Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

I was making some buckwheat crepes to wrap around some mushroom stroganoff the other night. I made it with soured cream from my raw milk share, as suggested a while back – it wasn’t a hit with John, but I liked it a lot. I had just purchased eggs from the food co-op, not the eggs I normally get but those from another farm nearby (they were on sale and I was curious). I cracked three eggs into the buckwheat flour, and here’s what I got:

Five yolks! The next day I cracked open three more when I was making pasta for some delicious delicious lasagna. Double yolks again! I know I have some readers with ducks/chickens/other fowl. Is this uncommon? Why on earth are there so many double yolks in my eggs? I’m not complaining, just curious.

I’ve not been posting much because, sadly, my MSU boss informed me that no information from the farmers’ market vendor study should be made public. Damn. It’s been going wonderfully, I’ve seen 5 farms so far, and it’s all so exciting – I wish I could share it with you, but as Jim told me, it would be a breach of the confidentiality agreement our farmers have signed. It makes sense, but I’m sad. I do, however, feel comfortable talking briefly about my own impressions of the farms in general.

The only farm I’ve ever worked on, and the only farm I’ve had any really close contact with, was the Flying J farm in Johnstown, Ohio. It was only in its fifth year, begun by a retired evangelical christian aviation professor. He wasn’t in it for the money – he was already quite well off. He let me take care of market sales, and never asked how we did. I can’t imagine he brought in much income, if our market sales were any judge. He wasn’t lazy really, but there was just too much farm for one man of advanced years to handle on his own.

The misconceptions that this experience gave me about farming are quickly unraveling. Farming is fucking hard work. These families push themselves and their budgets to the limit, struggling to keep their operations alive. Even the most commercially successful farms I’ve visited have reinvested all their income into the business, because their business is their life. I’m amazed and humbled by how hard they work to provide me with the food that I so often take for granted. I’m also impressed by how much some of them rely on farmers’ markets, and how skilled most of them are at marketing themselves and their produce. This is an incredible learning experience for me.

In other news, John wanted me to write briefly about his bike. We actually met because of bikes: he had an adorable 1959 Schwinn Tiger. I complimented him on it, and offered to help him fix it up (I’d been learning some basic bike repair that summer in a volunteer bike garage). The rest is history, but we’ve continued learning to repair and restore bikes ever since. He found a beautiful (but abused) old blue Raleigh Sportif for sale a block from our house last summer for $10. Last week he decided he was going to transform it into a tougher, more militant, less baby-blue vehicle, and he’s been working on it incessantly since then. It’s done now – he stripped it, repainted it red and black, removed the derailleur (but not the freewheel – we’re not that hardcore), chopped down the handlebars, and pieced it all back together. It looks incredibly tough, rides like a dream, and I’m impossibly proud of him. I’ve always been the one doing the bulk of the real repairs, and he’s handled the artistic details. This time though, he took it upon himself to learn the real mechanics required to build a bike from nothing, and I hardly helped at all.

When he asked me to write about the bike, I told him, “No, this is a food blog.” But I thought about it for a minute, and realized that bikes belong here too. This project is inspiring me to work more on another bike I have, to fit it with a basket so that I can take it to the farmers’ market and the garden without burning fossil fuels. We’ll ride our beautiful, tough bikes to Old Town and eat amazing brunches at Golden Harvest (a fantastic diner that has a list on its menu of all the local farms and businesses from which they buy their ingredients), building an appetite as we go. So much of my interest in food systems is centered around sustainability, and I love bikes for the same reason. Eating local food, like abandoning motorized vehicles, is a way of creating a closed-loop system, taking away no more than what we’re put ting in. Goes to show me that everything, yes, everything, comes back to food.


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Guess what I got?

Yesterday was my birthday. And I got this!

It’s a Le Creuset French Oven (like a Dutch oven, but…made in France) from my parents,and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. I also got a baking stone from my little sister and a copy of Preserving Summer’s Bounty, which I’m also pretty excited about. I got equally exciting non-food related presents from John, but he took me out for some pretty amazing Thai food, so that counts, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow or the day after I’ll be posting pictures from my trips to two more farms just south of Lansing. And that’s all for today.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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The Pastie in Question

Some spell it pastie, some spell it pasty; they’re all delicious in my eyes. I made mine technicolor with the rather untraditional addition of beets: I had one in the back of the fridge that needed using. Just thought I’d share.

In more crimson-colored news, take a look at my new favorite local food (at least my favorite that can survive the winter):

Pomegranate seeds in Michigan? Of course not, silly! It’s red popcorn! This is why I love my co-op. Oh, and by the way, it’s pretty tasty.

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Slow Food vs. slow food

This might be long, as this post has been a long time in the making. Apologies in advance.

This week I’ve been helping Barb, my MSU boss, prepare for the Choices Conference (irritating pdf link – consider yourself warned) next week. Choices is a food-related conference geared toward dietitians, nutritionists, and health educators in Michigan. It used to be an annual conference, but some years ago it died off. Barb has helped to resurrect it with a new focus on local, organic, sustainable foods. This is its second year, in its newest incarnation. The theme this year is slow food.

If you’ve spent much of any time around dietitians, nutritionists, or health educators, you may know that local, organic, sustainable and slow really have no place in their vocabulary (I speak in generalizations, forgive me). Last year, when the conference had a considerably broader (but still food-systems based) focus, I had the arduous task of transcribing the hundreds of evaluation forms that conference-goers had filled out for each of the many many speakers. I noticed a pretty frustrating pattern: most of the respondents really hated hearing about local food. Hated it. Several of them mentioned that the speakers advocating a locally based food system were “behind the times” and “too idealistic.” No one was convinced by the organic farmers, or by the chef who did a cooking demonstration during lunch with local, seasonal foods. Clearly, the audience was not ready for the message. This is why I’m a bit nervous about this year’s conference. If they don’t like local, how can we ever expect them to like slow?

I have pretty complex feeling about slow food in general. Scratch that. I have complex feelings about Slow Food – not the food itself, but the movement/organization. I’m not the first to say it, but I just can’t swallow Slow Food’s elitism. I feel like I’m going to be pounced on for this one, so let me qualify it: slow food – that is, the act of enjoying food and food culture, appreciating terroir, and making such things a central part of your life and community – absolutely does not have to be elitist. I’m reminded of that during farmers’ market season: my market is located in a fairly low-income neighborhood with a large population of recent immigrants. It’s a small market, but incredibly vibrant and filled with people who, while they may not have a lot of money to spend on it, really love their food, love talking about it, touching it, knowing where it comes from.

For those who do have the means to support Slow Food, that’s great. I can’t afford a $60 membership to a club that will make me feel guilty if I can’t afford to buy (or don’t have access to) the foods on the Ark of Taste. Sorry. If you can afford it, it’s a noble cause and I applaud you.

It reminds me very much of the feeling I had upon finishing The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I loved it, and I love Michael Pollan. I was so so happy that his book was getting the attention that it deserved. But the conclusions he came to dissatisfied me. His central question throughout the book was: what can we as Americans eat that it respectful of our bodies, of animals, of the environment? His answer: if have enough money and access, you can buy pasture-raised beef, or take a few days off of work to forage for mushrooms, age your own cured meats and balsamic vinegar and eat like a sustainable, respectful king. He had nothing at all to say for those without such means except for a cursory Sucks To Be Them. As one of Them, I was more than a little put off, just as I am more than a little put off by Slow Food.

I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here – Slow Food does good things and raises really important issues, particularly relating to biodiversity. But they are limiting themselves by giving slow food the appearance of snobbishness. Here’s an example.

On Tuesday, two days before the Choices Conference, Slow Food Red Cedar will host its first Slow Food Dinner as a fundraiser for the conference. The menu looks like this:

Course One
Organic Local sweet Corn Polenta, Cannellini Bean Mushroom Ragout,
Pancetta wilted baby greens, Detroit Asiago Cracker, Crème fraiche
Course Two
MSU Campus grown Butternut Squash Bisque, Caramelized Pecans, Maple Sour Cream
Course Three
Herb marinated grilled Organic Chicken Breast topped with Grand Traverse Cherry Bails Sauce, Minnesota Wild Rice Pilaf, Asparagus and Bell Pepper
Course Four
Michigan Apple Pithivier, Organic Pear Espuma, Beet Sugar Caramel,
Fair Trade Coffee Zabaglione

For Lansing, this is a Fancy Ass Meal. Advertisements for this dinner went up a couple of weeks ago, and several friends of mine expressed serious interest in going. Except they couldn’t. Because the dinner costs $45 a person. That’s the most expensive meal in Lansing, so you know. And my friends are, generally speaking, in more dire financial straits than I am (which isn’t saying much, given the pitiful state of my bank account). They’re either students or paying off student loans, living in shitty apartments with too many roommates to keep costs down. But they still wanted to go. Badly.

They know I work for Barb (who is also helping to host this dinner), and wanted to know, is there a rate for students and low-income individuals? I asked, interested for myself as well. And no, of course not. There is no sliding scale, no reduced rate. They are not interested in the money of poor students or otherwise poor community members. When I asked why, Barb said that the overhead was so high (because they’d hired a very expensive chef, and were holding the dinner at a very expensive venue) that if they charged a reduced rate, they’d end up losing money.

I had a long talk with Barb about this. Much of (most of, really) her work is geared toward providing access to good nutrition to low income families. This conference is geared toward health professionals who work with low income families. Introducing the idea that good food, slow food, is prohibitively expensive by nature, is terrible. Like, inexcusably terrible. I was pretty adamant about what a bad idea this was, even after she told me that I could eat for free if I worked the registration table (just me, though).

So I was incredibly happy when the next day she came into my office to tell me that, while she couldn’t do anything about the pricing of this event so late int he game, she’d decided that future Slow Food Red Cedar events would be held with accessibility in mind, keeping overhead low enough that they could afford a sliding scale for membership and dinners. I was eating a homemade pastie at the time (good old fashioned, takes-a-long-time-to-make-em U.P. miner food, for those who don’t know), made in part with local rutabagas and potatoes. She pointed at it and said, “You know, that’s slow food too. It really doesn’t have to be expensive or intimidating.” It felt really good to know that something I’d been struggling against like that could be changed so easily. The rest of Slow Food could learn from that, I think.

I’ll be attending the dinner on Tuesday – expect pictures and commentary on great food and insufferable snobbishness.

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