato. It’s heartbreaking stuff, but she’s doing extraordinary work.

Closer to home, Julia talked about the Allen Neighborhood Center’s food systems work. There are three tiers serving this low income neighborhood: the first is the breadbasket program, providing free bread and produce to community members on a weekly basis. Second is the farmers’ market (where I shop in the summers), which has started accepting food stamps. Third is a large hoop house currently under construction in a neighborhood park: it’s designated for use by community members, and part of it is reserved for classes, teaching kids in the neighborhood how to grow and market their own produce. The idea is that almost everyone in the neighborhood needs food, and while the ANC would like to eventually see everyone growing their own, that’s not a reasonable entry point for most people. So they start with the breadbasket, and move people on up through these tiers, teaching them about nutrition on the way. It’s interesting work, and after the workshop I offered my volunteer services to Julia for whenever they need help. What interested me most about Julia’s talk was her take on the farmers’ market. She said the hardest part about keeping it going was providing the  right mix of vendors for the community. A lot of people who come to the market are (as she put it) “white women in cars” who want local organic food. So there are a lot of organic vendors. But most of the neighborhood walks or bikes in, and they don’t have money for organic food. Or rather, they do, but if they have limited funds, they will try to get the most for their money. And that means conventional produce. So many of the vendors at the Allen Market are not organic, and they’re cheaper. I’d never seen that divide before, as a shopper. I knew that some of the vendors weren’t organic, but I didn’t understand the sharp divide between the shoppers who can afford to buy organic produce, and those who can’t. And while I understand the argument that our food is too cheap, and doesn’t take into account the social and environmental externalities incurred by their production methods, I’m starting to see what it means to be really broke, to know that the money in your pocket has to last you all week, and to put your children’s stomachs before your politics.

I don’t have much money these days: more than when I was a student, certainly, but not by much.  John is making enough for us to live pretty comfortably (quite comfortably, in my opinion), but because of the alarmingly low numbers on my bank statement, I make a point of eating as frugally as I can. And sometimes, that does mean eschewing organics, for better or for worse. How do people feel about this? It’s something that’s been ringing around in my head all week, and I need other opinions.

Read Full Post »

It’s finally all over. I just got back from the Choices Conference I mentioned the other day, and it really was fantastic. Here’s a quick rundown of the two-day event:

The Dinner:

Last night was the Slow Food dinner, a fundraiser for the conference and the inaugural meal for the Slow Food Red Cedar convivium. I spoke at length concerning my reservations about Slow Food, so I’ll be brief this time. Were there some awfully wealthy snobs in attendance? Yes. Were there numerous mentions of Slow Food being “for all people of all income levels,” with no effort made to make Slow Food available to them? Yes. Did I manage to have fun anyway? Absolutely.

I manned (womanned) a booth selling pretty tote bags for the C.S. Mott Group for a couple of hours, and made friends with the son of the owners of AlMar Orchards, a market manager and fruit grower in his own right, who also managed to sneak over plenty of his delicious hard cider. Fortunately, I had a four course meal, the brainchild of Chef Nick Seccia, to soak it up.

Course one was pretty fantastic: local sweet corn polenta with cornmeal from Westwind Milling (fairly local), local greens, local creme fraiche from Calder’s dairy, a cracker made with Detroit Asiago cheese, and a canellini bean ragout (I can’t remember if anything in that was local, but I’m pretty sure at least part of it was). The polenta was light and fluffy (there must have been eggs involved somewhere in there) and cheesy and delicious – the greens were bitter, but not too bitter to handle, and the ragout was wonderful.

Course two was a local (superlocal – grown just a mile or two away at the student organic farm) butternut squash bisque with local creme fraiche (again from Calder’s). It was amazing – hands down the best thing on the menu. It wasn’t really sweet at all, unlike most winter squash soups I’ve had/made. I loved it, and would have been plenty happy if the dinner had stopped there.

Course three, the main one, was a bit of letdown. Most everyone had a glazed chicken breast. I, of course, got the veg option. I assumed it would be comparably tasty, but they kind of dropped the ball on this one. It was literally a plain brick of silken tofu with the chicken glaze (a cherry sauce – cherries from Traverse City, no surprise there) drizzled over it, shoved under a broiler for a minute. It was barely warmed all the way through. I was pretty disappointed, particularly because there’s a farm in Ann Arbor that makes amazingly wonderful tofu, and this stuff obviously came from one of those aseptic packages at the grocery store. There was “wild rice” on the side, from Minnesota. That was also not so great – flavorless, mushy, and clearly cultivated rather than wild. The tastiest thing on the plate was the asparagus, which, for a meal parading its terroir as this one did, is a pretty bad sign.

The final course, dessert, was an improvement: Michigan apple pithivier (apples from AlMar again), which is apparently a pastry filled with an almond paste, topped with apples simmered in a local wine. I normally hate anything almond-flavored (although I like almonds themselves), but this was quite good. Texturally, it was a bit difficult to work with, as the pastry itself was quite brittle, and the apples were still rather firm. The flavors were wonderful though, not too sweet at all, rounded out by the pear espuma (also from AlMar, if I’m not mistaken), caramel, and coffee zabaglione (yeah, i had to read off the menu for that one).

So the meal was, overall, a success. I had a ton of fun, which had a lot to do with the fact that I was sitting at a table with, not snobs, but organic farmers, as unpretentious and charming as they come. It was the fanciest meal I’ve ever eaten, and no, I won’t be paying $45 for another, but it was an experience worth having. Now if only they could make it an experience others could afford as well…

Later today or tomorrow I’ll be posting on day 2: the Main Event.

Until then, guess what? I got my application for a community garden plot in the mail. You can’t imagine how happy this makes me. And in somewhat related news, I head a rumor that John Jeavons will be hosting a free workshop in East Lansing at the end of the month, which is just about enough to make me start dancing.

Read Full Post »

Advice, Please

My boss, Barb, is out of town for a week. Being the generous and wonderful woman that she is, she offered me her raw milk share for the week. She’s a member of the Our Farm and Dairy cow share program, and gets her gallon of raw milk delivered directly to our office every Friday. Well, “delivered” is a bit of an overstatement, one that sounds pretty illegal in Michigan. To be more accurate, every week a different share owner picks the milk up from St. Johns and drops it off in a central location – that central location happens to be our office (a lot of the share owners work in my department, no surprise there).

I don’t use a ton of milk during the week, and I was afraid it would go sour before I went through a full gallon, so I’m giving half of it to my friend Lauren. I’d like to do something sort of special with the other half, however, seeing as it’s my first raw milk ever. Some of it will probably go into this week’s batch of yogurt, but can anyone give me a good recipe to showcase this tasty, superfresh milk that I probably won’t get a chance to use again until I have lots more money?

Read Full Post »

Pierogi Night

Between me and John, I’m the primary cook, and he’s the primary cleaner. This works well for us, and I have no real complaints about the way it works out. But I’ve been pretty stressed out this past week. Our younger cat Plum is unwell, and I’ve been busy stuffing pills down her throat and shuttling her to and from the vet’s for a couple of weeks. I really didn’t feel like cooking last night, and as a result, we didn’t actually eat, which is just about my least favorite thing ever. John offered to cook dinner tonight, to let me relax a little. This is how it works when John offers to cook: he tells me he’ll cook, starts coming up with dinner ideas, and I start getting excited about food. Within 15 minutes, I’ve taken over in the kitchen, not content to be the passive eater. I do love it when John cooks, I’m just not very good at being cooked for. I need to get my hands dirty before I eat.

So tonight John offered to make cabbage and potatoes, good hearty fare that uses up the spare bits we have in the fridge (as an added bonus, the potatoes were from somewhere or other in Michigan, and the cabbage was from MSU’s own student organic farm). This immediately made me think of pierogi (not to be confused with John’s favorite, Russian piroshki), and while he was cutting vegetables, I decided to look up a dough recipe, and joined him in the kitchen. He ended up making a filling with mashed potatoes, shredded cabbage, onions, dill, garlic, and a little bit of swiss cheese. At the same time, I made up the dough, and then we got an assembly line going, me spooning filling into the rounds of dough, John forming them into more respectable-looking dumplings. We thought we’d end up freezing half of them, but we just cooked them all so that we can bring them into lunch tomorrow for leftovers

We never get a chance to cook together, because our kitchen is so small, but I really love it. When I come home, the two things I want to do are cook dinner and spend some time hanging out with John, and it’s nice to know the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

How were the pierogi, then? Fucking amazing. No kidding. We keep the frozen junk around as too-drunk-to-cook-anything-more-complicated food, but now that we’re really not drinking to speak of, this is a new dumpling altogether.

Yet another example of cheap delicious slow food bringing people together.

Read Full Post »