Sunday, November 16, 2008

What I Want

I typically try to live with few wants.  Good food, good people, and my kittens seem to make me happy the most.  Today, however, I found myself saying "I want" a few times.  I want a pair of funky leg warmers, I want a pair of awesome color opaque tights, I want a magnetic poetry kit.  There are reasons why I havent' acquired some of those items.  The first two because I'm tall with thick calves, so they're hard to find to fit.  The third because I've just never felt the extreme urge to buy one when I see it OR there are so many series I can't pick just one (original, haiku, green... ack!).

And then I read this article and realized two more things I want (that aren't so superficial!).

1- a sharpened chef's knife
2- a halfway decent vegetable peeler

See, when I first established my kitchen utensils, I was moving in with a guy who had nothing.  So everything we bought was not great.  It sufficed, but not great.  Now that I'm living alone, but with all of the same stuff, I feel a need to slowly upgrade.  I think instead of growing up it should be called "grading up."  And since when I cook I use pretty much just the large psuedo-chef's knife that came in our value set (with free knife block!) unless I really feel a need to use the paring knife, which isn't often as it tends to disappear for months at a time with me barely noticing, I really just want a chef's knife. (phew! long sentence!).  And using a single knife for most everything (don't worry, I prevent crosscontamination) is not unusual.  NPR did a segment on a Chinese cooking school where all the students use only the cleaver.

I like my knife, it's a good size.  But damn, I wish it would cut easier!

Beaujolais Nouveau

I'll be dining with Sutro's family on Thanksgiving. They live about four hours west of Knoxville and his aunt and uncle have been kind enough to allow us to stay in a guest apartment (swank, non?) above their garage. Therefore in addition to making the Unfussy Buttermilk Apple Cake with Ginger Whipped Cream for Thanksgiving I also want to bring a host/ess gift.

I have a friend who works at Coffee and Chocolate over on Market Square, so I think I'll go sometime she's working and put together a yummy box of chocolates. Then going through my emails, I noticed one from Ashe's Wine and Spirits advertising Beaujolais Nouveau being released this Thursday. Yes, it is apparently French law that no matter when the grapes are harvested, BN is released the third Thursday of November. I thought that it would be lovely, pairing a special wine like that.

I had had some last year, and it wasn't too impressive, afterall, it's a very recently harvested wine. It seems that the entire concept of it is what one would picture takes place in a provincial economy where wine is common. It tastes like a young wine. It is tart and simple. It has not yet been able to develop the layers of flavor. So I decide to do some research to figure out which vineyard typically produces the best. Apparently not many people are too impressed with BN.

And then I am stunned by my hypocracy. I attempt to keep my carbon footprint limited, my main moral reason for eating local. And here I am, researching which wine, a wine that has been specially airlifted for rapid consumption, I will purchase. And it's not like we lack in good local wineries. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I am ashamed that I did not consider wine's carbon footprint. But now I have. And it will especially be in my mind.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Curried Butternut Squash with Rice and Lentils

The other day after leaving the museum I work at, Sutro and I went to make our weekly farmer's market trip.  We got there but no no one else was!  Apparently it was done for the season.  Friday may still be there, though.  But I prefer the Tuesday one because for some reason Friday gets the crazy soccer mom crowd.  Tuesday is much more sedate, mostly retirees and the like.  I'm not fighting bleached, tanned, 30 somethings for a tomato.  Instead I hold a place in line for an older woman when she runs off to check if another vendor has "that delicious broccoli from last week that you just MUST get!"

So instead we head off to Sutherland because Claire has been raving about a vegetable market over there.  Plus there's the East Asian and Middle Eastern markets over that way.  We get over there and find the vegetable market selling Cruze Farm milk, but there are no local eggs.  Unless local is from Indiana.  Boo!  So we grab a butternut squash, some onions, non-local eggs (boo on us!), and a head of garlic.

Then onto Holy Land Market.  I was hoping to grab some of the celebrated Chicken Curry Salad to snack on before dinner was ready, but Sutro jumped the gun and ordered some funky and yummy meat pies before I got to ask for the CCS.  So we left with some Basmati Rice, Kahfir Cheese, and oil cured black olives, which were so very yummy.  Then we came home and made up dinner, naturally.

Curry Butternut Squash with Rice and Lentils

Note that you'll have time to prepare the rice while making this recipe.  I had some trouble peeling my butternut squash, so I actually chopped it into 6 big chunks and tossed them in some boiling water for about 3 minutes.  This softened them enough the the skin came off very easily.  Also, during a later meal of this, I poached an egg and topped the meal with that.  The drizzly yolk (I love gooey yolks) melded well with the flavor of the cheese.

4-6 servings (meals)

2 cups of prepared rice, warm.

1 cup of lentils, rinsed and picked through for stones
3.5 cups of water
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped small
1 tsp whole cumin
1tbsp curry powder
2 large cloves of garlic
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced.
Handful of greens (I used snowpeas)
1/2 to 3/4 c kafhir cheese

In a pot, fill with 3 cups of water and 1 cup of lentils.  Boil until soft (about 30 min).  When cooked, drain and add to rice.

While the lentils are boiling, in medium-large put oil, garlic, and onions over medium heat.  Cover and let cook until onions are translucent.  Put in butternut squash and 1/2 cup of water.  Stir in cumin and curry powder.  Cook on high, covered for 15 minutes.  Then uncover, toss in greens, and let cook until water is gone.

Serve with rice and lentils, add a scoop of butternut squash and greens.  Top with a dollap of Kafhir cheese dusted with curry powder.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Purpose of My Eating

excerpt from "An Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief" by Michael Pollan
After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.  (link to full article)
"Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat" - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Now, while I am totally opposed to not ever allowing food to become a slightly hedonistic event, I am in full support of eating to live.  By this I don't just mean that eating provides calories to my body allowing my continued day to day functioning.  I intend this more in that with the individual as the agent, his, her, and my eating choices effect the structure we are in.  So my choices are to positively impact the political situation and minimize impact on counteractive environmental structures.  

This is why I try so very hard to eat local produce and why I am converting to local animal products (eggs, milk, and meat).  I wish to support my local growers.  I also wish to not support large industrial farms utilizing petrochemicals.  I do not want my food to be shipped  to a distributor and then across country, using all that gas, when it could instead come from a half hour drive away.  And I use this blog to make these choices visible.

As Pollan points out in his article, the next administration is also saddled with the issue of increased food prices during our recession.  These will not be solved by subsidizing large grain farmers, as has been done in the past.  Instead, I believe, this can be assuaged, to a point, by supporting local food producers.  This was a reason, among many, for my choice in president.  I felt that because Barackstar has such experiance from being a community organizor at working within a local scope, he has the best perspective either to solve this issue or on who to delegate to this issue.

Another way to personally pay less for food is to plant a garden.  This technique is a simple, historical holdover most remembered from the World War II Victory Gardens.  This can serve two purposes, depending on whether you find you prefer your own produce after attempting it.  The first, if you continue to plant your own produce year after year, is that first you will reduce your stress on the current agriculture infrastructure, both small and large scale.  The second, if you find you prefer to purchase your produce after attempting to garden, is that for a few years you will remove your stress from the agriculture infrastructure for a limited time.

The key here, is that while gardening, any produce bought should come from local sources.  As you, the gardener, is spending significantly less on produce, there is less of a chance of larger corporate farms being supported because the local sources are over stressed.  But this money you put into the local agricultural system will be invested in making the farms more sustainable, more productive, more green, and have more varieties.  At this point, those who find that they do not want to continue to garden, will find that their local producers can fully support them.

At the same time, some communities already have a wonderful local agricultural infrastructure.  Knoxville farmers markets, for example, can provide all the food I will eat, if I plan properly.  That is, until they stop being held.  But that is more because of lack of planning on my part.  I did not preserve foods like I should have.
My eating future will attempt to be supplimented by home-grown produce.  I am toying with the idea, in this unseasonable warmth, of building a raised bed for some produce.  I discussed this with my "plant dude" at the farmers market.  I have container gardened in the past, and in the Summer 2006 I grew all of my herbs, tomatos, and cucumbers.  The squash did not succeed.  Summer 2007 was marked by everything dieing.  It was rather depressing.  My "plant dude" claims that it was because of my soil choice - I need Miracle Grow.  This I will not do, as I refuse to use chemicals in my garden.  To start my plants in Miracle Grow would be the antithesis of my food and eating feelings.

I will update on garden progress, don't worry.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's a dangerous week to be a cake

At least, at my house it's dangerous to be a cake.  You won't survive!

I made an extremely simple buttermilk-apple cake (here's the buttermilk popping up again), which I topped with a ginger whipped cream, and my absolutely favorite ever chocolate bundt cake.

So first, the cake with the buttermilk and the apples was Heidi Swanson's "Unfussy Apple Cake Recipe."  I LOVE 101 Cookbooks!  I have used so many of her recipes for potlucks and parties because they are so awesome (and vegetarian, vegan, wholesome, different, for picky eaters, etc.)  I made one "change" to her recipe.  Because I ran out of cinnamon (how does that happen?) I added a teaspoon of ginger.  Then, I made for it some whipped cream that wasn't over sweet, but also played on the ginger.  It went so well together that I actually sorta, kinda, maybe forgot all about taking a picture until the very end.

Ginger Whipped Cream
Makes about 1 cup of whipped cream

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp confectioners sugar
2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine ingredients.  Whip until a whipped cream consistancy.


On Friday night, my friend called me.  She was upset some because the next day was her birthday and her simple plans had fallen through.  Basically, we were just supposed to meet at her sister's house and have a pot luck.  But something came up and her sister couldn't have it.  Another (::ahem::) friend who had previously offered up his house for the celebration retracted it as there was a show he really wanted to go see.  So, without looking at my wreck of a living room or dining room, I tell her "Come on over to my place, I'll have something for you.  We'll have food and cake.  Real not-from-a-box cake!"  And I sent out an email to our crew and went to sleep.

I woke up Saturday morning with a laundry list of things before my house was presentable to a large group of people, including people who are allergic to cats.  I spent most of the day picking up and cleaning, so I knew I would make something fast but good for the "dinner" portion, but I needed to make a cake.  Everyone loves chocolate cake, and I had been itching to make this recipe.

This chocolate cake recipe has a bit of personal history with me.  At my parent's house, when I was growing up, if I wanted a cake for my birthday I needed to make it myself.  This is what I made every year.  So yes, it's a winner.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt

12 tblsp oil
2 tblsp vinegar
2 teasp vanilla

2 cups cold water.

Stir together dry ingredients.

Make 3 holes.  In one hole pour oil.  In one hole pour vinegar.  In one hole pour vanilla.  Over all of this, pour water.

Mix with fork. DO NOT BEAT!

Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes.

When cool, top with sifted confectioners sugar.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Buttermilk-Leek-Potato Soup

I found a web page from the farm where the buttermilk came from, Cruze Farm.  I linked to it in previous post (if you want me to unlink it, just tell me!).  The site claims that their buttermilk is churned.  Does that mean that it's the left over from the butter? Or is it the "artificial" buttermilk, the kind with a reagent added. I'm curious.

Last night I made both the Apple Cake and the Potato Soup.  Sutro came over after his lecture, so about 9:30 PM and we each had a lovely bowl of Potato Soup with a slice of rye bread. 

Potato Soup is one of my favorites of my mother's repetoir.  It is thick and creamy, almost like a slightly thinner bowl of mashed potatoes.  But there's a little something extra too.  My mother will serve hers topped with a thick dollop of sour cream, so I figured that my recent acquisition of buttermilk would work just fine.

With this bowl of soup I wanted to go vegetarian, so no chicken broth.  To fill in the flavors I used a PILE of leeks and some herbs.  They were so beautiful I just had to.  Because I didn't want to detract from that I didn't also use onions or garlic - possibly a first for me!

Buttermilk-Leek-Potato Soup

3 large Leeks, just the white parts, sliced
1 tbsp butter (approx)
1 cube vegetable bouillon
short 1 tbsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
approx 2 lbs potatoes, mostly peeled, cubed.
3 cups buttermilk

In your favorite big soup pot, add leeks and butter.  Cover and let soften over medium-low heat.

Dissolve the cube of bouillon in 1 cup water.

When leeks are transparent, add bouillon/water mix.  Add potatoes, rosemary and thyme.  Now add enough water just to cover the potatoes.  Turn heat to medium.

If it boils hard, turn heat down some.

When potatoes are soft, remove cover.  Blend/mash the entire content of the pot until smooth.  An immersion blender is perfect for this.

In a separate bowl, add about 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.  Slowly ladle hot soup into buttermilk until buttermilk/soup mixture is the same temperature as the soup.  Add mixture to the soup.  Repeat.  This technique keeps dairy products from curdling because of sudden temperature change.

Stir soup so buttermilk is well mixed.

Cover and let simmer until ready to serve. (Can sit for about 1/2 hour).

This soup freezes very well, so don't hesitate to double the recipe if you have a big pot!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ingredient Introduction #1 - Buttermilk

The farmer's market yesterday was pretty much closed down by the time I got there, so today when I ran to grab a prescription I hit one of the local vegetable markets, Garden Fresh Market. This market has been really great at having reasonably priced produce while attempting to get from local/regional buyers. They have eggs and milk from Cruze Farms and the produce is definitely seasonal (they had muscadines today!). They do cater some to their customers by occasionally importing stuff (20# bag of Idaho Potatos, citrus fruits), but that's normally quite obvious. I ran in with the intent of making something this evening for Sutro and me, but I hadn't been home much in the last week, between going to PA and falling ill at Sutro's.

They had these lovely leeks, which inspired me to make my mother's potato soup, while I got the few ingredients for those, I went to get some eggs. The soup, I remembered, needed cream. The only cream they had was from Mayfield. But they did have Cruze Farm buttermilk. Well, that led to remembering that a friend has a birthday this weekend, and I've wanted to try a recipe for Apple Cake that needed buttermilk, which I would then bring another batch to Sutro's family's Thanksgiving over in Western TN. So in go some local Fuji apples, plus a lovely Acorn squash because I know I'll use it, and there we go. We have meals planned and cooking to do.

The woman at the register noticed my buttermilk and commented on how much she loves it. She drinks a glass of it every morning. I had no idea what buttermilk was really like, except that it was different from milk and much creamier.

I come home, put away my groceries, feed the cats, and pour myself about a finger of thick, creamy buttermilk.

And I drink it.

Or at least... I try to. It's chunky and sour! So I go online to make sure that *this* is what the woman drank. And sure enough....
from wikipedia:

Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product produced from cow's milk with a characteristically sour taste. The product is made in one of two ways. Originally, buttermilk was the liquid left over from churning butter from cream. In India, buttermilk or mattha is known to be the liquid leftover after extracting butter from churned curd. Today, this is called traditional buttermilk. On the other hand artificially made buttermilk, also known as cultured buttermilk, is a product where lactic acid bacteria called Streptococcus lactis have been added to milk.

How can she do it?

Well, off to clean some and make the cake and soup. I think the buttermilk will work for those.

Good news: I found my camera, so now there may be pictures of my cooking. Yay!