Sunday, June 29, 2008

Goin' Back to Cali

Much to my extreme pleasure, it appears I will be going back to San Francisco, most beloved City by the Bay, over Labor Day weekend. Having recently traveled there in April, I wasn't planning a return trip so soon. At best, I usually manage to visit my favorite American city every few years. While reading Bon Appetit magazine last week, however, I came across a full-page ad for an event that made me catch my breath. Slow Food Nation '08, Come to the Table, will be held at the Civic Center Plaza, as well as at various locations both in and around the city. Featuring a veritable pantheon (thank you Iron Chef for the eloquent superlative!) of food activists, food policy leaders, writers, and artisan food producers, the conference offers for me all of my food heroes, in one place, for one weekend. To be able to attend such an event makes me feel like Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, managing to somehow procure a Golden Ticket. Except, of course, this event is open to the public and any able to pay. But you see what I'm getting at.
Begun in 1986 by Italian
Carlo Petrini (HE'S GOING TO BE THERE!!!!!!), Slow Food represented a response to the increasing industrialization of the world's food supply, cutting off suppliers from direct interaction with their consumers and thereby presenting challenges to the stability of global food supplies, as is now being witnessed. Additionally, such industrialization often resulted in foods stripped of their nutrients, packed with artificial colorings, flavorings and preservatives, high in refined ingredients and sold at a much cheaper price than their nutritious, whole food-based counterparts. Working to counter the trend, Petrini enlisted the aid of friends and colleagues and began speaking out against "Fast Foods" wherever he could find an audience. The movement gained increasing momentum in the ensuing decades and shows no signs of slowing.
In addition to lectures on global food security and creating local food networks, the conference will highlight, in which are being gorgeously dubbed "Tasting Pavilions", artisan food producers from across the nation. From cheese, to bread, chocolate, spirits and more, individual small food businesses will showcase their wares and allow attendees to sample. This is SO my Chocolate Factory. When I was younger and short on cash and for some reason at the mall, I would make a facsimile of a meal by sampling every offering available at Hickory Farms, Orange Julius, really anywhere with something to eat. I plan on engaging in similar satiation methods at the Pavilions. Look for detailed blogging Labor Day weekend.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Making the Circle Round

In a recent letter from the editor of Dwell magazine, great emphasis was placed on making design smarter. The editor stressed repeatedly to reconsider the manner in which things are conceived, produced, marketed, and, once their usefulness has expired, disposed of, or, hopefully, repurposed. This mentality represents a paradigm shift that seems to subtly be making its way into mainstream consciousness. Even the big box retailers are emphasizing their green business practices. Wal-Mart stores have begun putting solar panels on their roofs, in some locations.
I recently encountered an item that represents this new "Cradle to Cradle" approach. It was modest. It was humble. It was a candle. Atlanta-based candlemaker Paddywax offers a line of Eco candles which, while not singularly changing the world, provide a glimpse at what could be a new industrial revolution. The candles and their packaging utilize environmentally-friendly and post-consumer elements. The candles themselves are soy wax blended with natural oils. Their packaging is recyclable, as well as biodegradable. You can literally place soil and seeds in the container and plant it outside, fully extending the life of the packaging. The glass the candles are poured into has almost no labeling, allowing the vessel to go on to later hold additional candles or be re-assigned as a drinking glass or vase. There is absolutely no waste. Again, folks, I don't expect the world to be changed by a candle, but I do believe the world can be changed by the thinking and consideration involved in such a candle. Such conscientious craftsmanship heralds a return to inclusive thinking not witnessed in manufacturing in some time. Let's hope the momentum only builds.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

She's My Cherry Pie

It seems that cherries are everywhere lately. In this amazing food blog, quickly becoming one of my favorites, and in this magazine, cherries abound! For those lucky enough to live in cherry territory, like Michigan, Washington, Oregon or California, cherry bliss is yours for the picking, literally. Because of my profound and relentless love of the cherry ("tastes great AND great for gout"-what more could you ask for from your fruit?), I think Glenn and I will be planting a cherry tree or two. I'd actually been thinking an ideal way to celebrate each anniversary would be by planting a tree, each one growing and maturing along with us. My friend, Ric Scalzo, founder of Gaia Herbs, clued me in to this amazing nursery in Virginia that ships organic fruit and nut trees nationwide. I've been eyeballing Joel and Jan for some time now and it might be time to finally make my move. Locally, Reems Creek Valley Nursery in Weaverville has several cherry trees available, along with pear and apple. It's dangerous for me to go there, though. I seem to couch my capacity for self control in the car and surrender to "Extreme Plant Lust" (E.P.L. for short) with reckless abandon. Glenn knows this to be true.
But I digress. Where were we? Oh, swooning over cherries. And so it was, succumbing to my cherry passion, that "Cherry Almond Galette" came into being. This can be made with either fresh or frozen cherries (I opted for the latter as, one, they were organic, and two, fresh cherries at my local natural food store are going for $7.99/lb. and I needed a lot of cherries). The flavor will be the same.
Was it good, you ask? Good doesn't do it justice. Let's just say, it had to be hidden away, out of view, lest the passion of the cherry overcome us both and we devour everything but the parchment. It was a rough lesson in self-discipline, folks. Be forewarned.

Cherry Almond Galette
-3 c. pitted cherries (fresh or frozen; if using frozen, allow to thaw, then drain off juice)
-4 Tbsp. kuzu or cornstarch (I used kuzu here, yes, the same vine that rapidly covers up cows and small children; it's an awesome thickener, but cornstarch will work just as well)
-1/2 c. sugar (I opted for Florida Crystals so I can feel good about eating sugar!)
-2 Tbsp. amaretto (the alcohol burns off in cooking; a non-alcoholic option would be 1 tsp. almond extract)
-pinch of salt
-Juice of 1/2 lemon
-1 Tbsp. butter, cut into tiny bits
-1 egg, beaten with 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
-Sugar for sanding

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
-Stir cherries, kuzu (or cornstarch), sugar, amaretto, salt and lemon juice in medium size bowl. Set aside.

Galette Dough:
-adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
-2 c. all-purpose flour
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1 Tbsp. sugar
-10 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces
-1/3 c. ice water

-Mix flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor (or in mixing bowl if not available). Add butter and pulse until incorporated into pea-sized bits (cut in with pastry cutter with not using processor). Slowly add ice water in 2 Tbsp. increments, just until dough forms a ball. Wrap ball in plastic wrap, press into a disk and refrigerate 15 minutes to firm up.
-On a lightly floured counter, roll dough out to a 14 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Fold in half and transfer to baking sheet.
-Add cherry filling, pouring off any excess juice first.
-Beginning at any point on the edge of the dough, fold dough up and to the left to form overlapping edges (refer to photo
above for visual guide).
-Top filling with 1 Tbsp. chilled butter bits.
-If any dough is left over, feel free to cut out shapes for topping. I used stars from an
aspic set.
-Beat egg with heavy cream (from cherry filling ingredients list). With pastry brush, paint edges of crust and any dough
cut-outs. Sprinkle all liberally with sugar.

-Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake an additional 25 minutes, or until crust is golden.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hell's Interior

So, Glenn and I have, for the very first time in our adult lives, or at any time in our lives, actually, come into contact with poison ivy. Our jury of two has weighed in, determining that, should such a thing as hell exist, literally or metaphorically, it must be lined with the dastardly vine. Oh, and perpetual hold on phone service calls, according to Glenn. We're whiny and miserable. But at least we're suffering together, right? Never again will pulling out vines seem benign. From this day forward, no matter the temperature, I will not set out in my forest, or on its periphery, without head-to-toe clothing, closed-toe shoes, gloves and a hat. Lesson learned. Case closed.  
On a happier, less itchy note, I've been enamored with Mediterranean food lately, particularly the cuisines of Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon. I'm hoping to score this book soon and begin a monthly supper club, featuring cuisines of the world. Because, life is short, you know? Why pine foods in far-flung locales when my friends and I can whip it up at home? Or at least attempt to. Oh, the itching is resuming, must find Calamine.....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Have peach, will churn

About this time last year, as my brand-new husband and I were lugging our, well luggage, through the train station in Rome on the last leg of our honeymoon, I made a declaration. "Everyday we're here," I pronounced, "I'm going to eat gelato. Or sorbet." I mean, you know, when in Rome....True to my claim, I did in fact eat gelato every day, sometimes twice a day! Our favorite place to indulge, Giolitti, is the very same gelateria Gregory Peck took Audrey Hepburn to in "Roman Holiday." We figured, if it's good enough for Audrey, it's good enough for us. 
And boy, did we ever hit the gelato jackpot on that place. Aging, regal Italian men, dressed in white jackets with epaulets and crisp black trousers served frozen concoctions on silver trays with glass carafes of water to cleanse sugar-coated tongues. Once stateside, I became obsessed with the idea of having gelato and sorbet on a regular basis. We ate our way through the Ciao Bella  selections available at our local natural food store. At a cousin's wedding in Philadelphia, we hit every Capogira in the city. Still, I craved more, MORE! And so it was that I came to own the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence 2 Qt. Frozen Yogurt-Sorbet & Ice Cream Maker, or, more aptly, "Bliss In a Box." This lovely cube of wire and stainless steel has churned out, to date, pistachio gelato, lemon verbena ice cream, earl grey ice cream, avocado ice cream (squished into a brain mold for our Halloween Mad Scientist party, no less!!) and, just the other day, peach ice cream, using local, organic South Carolina white peaches. A tricked out ice cream machine isn't even completely necessary for getting the job done. Time in the freezer can help any mixture set up. It may not produce a hard, scoopable ball of creamy perfection, but on a hot summer day, when even the cats are splayed out on the marble countertop in search of any cool space, it will take care of you. Arrivederci!

Peach Ice Cream
-adapted from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, by Bruce Weinstein

-4 large ripe peaches, peeled and pitted, cut into eighths
-Juice of 1/2 lemon
-1/4 tsp. slat
-2/3 c. sugar
-2 large eggs
-2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
-1 c. milk
-1 c. heavy cream
-1/2 c. peeled, chopped peaches (optional)

Place peaches, lemon juice and salt in blender. Mix until well pureed. Set aside.

Beat sugar into eggs in medium mixing bowl until pale and yellow. Incorporate flour. Set aside.

Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Slowly beat hot milk into egg and sugar mixture. Pour entire contents back into pan and simmer over low heat until custard thickens slightly. Stir constantly to prevent mixture from sticking to bottom of pan. Do not allow mixture to boil or eggs may scramble. Remove from heat and pour through a strainer into a large glass bowl. Allow to cool slightly, then mix in peach puree and cream. Cover and refrigerate until cold or overnight.

Stir chilled custard, then freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. You can also add fresh, chopped peaches to mixture as it is churning in machine. Place in freezer for at least 2 hours for firm ice cream. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Livin' In A Foodtopian Paradise

When I go out to eat, or go grocery shopping, or get a muffin on the go, I'm always looking for locally-grown items. It's become a way of life, something I have worked so deeply into the fabric of my psyche that it happens without much prompting or intense cranial usage. It just happens. It wasn't always this way, though. Having tried on any number of dietary protocols (macrobiotic, vegan, raw food, vegetarian, and now, pescetarian), I always maintained strict adherence to whatever the guidelines of the diet were, without paying any real attention to where things were sourced from. Climate concerns have changed my approach. Where something comes from and how it is produced is now just as important to me as how it tastes, if not more so. 
Foods locally grown contain higher nutrient counts, as they are allowed to become fully ripe before harvesting. There is therefore a considerably reduced transit distance from farm to consumer, using less petroleum. Then there's the added benefit of direct interaction with a farmer, either via a farmer's market or at a restaurant. They provide you with sustenance (I mean, we've all got to eat, right? Our single greatest common denominator...) and you provide them with a viable livelihood. It's a beautiful reciprocity. 
To that end, without intending to, I've ended up living in what is being billed as America's Foodtopian Society. Asheville is hot on the map as a local food destination (check out the foodtopia video). And then there's the most local food of all, food you grow yourself. My humble starter veggie garden this year includes: four types of peppers, pole beans, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, cucumbers, fennel, 4 types of lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets, celeriac, tomatoes and kale. The mustard greens, cabbage and tatsoi aren't fairing so well, a minor sacrifice to the soil inhabitants. 
There are also tarragon, marjoram, thyme, sage, chocolate mint, peppermint, rosemary, lavendar, winter tarragon, bay, dill, basil, lemon verbena, parsley and cilantro all happily growing outside. On the fruit front, the crabapples are dropping in abundance, the grapevine is scandalously showing its fruit, I've harvested several strawberries from the 10 newly planted everbearing strawberry plants, and blueberry hill, our affectionately dubbed knob holding 9 plants, is getting bluer by the day. I also suspect there may be a pear tree down the hill about to bear fruit for the first time in years. So, I know that sounds huge, and maybe it is. I have a tendency to truly throw myself into things I'm passionate about. Anyone can grow a few herbs, though, or find a community garden if you're living in a city. Even when I lived in D.C. I managed to grow some beans and tomatoes through a skylight. Anywhere you can find a plot of dirt,there's promise in the soil. 

Friday, June 13, 2008

Not so guilty pleasures

Remember the coffee cake from yesterday? The one that took extra long to bake? Well, I have to say, it was so worth the extra twenty-five minutes. It might just be my Sistine Chapel. In a word, unctuous. Extremely easy to make, as well, I might add. 
I'm a firm believer in making advance preparations for, you know, just in case. Vestiges of Girl Scout-dom. Which is why I always have in my purse, ever at the ready, the following items: pocket dictionary (for rowdy literary disputes), sewing kit, dental floss (because mangoes love dental pockets) and a lint brush (there are 14 animals in my care-'nuf said). Following this logic, I believe in a well-stocked pantry, just in case, in the middle of your morning, when you have many other chores which need tending to, you decide it's SO time to rouse the ice cream machine from its slumber and crank out some frozen splendor. Or, in this instance, bake up a blueberry & marionberry orange coffee cake. With a well-stocked pantry, you'll have what you need on hand for when the inspiration strikes. This is also the perfect time of the year to source locally grown fruit for coffee cake, or any other baked good, you can truly feel good about. Good for you, good for the farmer. 

Blueberry & Marionberry Streusel Coffee Cake,
adapted from Coffee Cakes by Lou Seibert Pappas 

Streusel Topping
-2 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
-1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
-1/3 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
-2 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
-1 c. pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-inch spring-form pan.

For Streusel topping: In a food processor (or medium bowl if not available), combine butter, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans. Pulse just until butter is incorporated and nuts are finely minced. If using a bowl, chop nuts in advance and stir in at end after crumbling together other ingredients with a pastry fork or two forks. Set mixture aside.

Coffee cake
-1/2 c. canola oil
-1/2 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
-1/2 c. granulated sugar (I like using Florida Crystals brand; sucanat, a sweetener made from beet juice, also would work well here)
-2 large eggs
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
-1 c. stone-ground whole wheat flour
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1/4 tsp. salt
-2 tsp. grated orange peel (from 1 organic orange)
-1 c. buttermilk or low-fat plain yogurt (can also use regular milk to which 1 Tbsp. lemon juice is added; allow to sit 10 minutes before use to curdle)
-2 c. fresh or frozen mixture of blueberries and marion berries (other berries may be substituted)
In a large bowl or using an electric mixer, mix oil, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth. In a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately withy buttermilk (or yogurt). Beat until just smooth. Stir in orange peel and berries. Pour into  prepared pan and spread streusel on top.  
Bake for 45 minutes,  or until topping is golden brown and cake is done in center (center should not jiggle-a knife poked into the center should determine this). Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove sides. Cool completely before serving. 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sink or Swim

Here it goes. I'm off. You know that creeping sensation when you first step into a cold swimming pool, or the ocean, or a creek, when the water starts to climb ever-so-slowly up your legs, to the bottom of your swimsuit, across your midriff and, tentatively, much too tentatively, creep up your torso? Well, we'll have none of that here. This is a creep-free work space. Work place? Work? 
I'm more a fan of the quick plunge. Why suffer the agony of the slow merge when full immersion promises such immediate relief? To that end, I'm putting aside formal introductions. No polite "How d' do's?" here. The instant, add water and stir relationship is highly preferable. 
The scent of a blueberry-orange coffee cake, which, incidentally, is taking much longer to bake throughout than the recipe indicated, is wafting up to the second floor office, from where I am writing. The new puppy, Dexter (aka Mr. Ferocious, Noodle, Piggers) can be heard insistently trying to bite the ears of Fly, the 3 year old German Shepherd. The garden needs weeding. The blueberry bushes need planting. I really need to empty out the wheelbarrow. And all I seem to be able to truly focus on is what my dress for my younger brother's wedding should look like. This place holds promise. 
I think the coffee cake is finally done.