Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Video Farm Trip III: Planning CSA Shares

As city-based CSA member, I'm on the receiving end of a long process. Vegetables, fruit, flowers and eggs just magically show up every week at my CSA drop-site in Brooklyn, leaving me with very vague notions of the machinations behind the mesclun mix.

Williamsburg CSA

A recent trip out to my CSA source, Garden of Eve Farm, finally unveiled some of the hard work and careful planning that go into each bulb of fennel and head of cabbage I nestle into my weekly totebag of goodies.

Since they're responsible for literally hundreds of families' vegetable deliveries on a weekly basis, Chris and Eve need to simultaneously tend to innumerable everyday details of running a farm (like all those little weeds sprouting up every week) and think through the larger farm-strategy issues (like scheduling their labor and plant-growth cycles).

Every week, they need to harvest enough veggies to supply their farmstand, stock the various farmers' market stands and make sure all those CSA members are happy and well-fed.

In this video, Chris talks a little bit about how he fills the weekly CSA orders and the why the September CSA shares are, surprisingly, some of the most challenging shares of the season.



If you'd like to see the whole tasty farm tour in photo form, click here for the Garden of Eve Farm flickr set.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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8.26.2009

Video Farm Trip II: The Antique Roadshow

One of the most interesting things I learned while visiting Garden of Eve Farm just recently is the way that small-scale organic veggie farmers like Chris and Eve are looking to the technology of yesterday to help them streamline their work today.

Farm Implements
All-Crop Combine in the back, New Holland (a seeder, I think) up in the front.

When you really think about it, this makes sense. It wasn't until after WWII that American farmers started using industrial pesticides and fertilizers.

That brave new world made greater yields possible, and US food prices dropped. There was much rejoicing, and the decades since that time have increasingly been devoted to developing equipment for a different kind of farm altogether: the large-scale commercial farm.

Celli Equipment
I believe this one is an old mechanical spader from Celli, an Italian company

So these days, looking to the farm equipment of the 1930s, 40s and 50s really does seem like smart a way to give small family farmers access to the height of technology in those years when "organic" farming practices were the norm.

In this video, Chris talks about how he tracked down his All-Crop Combine, a machine that's remarkable for its ability to harvest everything from large seeds like soybeans to even itty-bitty flower seeds.



And I must admit, Chris' All-Crop is a pretty cool machine. If you want to learn more about it, there are groups devoted to the admiration of old combines like this one. I particularly like the antique advertising displays at this site.

One last farm video on the way tomorrow!

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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8.25.2009

Video Farm Trip I: Farming is Hard Work

Having been a CSA member for many years, it's my great shame that I've only just visited the source of my delicious veggies. Thankfully, now I've been there and back, returning with armfuls of fun things to share.

Rows of Purple Cabbage

But first, a little context: Garden of Eve Farm spreads out across 120 acres on Long Island.

Family farmers Chris and Eve actively seed 40 acres of that land at any one time with their organic vegetables and flowers, leaving about 40 acres as wild forestland and working to enrich the organic matter in the soil of the remaining 40 fallow acres.

Eve, Forrest and Chris

They've had a CSA program for about four years, they run a shop at the farm and they sell produce and flowers on the weekends at farmers' market locations, including one at the Greenpoint Farmers' Market.

In this video, you'll see the farm's bees and chickens, and hear Chris talk about work on the farm.



Can't get enough farm life? You're in luck... I'll publish part II of this three-part series tomorrow and the third video on Wednesday.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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8.24.2009

Best. Amateur Cookbook. Ever.

"I think I need more," she said, with only the slightest trace of sheepish guilt in her expression. "If I give you money, can you see if they have more?"

Tomorrow is my CSA pick-up day.

But today, my coworker, a fellow local food devotee, is hitting me up. She's shoving money in my hands. For vegetables? Nah. For fruit? Nope. She wants cookbooks. Cookbooks produced by CSA volunteers, no less.

Well Seasoned Cookbook

Honestly, I bought one out of obligation. Sight unseen, I plunked down my $20 and expected I'd receive in return some homely little packet of jumbled text.

I expected an amateur effort that I'd push into my bookshelf and never, ever reach for (except to drag it from living space to living space throughout the course of my life). That's how these things work.

Well Seasoned Vegetable Guide

But lo! The cover was actually pretty nice. The pages were attractive. The photography was certifiably gorgeous. The interstitial artwork was tasteful. The recipes looked genuinely tasty. Indeed, it appeared this might be the first amateur cookbook I'd put into regular use in my kitchen.

My coworker saw it the next day and immediately wanted one. So at the next week's pick-up, I bought one for her and an extra copy for myself.

This week, I'm going back for more. I'm buying these cookbooks not out of some idea about nurturing the community, but out of a need for more of these great cookbooks that I can give as gifts.

Well Seasoned Side Dish Pages

Keep in mind, this was a very small-run book. You probably won't ever actually see one. (You can cook my two contributions — Summer Succotash and Divine Brine for Ramps, Scallions or Onions — from the recipes here.) But you may someday be involved in creating a community cookbook yourself. After all, thousands of these things are published on small press runs every year.

If and when that happens, you might be interested in doing what the Williamsburg-Greenpoint CSA is doing, because clearly, they're getting a few things right.

Well Seasoned Chapter Pages

Making Your Community Cookbook ROCK (Learnings from the GWCSA Cookbook)
1. Know the Readers. (CSA members, in this case.)
The folks who put this book together were very selective about which recipes would be most useful to their audience. They didn't use every recipe that came to the desk. And I think they chose well. A recipe like Zucchini & Caramelized Kohlrabi Quesadillas might not be right for every cookbook, but that page is bound to be a great relief to someone faced with a bunch of kohlrabi and no ideas. (That'll be me next month.)

2. Keep it Focused.
The Well Seasoned cookbook has a real sense of place. In addition to recipes from GWCSA members, the editors include recipes from beloved local restaurants. I'm looking forward to cooking Enid's Sweet & Hot Collard Greens and making Taco Chulo's Escabeche this summer.

3. Include relevant extras.
The front of the book begins with a guide to identifying and cooking all the major CSA vegetables we see throughout the season. The back of the book features a conversion guide, cooking terms, cook's notes and a nicely organized index. There are sidebars on Home Composting, Cooking for Pets and Preserving Summer's Bounty (canning, pickling and drying).

4. Use gorgeous photography.
So many small-run cookbooks neglect the mouthwatering beauty that color photographs provide, and that's a shame. I know it involves extra cost in the printing, but nothing inspires and motivates a cookbook reader like visions of tastiness dancing in the head.

5. Pay attention to detail.
The book printed on recycled, chlorine-free paper using wind power (see point #1). Each recipe includes servings/yield and the approximate preparation time. Vegan recipes are noted with a symbol beside the recipe name. All the food photography notes the recipe name and its page number. The book is spiral-bound to make it easy to use in the kitchen. There's a consistent recipe style used throughout. Attention to this kind of minutia might seem fussy, but it's essential when you actually want to prepare the recipes, as opposed to using the piece as a coffee table book.


The truth of the matter is this: my CSA, the GWCSA, is populated by very talented professionals. This amateur cookbook isn't strictly amateur. I note that the editor of this volume has years of experience in publishing, the art director/illustrator works for Saveur and the lead photographer seems to know her way around a food shot.

That said, I think anyone doing their own small-run cookbook can heed five simple hints from the pros (know the reader, keep it focused, provide extras, use color photography, mind the details) and polish a rough-hewn booklet into a useful and appealing little gem that'll keep people (like my swooning coworker) coming back for more.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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6.30.2009

A Run on the Food Bank

Riddle me this, reader... It's never taken me more than 10 minutes to complete my annual Community Supported Agriculture program signup. So why did I just return from a CSA signup session that took TWO HOURS?

What's the sudden public obsession with local vegetables? Should I blame Michael Pollan? Mark Bittman? Alice Waters? The recession? The FDA peanut recall? All or none of the above?

Maybe this is the year in which investments in financial markets feel more risky than investments farmers' markets.

Springtime CSA Box

Whatever the reason, I'll tell you this: interest in farm-to-city produce in my neighborhood has skyrocketed this year.

I strolled into my local church basement not long after the doors opened, only to discover a robust room. I was already 48th on the list.

One of the volunteers told me that virtually everyone she'd spoken with tonight had been a signing up as a first-time CSA member.

CSA Lettuces

And maybe I should've been forewarned.

A coworker of mine has belonged to a different Brooklyn CSA for several years, and she told me she was a little late in sending in her signup form this year. Usually that's not a problem.

But her CSA filled up before January. Interest was huge, and she missed the boat. Now she's just a sad, veggie-free name on a long waiting list.

With that kind of tragedy in mind, I should just be grateful to have had options to buy stock in vegetable futures.

But if you're wondering what to do with the veggies of the present... hearty greens like chard, kale and collards and should be your friends right now.

Luckily, our nutritionist at work just gave me an easy, delicious recipe for kale. And since it's from the nutritionist, so you know it can't be bad for you, no?

In any case, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I share...
Eileen's Crispy Greens (Serves 4)
1 bunch kale
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Sea salt, to taste

1. Wash the kale well. Strip the leaves away from the stems (save the stems for stock) and cut the leaves into 2" to 3" pieces.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss the pieces with olive oil to coat.
3. Heat the oven to 350°F and spread the prepared leaves across a baking sheet.
4. Sprinkle the leaves with the cider vinegar, then place in the middle of the oven. 5. After 10 minutes, shift the leaves in the pan to help them brown more evenly. Continue roasting until the kale pieces are crisp like potato chips and lightly browned. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sea salt and serve hot.

So then, what have we learned today?

1. The early bird gets the local vegetables.
2. Even nutritionists know that everything tastes delicious when it's roasted and salted.

Yours in food worship,
Miss Ginsu

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2.17.2009

Mad for Peaches

Millions of peaches, peaches for me...

With July now ripe and full, I believe the whole world's tipping at the brink of peach madness.

Over at the White On Rice Couple blog, one finds adorable dogs licking peaches.

I myself just received 15 juicy little darlings in last night's CSA box. They're about to become peach compote or peach pie or maybe just peaches with yogurt if only I can keep myself from devouring them all in a dripping, fleshy mess over the sink.



Then, of course, I stumbled over this entertaining peach reverie (from The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki [H. H. Munro]) at Project Gutenberg while eating a particularly fine specimen myself:

"How nice of you to remember my aunt when you can no longer recall the names of the things you ate.

Now my memory works quite differently. I can remember a menu long after I've forgotten the hostess that accompanied it. When I was seven years old I recollect being given a peach at a garden-party by some Duchess or other; I can't remember a thing about her, except that I imagine our acquaintance must have been of the slightest, as she called me a 'nice little boy,' but I have unfading memories of that peach.

It was one of those exuberant peaches that meet you halfway, so to speak, and are all over you in a moment. It was a beautiful unspoiled product of a hothouse, and yet it managed quite successfully to give itself the airs of a compote. You had to bite it and imbibe it at the same time.

To me there has always been something charming and mystic in the thought of that delicate velvet globe of fruit, slowly ripening and warming to perfection through the long summer days and perfumed nights, and then coming suddenly athwart my life in the supreme moment of its existence. I can never forget it, even if I wished to.

And when I had devoured all that was edible of it, there still remained the stone, which a heedless, thoughtless child would doubtless have thrown away; I put it down the neck of a young friend who was wearing a very décolleté sailor suit.

I told him it was a scorpion, and from the way he wriggled and screamed he evidently believed it, though where the silly kid imagined I could procure a live scorpion at a garden-party I don't know. Altogether, that peach is for me an unfading and happy memory--"


Now, I wasn't going to offer up a recipe at all, because, after all, a summer peach is a glorious thing. Why mess with success, right?

But then I realized that I've been needlessly cruel. In checking through my online recipe file, it's clear that I've never posted my glorious Ginger Peach Pie. For shame! It's a delight that never fails to please a crowd.

And, after all, one who is blessed with peaches should at least consider sharing them. Especially with ice cream. Or crème fraîche.
Spiced Ginger Peach Pie (with or without crumble topping, below)

2 Tbsp dry tapioca pearls
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2-3/4 tsp garam masala blend (or substitute 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ground dry ginger or cinnamon)
1/4 tsp salt
3 large peaches, sliced in 1/2" wedges
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (about 1" piece)
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest

1 pie crust
Crumble topping (use a double crust if you're not doing the crumble topping)

1. Heat oven to 375°F and blind bake* the pie shell for 10-15 minutes.
2. Pulverize the tapioca pearls with a clean coffee grinder, a mortar/pestle or a food processor. Blend the powdered tapioca with the brown sugar and garam masala (or ground spices) and salt.
3. In a mixing bowl, gently combine the peach slices with the freshly grated ginger, brown sugar/tapioca blend, lime juice and zest.
4. Pour the peach mixture into the baked pie shell, packing the slices into place.
5. Sprinkle evenly with the crumble topping (if using) or lay on the top pie crust. If using a pie crust top, be sure to open up several holes to allow steam to escape.
6. Bake the pie on a cookie sheet for about 45 minutes (or until the filling bubbles), checking the pie after 20 minutes to make sure the edges aren't overbrowning. (If the edges do start looking a bit brown, cover them with strips of aluminum foil.)
7. Cool the pie on a rack for approximately 1 hour before serving.

*Blind baking is a process that involves pre-cooking the pie shell a bit (usually with pie weights or dry beans in the shell to keep it from bubbling and rising). This keeps the crust more crisp, which is especially nice for juicy fruit pies.

Crumble Topping
3 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, optional
1 dash salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut in 1/2" pieces

1. In a mixing bowl, blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, oats and nuts.
2. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork until the blend resembles a uniform gravel. Sprinkle atop the pie filling and bake as directed above.


Cheers!

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7.24.2008

What's In The Box? Part II

It's week two of my half-share CSA distribution. The local weather's been alternating between gorgeous sunny days and violent thunderstorms recently. That has to be affecting the local veggies.

The first shipment was heavy on lettuces. So what's in the box this week?

What's in the Box?

  • Arugula
  • Zucchini... big 'uns!
  • Chinese cabbage (flowering, but still tasty)
  • Mesclun lettuce mix
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Pea shoots
  • Baby braising greens (a mix of tatsoi, mustard greens, kale and mizuna)
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Eggs
  • A bouquet of cosmos, snapdragons, sunflowers, dianthus, rye and oats

    Alas, asparagus season is over. Goodbye, local asparagus!

    Everything looked great except for the radishes, a few of which had burst open (I assume that's the result of our irregular rain this season) and the strawberries, which were clearly soft and on their way out.

    The radishes were just a cosmetic issue, but I knew the berries wouldn't last the night. So as I piled my pint in a zip-top bag and pedaled home, I thought of one magic word: compote

    Yes, a simple compote is the fruit buyer's best friend. Mushed, soft berries, excess rhubarb, bruised peaches... clean 'em off, chop 'em up and throw 'em in a saucepan with a little sugar.

    Whack! Pow! Twenty minutes later, you've got yourself a compote that's ready to mix into plain yogurt for a snack that's tastier than any grocery-store fruit-on-the-bottom blend you'll ever meet.

    A good compote is so simple, you hardly need a formal recipe, but I'm going to give you one anyway, because I had a kitchen inspiration I wanted to share.

    A while back J & I took tea at the sweet little Podunk teashop in the West Village. One of the things we remembered with greatest fondness was Ms. Espeth's strawberry jam, which was spiced with a peppery kick that hit in the back of the throat. A delight!

    Strawberries

    As I lopped the tops off the strawberries last night (off with their heads!) I thought with fondness of that strawberry jam. So why not make a peppery strawberry compote?

    Herein, dear readers, is your ticket to that very confection. And, hurrah! you probably have just about everything but the strawberries already hanging around in your kitchen.

    Some strawberries are sweeter or more tart than others, so I usually start with less sugar and add in more, to taste, as I go. So feel free to mess with the sugar : acid : spice ratios. A compote is only perfect when you, the cook, say so.
    Kapow! Strawberry Compote (Makes about 1 cup)
    1 pint strawberries (trimmed of their tops & bruises)
    1/8-1/4 cup sugar
    2 Tbsp water
    1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
    1/8 tsp ground mace or ground cardamom (optional)
    1 dash salt (optional)

    1. In a small-to-medium saucepan, combine the trimmed strawberries, sugar and water, and heat over medium flame.
    2. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't let the mixture boil; It'll just froth up a storm and make a big, sticky mess on your stovetop.
    3. Turn down the heat, taste the mixture and stir in the lemon juice, spices and salt, if using. The compote will thicken and develop in flavor as it cools, so don't over-spice it at this point.
    4. Use warm, or chill it down and keep it for up to a week in the refrigerator.

    I love this compote with yogurt, but it's also superb on ice cream or used on biscuits or as a way to give strawberry shortcakes a little kick.

    Cheers!

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  • 6.26.2008

    What's In The Box?

    What's in the Box?

    Oh, anticipation! I haven't felt so giddy since I was a kid at Christmastime. Several months ago, I signed up for my local Community Supported Agriculture group (that's a CSA to the regulars) and, swoon! the first delivery arrived last night.

    One of the things I love about CSAs is how closely it ties one to the local environs. Here's what was in the box this week:



  • Red Lettuce
  • Green Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Mesclun Lettuce
  • Baby Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Eggs
  • Flowers

    Now, since we've had a long, cool, damp spring (punctuated with a sudden heat wave last weekend), I can see and taste the weather trends in my produce. The lettuces — lovers of chilly days — are fantastic. On the other hand, the strawberries are big, but not as sweet or concentrated in flavor as they have been in other years.

    My little apartment doesn't have any space for a garden, so these agricultural details thrill me. Here's a few shots other shots from the pickup:





    Running a bit short on time this week (and stuffing my mouth full of juicy berries), but in future CSA box reports, I'll provide some recipes for usage. I've found that few people know what to do with, say, kohlrabi.

    Cheers!

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  • 6.12.2008

    FoodLink Roundup: 05.05.08

    Cupcake's Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was located at the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis, MN, scoring a hat trick for Hazard on correct guesses. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Wager a guess in the comments.

    The Pie-tini Club
    Old-school food vice: The Grateful Palate features a triple-threat of Pie, Cocktails and Cynicism.

    30 Days to a Green Your Diet
    I'm a bit suspicious of a few of these. (Replace all your spices? Good advice, but is it really greener?)

    Do you need to stock up the bunker?
    "New survivalists do not look like Rambo." The rise of the urban liberal survivalist.

    MyFarmShare.com
    Can't bear to walk a few blocks to your CSA drop site? Now there's a veggie box for the lazy.

    Reformulated Oreo Scores in China
    Make your product something the locals like. Seems like a big *duh* once you see the solution.

    To Save a Species, Get People to Eat It
    We need to save the Waldoboro green neck rutabaga for the name alone.

    Bottomfeeder
    The days of uninformed seafood dining draw to a close.

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    5.05.2008

    The Seeds of Hope Within Dank January

    Ever circle a toy in a catalog with a marker and imagine your future self loving and enjoying it? I imagine a lot of kids have done something like that. Of course, these days they probably just make Amazon wishlists or send out URLs of their favorite things prior to the holidays.

    Here I'll file for the "weird kid on the block" title once again. For most of my life, the end of January has always created great anticipation of the season of seed catalogs.

    Marker in hand, I'd circle pages and pages of tomato seeds, lettuce seeds, peapod packs, squashes, sunflowers and mystery flower envelopes. I'd puzzle over whether bicolor, yellow or Indian corn would look better growing up along our garage wall. I'd ponder their packs of live ladybugs and mantises. I'd grid the garden and feed the compost pit with starry-eyed anticipation.

    I wonder now if seeds helped those ancient generations of pioneers survive cold northern winters prior to the age of reliable heat, merino wool and internet access. I imagine them looking at their seeds, dreaming about their summer gardens and filling up with hope, even during long months passed with nothing more than grandma's root vegetables and one unending game of gin rummy.

    I know some of my darkest, dankest, most hopeless days of winter were annually made colorful and vivacious with pages of plantable potential. After all, hope is really what seed catalogs are all about.

    Tragically, my Brooklyn apartment does not come equipped with a garden, and my Januaries tick-tick-tick along without those life-restoring seed catalogs.

    CSA lettuces
    Beginning of the CSA summer season

    But lo! There's still joyful options for sad, cold city dwellers lacking access to both personal and community gardens. For me, hope arrives now in the form of my CSA, which I'm happy to report, I signed up for this very evening.

    For any who don't know, a CSA is a community supported agriculture group, which essentially works like buying stock in a farm at the beginning of the growing season. CSA members (the investors) pony up some cash and determine their terms. The farmers return dividends over the course of the season in veggies and also sometimes (if the farmer/s have relationships with other nearby farms) fruit, farm-fresh eggs or meat and flowers.

    Like the stock market, the vegetable market is variable and returns are not guaranteed. Sometimes there's nothing but lettuce. Sometimes the lettuce gets washed away and it's all kale and kohlrabi. It helps to have a good attitude about adventurous eating before joining a CSA.

    Different CSAs are run differently, of course, but as half-share member of the amazingly well-organized Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA for this season, I'll pick up my goodies once every other week from mid-June through mid-November at the appointed location and I'll volunteer for a distribution shift at some point during the season.

    There's also the option of going on a field trip to the farm that's supplying my veggies, and there's apparently some other social occasions (Kohlrabi fest?) during the year.


    Close of the CSA summer season

    No, I won't be paging through seed catalogs this year, and I won't be plotting out my garden patch. I won't be puzzling over how to keep my beneficial insects from flying over into the neighbor's garden instead of eating the fat little aphids in my garden.

    Chris and Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht will be doing all that. But I'm still supporting a sustainable, certified organic business and enjoying very competitively priced local fruit and veggies picked fresh off the farm. I'll pick up 12 nifty shipments filled up with color and flavor and life. And actually, I get nearly the same happy tingle of late-January hope just thinking about that.

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    1.30.2008

    A Quick Bite of 1946, Anyone?

    I think most of us have played the "would you rather" game. It's usually a contest of bad and worse. Would you rather be turned into a zombie or an oompah-loompah? Would you rather give up your firstborn child to Britney Spears or a tribe of cannibals? Would you rather eat a kitten or a puppy?

    The wacky world of Foods 1946 presents us with this conundrum:

    Would you rather spend more time in the kitchen and eat a sustainable, locally sourced, home-cooked meal of ham & pureed vegetable soup, roast goose with roasted vegetables and a side of applesauce, mashed potatoes and turnips, fresh-baked corn muffins and then plum pudding and fresh-ground coffee to finish, a'la 1846. (Click into the image for the larger view.)

    A Winter Meal of 1846

    OR

    Would you rather spend less time in the kitchen and enjoy a meal composed of packaged foods: split pea soup (from a mix), canned ham, minute rice, canned asparagus tips, canned artichoke heart salad, corn muffins from a mix and a last course of strawberry shortcake (from frozen strawberries and a biscuit mix) served with instant coffee, a'la 1946.

    A Winter Meal of 1946

    Granted, I could go for some strawberry shortcake right about now, but I think you see what I'm getting at here.

    The world of 1946 was so sure that your answer to this "would you rather" query would favor speed and cheap processed foods, they'd most certainly be floored to hear that 2007 voted "locavore" as the word of the year, that people around the globe ware increasingly more interested in Slow Food or that Community Supported Agriculture programs were thriving and growing.

    Oh, 1946! Everything was so plain, so clear and so logical for you, wasn't it?

    Tomorrow, just a little more fun from Foods 1946.

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    1.23.2008

    The Hedonista Hundred, Part V: 21-25

    Pushing onward in the quest to uncover and document 100 wonderful and tasty things...

    If you've missed prior twenty, you'll find 'em at the archive page.

    Ollie's Noodle Shop
    Takeout from Ollie's Noodle Shop on a flat-top rock in Central Park.

    21. Picnic food. Even if it's only a loaf of bread and a chunk of cheese. Even if you don't have a blanket. Even if you didn't make it yourself. There's just something twice as grand about eating outside under the sky.

    roadside farm
    Next exit: Ripe stonefruit, berry baskets and fresh zucchini (3 for $1).

    22. Roadside produce stands. Likewise, fresh sweet corn out of the back of a pickup truckbed. Sweet. Juicy. Awesome. Extra bonus: farm stands offer unique discoveries... which is kind of the philosophical opposite of the cookie-cutter, gas-n-go, drive-thru, "back on the highway in ten minutes flat" experience one finds along the New Jersey Turnpike.

    Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall, Queens
    Canned goods at the Hong Kong Mall in Queens, NY

    23. Local grocery stores. Think the museums and monuments tell the whole story? Not likely. Stop into local food shops around the world to gawk at the cool packaging and variety. See how the natives stock their pantries. You don't really know a place until you know how its people eat.

    My CSA
    Williamsburg CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick-up day

    24. Community-Supported Agriculture Groups and farmers' markets. Give the money to the farmer. Get vegetables, fruit, eggs and flowers. It's fresh. It's direct. It's local. It's environmentally friendly. What's not to like?

    Podunk in the East Village
    The afternoon cream tea with scones and berries at Podunk

    25. Teatime. I don't have a lot of love for their bangers and mash, but the Brits were really on to something with the afternoon tea. Civility, serenity, caffeine and lush snackies. That's a tradition I can get behind.

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    3.04.2007

    In praise of the microseason

    Williamsburg CSA
    Williamsburg CSA

    First day CSA
    First Day of my CSA (June)

    Last day CSA
    Last Day of my CSA (November)

    See more food photos: missginsu @ flickr

    Some people know the season via the calendar. These folks enjoy what I consider the seasonal four-pack: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

    Those in close contact with farmers' markets and CSA groups know a veritable color wheel of microseasons within those macroseasons embraced by the rest of the population. There's ramp-morel-lettuce season followed closely by spinach-pea-strawberry season. There's the highly anticipated tomato-corn-zucchini season. Right now, it's very clearly sweet potato-cranberry-Brussels sprouts season.

    Thanks to Just Food, a nonprofit org dedicated to things like food-selling opportunities for small farmers and food-buying opportunities for urbanites like me, I was able to hook up with the Williamsburg Community Supported Agriculture group this year and enjoy six months' worth of microseasons in the form of organic produce from the farmers at Garden of Eve.

    CSAs exist all over the country (I used to belong to the Loring Park CSA in Minneapolis), and while I wouldn't say membership is a good decision for everyone (some people, for example, just wouldn't be satisfied with the "Iron Chef Mystery Ingredient" aspect of a CSA group's weekly variety pack, and some would have no clue about what to do with three pounds of kohlrabi or a quarter-peck of habañero peppers), I've found that supporting local produce from actual people has been ethically, sensually and culinarily satisfying for me*.

    Additionally, I've learned a lot about preservation. In years past, home cooks dealt with the seasons as they arrived. If it was tomato-corn-zucchini season and the kitchen overflowed with bags and bags of red, yellow and green produce, everyone ate succotash, zucchini bread, fresh vegetable chowders, and buttery cornbread muffins.

    Thanks to a constant flow of produce available in any local shop, today's cooks are far less practiced in using up a surplus. Canning, drying, fermenting and pickling are the arts of the ancients. We buy what we need. The majority of us will never be pressed into anything resembling our progenitors' annual frantic frenzy of canning, baking, stewing and jamming an entire orchard or garden over the space of a week or two during the harvest.

    That said, today's CSA member (and thrify produce buyers in general) often discover a need for those techniques of antiquity.

    In a month or two, (around Meyer Lemon season), it will be time to start signing up for a new CSA year. For those who plan on joining one (localharvest.org compiles national listings), here's a few tips I've discovered that might make your produce microseasons more efficient and enjoyable:

    Block out some time. Right after pickup, you'll want an hour or so to care for your vegetables. Rinse the apples and pears. Wash and dry the lettuces. (I love my salad spinner.) Cut the carrots into sticks for easy snacking. Separate the celery stalks from the celery roots. Rinse and chop up the beet greens for easy sauteing.

    Triage. Softer fruits and vegetables will rot first. Can't use 'em right away? Think: chutneys, sauces, jams, soups. A lot of fruit and veggies freeze better once they're already cooked (Quickly blanch and shock tomatoes to get the skins off, then toss 'em in a freezer bag.) Save any root vegetables for last.

    Same technique, different vegetable. Enjoy mashed potatoes? Try the same thing with mashed celery root, carrots or parsnips. Ratatouille, soup, slaw, salad and stir-fries are all your friends. The butternut squash soup is just as good with acorn squash. Sauteed greens are yummy whether they're beet greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole, chard, kale, frisee or spinach. Nearly anything can be pickled. Almost everything is tastier when it's done up with a layer of olive oil, salt, pepper and some roasting time in the oven.

    * That is, apart from the getting dressed and leaving the house early on Saturday morning thing.

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    11.27.2006

    Point & click for orchard, field and meadow

    This was on the NPR Marketplace Morning Report:

    Local Foods Plymouth... like FreshDirect for the farmers' market.

    The website is supremely limited, but the report made it sound like it’s been really popular there. People said they liked picking up all their farmers' market produce in one place.

    I like the way they handle expectations on the first page (you can only order on Tuesdays) and they inform you that if you don’t pick up by 6 p.m. on delivery day, your food gets donated to a local charity.

    Like City Farms & Community Supported Agriculture, online farmers' markets could offer yet another option for busy urbanites to connect to the bounty of the fields... and it gives small farmers a way to manage inventory and prevent waste.

    I’m sure we’ll see more of this to come as the various pockets of our culture become more web-savvy.

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    9.21.2006