Monday, April 30, 2007

Field tripping

Yesterday I went on a culinary tour of the gardens at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. I've known folks related to OAEC for several years, but never had been there, shame on me. It was just the right temperature yesterday to explore the acres of gardens, a beautiful day. I took copious notes, but just want to reflect on a few things here.

First, I guess I need to quell the scientist inside, but I do wonder about some of the preparations natural folks get into. (This hearkens back to a few posts ago when I was trying to distinguish organic wine from wine made with organic grapes.)

But mostly I found the suggestions for uses of common and uncommon herbs, the other parts of some vegetables, and fruits, creative and inspiring. I particularly like the idea of using fruits in savory dishes. So when I got home I harvested the rest of my window box chard (all the cool weather things are bolting) and stir-sauteed it in part oil and part water, tossing in some dried cranberries and a little Meyer lemon rind. It was great!

Yes, I know - cranberries aren't a local crop. They are a food from my birth culture, and I do like tossing the dried ones into things.

Another inspiring observation is that you CAN grow rhubarb around here - though maybe it helps to be that much wetter (as Occidental is compared to Santa Rosa). They had tons of it which had bolted, and some they were still cutting.

Rhubarb is another fruit (which, of course, is a stem, not a fruit) of my childhood. And one which lends itself well to interesting combinations. One of the things I liked about Sweden was that rhubarb was a standard flavor (like cherry or strawberry is here). So, rhubarb soda, rhubarb ice cream, etc. One of the best things I had there was rhubarb pie with a crumb topping served with basil ice cream. Imagine it.

When I began this blog I said, "Don't be surprised if once in a while I lapse into recipes." So here is how I prepared some purchased Oregon rhubarb (inspired by the BBC Good Food site) the other evening:
Cut up enough rhubarb to sit evenly in one layer in a 9 x 13 stainless pan (or glass or an enamel roaster). Cut the stalks in half lengthwise and then in 2 or 3 inch pieces. Pour over one modest glass rose (that's supposed to have an accent aigu, and I don't know where to find it here), tuck in some slivers of orange zest - I used the last blood orange - and sprinkle over 1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cover with foil and "roast" in a 400F oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook 5-10 minutes longer, or what it takes to reduce the liquid some.
This is good with plain yogurt - and you could sprinkle a little granola or a few nuts over the top.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Charles Windsor, farmer

I'm not really sure why, maybe I like the photo of the pigs, but I posted an article about the Prince of Wales' farming endeavors. The link to his address to Slow Food a couple of years ago shows him to be pretty understanding of the justice dynamics, especially for someone rolling in so much dough and real estate.

Moderation in all things...

including moderation. attributed to Mae West

Two articles in this Wednesday's New York Times have prompted me to do a little preaching on this theme.

The first article is about organic and related movements among grape growers and wine makers. "When the Wine Is Green" discusses the movement toward sustainability in the vineyards. Since I live in the wine country and care about the health of the land, I am all in favor of sustainable grape growing. I think sustainable is actually more progressive than organic, though it's generally understood that sustainable is a label used by those who don't want to go through formal organic certification. What I mean is - if you are organic and haul in manure from miles and miles away, that's not necessarily sustainable.

What I think is outlandish is "biodynamic" grape growing. I do know, having grown up on the Farmer's Almanac, that those who work the land have traditionally planted and done other tasks according to the phases of the moon. I think at some level this may make sense - though I don't know why. Since the moon does have a measurable effect on any body of water, it can affect weather patterns, etc.

But doing all one's gardening astrologically has to come under the heading of woo-woo science.

Steiner, who brought us biodynamic gardening, also brought us Waldorf schools. I love the fact that they teach knitting, but find their spirituality questionable, and wonder why any Christian parent would send their child to a Waldorf school. But then, I know many church folk aren't very reflective or questioning about pop spirituality in its various manifestations.

I'd also like to file a comment about organic wine. Organic grapes, si; organic wine, non. Organic wine is like home canning, only more risky, and someone else is doing it and expects you to pay a premium price for it.

The other article was on the locavore movement. Or loco-vores or yokel-vores as I learned are variations. If you can't get local grains or flour, and you like bread, go ahead and buy some. Do no be like the woman described in this article who bought local grain even though it had mouse droppings in it, and sieved them out. My word, hasn't she heard of hanta virus? dangerous strains of E.coli?

When I attended the local harvest fest in Willits last fall, I overheard someone say, "After all, the spice trade has been going on for millennia." Amen. Do as much of your food sourcing locally as you can, give up the produce flown in from Chile in winter - but if you need to buy salt or flour or whatever, just do your best to find out where it's from and make your peace with it. This is about consciousness, not about purity codes!

One other thing I was reminded of in Willits: preserving food is a lost art, but we would all have a lot more variety from our local sources if we revived it. A member of the LDS church, where, especially in rural areas, such traditions have been kept alive, had some demos and lots of information there in Willits. And while some may say, "get a freezer" I'd like to point out that freezing is the most energy intensive method of long term food preservation. Freezing requires energy inputs from the beginning of the process until you take the fish you caught last summer out to thaw. Canning and drying are energy intensive at the beginning, but then not. And properly canned foods last longer than frozen.

It's not practical for most of us to do pressure canning, and animals really do best, at least for modern tastes, with freezing (well, maybe drying/smoking works for some of it). But I regularly can applesauce and tomatoes, make the occasional batch of ketchup, and make jams, butters, chutneys of unwanted fruit. It's easy, and it sits on the shelf not requiring anything until I use it to liven up dull meals in seasons when there's not much variety in fresh produce.

I was fortunate to have a grandmother and mother who knew how to do these things, and to be around rural elders working for the church in Nevada who did, too. If you don't know how, find someone to teach you before it's too late.

Monday, April 23, 2007

an article I wish I'd written

Do check out the article by Michael Pollan from yesterday's New York Times over in the links. He's covered, in a compact article, many of the issues we need to address in a renewed Farm Bill. (Unfortunately not bio-fuels, but hey - you can't do everything in three pages.) While I find it easy to gripe about the more stereotypical folks from Marin and Berkeley, I think Pollan manages for the most part to avoid elitism in his writing about the food system. God bless him for pointing out the difference in the cost of subsidized industrial food and fresh food in ways we can grasp. It fits right in with the eat local theme for this week - the challenge of doing so on a budget. And Pollan's reminded us once again that real change will require more than consumer choices. It will take political creativity and nerve as well as some systems revisioning.

Earth Day and travel food

It's frustrating having way too much time in an airport and being asked to pay for wireless service. It seems as though with all my communication bills - cell phone, dsl and home phone - coming from ATT, they ought to give me free access to their wireless network.

Today is Earth Day (though I'll be posting this Earth Monday). I can't say it's been a particularly banner one. The ecumenical roundtable on science technology and faith wrapped up before noon, and now I am wending - and I mean wending - my way home from Manchester, NH, via Dulles. I can only hope that this next leg gets to San Francisco on time, so I can get the 11:00 p.m. bus home. If I have to wait for the 12:30 it will be a 23 hour day - which always makes me feel I should have gone to Europe, not a mill town in New England.

It's not been a memorable trip food-wise. I know from experience what a frustrating time of year this is for anything fresh and seasonal in the northeast, and things haven't changed much. Yes -there's lots of imported food. The market in Manchester where I picked up some whole wheat pita for today's Eucharist was spectacular. But local specialities? Only the real maple syrup on this morning's french toast casserole at the retreat house where we met.

It's also pretty frustrating traveling and trying to eat anything like I do at home. If I make the mistake of letting people know that I eat fish, there's way too much of it and usually the unsustainable and questionable stuff like farmed salmon and shrimp. I think from now on I will just tell people I don't eat any animals. I also only saw beans once on this trip, and very little whole grain bread. White flour seems to be big in New England.

A couple of interesting things. Tuesday I went to two wine tastings with Pam. To-the-trade kinds of things - folks from restaurants and package stores. It was interesting trying wines from Europe and South America, and maybe even one or two from Australia. I realized that wine and beer are areas where I am committed to buying local, and have been for some time. I also realized that I like the Sonoma stylings of wines. There was nothing that I tried that I wished were local to me, except the ones that actually were.

At the wine shop in Plymouth I saw a magazine called Edible Boston. It had an article on oysters from my home town, and other info on the local and slow food scene in greater Boston. Since the shop owners had two copies they'd gotten for free, they gave me one. I learned a lot I don't need to know - since Boston isn't in my foodshed most of the time - but I also learned that this is one of a series of magazines which seem to be done on a franchise plan. They have similar covers, layouts, purposes, but there are more than twenty regional editions done by different people. There are editions for Sacramento, San Francisco, and the East Bay, and lots of content is available on-line.

Scroll down on this page and on the right you will see a compilation of links to food pages of most major newspapers in the U.S.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

biofuels part 2

Here's a place to begin, a middle of the road article from Science Digest:

It compares corn-based ethanol with soy-based biodiesel, commenting on energy gain and emission reductions.

Monday, April 16, 2007

night thoughts on biofuels

I really am concerned about the push on biofuels, and began thinking about it while I was not sleeping on a red eye the other night.

I had noticed that the office of governmental relations of the Episcopal Church, in their series of alerts on the Farm Bill during Lent, advocated increased funding for research and development of biofuels without any caveats. I wonder that in the ecochic craze around global warming we have forgotten to think systemically about the impact of such technologies. No, let me correct that - many people that are awakening to environmental activism never learned to think systemically.

Some questions to think about:

What is the true cost of producing a particular bio fuel? That is, what is the cost to the environment?

Assuming that biofuels are grown using industrial agriculture methods, that is with fossil fuel
inputs in the form of fertilizers and other chemicals, what is the net energy gain?

Who profits from the production of biofuels? Is it our same old friends Monsanto, ADM and Cargill? In the proposed legislation who is eligible for these research grants? And are there grants to study impacts of biofuel cultivation and production, not just grants to develop clever ways to make the stuff.

How much biofuel could we produce in the US without it impacting adversely our ability to grow food crops? What impact will biofuel growth and production have on food security? What conservation measures would conserve an equivalent amount of fossil fuels?

If we import biofuels, what impact will that have on other countries food security, habitats and quality of life?

I feel like I need to do a treasure hunt of web sites to find answers to these and related questions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Just when we got through Lent

- here is another challenge.

The Eat Local group blog suggests we consider eating local the week that begins with Earth Day (Sunday, April 22). Since this fits right in with the NCCC eco-justice theme for this year, it seems like a great idea.

But they suggest an extra added twist: eating local on a budget. Not a stringent poverty level budget, just an average American household budget. The reason for this is the folks who complain about the cost of eating locally. For me, a single person, that's $68. I actually think I spend less than this most weeks on food, eating mostly locally, but it will be interesting to do the math.

Actually I've wanted to do this and add one more twist - doing it without a car, and on a poverty budget. That would certainly point up the weak parts of the food system from the perspective of the most vulnerable. I note on the blog that they do two challenges a year, the next one in October. Maybe then? Stay tuned.

And happy eastertide.

Saturday, April 7, 2007


Last spring, when the youth group at the congregation where I was volunteering decided to focus our earth day celebration on food, they began asking "What Would Jesus Eat?" After we explored this for a while, I opined that the real question might be "With Whom Would Jesus Eat?" Certainly the stories of Jesus' pre-paschal ministry focus much more on this. Jesus was always earning disfavor for his choice of companions.

Reading "Thursday" in The Last Week, I was reminded that it's not an either/or.

"But meals were not just about inclusion. They were also, and crucially, about food. The meals of Jesus were not ritual meals in which food had only or primarily symbolic meaning. They were real meals, not a morsel and a sip as in our observance of the Eucharist. For Jesus, real food - bread - mattered."

The authors remind us that the petition for bread is in a prominent slot in the "Our Father." And that "For Jesus's peasant audience, bread - enough food for the day - was one of two central survival issues of their lives (the other was debt)." (And for so many in the world today the preoccupations of their lives.)

"The Last Supper continues and culminates in Jesus's emphasis upon meals and food as God's justice."

Thinking about this meal as both The Last Supper and The First Supper of the future relationship of disciples to Jesus is also very helpful.

I've been trying to recall: is there a Eucharistic prayer that links all the meals with Jesus together? From the manger, through the feeding of multitudes and partying with outcasts, to the First/Last Supper, to grilled fish on the beach (after resurrection it's still about real meals), on to the meals of Christians through the ages - our just suppers when they are - and looking to the time when the reign of God is fully realized and all have enough?

If you know of such a prayer, please post a comment and let me know.

If not, I need to write one.

lenten report

In an hour or so I drive north to share the Easter Vigil with friends at St. Francis in the Redwoods, Willits.

So how did I do with my lenten tasks?

On hoarding, bringing food into the house I do better without, I did pretty well - except for one break down when I bought a pint of ice cream. Oh well, at least it was just a pint, which meant I didn't hoard it for long. A number of times I stopped myself when in a store and seeing a good buy, thinking "Oh - better stock up on that." And said to myself (let's hope it was to myself and I haven't become one of the market mutterers) "But you don't need it in the first place." I also learned that you can find a way to get today's chocolate most any day.

Same with eating in the car. I had just one little breakdown - of my discipline, not the car - and I can't remember now when or where. I do think I've quit this habit. It is just so much better to eat at a table, or even, on long drives, beside the road. It's a much more mindful and thankful, as opposed to compulsive, way of eating. And one tends to have more wholesome things. Things that require two hands. Of course, I do have water in the car.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

When I began writing here, my thought was to move through the topics I had set for seven lessons in an on-line course that did not go. But somewhere along the line I got derailed by the latest news and recipes, the Farm Bill issues, etc., etc., etc.

This being Holy Week and Passover, though, seems a good time to pick up one thread from the course I haven't done much with, and that's food and culture.

One of the best ways to explore this, to stretch beyond one's own culture to others, and then move back to thinking about one's own ways with food with fresh eyes, is to watch a food movie.

You could begin by checking out the list here under "Yummy"

To that list add Tortilla Soup. It's Eat, Drink, Man, Woman with a Mexican American flavor - truly, it’s exactly the same film with different accents.

Another film to consider is Avalon, a Barry Levinson film about a multi-generational Jewish family’s engagement with American Thanksgiving, a sad journey of trying to learn a new culture's feasts, and then over the generations losing all habits of shared meals.

Big Night is one of my favorite food movies, perhaps because I like Italian food. The struggle between integrity and success has great appeal as a theme, too. The last scene between the two brothers is a wonderful snap shot of reconciliation

I liked Mostly Martha, too - but it’s mostly not about food, but the young woman chef's neuroses.

Some of the more political films listed on the Eat Grub site also have a clear cultural context. Super Size Me certainly does, though we'd probably rather not think about it as "culture" unless we're anthropologists.

If you know of other films with food and culture themes, please post a comment with a thumbnail review.

Monday, April 2, 2007

movin' the mulch around

Today I worked for a while at the community garden. I've been meaning to post some photos here, but it seems easier to give the link to the web page:

You can take a look and learn about the goals for the garden project there.