Sunday, August 31, 2008

Slow Food Nation 08

We finally made it today, on the last day, in the last hour. We couldn't really afford the entrance fee for the events, so we were glad to just stroll around the stalls and see the lovely garden that was right in the middle of Civic Center. I was excited to see Organic Pastures with their raw dairy and their evangelizing of real milk. We bought 2 tubs of lovely butter. One to use and one to freeze. Each tub was only $5! It's about twice that at Rainbow and they're always out of it by the time we get there. I figured that it would actually be worth while to drive all the way to Fresno to stock up on the stuff a few times a year instead of going to Rainbow, even with the phone book coupons. 

In the middle of the square, beside the garden, was a small bandstand with all kinds of music going on. There was great produce from all over California. We stopped at the Pt. Reyes Bookstore stand to check out the books that were, in the last half-hour, on sale for 30% off. I bought "Full Moon Feast" by Jessica Prentiss. I read her first essay while Rain slept this afternoon. She wrote about her young-adulthood in which she partook of what Pollan calls our "national eating disorder," that is, being faced with excess, but little real food, and finding herself obsessed, yet incapable of eating well. 

That made me think. The oddity of starvation when food is so plentiful, yet so awful, makes horrible sense in a way. I grew up eating what my mother grew in her garden, along with traditional foods like chicken bone broth, homemade sourdoughs and meats from the supermarket cooked simply. Some time in the late 70s or early 80s, the foods in the market changed. Corn and soy were hidden in prepared foods. Corn syrups took the place of sugar. Weirdnesses like Nutrasweet joined saccarin on the shelves. The meat industry became more and more deregulated, resulting in an unsafe meat supply, full of hormones and antibiotics. Our eating lives became the equivalent of being alone in a crowd. People were surrounded by huge excesses of food, but it was junk, stripped of nutrients and filled with additives. It became more common to see fat, yet malnourished poor people, while toned, slim physiques became the mark of the wealthy. The overweight and the thin were all starving, because despite the huge amounts of food, with the illusion of choice (it was all wheat, soy and corn additives, citric acid, corn syrup, vegetables and fruits were tasteless and filled with pesticides, corn-fed meats with little nutrient value and too much fat, etc), but actually none. If you were sensitive to corn, soy, wheat, gluten, dairy, casein, citrus or any of the other big 8, you were up a creek. 

I realized something when I started to buy and prepare real foods. Food is expensive. It's also rare to find. There are places in the country where it's impossible to get produce without pesticides or that can be guaranteed not to have been watered with raw sewage or chemical runoff. Most of the country drinks pasturized and homogenized milks and eats meats that some from the centralized slaughterhouse system. In fact, it's nearly impossible for independent ranches like Marin Sun Farms to slaughter their own animals thanks to the regulatory system that is weighted towards big business. A woman I saw at the market today told me that in the centralized slaughterhouses, the ranches are told that there may not be a guarantee that the meat they will receive will be the cows that went in. That means a lot if those cows were raised as carefully as they are at MSF. Although raw milk has made it back to our markets legally, it's always under threat from big dairy. It's rarely seen at any market and often has to be purchased through a cow-share.

Real food is scarce. It is unbelievably expensive. If we choose to only eat real food, we eat sparsely by necessity. The famine, is, in many ways, real. 

Okay. Now I have to reserve Michael Pollan's new book at the library. :)

Thoughts around a chicken dinner

As I sit before the remains of my plate, I watch my 2-year-old run around the living room with her daddy, pulling out pans and spoons and bowls, mixing and "cooking." She announces to my husband that "it's hot! I have to be careful!" He asks what she's cooking and she says loudly "PANcakes!" She uses a lot of exclamation points these days for everything, but especially the "food" that she makes in her "kitchen." Her "kitchen" exists on the bottom shelf of everything within reach in the dining room where she stores her implements....a tiny steel pot with a handle, a potholder, several small plates, wooden and plastic, spoons, and other bits and pieces. She's now proudly feeding her baby doll pancakes.

My plate is still colorful. It's my idea of the perfect dinner, more than half-eaten. I bought a small organic chicken from our local market at 6001 California St., locally raised and slaughtered in Petaluma. There was a nice head of kale and brown rice from Other Avenues Co-op in the Outer Sunset and homemade sauerkraut that is a shocking shade of pink against the greens. The kale was stewed with chicken drippings and a bit of beef tallow. The chicken was cooked very simply, roasted at a fairly low temperature with a bit of olive oil on top. When it was newly on the plate there was a lovely heap of brightly colored kale and kraut with the soft beige chicken and rice on either side. I know that the Weston A. Price people would be all over me for the fairly low fat content of this meal. We don't do laundry on washboards anymore, nor do we work in the fields from dawn to dusk or need the huge calorie load. I love the idea of eating fat well, but there's nothing wrong with a nicely distributed plate, either. 

I enjoy using everything and get several long-term recipes going at once. While I cooked the chicken, I soaked a beef bone, then put it in a crock pot with rice, a bit of  tapioca starch, a few pounds of stew beef and the broth from cooking the kale. The back of the chicken will be turned into broth in a day or so, then after that, broth-cooked rice. If I could get my hands on some decent giblets (or any giblets, actually) I could add that to the broth, too. The leftover kale will be added to the stew, possibly with leftover bits of chicken. There's a crock that's been on the butcher block since Thursday that has about three or four days left on its fermentation that contains a nice batch of tiny cucumbers in brine. 

I also enjoy sitting at the table with my husband and daughter while we all eat. My daughter asks for "a big one," an assisted forkful of a bit of everything on her plate (except for greens). My husband goes back for seconds. My child can't get enough of sauerkraut and anything salty or spicy. She started eating those foods by the time she was 11 months old. She's only now starting to be interested at all in sweet things.

All this was made in a kitchen about 8 feet square with an electric oven that barely works and burners that all sit at creative angles. (Just imagine making eggs in an iron skillet at a 20 degree angle...yep. Welcome to my life.) Our refrigerator and freezer doors seem to have no seal and are closed with duct tape. But I manage quite well. In fact, fermentation is a no-brainer in a kitchen like ours. I make coconut milk kefir in a jar that lives in our dining room hutch for 24 hours. Sauerkraut and other salt-brine pickles stay in one large crock and one small, accompanied by a small army of glass canning jars. All of them are either on top of the fridge from where my husband sweetly moves them to the butcher block table for midway checks, or on the butcher block table where I do most of the kitchen work. 

I should sign off for now to get out the coconut milk custard and fruit that's waiting for everyone in the fridge.

I wish you all a tasty, slow and savory dinner. (We went to the final day of the Slow Food festival here in San Francisco today...more on that later if I have time.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Another birthday night burgers!

By the way, folks, that green burger recipe does beautifully with ground grass-fed bison meat. We used kale chopped in my great-grandmother's ancient five-and-dime chopper and bowl set. (We think it's from the 1920s or so.) with coarsely chopped onion, sauteed. I served it over rice pasta with a gorgeous salad made by my husband, John, the salad expert with homegrown tomatoes and sweet organic cucumbers from the Oakmont Farmers' Market in suburban Phila.

Amazingly Tasty Coconut Milk Custard

It was amazing on the cake from the last entry, but also good just as a pudding with fruit.
  • 2 c whole coconut milk (not "light")
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 c sugar (we used turbinado here, but I think raw sugar like rapadura would be even better. White is fine if that's all you have)

Beat the yolks. Blend the yolks and sugar together in a small bowl. Scald the coconut milk. (Coconut milk scalds differently than dairy milk. It doesn't bubble at the edges the same way, but it does seem to bubble up in the center somewhat before it takes off on a rolling boil. I found that medium heat did well here.)

Turn down heat to low and SLOWLY add the yolks and sugar mixture, a bit at a time. Blend quickly and well to prevent yolks from setting before mixed in. When it's all mixed in, turn up the heat a bit and stir in a figure-eight until the custard starts to set. It might take a while. (Thanks to my mother for stirring endlessly while I moved on to cook another part of the dinner!)

Pour the custard into a nice dish and allow to cool to room temp. Then put into fridge to cool all the way.

SUPER yummy with fruit. This batch served six or so over cake with fruit.

Ricebread makes a comeback as birthday cake!

We had a fabulous birthday party - the first one of two - for Rain's 2nd birthday tonight. My mother and I took over the kitchen and sent my dad packing. We had some decent girl-time cooking and baking together, which we don't usually get. Rain's deal was "Rain no pants! No underwear!" So, she was the pantsless baby. Friends of the family I haven't seen in years came. They enjoy exciting new foods, so they were really into the grass-fed buffalo and veggies on rice pasta. (Whew.)

I baked a totally miraculous cake that was gluten-, corn-, soy- and dairy-free. Unlike us, my parents have a great oven, and it actually ROSE. We made a custard from coconut milk, egg yolks and sugar and had tons of fruit with it.

Note: My dad ran out to the store to get vanilla extract. In suburban Phila, there's next to no options for whole foods, so there was one kind of vanilla - McCormacks. I noticed after I let a few bits into the cake that it has CORN SYRUP in it. What the heck, right? Okay. So, not entirely happy with that, but I'm not the elephant man yet, and my child seems to be okay. Anyway, if you don't do corn, don't get McCormacks. I'm sure the recipe would be fine with extra banana and no vanilla, if necessary. Even better. Use a vanilla bean!

This cake was basically the Ricebread recipe from the Allergy Survival Guide with a few twists.

  • 1 1/2 c rice flour1/2 c flour mix (1 part rice flour to 1 part tapioca starch)1 tb baking powder
  • 1/2 c coconut oil, melted
  • almost 1/2 c maple syrup
  • about 1/4 of a soft banana, mashed
  • 1 whole egg + one yolk, beaten
  • about 1/2 ts vanilla extract. (Stopped short when I realized it had corn syrup in it! I'm sure it would be tasty with 1 whole ts, or even a vanilla bean...)
  • 9" round pan. Ours was Pyrex glass and worked fantastically.
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Blend dry ingredients well. Blend wet ingredients: Put mashed banana into a cup measure and fill up the rest of the way with maple syrup to 1/2 cup line. Blend with oil, egg, vanilla. Add wet ingredients minus the water to dry. Add water at the end. Mix well

Pour into a greased pan (we used coconut oil) and bake for about 45 minutes.

See next entry for tasty coconut milk custard recipe...