Thursday, July 24, 2008

How good will THIS be?

Oh boy, I'm so excited!

I'm preparing a sort of bistro-style Belgian dinner for some close friends this weekend, and it occurs to me that cooking seasonally, locally, is getting easier all the time. The increased availability of local meats and dairy products is what I've been wishing for since we returned to Tallahassee three years ago.

We'll start with a wheel of Titan from Sweetgrass Dairy. This individual wheel is of younger affinage than the sampling we tried a couple of weeks ago; a very different animal to be sure, but incredibly good in its own way. This is a really stellar washed rind goat's cheese -- more German than Belgian only in that the wash for the rind is Celebrator, a German Doppelbock. The cheese itself is less pure and self-conscious than most German cheeses, a distinction that can also been seen between German and Belgian beers.

We'll have veal birds braised in Matt's own Belgian Blonde ale: A well-seasoned forcemeat of Sweegrass's ground veal and Thompson Farm's pork wrapped with proscuitto and pounded scallops of veal (the veal for the scallops also from Sweetgrass), browned thoroughly and braised gently in the heavenly summer brew that will also accompany the dinner. I'm sure that a bit of cured local ham or bacon would easily rival the proscuitto. In fact, Sweetgrass's pigs feed on acorns from the oaks in their pastures (think Serrano ham), even though they receive much of their nourishment from whey left over from cheesemaking.

... served with a potato gratin (potatoes are not local this time of year) made with Kurtz and Sons or Sparkman's milk, SGD cheeses, and homemade creme fraiche. If we'd really planned well, we could have used heavy cream from Full Circle Farm for the creme fraiche.

... and... Ms. Martha's tiny ladyfinger field peas.

For desert, a fig clafouti made with figs from Turkey Hill, milk from Kurtz and Sons, Tupelo honey, and eggs from Ladybird Organics. I may offer some Tupelo honey-sweetened creme fraiche alongside.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Locally, Globally

Share your food roots! Post a reply, or if you are set up to blog on Slow Food Tallahassee, log in and blog away. Here's my story:

I’ve always considered myself a foodie. I grew up in a family whose days were arranged around meals as we traveled through Europe picking up recipes, food customs and traditions along the way. Much of our food came straight from the rich, black soil around us, and I never considered it unusual or “alternative”. My mother grew herbs, apples, gooseberries, plums, runner beans, rhubarb, raddicio, frizee, and rockett, all interspersed with a stunning display of flowers, year round. She made friends instantly wherever we went, and friends brought an endless supply of treasures from their own gardens.

My earliest memory is from Hambrook, England, where we lived when my father had his first job abroad as a civilian doctor. I was in the back garden with my mother, picking apples and offering them over a stone wall to the neighbors’ horses.

Later, after a brief return to the United States where my father joined the Army, we moved back to Europe – Germany this time. We lived in a grand, four story vicarage, with huge wooden gates opening into a dark courtyard, where a bullet-mark riddled statue stood – it was used for target practice by soldiers in WWII. There was a foyered entrance, a spiral stair-case, a five-chambered basement for memorable Halloween parties, a ball-room, a second story glass garden room, and a huge attic, part of which had been converted into a little bedroom. I shared a bedroom, one with a sink and a balcony (it had been a second-story kitchen) overlooking the courtyard, with my younger sister.

Our landlady also offered her garden, a walk through town as part of our tenancy. My mother took me to harvest from the garden, it must have been in the autumn. I remember the apples littered heavily under their trees, the air around them humming with bees and yellow-jackets. The sweet smell of fermenting apples under the sun remains with me. I remember being hot and tired from walking. I followed my mother closely to avoid the stinging nettles, brambles, wasps and bees, and yet, in retrospect there was something undeniably, innately right and pleasing about the whole experience.

Our friend Frau Klein regularly invited us to her home. She had what seemed like an enormous back yard with giant cherry trees. I chased her sweet, spoiled, barrel-bodied dachshund outside and clambered up in a hammock slung between two of the giants that were literally dripping cherries. Out I fell, landing on a slick bed of brown, slimy, decomposing fruits.

She sent us home with baskets of cherries. We ate hundreds while we were stoning the cherries for my mother’s “rum topf," before realizing that each one housed a single, tiny larva. No harm to us!

We moved to Belgium, and then to England. Mr. Houghton, my seventy-something-year-old neighbor and dear childhood friend, made sure that my family was well fed. He knew where to find all of the edible flora for miles around. Weekends and summers spent rambling across fields and through hedgerows and streams rewarded us with a bounty of wild treasures: mirabelle plums, portabello and giant puffball mushrooms, watercress, burdock, horseradish, blackberries, beech-nuts, rose-hips and chestnuts, currants and elderberries. The same expeditions turned up for me a collection of clay pipes, roman coins, pieces of bronze, and ancient flint tools –used by those who subsisted on virtually the same wild offerings before and after Romans drained the land and farmed and fed the rich soil that had until then been mostly covered by marsh-water. We stocked up on carrots, leeks, onions, sugar-beets, and daffodils directly at the farms that produced them. Once a year we gathered tiny, bitter wild plums from farm hedgerows, called sloes, took them home and pricked each one before pushing it through the neck of an empty wine bottle filled partially with sugar before filling the gaps with gin to make a jewel-toned libation for the coming and subsequent Christmas Seasons. During hunting season, he received game birds from village friends – he always had them in braces – one male and one female. The birds hung for two days under burlap in the cool garage, and we shoed the flies away until they were ready. Ready meant that the birds had reached a critical fine line of perfection that can only be understood far away from the supermarket, close to their source. In the garage we plucked feathers from pheasants and partridges while he put horseradish through a grinder into a vinegar jar. His garden yielded asparagus, radishes, strawberries, lettuces, brussels sprouts, English peas, broad-beans, tiny waxy new-potatoes, and bouquets of flowers. We checked each leaf for caterpillars and eggs which we carefully removed and dispatched. Pesticides were a bit of odd wizardry, held at bay by the blessed recalcitrance of his aged experience.

In the Spring I watched lambs and goats being born. The sheep stamped ridiculous warnings as we passed with our Labrador retriever, and a single goose chased us outside the un-fenced border of an open apple orchard that we’d pinched the odd apple from before. Starlings on our roof mimicked a rooster. Fields of black Fen soil dressed with cow manure in winter were strangely pleasant; those dressed with pig manure assaulted the nostrils from miles away but were nourished and continued to yield. Every fall the winds (called gales) picked up and blew a fine layer of black soil over every surface, outdoors and in.

On some weekends my family visited larger towns, each one having a large open-air market. Produce was available, but the bounty of food at our doorstep was so copious that I don’t recall my mother purchasing any from the market. Instead, she bought cheese. Our own tiny village in England had a butcher shop, a green-grocer (run by an ancient woman who grew all of the vegetables herself – organically), and four public houses. In Germany, we walked down the street from our house to the bakery for brotchen and fresh jelly doughnuts, and picked up aufshnitt from the nearby deli. In Belgium, we drove into town for pastries and coffee on the square. In Normandy, we ate shellfish so fresh that it pulled back into its shell at the touch of a fork. Outdoor spaces in every town were punctuated by unmistakable smells of fresh meat, cheese, ripe fruit, and malt, from market stall, shop, brewery. Each town had its own unique smells and tastes, because each sustained its own essence, retained its own unique qualities. Words like local, sustainable agriculture, community supported agriculture were never uttered in any language – these simply were. As a child, I was oblivious to the uprise Italy against MacDonald's and the encroaching fast-food industry, which marked the beginning of the Slow Food movement. Still, fast food and homogenization of culture were encroaching, and after my adolescent and college years back in the U.S., I began to feel a strong personal desire to reconnect with the what has come to be called Slow Food, and the way of life attached to it. A child added to the equation, and the desire became an imperative.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cost of living in America

Worth ≠ Cost

If you understand the underpinnings of Slow Food, you might just forgive me for my rant.

We are a nation swimming in a sea of worthless junk that costs unfathomably more than its combined purchase price. We believe that as long as we fund our retirements and our funerals, our children will not be burdened by us. Some of us whose “hearts are in the right place” simply say that we cannot afford to be green, or that we work hard to earn what we have. We also assume that, with the exception of sentimental items and garage sale steals that make it onto the Antiques Road Show, a thing is worth as much as or less than it costs, and that it costs as much as the price-tag says it costs. If the price tag says $5 (and we buy it, validating the seller’s claim that it is worth $5 – “fair market value” in action), then it actually costs $5 or less. That is how much it costs, and that is how much it is worth. The blinkered life is grand.

In many ways, we are skipping happily along, like children who are too young to understand the cost of living and the value of money. Our kids assume that food, shelter, and toilet paper are free and are rudely awakened when they fledge. We “grown-ups” assume that our grocery bags are free (they don’t cost anything), or that we pay for them through the elevated price of the bags’ contents. We also assume that the $10.00 New York strip we buy at the grocery store actually costs $10 or less to produce and sell.

I was listening to NPR this-morning, hearing about how this and that group want to make Tallahassee a “green city.” Tallahassee was listed in one publication as one of three up-and-coming "green" cities in the U.S. (Minneapolis and Sacramento were the others). The speaker said that Tallahassee needs to entice innovators and entrepreneurs to come here and develop green technologies for building etc. Someone said that the “people” of Tallahassee are ready to make a change for the greener, but our government is not (because the economic development office is promoting urban sprawl by approving development on our urban fringes). We also have a crappy transportation system, so we all have to drive cars here. Yes, it’s all true.

BUT

No-one ever really talks about his individual responsibility for preserving resources for the next generation. Even with city grants and loans, solar energy for our oak-shaded houses is not an economical option for most of us, even if we we cut down the trees(?!). If someone tells us to eat better quality and less food (instead of eating more and buying “functional foods,” diet pills and surgeries to trim our bodily excesses), we are personally offended. If someone suggests that we re-use our grocery bags, we wonder what good it would do to sacrifice such tiny, “free” things that are so convenient. If someone tells us to not buy the SUV that we actually don’t need and can’t afford anyway when our children are born, we wonder how we could possibly manage because everyone else has one, and that proves that SUVs are a necessity of modern life.

When I tell friends that I’m trying to transition as much as possible to organically grown produce and meat that comes from a humanely and sustainably farmed livestock, they tell me that these things are expensive and imply that I’m indulging in unnecessary extravagances.

Some individuals who are convinced that we should have fewer children are the same ones whose habits and homes cost more money and resources than entire extended families use in other parts of the world.

The fact is, worth (fair market value) does not equal cost. If we buy it for less at Walmart, lucky dogs, we may never consider the cost – the human cost (cheap labor, poor working conditions, unimaginable living conditions), the cost in natural resources (petrochemicals for making and transporting), the cost to the environment (for example China, where we’ve forked out most of our production, is the most polluting country in the world because of us).

And in case you think I’m picking on you, allow me to indict myself. I’ve got miles to go, and the more I learn the more indicted I become. But I’m making one tiny change at a time, all the while hoping that my child will not see the spoils of my existence in his lifetime.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Chanterelles in September (better late than never)


Much has happened in the almost two months that I've neglected the blog. Too much to write about. Still, I'll play a little catch-up.

Several weeks ago, my brother-in-law showed up at our house with a brown bag full of chanterelles he and his wife had harvested here and there around town. I'd seen the things growing over the past couple of years, never sure enough of their identity to risk eating one. Imagine my joy (ecstacy!) in learning that they are the lovely, rare treat that I'd hoped. And not so rare, it turns out. Chanterelles are fairly abundant, available cross-country to those who are patient enough to wait for their season and confident enough to harvest and eat them. Over the last several weeks, I've enjoyed them in pasta, on home-made rosemary focaccia ( great recipe from Barenbaum's The Bread Bible), and in a chanterelle tart.

Chanterelles are fragile. Last year I was shopping for mushrooms for Thanksgiving dinner, and saw them at "The Fresh Market," squashed, dried out and battered enough to make me want to spit fire at their handlers. What a waste! There's no comparison between just picked, carefully harvested chanterelles and the abused offerings at the supermarket. For those who aren't interested in picking and eating wild fungi, I found extraordinary, pristine specimens for $5/ brown bag at Lake Ella. You may have to wait for next year. On the other hand, chanterelles are still to be found in these first days of October. I've been watching a cluster of them by a live-oak in my neighborhood, and new ones are still popping up. Urban roadside, they're in the fire of dog-pee, urban stormwater runoff, and chemical runoff from the golf-course, so there they stay, an untouched indicator that their likes are to be found in cleaner places.

Although mushrooms tend to pop up during/ after rainy spells, they are best harvested when they are not actually wet. After a good rain, chanterelles can be spongy with excess water, which makes them more perishable. They're also harder to clean if they're wet. It is best not to wash most mushrooms. Harvest from unpolluted areas if possible, and simply brush gently with a paint or pastry brush or wipe with terry-cloth to clean.

After a couple of weeks of eating chanterelles harvested by others and doing lots of internet research, I got up the courage to forage for them with my family. If you're going to do it, do your homework first, and don't forget (silly me) to bring your long pants and real shoes (not flip flops), maybe even some gloves. We negotiated plenty of poison ivy and brier for these lovely morsels.

Chanterelle ramblings from my journal....
I thought about chanterelles, fungi, the food chain. Foraging for chanterelles was exhilarating, freeing, but made me undeniably anxious. So many fungi are poisonous; their position on the food chain is with other smaller life-forms that can have a grim power over us. They feed on and fuel decay. They can cause sickness and death. Finding and eating a wild mushroom, even with certainty of its identity, forces a reversal of natural order, challenges nature. It is easy to think of fungi as organisms at the bottom of the food chain, but they are not. Plants are at the bottom of the food chain. Their energy comes from the sun. Fungi are at the top of the food chain – their energy comes from life all the way up the food chain, from the bottom to the top. They, along with bacteria and other microorganisms, are responsible for recycling the food chain. When I asked a friend who lives down the street from me if she’d been harvesting chanterelles in our neighborhood, she said that she hadn’t. A friend of hers was an expert, an avid mushroom hunter, who made a fatal mistake.

A lot of people think I’m an over-protective mother. I’m so wary of danger, of dire natural consequence. I disclose in order to you give the sense of the surety I needed in order to gather, and then eat, chanterelles. I did not harvest or eat without surety. Yet, my child did not eat the mushrooms with us. I’d read about look-alikes (Jack of the Wood or Jack-o-lantern) that cause excruciating sickness but not death. Another look-alike, the false chanterelle, was generally described as disappointing and mildly disagreeable. A suddenly orphaned child would be almost as tragic as a dead child, but my findings suggested that we might be awfully sickened, but not killed, by a mistake. So with “almost surety,” the parents ate the Chanterelles and the child had none. The day after, and the day after, our bodies did not protest.

Weeks after I wrote these thoughts down, I finally began reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. In the final section of his book, he talks about foraging (The first two sections are devoted to agriculture). Chanterelles are one of the first organisms he encounters in his foray into hunting and gathering. He says it all, and he says it so much better. The book is so compelling, so affirming to my gradual, intuitive transition from global supermarket gourmand to Slow Foodie. It is hard to imagine someone reading the book and continue on with life (eating) unchanged. Yet, never in my life have I been “sold” by someone else’s words. Would I have changed my way of living if I’d not already been firmly on the road to doing so? I’ve talked with scores of people who read the fascinating and frightening Fast Food Nation (I haven’t read it), who still frequent fast food restaurants several times a week!

SO, there's a bit of catching up. Also noteworthy, although the cooler weather has not settled in, the market says otherwise. COOL SEASON GREENS ARE HERE!!! They started to arrive a few weeks ago -- lettuces, asian greens, mustards. Arugula, which seems to be around all year, is especially good now. Also potatoes and sweet potatoes, sand pears, the first persimmons of the season, herbs, potted herbs for winter's garden, some chestnuts. Eggs with carrot-orange yolks. Honey. Sprouts. Garlic....

So much has happened. Great pie! Pigs, cows, chest freezers. Pork at New Leaf. Steep acceleration of my own personal learning curve in the world of sustainability. Hoping to move permanently away from Publix SOON. So, there's my catching up. Now maybe I can resume my previous pace.

LOTS of October and November events for the Tallahassee foodshed, by the way.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

maple-glazed sausage and sweet potatoes

for years we have tried to support local and preferably organic. it just feels (and typically tastes) much better. moving to a new locale challenges us to learn what's in season and where we can get what. it's been a l-o-n-g year of figuring that out, but i really feel as though it's been coming together of late. we frequent the lake ella growers market on wednesdays and have gotten to know our farmers -- namely louise & herman at turkey hill farm, and jack & carmen at crescent moon. sweet grass dairy is a real local gem as well (thomasville, ga) -- we adore their cheeses and have recently had the pleasure of purchasing ~half a hog from them. we only just picked up the meat last wednesday and it is goooooo-oood!! the first sample of our bounty was the smoked mild link sausage...delish! for breakfast i sauteed an onion, some roulette peppers (ie- mostly sweet, but could have some heat) from THF with the SGD sausage. then, added to some hot bradley's country store grits along with parmegiano and s+p. a wonderful breakfast made better accompanied by a THF fried egg. mmm mmm.

dinner was truly delicious... jack (CMF) has had some incredible heritage sweet potatoes at the market lately that i can't get enough of. the pear sauce was made a couple weeks ago (and then frozen) using some local "cooking pears" (i believe the tag said "ash pears," but maybe "sand pears") from new leaf market. herbs are grown with love by H from baby plants that were purchased from bob and millie at the lake ella market.

sorry... no photo today. :(

maple-glazed sausage and sweet potatoes

1-2 T olive oil
1 med.large white onion
1+ lb. SGD smoked mild link sausage, cut in 1/2-3/4-in. rounds
2 large sweet potatoes (any is okay, but orange flesh is lovely), 1/2-3/4-in. dice (well scrubbed, NOT peeled) :)
1+ cup pear and/or apple sauce
1/4 cup white wine or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (or honey would be nice)
fresh sage, approx. 10 leaves (on stems okay)
fresh rosemary, approx. 4 x 3-in. pieces
s+p

preheat oven to 375F.
heat a large pot or dutch oven over med-high heat. add olive oil, then onion and sausage. brown for a few-several minutes as you finish dicing up sweet potatoes. add sweet potatoes and salt and pepper. stir, bring heat to high. cook covered for a few minutes. add wine, maple syrup, apple/pear sauce, and fresh herbs. stir, recover, and roast at 375F for 15-20mins. Uncover, raise heat to 550F and roast for an additional 15-20mins.
serves ~ 4 as a main course.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Beach Advisories and Seafood, and more FISH

The Tallahassee Democrat has been running articles about Panhandle beach advisories for weeks, if not months. High levels of harmful bacteria in the water have kept some people, but not all, out of the water. Beach advisories are nothing new -- many local beaches seem to be under water/bacteria advisories for months out of each year. Human waste and storm-water runoff have been implicated recently, although though there are also other micro-organism "explosions," Florida red tide and blue-green algae, for example, that may be exacerbated by agricultural runoff and elevated water temperatures.

Within the last few days, there were two articles in the Democrat about local seafood restaurants: one on the reopening of Angelo & Sons, rebuilt and ready for business after being condemned following damage from Hurricane Dennis in 2005, and a review of The Forgotten Coast Seafood Shack. Is it safe to eat Local seafood now? In his review of the Forgotten Coast Seafood Shack, Ashby Stiff cheerfully admitted to eating Oysters "out of season." Personally, I don't like seafood if it's overcooked (and it so often is). But is it safe to eat local seafood (especially oysters, shrimp, crab) that hasn't been overcooked?

Is this an over-reaction to a phenomenon that has been around for years? Is the danger from swimming (which usually involves some ingestion of water) as real as indicated or is it exaggerated? Is there a corresponding risk with eating local seafood this time of year?

There were two Democrat articles about the Goliath Grouper, which may be of particular interest to Slow Food members. Protected from fishing since 1990, the Goliath Grouper is up for reconsideration as an allowed catch. State, Federal, and University researchers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife commission met on Monday and concluded that more time and information is needed before a decision is made. A strange sensation for foodies: Don't eat the foods you wish to protect. Of course, sometimes, particularly when it comes to cultivated crops and value-added products, we actively seek out and purchase the rare foods we wish to preserve -- as co-producers we must encourage the producers' efforts. Our job is to be educated about which foods fit into which category.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Scuffinnahves

Seven years ago, I married and moved with my husband to his home-town Tallahassee. Until then, I'd been a bit of a transatlantic nomad; my rather homogenized accent picked up and dumped flavor without loyalty. Shortly after I began work in my new town, a co-worker came into staff-meeting with a container full of mixed green and purple orbs the size of large "boulder" marbles. I inquired, and she replied in her slow, smoky drawl, "Skuffinnahves."

"Uh, ... what was that?"
"Skuffinnahves."
"Skuffin-knives?"
She nodded,"Skuffinnahves."

Even as a fellow American, I was a foreigner as I encountered this new word and struggled to sort pronunciation from spelling. She invited me to try one. I selected a green one. My teeth sank through thick, tart, leathery skin into cool, gelatinous, grape-candy flesh and finally crushed astringent, slightly bitter seeds. As odd as it may sound to locals, I felt like I'd landed on the moon.

A mission to find more quickly turned up plenty of labeled containers of "Scuppernong" and "Muscadine" grapes. Scupp-er-nong. Skuffinnahves. Last night, after finding scuppernongs at New Leaf and remembering my introduction to the fruit, I asked Matt if he'd ever heard the word pronounced this way. No, he hadn't.

These fat grapes have a love-it-or-hate-it flavor often described as "musky" or "foxy." Some prefer to split the skins (which are thick and can be bracingly astringent) and eat only the clear, sweet pulp. Personally, I enjoy the contrasts of sour and sweet and leathery and slippery. The purple grapes (muscadines) are sweeter than the green, and they're best when they've ripened and softened slightly past their taut fullness. Muscadines are on my "sexy foods" list.

Scuppernongs grow wild in parts of the South. I remember seeing them hanging unripe from vines all around Tallulah Gorge near Atlanta. Do they also grow wild here? There is a vexing weed that grows here, that looks remarkably like the scuppernong vine but does not produce the fruit.

I found these suppernongs from Ladybird Organics/ Monticello Vinyards at New Leaf yesterday. New Leaf also sometimes carries the local farm's muscadine jelly, sunflower sprouts, and eggs.

I'm told that New Leaf carries Monticello Vinyard's muscadine wine for a day, or an hour -- blink and it's gone. One can also order it online from the Ladybird Organics/Monticello Vinyard's website. I vaguely remember hearing or reading that you can pick your own grapes there sometimes. The farm also boasts persimmons, pecans, satsumas, marsh grapefruit, meyer lemons, and microgreens. Visit the website for more information.