May 2010

Peonies 790 xxx
photos by george billard

5.31.10 This Bud's For You

The heat came early this year and with just enough rain it coaxed out lots of flowers we normally don't see quite this soon. We added a bunch of peony plants to our patch, and the new arrivals are already making beautiful music in the garden. G's pampered rhododendrons seem happy, one group of lilies is up, the tiny roses are all abud, the succulent garden is colorful and my beared irises are standing tall. It's a sight to behold.
Iris 790 xxx

Dragonfly1 790 xxx

5.29.10 Spill, Baby, Kill

I am grief-stricken. Here are just some of the innocent creatures currently dying because of the gulf oil spill: Birds, Reptiles & Amphibians, Fish, Invertebrates, Habitats & Plants, Wetlands, Marine Mammals and Terrestrial Mammals, including but not limited to pelicans, sea otters, tortoises,  seals, shrimp, oysters, plankton, sea gulls, plovers, algae, turtles,  dolphins, egrets, insects, crabs, herons, fish, manatees, sea lions, whales, jellyfish, porpoises. This is an outrage and a tragedy: one that could have and should have been avoided. And yet further evidence that this country must turn away from fossil fuel consumption and toward a future of alternative energy sources.
Bird1 790 xxx
Dolphin 790 xxx
Tortoise 790 xxx

Ryes 790 xxx
photo by george billard

5.28.10 Finnishing School

I love discovering new things. Isn't that one of the great joys of life? I know it's a bit of a cliché, but retaining a childlike openness really does keep you young at heart. II never want to turn into one of those cranky old people afraid to try anything new, no matter how many painful setbacks my life hands me. You probably think I'm buttering you up to eat something like monkey brains, right? Worry not. I just want to introduce you to Finnish ryes. My Finnish friend Maija, a very talented writer, does a little side business in these lovely pasties (not a typo, the plural of pasty!). They are based on a traditional recipe from Karelia, a region in Eastern Finland and Western Russia, using flour made mostly from whole grain rye (plus a tiny amount of wheat). Rye flour has a low glycemic index and a high amount of dietary fiber and protein, so these make for a healthy, nourishing snack. Maija and her baking partner have come up with a selection of flavors that pay tribute to tradition but also appeal to the rather more rarified tastes of  New Yorkers. This includes the most basic rice-filled version, as well as beet-feta, spinach-garlic and sweet potato-caramelized onion-rosemary. The ryes can be eaten at room temp or pop them in the oven (even better). I enjoyed mine with a fried egg on top. Look for them at the Park Slope Greenmarket (5th Avenue) on Sundays through the fall.
Rawmilkcheeses 790 xxx
photos by george billard

5.27.10 Totally Rawesome

I can't take credit for that: my friend Louise told me about a Rawesome food co-op in Venice, California, that sells raw milk—she's going there to stock up! I feel like the Pied Piper of natural dairy. Love it. I'm  jealous because they sell raw butter there. The farm I buy from doesn't separate the cream from the milk and I haven't quite figured out how to do that successfully. Every source says you just wait for it to rise to the top and skim it off, but that seems to leave me with something more like half-&-half. Any thoughts? Raw cheese, on the other hand, is pretty easy to find—as long as it's aged. I guess they figure any harmful bacteria will have died off, so by law raw milk cheeses have to be aged at least 60 days to be considered fit for human consumption. Whatever. You know I'll get my hands on some fresh raw milk cheese very soon. Thinking about making my own mozzarella. Yep, I'm a radical. (By the way, did I ever tell you that my father contracted bovine tuberculosis in Mexico when he was 19? Saved him from going into the service during WWII! Nowadays, even mom-&-pop farms do regular testing to make sure that doesn't happen.) So I did pick up some raw milk cheeses at Lucy's Whey in the Chelsea Market this week. I sampled them for lunch today and they were truly delicious. (I also picked up that lovely tray from Brooklyn Slate. Great packaging; would make a nice housegift for some cheese-loving host.)
Chocolate ice cream 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

5.26.10 South of the Border

I accidentally bought a dozen avocados last week thinking that it was Memorial Day this Monday instead of next, so I wound up making an impromptu cold avocado soup as a prelude to a Mexican dinner on Sunday. It came out more like a thick puree  and I decided to serve it that way, sprinkled with just a bit of aromatic piment d'Espelette. It was VERY creamy and smooth. This paved the way for goat birria, a dish typical of blue-collar restaurants in Guadalajara. You basically slow-roast or braise a goat leg (we got one at the farm), then shred it and top it with a chile-tomato sauce spiced with cumin, cloves and a little cinnamon. Wrapped in a warm corn tortilla with a squeeze of lime, some chopped onion and cilantro, it's quite delicious. If you can't get goat, you could try this with lamb or pork. Speaking of smooth and creamy, you've undoubtedly noticed the chocolate ice cream, above, and are probably wondering when I'm going to get to that.

Louise 790 xxx
photos by george billard

5.25.10 Dairy Queen

Meet Louise, an enormous black milk cow who'd just given birth to this still-trembling little calf on Saturday morning when we stopped by our small local farm to pick up some raw milk. They're kind enough to sell it to us right from the cow. Well, pretty much. It's legal in New York, but only if you buy it directly from the farm. (It's banned outright in New Jersey, and available at retail in Connecticut.) You'll need to bring your own container—I use big glass jugs. If this recent article in New York magazine is any indication, raw milk is gaining in popularity as people begin to understand more about its nutritional value and appreciate its wonderful taste. (Old-style delivery services will bring it right to your door!) My mother-in-law was absolutely horrified at the idea of us drinking raw milk, and that's a testament to how this country has been brainwashed into believing that industrialized food is cleaner and safer. But in fact, high-heat pasteurization and homogenization do a great disservice to the quality and value of the milk we drink. And most cases of salmonella associated with milk in the past decade have been from pasteurized products. Perhaps, like I did, you shun milk altogether? As recently as a couple of months ago, I was posting about all the alternatives—soy, almond, rice, hemp. Now that I've learned about how the high-heat and chemical extraction processes essentially damage these foods, I really can't recommend you consume any of them on a regular basis. I know, I know, the ground beneath us is always shifting. But I feel much more empowered now that I have begun to do my own research (forever indebted to Sally Fallon of Nourishing Traditions) and really understand the science behind my food choices. Don't despair, there's still plenty of good stuff to eat.
Terry 790 xxx

Turtle 790 xxx

5.24.10 Creature Feature: Swamp Things

This weekend was full of interesting animal friends. Pulling off the road to get a closer look at some baby geese, we wound up near a swampy pond where we saw a big osprey nest poised on top of a tall, limbless dead tree. With the binoculars, we could just make out the top of somebody's head and then, sure enough, mama (or daddy?) came swooping in with a big fish dangling from its talons! And just then, lumbering across the field and heading straight for the water was this big dame—a snapping turtle with a long tail like an alligator's, big beady eyes and plenty of attitude. She must have weighed about 20+ pounds, but they can get up to 45!
Broccoli soup1 790 xxx
photos by george billard

5.22.10 Chill Out

I got some free broccoli last week when my friend Laquita's husband Tim was on a photo shoot where they used 30 cases of the stuff to create a "forest." They dropped off a huge bag and I had to think fast. It was a hot day and I decided to make a cold soup. As we slide into warmer weather, cold soups make great lunches, snacks and first courses, and they're an ideal way to showcase fresh vegetables. Once the tomatoes are ripe it will be all about gazpacho, but for now broccoli, asparagus, spinach, sorrel and pea all make brilliant green soups. The basic steps are simmer the vegetable (or a combination) in chicken stock or water; puree it in a food processor; stir in some buttermilk, yogurt or cream (or a combination); jazz it up with some ground coriander, fresh mint or basil, lemon zest, vinegar, etc; and chill. If it needs thinning, use water, stock or more cream. You don't need to overthink this. I served mine garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprinkle of piment d'Espelette.
Crackers 790 xxx
photos by george billard

5.21.10 Wafer Thin

As I've mentioned before, ours is a gluten-free household. This does not mean we don't LOVE bread but G, my husband, was diagnosed as "gluten intolerant" a couple of years ago and tries his best to eat accordingly. (I support him in this, and feel it has done me a world of good as well.) Gluten is the gluey, stretchy stuff that gives products made from wheat, rye and barley their wonderfully meaty chew. Sadly, for celiacs and people with gluten intolerance, this is the same stuff that irritates the villi—microscopic finger-like projections that line the inner wall of the small intestine and aid in the absorption of food. In learning about this condition, I've come across a lot of information to indicate that refined highly processed flours are not so good for any of us. (I believe I already told you that my nutritionist, Sally Kravich, equates eating white flour with smearing your colon with that paste we used to make in elementary school.) The rise of inflammatory diseases like arthritis, colitis, IBS and even tooth decay is directly associated with the rise of agriculture and industry. Just try cutting out grains and starches from your diet for even 2 weeks to see how your aches and pains diminish. It's pretty amazing. But didn't our ancestors manage just fine eating grains, you ask? Actually, their approach to grains and baking was quite different from ours. Virtually all preindustrialized people soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge or bread or cake. Think how Indians ferment rice or lentils before making idlis and dosas; or how American pioneers made their breads and pancakes with sourdough starter. Way back when, instructions on the box of oatmeal even called for an overnight soak. Here's the science behind it (with thanks to Nourishing Traditions for breaking it down so intelligibly).
Coconutoil 790 xxx
coconut oil - photo by george billard

5.20.10 Fatty Tidbits

There are a few more things I want to share with you before we move on from our discussion (my diatribe?) on fats. I didn't get a chance to write much about vegetable oils/fats and I really want to clear up a few misconceptions. I think we all started to get the message about margarine a few years back, and the idea that butter was better (something our tastebuds knew all along) slipped back into our consciousness. Let me quickly explain why. Remember polyunsaturated oils? The ones that are so potentially damaging to your health because they become oxidized or rancid when exposed to heat, oxygen or moisture and let loose a whole lot of marauding whoop-ass? (This is why you are told never to heat flax seed oil.) If not, review here. I forgot to tell you that this is why you should seek out cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils if you are going to cook with any polyunsaturates. These are rendered in a heat-controlled environment. But it probably won't surprise you to hear that these phrases are bandied about rather liberally in this country and that chemicals often find their way into the mix. Spectrum is a good brand to seek out for their conscientious practices. This is yet another instance of how new technologies have rendered obsolete the old-fashioned, time-consuming yet much healthier ways of extracting nutrition from foods. Grinding things between two slow-moving stone presses turns out to be the way to go.