Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sonnet 130: My Eggplant's Taste

My eggplant's taste is nothing like an egg;
Piano keys are whiter than her skin;
Our table's never seen such an odd veg:
Something quite like a fairy-tale pumpkin.

I have had eggplants ebony and green,
Rosa bianca hasn't such a hue;
But while too much of other kinds I've seen,
This is the type I'm dying to accrue.

I love her firm flesh and her gentle taste;
Readers, I say to you -- this eggplant rocks!
Another two or five would be no waste,
If Enterprise would send them in our box.

If you'll forgive this poetic charade,
Come back again; I'll show you what we made.

(It's still Massachusetts Farmers Market Week, and there's excellent blogging being collected at Loving Local. Donations to Mass Farmers Markets support "veggie prescriptions," among other awesomeness.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why Eat Local?

A recent much-emailed New York Times op-ed, "Math Lessons for Locavores," calls into question the virtues of eating local, particularly as pertains to energy costs (more data):
But the local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent -- and self-defeating -- do-gooder dogmas. Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by “locavores,” celebrity chefs and mainstream environmental organizations. Words like “sustainability” and “food-miles” are thrown around without any clear understanding of the larger picture of energy and land use.

The result has been all kinds of absurdities. For instance, it is sinful in New York City to buy a tomato grown in a California field because of the energy spent to truck it across the country; it is virtuous to buy one grown in a lavishly heated greenhouse in, say, the Hudson Valley.

A lengthier Guardian article from a couple years ago takes on a similar theme: the complexities of calculating food miles and carbon costs. "It is better for the environment," the author figures, "if UK shoppers buy apples from New Zealand in July and August rather than those of British origin."

To be fair, the author of the NYT piece acknowledges that there are many reasons to eat local, not all of them mathematically unsound.

But why do we?

Enterprise Farm, which supplies our CSA, has a somewhat atypical approach to "eating local." In order to offer a year-round farmshare, the farm partners with farms from all over what they call the "East Coast foodshed" to fill our box. So our "local food" in February can include Florida grapefruit and North Carolina green beans -- which are, by my calculations, about 2.2 times more local than California produce. (According to this site, more than half of the United States' fruit and a quarter of our vegetables are grown in California. Seventy-six percent of tomatoes!)

Enterprise Farm talks about its mission in detail on its website. Other reasons they favor eating local: to support small farms and farmers, to protect local farmland and the environment, to change our food distribution system, and to decrease the time and distance your food travels.

And why do I eat local?

(Well, I don't in any absolute sense. Much in the way Mark Bittman suggests that there are substantial benefits to being a "lessmeatarian" or "vegan till six," I eat local and write about eating local ... except all the times that I don't. I buy Georgia peaches when they look better than Massachusetts ones. That said ...)

I eat local because it's an easy way to pay more attention to where our food comes from, and I think not knowing that is one of the biggest disconnects in our world. (Check out this clip, in which Jamie Oliver discovers that first graders can identify chicken nuggets but not tomatoes or potatoes.) Eating local lets us connect the same sunny weather we're experiencing with the bounty of eggplants in our CSA box (or our lack of rain with the disappointingly tiny onions).

And I eat local for the same reason I grow my own tomatoes in the backyard. Not out of any expectation that my $10 investment in seedlings and stakes and potting soil (much less my time spent watering and weeding and worrying over my charmingly scraggly plants) will produce a $10 harvest of heirloom tomatoes. But just to be a little bit closer to the miracle that turns sunlight into a tomato sandwich; to be able to say, "I grew that," while offering it to someone I love; and because it turns out that making things and geeking out with people who know how to make things is inherently satisfying.

I also eat local as a purely selfish aesthetic choice -- because I love the culture of farmers markets that have sprung up everywhere in this city (Brian Halweil says people have ten times more conversations at farmers markets than at grocery stores). Because often restaurants that serve local food are also restaurants that draw their menus on chalkboards and decorate with crates of obscure craft beers and preserve old-school candlepin bowling alleys. Because supporting quirky small farms rather than corporate giants and Big Organic is in itself appealing to me. Because I love participating in a giant -- and growing -- community of foodies and locavores and food bloggers and Twitterers and traditional journalists who are genuinely excited about -- of all things -- vegetables.

Why do you eat local?

(This post is part of a Massachusetts Farmers Market Week blogathon organized by In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens. Read some of the other excellent food blogs linked at Loving Local for more reasons to eat local than we have beets in our crisper. And perhaps consider a donation to Mass Farmers Markets if you'd like to keep the local food coming?)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not-So-Lazy Corn Chowder

The lazy days of summer seem to have come to an abrupt end today.

First the summer part: With the sudden change in the weather, it began to feel like fall, and wool socks and blankets and nourishing soups all of a sudden started sounding appealing.

Then the lazy part: The weather canceled our original plans (to picnic with a crowd of friends at the Waterfront Performing Arts Series), and from the point of view of two in the afternoon, still in my pajamas (I was working from home) and nothing planned to cook, it seemed like a good idea to spontaneously invite everyone over for dinner and a movie instead.

(It's really a blessing to live in a house where you can say to your housemates, "Hey, I might have invited a few dozen people over for dinner in an hour," and they just shrug and say, "Do you want help peeling those potatoes?")

How not lazy is this? I even followed a recipe. (Well, okay, I omitted the bacon for vegetarian-ness, and increased all the ingredients by approximately 1.5 or 2 times, except where the math was hard, and didn't measure anything, and added the peppers late, and paid no attention to the directions on the bouillon cubes, and didn't have any sea salt. But I did actually use the fresh thyme sprigs -- upper right in photo -- not because we managed to grow any ourselves, but because we happen to be babysitting a traveling friend's well-equipped herb garden.)

We've made this corn chowder before (last year, chowder season began on September 15, so you see how unseasonal the weather is). It's my favorite because it has so many vegetables besides the corn -- onions, carrots, celery, red peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes -- and they're all vegetables that look beautiful in farmers markets (and even grocery stores) right about now. (You'll notice that I took the exact same cutting board photo last year.) In fact, Sara tried a ladleful just before the corn and cream went in and pronounced it a perfectly fine vegetable soup.

May you all be as warm and cozy as we were this evening, with our chowder and movie and good company and hot chocolate.

(This post is part of a Massachusetts Farmers Market Week blogathon organized by In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens as a benefit for Mass Farmers Markets. See Loving Local for evidence that local food bloggers are as prolific as local farms. Lots of excellent vegetable reading!)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lazy Days and Loving Local

The laziest days of summer seem to be here, and we're happily feeding ourselves from our farm share without terribly much cooking effort.

Last Thursday, lunch was the farm share sandwich pictured here (somewhat inspired by an earlier version): lemon cucumber, tomato, fried egg, mozzarella, and basil-parsley pesto, on a multigrain bagel.

Dinner was a cold pasta salad, reprising the lemon cucumber, tomato, and basil; adding CSA red onion and defrosted frozen edamame; and dressed with crumbled goat cheese, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

And for dessert, we popped our CSA popcorn (oops, that was delivered back in June; it's from Next Barn Over Farm in Hadley), and took it to Powderhouse park to watch Up. (Incidentally, if you haven't quite reached your quota of free summer outdoor movies yet, here's a listing of Boston-area series.)

So for lazy cooks, among whom I count myself first, it's a good time to be thankful for the bounty of beautiful late-summer produce that arrives in our CSA, ready to eat right out of the waxed cardboard box and the best for having the least done to it.

In the spirit of beautiful local produce, this post is part of the Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts blogathon, which is itself part of Massachusetts Farmers Market Week (August 22 to 28, 2010; events PDF).

Fellow food bloggers, here's how to participate in the blogathon.

Readers, check out Loving Local sometime this week for links to lots of other local foodie bloggers.

The blogathon was organized by In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens, as a benefit for Mass Farmers Markets. If you'd like to support them, this is the donation link.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lazy Red Onion Pickles

I wanted to make pickled onions with the tiny red onions that came in this week's box, and I even went so far as to find a recipe. But then we finished last week's pickled beets (yum!), I realized pickled onions are pink anyway, and into the leftover beet brine went some onion rings.

We'll see how that goes.

If you'd rather do things the right way, I recommend drooling over Orangette's paean to pickles, including a recipe for pickled onions she describes as
... close to transcendent: cold and juicy, with a flavor that—between its many layers of cinnamon, clove, and chile—might best be described as Christmas in July, spicy and sweet. They look soft and bendy, but once between the teeth, they give way with a surprisingly noisy crunch ...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Veggietrivia

Not too much cooking in our kitchen this last week ... but lots of stuff happening in the food world.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Celery Soup and Pickled Beets

This is the time of year when you should just slice your CSA tomatoes, put a leaf of basil on top, add mozzarella if you must, and consider how lucky you are to be presented with such bounty.

That's what we did for dinner.

But after dinner, we got down to the serious business: using up the less-loved CSA vegetables filling up our crisper.

Jack put three bunches of celery (two from the CSA and a purchased package of celery hearts) to use in a celery soup. (It appears to be part of a whole celery menu, eek. And here's another, beautifully photographed creamy celery soup.)

The resulting thin, refined, cool soup was an elegant lunch for the unexpectedly well-dressed crew that circumstance brought to our table today. It belies Jack's hours laboring over a hot stove with a blender, food mill, colander, and cheesecloth. I have from a good source that he came to bed late with the scent of celery in his hair.

Meanwhile, I made these super-easy beet pickles. Erica had already boiled and diced the three weeks worth of beets we'd collected (heroic, considering she doesn't even like beets), so I substituted them for the sliced raw beets in the recipe.

We didn't have the mustard seeds called for, so I used Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning (pictured and raved about here), which contains mustard seeds and made awfully pretty brine.

They'll be ready for tasting tomorrow. (Yes, I already tried some. Pickly!)

Mark Bittman's website offers quick pickles the wrong way, a sort of vinegar-marinated cooked veggies, which I'll probably try with the beets that didn't fit in the jar.

And should you also be suffering a surfeit of beets (or own your own Erica), the New York Times claims it has five beet recipes even a beet hater can love.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Stuffed Eggplant

Folks, we were a little daunted by last week's giant eggplant. It just seemed demeaning to cut such an enormous aubergine into little pieces, so we skipped over it a few times while making curry or stir-fry or pasta.

Jack suggested that making stuffed eggplant would preserve the vegetable's gravitas. We had never seen one before, but Google image search and Tastespotting assured us it was real.

Our criterion for the recipe was that it be fast, because potluck guests were imminent, so we based our cooking on this stuffed eggplant Parmesan, which bakes in 30 minutes, and we scraped the shells extra-thin to be sure.

(How do you hollow out an eggplant? A spoon; a grapefruit spoon, per the recipe suggestions; or, best of all, we found, an avocado slicer.)

Ours was tasty, but it looks like the next level in eggplant stuffing is to go in an ethnic direction: Lebanese stuffed eggplants, fried stuffed Chinese eggplant, Greek-style stuffed eggplant, and adorable miso beef stuffed eggplants.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Weekend Veggietrivia

So much delicious local food happening in the next few days ...

Boston's first annual food truck festival is Sunday, 10am to 4pm, at the SoWa Open Market. (Grub Street Boston has a short commentary/guide. And here's the Boston Herald story.)

Simultaneously (Sunday, 3pm to 5pm), Boston Localvores is hosting a local cheese tasting at the Somerville Growing Center. Lemon honey fromage blanc? Yes, please!

Wednesday, August 11, is a benefit night for Mass Farmers Markets at the new Flatbread pizza place (formerly Sacco's Bowl Haven) in Davis Square, Somerville. Like the Davis Square farmer's market, we can see it from our house, so we're pretty excited to try some wood-fired pizza and candlepin bowling.

And so much delicious local food to come ...

So, the big news of last week was that Deval Patrick pledged $10 million for a Boston Public Market, which might open in 12 to 18 months.

But! According to (via @somervilleinfo), Somerville is getting a winter farmer's market even sooner. And Somervillains love their markets, according to the article: "The Union Square farmers market is drawing 1600-2100 people per week ... and the Davis Square market a whopping 2800 or more."

It's an exciting time to like food and live in Boston.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Currants: Barely Legal!

Currants turn out to be a little bit confusing and to have a more checkered past than we usually expect from our CSA constituents.

First of all, the dried fruit you know as "currants" are made from Zante grapes and are small, sweet raisins. That's not what these are.

The reason for the confusion? Proper currants (the fruit of bushes of the genus Ribes) were not grown in the United States for much of the twentieth century. When white pine blister rust appeared in the United States around 1900, currant bushes (and particularly black currants) were implicated as a key part of the destructive fungus's lifecycle. The country moved to get rid of the plants to protect the timber industry: one Depression-era CCC project was black currant eradication.

In 1966, the decision about whether to allow growing currants was returned to the states. Many kept their bans on the books; New York finally overturned its ban in 2003. Massachusetts actually still has a black currant quarantine in force; growing red and white currants is allowed in some towns.

(Red and black are the more common colors for currants. Our white currants are actually albino red currants.)

When we looked at the recipes Enterprise sent around for currants, Erica said "couscous," so that's what we made. Because we can't leave well enough alone, we added grated carrots and finely chopped green pepper and substituted cilantro for the parsley. Quick and tasty!