Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mirror, mirror on the wall

who's the biggest (and priciest) cheese producer of them all?

California is on its way to being number one, and my locale to reigning as #1 in high end cheese production.

In today's Press Democrat:

Frankly, if I want local cheese, I find I either have to go to the source, or make my local bigger (to include Humboldt and Del Norte counties). I can't afford the prices charged at local markets for local "artisan" cheese. (Too bad the cows aren't artisan. Organic maybe. No synthetic bovine growth hormone, certainly. But the increased yields of milk with fewer cows touted in the article can only mean that cows are being kept in a state for milking more months per year than is healthy for them or us.)

Just when I am wondering who does pay $20 a pound for cheese, my market sleuthing reveals this interesting phenomenon: the grocery cart in front of me in line holds three kinds of the pricey stuff - including a Humboldt County type I recognize as running $17 and up a pound - and a loaf of wonder bread. Will wonders never cease?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I'm finishing up some cooking to take to friends with whom I will be eating Christmas dinner. I also raided the pantry for some preserves and condiments to take along, and am still having difficulty deciding on which wine - since only two of us drink it, it seems silly to have one for the crab (the local, seasonal Christmas treat) and one for the turkey (without heritage, but locally and kindly grown).

Last evening I made the right decision - to drive north and celebrate the first Eucharist of Christmas in the Redwood Cluster. The array of holiday lights along 101 and 20 was amazing. But the most amazing was the gorgeous moon rise.

I quote yesterday's poem of the day from the WACCO digest:

Cold moonlight shines
on the end and beginning
of everything.
Andrew Zarrillo

May you feast well.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

salmon woes

Last week I read a couple of articles about problems with pink salmon parasites. Farming is impacting the wild populations as the young fish swim from their river nurseries through coastal areas where the farming pens are out to sea. In the words of one scientist, it's not a question of whether but when pink salmon, that staple of the canned fish world, will be extinct.

I found the BBC story somewhat more informative than the NY Times one, but I post both here.

Cultural Choices

I've been thinking even more about food and culture lately, though I think food and culture may be a bit redundant. Surely our behaviors and choices and taboos around eating are an integral part of culture, maybe even central.

It's easy to blame the big food manufacturers and the system of farm subsidies for our fascination with mixes and prefab and faux foods. But I realized in reading Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads (Sylvia Lovgren, 1995) how much of an influence World War II shortages, rationing and patriotic promotions had on our taste for Crisco, Bisquick, Karo and the like. Mixes contained rationed fats and sugar - and were not themselves rationed. And there is a reason most of my grandmother's recipes contained molasses: she cooked her way through two world wars and a depression on my grandfather's working man's salary.

Then today I heard the latest Hidden Kitchens story on NPR, about Nisei tastes and traditions influenced by foods available or grown in the internment camps.

Reading about the camps always makes me weep for shame for our country, but the recipe for Weenie Royale and the thought of Spam Sushi (or Spam Musubi as they call it in Hawaii) somehow lighten my thoughts.

The writers extend their reflection in a way that should give all of us pause about the way wars and colonialism destroy food cultures:
"Millions of people live in refugee camps around the world now, being fed commodities and surplus. It made us think about the impact on so many cultures within so many nations when they are denied their own food and traditions, when they are forcibly displaced and their land and homes taken from them."


Monday, December 17, 2007

seasonal wisdom

Just as I love everyday frugality and simplicity, I love holiday splurges.

Nigella Lawson in her latest cookbook, Nigella Express (too many expensive shortcuts in some of the recipes, but her usual food loving breezy prose) offers:

"This time of year [Christmas] anyway invites excess, so don't worry about overdoing anything, and just go for it. The only thing that ruins a party is anxiety."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simply the best study course yet

If you are looking for a study course on food for your congregation let me recommend the Simply in Season Leader's Study Guide.

This is a companion to the Simply in Season cookbook - in fact the texts for the study group are the cookbook and the bible. What could be better than that?

Perhaps the fact that this is a balanced, thoughtful, study - with enough attention to detail that an inexperienced leader could convene and facilitate it, but enough flexibility that someone already knowledgeable about the subject and skilled in adult ed practices could have fun enriching, adapting and varying it.

The basic six sessions will help any group begin to engage more with food as a spiritual issue.

And the supplementary lessons allow for a deeper exploration of biblical background and engagement with specific food system issues.

These books - and a third one in the suite, the Simply in Season Children's Cookbook, are brought to us by the Mennonite Central Committee. Those of us of a certain age remember the More with Less cookbook, with its emphasis on frugality, and living simply that others might simply live in the seventies when more of us in the churches were concerned with world hunger than perhaps are now. That book is still in print, as is its sequel, an international more with less Extending the Table.

For the last year or so it seemed like whenever I looked at cookbooks on Amazon, Simply in Season came up under the you-might-also-like banner. A few friends had recommended it. But it wasn't until I learned about the study guide that I broke down and ordered the package.

Imagine a cookbook arranged seasonally, with real recipes from real people like an old fashioned church or community cookbook, plus thought pieces on food and ethics and peace and spirituality, and with a glossary, helpful tables, and a detailed guide to the 51 seasonal produce items featured in the recipes. Talk about having it all...

And - it's beautiful, and the comb binding allows it to lie flat on the kitchen counter.

Read more about it here:

and peruse the fruit and vegetable guide.

And check out the study sessions here:

I'm wondering which congregation or group I can persuade to do this study with me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Consumer Heaven

Last Wednesday a new market opened in my neighborhood. There are three Oliver's in the county now, and this one is only .9 miles from my home.

I'd been apprehensive about this, considering it an elitist sort of place, with too many things I don't need at prices I can't afford. But because they have local food and it's within walking distance, I've been practicing getting over my reverse snobbery at one of the other two.

What I had learned was that if I shopped for seasonal produce and specials it would not be so bad. Then I learned that if you shop before 4 p.m. on Wednesday, and if you are an older person, you get a 10% discount. This began to look pretty good.

I went on opening day, stopping by on my way back from errands farther afield. The store felt like the casinos in Reno did when a senior tour busload had just been decanted. And it was jammed. Difficult to park, difficult to get around, difficult to see many things. I did have the pleasure though of running into some acquaintances from southern California who retired up this way a decade or so ago. I learned that the crabs - first of the season - were from Crescent City, and just by ducking down a less crowded aisle or two, I saw items on sale I never would have thought of at a high end market - like cat food. I also felt covetousness beginning to kick into gear... As my neighbor said - it was hard to get out of there without wanting everything in the store.

On Sunday, realizing I was out of cheesecloth in which to wrap fruitcakes for storage, and needing some exercise, I walked over for a second visit. More pleasant surprises: local tortillas on sale, local honey available in bulk, coupons and samples of local goat's milk yogurt. And the unbleached cheesecloth was cheaper than the bleached - imagine! Usually when less has been done to an item in the market, it costs more.

(They still didn't have any dried pears - see my entry of December 2 - but I had managed to get some at a fruit stand in the west county in the meantime - so the fruitcakes are done and swaddled.)

The saddest part of this trip was that even on the afternoon of a crystal clear 60 degree day I saw only one other pedestrian in my half-hour of walking. I am thrilled to have a place I can walk to that feels like a food field trip, and this is not exactly a low density neighborhood. Why isn't everybody out there on the streets, exercising and grocerizing?

Women, Men and Food

was the title of a syposium at the Radcliffe Institute last spring.

You can view all the panels via Harvard at Home:

I haven't watched them all yet, but the lessons about women and sugar, women and famine, women and eating disorders, etc., are all important, and the speakers include popular food writers, activists and scholars.

Besides, what are you watching? re-runs? or the Frosty Rudolph specials?

More here as I study the various panels.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Why is it that when I want to participate in the consumer culture...

I fail so miserably.

These days I am looking for a couple of ingredients for holiday baking, and looking, and looking, and looking...

Over the years I developed a recipe for what I call a California fruitcake - because it has lots of dried fruit soaked in plenty of alcohol rather than the nasty bits of candied tropical fruit, faux cherries, etc., and plenty of California nuts. Just think - a pretty much local seasonal treat. The backbone of this cake is dried pears. But I can't find any anywhere around here. I now have checked five markets - a national chain, a regional chain, a local market, a health food co-op and whatever Trader Joe's is - a transnational specialty food emporium? I used to always get these at Trader Joe's when it was a California chain, but the choices in dried fruit have been greatly reduced, and many of them are imported. You can get dried pears in mixed dried fruit - but both the national brand, Sunmaid, and a small organic label I found are not California fruit, but from China or Argentina, if I recall correctly.

Some of the best pears in California come from the region north of here where I am working with the congregations. Today I drove by the Safeway in Lakeport, where they had a rather tattered banner flapping "We have Lake County Pears" - but the only dried ones were the imported jobs in the Sunmaid mixture, and the weekend produce manager said there were no dried pears on her order sheets.

I'm now wondering if the fruit and nut emporia between here and Sacramento might be the places to check - but I've just had a trip over that way, and don't expect another until next year.

So, I tried the internet, where the best prices on California dried pears are kosher markets in New York and New Jersey.

The other item I've been looking for is rolled rye, which I use in some yeast baking items. Heck, you can even get rolled quinoa in the bulk bins - but only rye flour (no pumpernickel) and rolled rye as one of the four in a rolled cereal flakes melange. This is now a several year quest. I may have to order a case of it from Bob's Red Mill in Oregon if I want to ever make those great rye rolls again.

Bottled Water at the Spiritual Smorgasbord

I'm not sure whether this article in the NY Times (Wednesday, November 28) is worth commenting on or not.

Any takers?