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Pickles, Bananas and New Recipes.

13 Jul

So, finally, pickling cucumbers and fresh dill are available at the farmers’ market. I bought 6 cucumbers and they fit perfectly into one of the quart jars that came with my new canning kit. I added some garlic, peppercorns, tumeric and coriander seeds. We’ll see how it turns out! They lovely jar is sitting on top of the fridge fermenting and the rest of the dill is happily displayed in a vase in the living room. Now everything smells like dill.

Also, today, someone sent me a link to an interesting article about bananas: What’s the Carbon Footprint of a Banana? I still don’t expect to eat them on a regular basis. Bananas have never been high on my list of favorite fruits – but now I won’t feel as  bad for that occasional slice of homemade banana nut bread that one of my (evil) coworkers insists on bringing in.

Recipe Update: Last week was a bit of a failure with my recipe experiment with it being a short work week (due to the fourth of July) and 3 evenings of being social and out of the house. I did get to make one recipe from Greens, Glorious Greens and another from an online source. I know, I know. “Online” doesn’t count as one of my cookbooks. BUT – it was really good!

Pasta with Leeks and Greens. An excellent vegetarian recipe – especially topped with cheese.

Flourless Brownies: Seriously though. This is a recipe provided on the Whole Foods website. It’s made with black beans instead of flour. Makes a fabulous, nutritious, cake-like brownie.

Next week’s recipes: Well, right now I’m having a look at The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. The recipes are a bit more on the… adventurous side.  But, since we have a local variety, I am thinking about the Sardine and Macaroni Salad and also the Garbanzo Polenta.

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So those people at RenFaire were right?

28 Sep

Renaissance Faire can be a lot of fun – and a bit silly with all the jousting, drinking, bodices and the oddly ubiquitous turkey leg.

Recently I had watched Episode 10: “The Good Ol’ Days” from Penn & Teller: Bullshit which reminded me of something I had read just a few days before about the changes that took place in European cuisine after the New World was encountered by Columbus. In “The Good Ol’ Days” Penn & Teller discuss the cultural nostalgia of the Renaissance Faire with James Given, professor of Medieval History at U.C. Irvine who states “If you go to Renaissance Fair and you see someone gnawing away om a turkey leg that certainly has no real baring on reality. There were no turkeys in the middle ages.” But wait, isn’t this the Renaissance Faire?

According to Brian Cowen in his chapter New Worlds, New Tastes (Food Fashions after the Renaissance) from the 2007 book  The History of Taste: “Thus both the guinea fowl, introduced in the early sixteenth century from West Africa, and the American turkey were quickly and enthusiastically praised by Renaissance dietitians and banqueters alike.” Although likely available only to the upper classes, it appears as though turkey was indeed available in Europe as early as the 1500’s and was certainly written about at the time.

But was that during the middle ages or part of the Renaissance? According to wikipedia, the Renaissance spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, and the Middle Ages (or medieval period) began in the 5th century and ended with the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century. So.. both?

I don’t exactly think that Professor Given was incorrect as culinary history and the study of gastronomy hasn’t always gone hand in hand with standard historical curriculums. But what I found most interesting while watching this episode (aside from the fact that I actually knew something about turkeys in the middle ages) was the thought that the somewhat ridiculous practice of eating giant turkey legs at RenFaire may actually not be entirely ridiculous after all.

How strange and interesting!

Food & “Farm” Update – Summer 2009

19 Sep

This summer has been very interesting and busy! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Garden:

  • Two tomatoes plants (out of the original 4 varieties that I planted in March) have produced fruit – the Tomatoberry and the yellow Marvel Stripe heirloom – those most are still green.  I have one (color TBD) bell pepper still growing, a row of too-tiny-to-mention purple carrots and a handful of fava bean plants that may or may not be unhappy. All but two of the other plants that I bought as seedlings have survived in pots for months and are now happily residing in a big pile of soil enriched with the compost I’ve been preparing for months: oregano, sage, mint, strawberries and two kinds of lavender. The 3rd kind of lavender was trampled by a construction worker and the basil – well, so far I cannot get basil to work in the clay and debris filled soil back there. See garden photos here.

Events:

  • Eat Real Fest – held on the weekend before labor day in Oakland, CA. It was hot. No, I mean HOT – like nearly 100 degrees and for the Bay Area… that is HOT.  But it was much more interesting that the Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco last year. Eat Real Fest was all about food for the masses – not just the people who could afford to spend hundreds of dollars for exclusive tasting events.  The food was great – local, organic and inexpensive. Street food vendors and taco trucks filled Jack London square and sold a variety of dishes – all $5 or less. The also had a large indoor farmers’ market. I’d definitely go again.  See pictures here.
  • Ghost Town Farm tour – This was held on the same weekend as the East Real Fest as both were in Oakland. Novella Carpenter and her partner Bill are essentially squatting on a lot next to the apartment in which they live and have turned it in to a little urban farm. Novella has since written a book, Farm City, about her experiences with developing the farm and raising plants and animals in such an urban environment. It’s a great read and a great inspiration. I think what I love most is how they put something together pretty much out of nothing and created not only a garden, but a community as well. Her blog is here and my pictures are here.
  • A reading from the book, Cooking Beyond Measure,  by cultural historian, hippie, cook and writer Jean Johnson.  The reading was a joint venture between the Culinary Historians of Northern California and Omnivore Books in San Francisco. I have been to a few CHoNC events now and usually feel a bit out of place since most of the other members are professional chefs, food writers and culinary historians and even though Jean is a bit of all of those, I feel like she could make anyone feel at ease. She came of age in the 60’s, lived for a decade on Native American reservations in the Southwest and is just a genuinely nice person. When the reading was over I went up to her and said “You’ve just written the book I was planning on writing in a few years after I got my act together.” Somehow, I’d love to grow up to be the combination of Novella Carpenter and Jean Johnson! Jean’s blog is here.

Classes:

  • UrbanKitchenSF is my new best friend! With one-off, 2-3 hour classes that are fun, informative and inexpensive. They are all about slow food and cooking styles for the urban dweller. My first podcast was about their first pickling class and I plan on doing an interview with the founders of UrbanKitchenSF in a future podcast. I’ve taken all but two of the classes – one I had already taken and one I missed – including kombucha, pickling, butchery, cheesemaking and bread baking. I have pictures of most of the classes here. My kombucha and homemade pickles have turned out quite well!

Books:

  • Occassionally, I lament the fact that I never got my undergrad degree. While the study of food history and culinary anthrolopogy are becoming more well known and wide spread, it is a challenge to find classes for the beginner or hobbyist. So, instead of allowing myself to pine, I finally got myself a Library card. Seems a bit sad since I’ve been living in San Francisco for 7 years now. My first two books are Food in the USA and The History of Taste – both a relatively large collection of essays and heavier than most of the school and college books I’ve had over the years. It does make me happy to know that there are others like me – who are fascinated by the evolution of food and its impact on human development, society and culture and who can explain it a heck of a lot better than I can.
  • Wild Fermentation – not only a cookbook but a really good read as well. As the title states, this book is about fermentation and not only provides many, very approachable recipes, but talks about the health benefits, taste and history of the craft.  I have successfully made a bright pink sauerkraut and am now trying a batch of kvass which seems like a lovely way to use up stale bread!

Food:

  • Ah, well, I am always trying new experiments and recipes. Lately, it has been all about sourdough and some of my favorites of late I have found online and am happy to share them!
  • I have also just tried my hand at sprouting grains and as I type, they are slowly toasting in the oven. Studies suggest that sprouts are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet and the act of sprouting (as well as fermenting) breaks down the harmful but natural enzime inhibitors present in seeds. My first try was with some local red wheat berries which, when sprouted, kinda tasted a bit like grass.  But since wheat is a grass, this makes perfect sense.

Ok, well that’s all for now!

Good food & friends!

MindfulCast #1 – Fermentation: The Final Frontier

19 Jul

After years of thinking about it, I have finally created a podcast call “MindfulCast”. The goal of this podcast series is to discuss the rewards and challenges of living a balanced life in these modern, urban times. The first episode, Fermentation: The Final Frontier, focuses on a recent Pickling Party workshop hosted by UrbanKitchenSF and Happy Girl Kitchen Co. To subscribe to the podcast feed, check the box at the top of the sidebar!

The workshop was held on a pier under the Bay Bridge…

From left to Right: Todd Gonzales and Todd Champange from Happy Girl Kitchen

Chopping and filling jars

and adding salt water…

Pickled Cherries, Lemons and Spicy Carrots

mmm.. Pretty Pickles…

Urban Farming in San Francisco

28 Aug

A couple of years ago, I was listening to one of the Deconstructing Dinner shows about Urban Farming and one of the guests was discussing the use of city backyards as a way to use the existing green space to grow crops. I have been fascinated with this idea ever since and have been trying to find information about a similar project in San Francisco. Today I stumbled upon Victory Gardens which, according to the website, is a pilot project funded by the City of San Francisco to support the transition of backyard, front yard, window
boxes, rooftops, and unused land into organic food production areas.

It is still early days yet, but I am very interested to see where this goes.

Health, Food and Human History: The All-American Banana?

7 Aug

As part of my move toward eating locally produced food, I have cut out certain fruits and vegetables from my diet. In an attempt to have some sort of balance, and in cases where they are available, I will purchase organic and fairly traded varieties of coffee, chocolate, tea and coconut products but have nearly cut out the consumption of all fruit that cannot be grown within California. This includes pineapple, papaya, mango, and of course: bananas.

I’ve recently become somewhat fascinated with the banana. I often wonder why it is so popular. Perhaps it is because the banana is so easy to carry and eat. But the banana is not a local fruit. Not unless you live in South America, Hawaii, or parts of Asia. How did it get here and when? And how have banana prices remained so low, even though the fruit travels thousands of miles to reach our markets and tables?

Not just Organic, but Fair Trade!

Most of us have seen organic produce varieties popping up in supermarkets across the United States. Though knowing how food is grown is extremely important, so too is knowing how the farmers and workers are paid and treated in the process. Finding Fair Trade coffee, tea and chocolate is becoming easier and easier and I find it interesting that there doesn’t seem to be as much of a movement to engage fresh fruit producers and distributors. I have no doubt there are many challenges with storage, shipping and USDA guidelines though I have not found any specific information as yet. Fair Trade fruit is available now, though can be difficult to find and I have not seen any form of labelling system to indicate that the fruit is in fact Fair Trade.

Below are some resources about the Banana and Fair Trade Fruit:

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas

The Banana

Banana.com

Fair Trade Banana Cooperative

Fair Trade: Fresh Fruit Program

The State of Food in San Francisco

7 Aug

As many people know, San Francisco is one of the wonders of the foodie world. With it’s melting pot population, coastal location, climate that offers year-round produce and upwards of 10,000 restaurants, foodies are spoiled for choice.

San Francisco Magazine‘s recent issue focuses on food in the Bay Area. Though it’s not my favorite magazine it did definitely have some very good articles this month.

To eat local, kill local With just one slaughterhouse remaining within 80 miles of San Francisco, we stand to lose not only our local beef industry, but our grazing lands as well. Now a thick-skinned herd of ranchers and environmentalists are determined to keep the cows close to home.

The State of the Plate When it comes to dining out, is San Francisco becoming a Valhalla or a Vegas with hills? Josh Sens looks back on a confounding 12 months of meals and takes the measure of a region and its restaurants.

Moth Class What the light brown apple moth—and the pesticide shower it nearly unleashed—taught us about the future of our fruits and vegetables.

Weapons of Moth Destruction How the Bay Area maneuvered to beat back an impending pesticide assault.