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Cinco de Mayo Whoopie Pies

When I started writing this particular post last October (yes, it's been bounding around the lobes of my brain for a while) I wondered whether Whoopie Pies were poised to be the new Cupcakes.

Back then, I wrote,
"I feel like I'm seeing whoopie pies everywhere I turn. And aren't cupcakes far too 2002 these days?"

But now that I've made a couple of batches of whoopie pies, I realize they're no match for the mighty cupcake. I've come to this conclusion for three key reasons:

1. The Cuteness Factor. Cupcakes are cute. Even scribbled drawings of cupcakes are cute. Whoopie pies are homely.

2. The Travel Factor Cupcakes are less portable than cookies, but whoopie pies are even worse. The filling tends to squish out inappropriately in transit.

3. The Fan Base Nobody puts Cupcake in a corner.

Gigantic Whoopie Pie
The new cupcake? I don't think so.

I do volunteer baking for the Craig's Kitchen Dessert Corps, which organizes a troop of oven-ready cooks to produce desserts for my local soup kitchen. It's a very cool endeavor.

The dessert assignment changes each week, so I've done everything from rice krispie treats to pumpkin cheesecake brownies and red velvet cake.

One of the recent assignments was to make whoopie pies, which seemed interesting and fun until the time came to actually do it and the weather was a random, record-setting 90° F. In April, for the luvvagod.

The hot oven heated my already overheated apartment. The filling drooped and melted. Each very tasty (but very goopy and sticky) whoopie pie was ultimately only barely contained by the individual zip-top sandwich bags into which I slipped them.

I tried to refrigerate the whole messy bunch of them, but delivery to the soup kitchen required they be okay at room temperature... and I'm afraid these little cookie sandwiches probably ended up being a bit too volatile to handle.

Picture the poor and luckless masses of my neighborhood struggling through exploding packs of marshmallow goo to dig out their chocolate whoopie cookies. Seemed like something just short of a dessert fiasco.

What then, would send me back to make more whoopie pies? Well, 1. leftover ingredients and 2. the kind of wisdom that only comes from sorry experience.

This time, I'll be making whoopie pies with a Cinco de Mayo twist (hooray for spiced chocolate!) and I'm not assembling them until I'm safely on location at the event. Then they can ooze and drip all they want.

I'm also making each "pie" into a much smaller affair. The whoopie pies I first baked up were based on a recipe that made enormous versions... 4 to 5 inches across, as you'll see in the photo above at the top of the page.

Whoopie Pie Platter

While my version is by no means bite-sized, you'll find my whoopies are a much more petite treat (more like 2.5 to 3 inches across), which is more than plenty. Those mega-whoopies are enough to feed two to three people, and honestly, who wants to share?
Mini Mexican Chocolate Whoopie Pies (Makes 12-13)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 2/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cayenne
1 1/3 cups buttermilk (or plain yogurt mixed with milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs

For the filling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered confectioner's sugar
2 cups marshmallow creme or marshmallow fluff
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 375°F and use a little oil or butter to grease two large baking sheets.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cayenne.
3. In a separate, smaller bowl, blend the buttermilk and vanilla.
4. In a large mixing bowl, blend the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whip in the eggs until well incorporated.
5. Into the butter mix, alternate adding the blended dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. The mix will be very sticky.
6. Drop 1/4 cup portions of the batter 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheets, place the sheets in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes before moving the "cookies" to racks to cool fully.
7. To make the filling, blend together the butter, confectioner's sugar, marshmallow creme and vanilla extract.
8. Assemble the whoopie pies by slathering a few tablespoon's worth of the filling on the flat side of one of the cookies. Top the filling with the flat side of another cookie. Repeat this process with the rest of the cookies and filling.
9. Serve immediately, or chill until serving time to help firm up the filling.

If I only had a jar of dulce de leche sitting around the house, I'd try to whip up a filling with that instead of the marshmallow creme (doesn't that sound decadent?) but I do believe these whoopies will have the same whoopie-inducing effect either way.

With that, I bid you a delightful Cinco de Mayo, and may your whooopie-making always be fun, gratifying and easy to clean up.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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5.05.2009

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

The Most Stylish Meal of the Day

I couldn't help but notice that Esquire is into breakfast right now. I caught sight of their March issue, which contains a sixteen-page food porn spread of home-and-away brekkie delights chock-full of sexy, oozy breakfast glamour shots... so ya know, that's kind of a tip-off.

Bacon, Eggs & Sauteed Ramps

And why shouldn't breakfast be trendy? It's wintertime, and breakfast is comforting. Breakfast is important for good health. It's the most important meal of the day. And in a recession economy, going out with your friends for breakfast (or brunch) makes a lot more sense than going out for dinner.

So in honor of that king of meals, I'm offering a roundup of my favorite brekkie posts to help bring joy to your mornings.

Soft-Boiled Egg & Latte at Le Pain Quotidien

It's kind of a Breakfast Bonanza, if you will, with everything from the mains to nice details and delightful drinks.

The Main Event
  • Wild Rice Breakfast Porridge
  • Easy-Peasy Granola
  • Zucchini Blondies
  • Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Bread
  • Dad's Sunday Morning Blueberry Muffins
  • Do-It-Yourself Pancake Mix
  • Moist & Sticky Fig Cake
  • Custard Baklavah (Galatoboureko)
  • Foraged Quiche
  • Homemade Beans on Toast
  • Nicomachean Eggs

  • Croissant & Latte at Cafe Grumpy

    A Few Nice Details
  • Blended Bacon Butter
  • Quick Lime Curd
  • Spicy Strawberry Compote

  • Hot Chocolate at St. Helen Cafe

    Breakfast Beverages
  • Coffee Concentrate (for Easy Iced Coffees)
  • Power Smoothies
  • Banana Batidas (Banana Shakes)
  • Hot Masala Chai Kit
  • Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
  • Mulled Apple Cider

  • Of course, as much as I love all of the above, my brekkie of choice is almost always the McCann's Steel-Cut Oats. Simple. Tasty. Wholesome. Always satisfying.

    Any breakfast favorites you'd like to share? Let me know below.

    Yours in brekkie worship,
    Miss Ginsu

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    2.16.2009

    FoodLink Roundup: 11.03.08

    Cupcake's Link Roundup
    Last week, a cold, cruel beast spotted Cupcake watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade near Times Square. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

    Forget Caviar
    Canceling the Christmas party: ...it’s bad form to do anything too opulent

    Bringing Home the Venison
    Trading the mushroom basket for larger-scale foraging in the Upper Midwest.

    Celebrating Day of the Dead's delicious side
    A holiday for the dead, but a feast for the living.

    Environment, economy weigh on bottled water sector
    Bottled water retailers look for new buyers in the global marketplace: "We have minerals and vitamins that are unique to the local community and we want to sell that."

    Idolator's Guide To Condiment Pop
    You want fries with that?

    Calories Do Count
    Chain eateries begin to see the results of item calorie count postings.

    New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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    11.03.2008

    Adventures in Dangerous Baking

    "Drop the cookie, ma'am."

    "Are you talking to me?"

    "Yes. Drop the cookie and raise your hands."

    "What? But it--"

    "You heard me, ma'am. Drop the peanut-butter cookie and back away slowly."

    "But it's my cookie."

    "I don't want an argument here. Just drop the cookie and raise your hands above your head."

    "It's my lunch. I can't just drop it in the dirt, I--"

    "Ma'am, you can't go waving around that cookie. You're within 100 yards of an elementary school. That cookie is a lethal weapon."

    "But I baked it this morning... Can't I just eat it? Wait! No! Don't shoot! Fine! I'll drop it! See? I dropped it..."

    "You people... Now we need to seal off this whole area and do another detox. Do you know how long that takes? Cripes. And you could've killed somebody's kid, too. Can't you read the signs?"

    "And it was a good cookie, too. Wait, there's signs?"

    "Of course there's signs. There's signs here. And here. And over there, too. Under penalty of law, no peanuts may enter these premises."

    "When did that happen?"

    When indeed? This is obviously a dramatization, but what's absolutely true is that you really can't bring peanut butter cookies or peanut trail mix or even good old PB&J into a lot of schools nowadays.

    Peanut Butter Cookies... mmmm...

    One of my daddy friends tells me that his daughter's school has banned not only peanuts, but homemade snacks in general. So put away your family's favorite recipe for lemon bars. School treats must now be individually packaged snack foods.

    Great for food manufacturers. Lousy for parents who want to demonstrate a DIY ethic.

    In addition to a general fear of food allergies (a fear that some people feel has been exaggerated as of late), birthday treats are also apparently to blame for making America's children blobby.

    Again, my friend's progressive school has banned birthday treats as a way to remedy this issue. Thank goodness childhood obesity isn't the result of too much soda pop, fast food, candy-stocked vending machines and a general lack of exercise.

    PB cookies unbaked

    Knowing all this, I feel that one of the more dangerous acts one can undertake these days is making and (gasp!) distributing peanut butter cookies.

    As I was feeling a bit puckish just recently (and the temperature dropped down for long enough to make baking palatable), I whipped up a batch of these little danger discs.

    Salty, sweet, creamy and rich... I love 'em. And there's a million recipes out there.

    I find the Joy of Cooking version is more sandy-cakey and the Better Homes & Gardens one is more crispy.

    PB cookie dough

    I tend more toward the crispy, myself. Here's my version. Bake and consume at your own risk.

    Peanut Butter Cookies (Makes about 35-40)
    1/2 cup butter
    1/2 cup peanut butter
    1 cup brown sugar, packed
    1 large egg
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or, just use AP)
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    White sugar, for squashing (optional)

    1. Beat together butter, peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract.
    2. Sift together flour, soda and baking powder, and combine with the peanut butter mixture.
    4. Cover mixing bowl and chill for 1 hour, or wrap well and freeze until you're ready to bake.
    5. Heat the oven to 375°F, and roll the dough into 1" balls. Place each ball about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
    6. Compress each ball with the tines of a fork. You may wish to dip the fork in white sugar between impressions, since it makes the tops sparkley with sugar. Or not. It's up to you.
    7. Bake 8-10 minutes and cool on a wire rack before devouring with cold milk.


    Happy Eating!

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    8.05.2008

    FoodLink Roundup: 03.24.08

    Link Roundup
    Last week, Cupcake was romping in Barcelona, España (Yes, Mr. Hazard, you were right on with Spain!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Think you know? Post it in the comments.

    The Fat Pack Wonders if the Party’s Over
    Fellow NYC food blogger Jason Perlow gets diabetes, drops off the pounds and challenges the culture of excess embodied by some food media heavies.

    The Myth of Food Miles
    A backlash against the UK locavore movement. "The concept of food miles is unhelpful and stupid. It doesn't inform about anything except the distance travelled..."

    Putting Dunkin' Donuts Coffee to the Test
    I'd always suspected it was a viral marketing scheme (or perhaps an alien brain wave device?) that managed to convince a nation of Dunkin' Donuts coffee superiority.

    The Turnip That Stirred Panic
    “I’m now on constant alert against this and other rooted vegetables,” GiaQuinta said. Hilarious.

    Leaving Behind the Trucker Hat
    It's like a headline from The Onion: American Youth Flee Hip Urban 'Hoods for Country Backwaters.

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    3.24.2008

    Nibbling at the Front Line

    When I returned to the Upper Midwest last summer for a visit, I couldn't help but notice a change in the fields. The vast oceans of wheat and the fields of sunflowers were gone. In their place grew soybeans and corn.

    And according to the National Corn Growers Association, spring planting trends will continue to favor corn.

    So what's wrong with lots of corn? For one thing, it means that other crops become more scarce as corn prices go up and farmers turn to the big corn payoff.

    Films like King Corn have attacked the environmental and dietary risks of our national corn obsession.

    And on the topic of corn-fed beef, food writer Michael Pollan says: "The industry can always make the popular arguments, because they certainly make things cheaper. But is it really cheap? Think of the taxpayer, who's actually subsidizing every one of those burgers. All that corn requires an immense amount of fossil fuel. Corn requires more fertilizers and pesticides than other crops. It takes the equivalent of half a gallon of gasoline to grow every bushel of corn. [Almost] everything we do to protect our oil supply ... is a cost of that burger."

    A very active athlete, J consumes New York City like Galactus chews through planets. Thus, he's bound to notice the effects of agricultural policy on food costs (and small-scale businesses) a little more quickly than I would.

    Herein J reports on how things are going for those on the front lines: old-school vendors on the Lower East Side.


    A moist, tasty muffin (for $2.25) from the Tra La La Juice Bar.
    1. There's a fantastic dumpling shop in my neighborhood that has sold their pork & chive fried dumplings at 5/$1 for the last ten years. When I went in last night, the price had gone to 4/$1. I mentioned the change to the owner. She said, "flour tripled, $18/bag to $60/bag, and my other ingredients are up too."

    2. A guy in the local covered market makes muffins. My favorite one has been $1.75 since I moved to NYC. It went to $2.25 a couple weeks ago. Explanation: "All of my ingredients have gotten more expensive. Using corn for fuel was the stupidest thing anybody could have come up with, 'cause now the price of corn — the root of all US agriculture — has shot up, taking everything else with it." He went on a tirade, talking about how biofuel has to be shipped in trucks that burn more biofuel rather via pipelines, &c.

    I just stood there, listening and chewing my $2.25 muffin.

    Just a little something to chew on the next time you see high-fructose corn syrup in your sports drink or corn ethanol at the gas pump.

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    2.28.2008

    There Will Be Milkshakes

    The Golden Globes are in the bag, the Oscars are rolling up and all the fashionable awards parties should really be serving spiked milkshakes, shouldn't they?

    For your Saturday enjoyment, here's a quick recipe accompanied by a shot of my little friend Dash rocking the "There Will Be Blood" trend wave.

    I drink your milkshake baby onesie
    White Russian Milkshakes (Makes 4 Servings)
    8 oz vodka
    4 oz coffee liqueur, (such as Kahlùa)
    4 cups pure vanilla ice cream
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    2 cups milk

    In a blender whip all ingredients together until smooth. Serve immediately in tall glasses with straws. Drink it up.

    An enterprising soul could also substitute frangelico, amaretto or a chocolate liqueur and enjoy tasty results.

    Meanwhile, if you know any under-clothed babies (or adults, for that matter), by all means, do make haste to swaddle them in something sassy.

    Cheers,

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    1.26.2008

    In space, no one can hear you retch

    soylent green
    Soylent Green: the Malthusian Catastrophe at its finest.

    Ever notice how disgusting the food of the future looks? Food that comes in pill form. Soylent green. Food that comes out of a replicator. It's pure nutrition. Efficient fuel. And food love is apparently an antiquated notion to our descendants. With the exception of Captain Picard's cuppa Earl Grey, there's little to no enjoyment involved in sci-fi cuisine.

    The supposedly non-fiction news is no better. Consider vat meat. Bland packaged foods that won't wreck the space craft. Overfished oceans depleted of sea life. Molecular gastronomy advances that produce edible paper menus. Genetically engineered hybrid crops developed, owned and distributed by transglobalmegacorps.

    And I guess I'm part of the problem, too, having taken part in a low-budget sci-fi spaghetti western that does nothing but subliminally re-enforce the assumptions that the food of the future is, at its very best, bland, packaged and the color of metal. (In Planetfall, the bar drinks are green and the food either arrives in mylar packets or in the form of shiny silver "space potatoes.")

    Like it or not, I'd wager that culturally internalized visions like those revealed in sci-fi and fantasy fiction may, in some way, work to shape our collective futures. It's certainly possible that prescient sci-fi writers like H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Yevgeny Zamyatin and Philip K. Dick only tapped into the trends of their respective times, extrapolating possibilities that happened to crystallize. But isn't it also possible that in the same way individuals use visualization or mantras and organizations use mission statements, a society unconsciously feeds off its collective dreams (films, graphic novels, books, tv shows, etc.) while inventing its future?

    I'm not trying to suggest that sci-fi as a genre needs to take up the gauntlet (or pot holder, as the case may be) and lead the media in creating brave new visions for the luscious, fresh, juicy, robust meals of a much tastier future.

    And it doesn't need to be writers and filmmakers that invent our culture's dreams for a delicious, sustainable future (and just as a side note, when I say "sustainability," I don't just mean responsible fishing or integrated land management. I'm thinking of the way delicious food is sustainable food. It sustains you physically, mentally and emotionally. Thus, a sustainable diet encompasses meals you want to eat again and again.).

    I realize that storytelling is about conflict and drama, not food porn, but wouldn't it be wonderful to see some of the meals of the future depicted in the lush brushstrokes we currently seem to save for our visions of the past? Or are we already too sad and cynical to believe that the citizens of 2050 or 3075 or 3000 would ever sniff and savor and salivate over their suppers?

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    3.27.2007

    Food bloggers, you are being watched.

    They know what you're thinking. They record what you're typing. They're snatching up excerpts.

    Though you may sometimes believe you're addressing an empty auditorium (hear that echo?), research companies are listening. And reporting.

    One of the latest "well, this shouldn't be shocking" findings to cross my desk is the revelation that companies have now established themselves as experts on the "blogosphere," mining the web for blogs, newsgroups and comment threads that indicate consumer preferences. They then distill all they find into whitepapers and research to distribute to companies.

    (This is a great business model, by the way... they dig through what's free for the taking, digest it, and sell the findings. It's like foraging in the woods for mushrooms, but with less physical mud beneath the fingernails.)

    Case in point: the lead story on Umbria, a market intelligence company specializing in blog chatter. Umbria has determined that "Low Carb is Out, Organic is In" and has published a whitepaper to this effect.

    From April through June, 2006, Umbria's agents monitored the blogosphere to understand key trends in Organic food purchasing, specifically: where, what, why and for whom.

    They targeted their research for conversations about Wild Oats Markets, Whole Foods Market, Safeway and Wal-Mart and provide an "interesting cross-section of attitudes and trends related to Organic purchasing across a broad range of income levels and geographic accessibility."

    I know you're busy and protective of your email address, so I'll summarize the results for you:
    Those online talking about Organic foods are overwhelmingly female, a fact that's particularly interesting when you look at the total number of women (segmented into Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y age ranges) who blog and comment.

    Conversation was punctuated by the April release of Michael Pollan's hot-topic book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Wal-Mart's May announcement of a big push into the Organic marketplace.

    Wild Oats and Whole Foods tend to dominate discussions about Organic foods. Few bloggers seemed randy about trucking over to Wal-Mart for their Organics.

    Women in the Gen Y group (15-30) appear to be the most salivation-worthy bunch from the perspective of retailers (apparently they love browsing and shopping at high-end Organic shops) and there's a "give 'em samples!" recommendation.

    When it comes to Organic purchases, people are not as concerned about the environment, as they are about flavor, their health and the well-being of their kids and pets.

    Also... some people think Organic foods are too expensive, snooty, hippie or just far too much ado about nothing.
    It's only ten pages. You can go read it for yourself, but that's pretty much the gist of it.

    Maybe I'm way off base here, but I really believe that the demise of the Organic philosophy came as soon as the US bill for the government certification of Organic foods was signed into law back in 2002. Wal-Mart just happens to be the most obvious of the nails in the Organic foods coffin.

    Why? Well, it takes $400-$2,000/year and at least three years to be certified Organic by the government. That's meant to ensure quality and avoid fraud, but it's still a lot of cash for a little farm. Thereafter, there's a lot of paperwork and inspections. And if you grow organically managed lettuce but live beside to someone who chooses to spray, there's no way you can be certified.

    That's why a lot of small-scale farmers choose to say they're "all natural" or "organically managed," or use "integrated pest management" (think: ladybugs).

    Organic foods can be shipped from across the country or around the world, losing nutritive value as they age in transit, using up a bunch of fossil fuel in the process and robbing your local economy of an agricultural income source.

    What Michael Pollan gets at is this: The absolute best way to ensure your vegetables are raised in the way in which you would grow them yourself (if only you had the time) is to know your farmers. We need to be able to look someone in the eye, have a conversation, and know that the eggs we're buying aren't from miserable, debeaked chickens stuffed into tiny laying boxes.

    Unfortunately, we live in little enclaves separated from our local neighbors and craftsmen. We shop at big national stores, and we talk about those stores as if they ensure something virtuous for our food purchases. They don't. Walk around Whole Foods and do your own survey of what's local, what's Organic and what's conventionally sprayed produce flown in from Chile.

    I wish I had the time and opportunity to source everything I buy. I can't. I have a day job. So I do the best I can. I get eggs, fruits and vegetables from my Community Supported Agriculture group, which is supplied by Eve, from Garden of Eve farm on Long Island. I've met her. She doesn't seem evil to me.

    We get milk and yogurt from Hawthorn Valley Farm or Ronnybrook at the NYC Farmers' Markets.

    J. picks up turkey sausage from DiPaolo farms and cheese and bread from Anne Saxelby at the Essex Street Market. She's passionate about cheese, she rides a cute bicycle and all her stuff is artisanally-made American foods.

    That's not to say that I'm never going to savor a Hawaiian pineapple or a Florida orange. Sometimes you gotta get a nice box of Clementine oranges to stave off the scurvy. But the more you purchase locally from actual people, the more you do for your neighborhood, state and region.

    Buying from local farmers means you stay in touch with the seasons (wow! the first pumpkins are showing up at the market! cool!), you feel proud about the successes of your neighbors, and you enjoy food quality and regional variety that just doesn't ship well.

    Umbria can go on all they like about how hot Organic foods are. Maybe they are hot. But they're not the real answer.

    The real answer is good food made by people who actually care about it and about you. And there's nobody who can slap a certification on that... except you.

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    9.30.2006

    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

    Commentary from the Culinary Catwalk

    And now, from the partially-obstructed-view cheap seats, your faithful food correspondent, Miss Ginsu, launches a paper airplane dispatch on the trends in taste.

    For your munching pleasure, a quick survey of the latest culinary currents:

    "Organic" is like, totally over.
    Now that Walmart owns Organic, that label is sooo last decade. Rumor has it that ubiquitous Stonyfield Farm has been shorting its longstanding clients on Organic yogurt in order to better supply the low-price leviathan. What's hot? Local, artisanal foods. Real food made by real people who really care. Every savvy grocery exec on the block is reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and taking notes. Expect to see the grubby, mud-caked mugs of (regionally appropriate) farmers and ranchers in a food retailer near you.

    Snacks cooked in kettles.
    Ain't no party like a kettle-cooked party... not only are we seeing an upsurge in crunchy sweet-and-salty treats from the food indies (via Kettle Foods, Hain (under its Terra brand), and the previously mentioned "ike & sam's" line, for example), but industry heavies such as Frito-Lay are also burnishing their kettles.

    Coconut water.
    Yup. Coconut water is one more in that long lineage of niche foods that see consumer consumption gains once the marketing hacks start to sing the good health song. (Think: soymilk, pomegranate juice or the Amazon acai juice currently making rounds through metro juice bars.) When I worked in kitchen prep, coconut water was considered useless runoff. Health drink? Hell... we just drank it. Now the folks on the kitchen prep crews will have to fork over every precious drop of this electrolyte-rich liquid to the health-conscious public.

    Awareness of varietals and, yes... geographic origins.
    When my corner bodega starts shilling Tropicana 100% Valencia Orange Juice, it's time to take a hard look at consumer awareness of produce varietals. It ain't just for food nerds anymore. I'm betting we're going to start seeing many, many more products in the standard grocery arena that would once have been considered high-end specialties. Sumatran iced coffee. Ginger Gold apple juice. American Artisanal Cheeses.

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    8.22.2006

    USDA Changes Pyramid to Pie

    USDA pyramid
    And at the top, you'll find nutritional enlightenment...

    Yeah, maybe most of the world has been watching the Sistine Chapel for a plume of white smoke. Meanwhile, my coworkers have been salivating at their screens, counting down the moments to this morning's USDA webcast announcement for the new food pyramid. (Weirdos.)

    Essentially, they've divided the hierarchy into vertical slices of varying widths to represent relative consumption. The slices are color-coded, and you have to check at MyPyramid.gov to get your own, personalized recommendation on what the government thinks you should be eating.

    The reactions among the troops here?

    "It's stupid!"

    "It's terrible information design! The image isn't sufficient on its own. They don't provide labels for the sections, so it's just confusing"

    "They tipped the pyramid over and spilled it out all over the place. It's like they're saying, 'hey you figure it out' "

    "It's a food pie"

    "Well... it takes into account individual people's needs."

    "It doesn't tell me why I'm supposed to eat all these grains."


    Overall, there's confusion and disappointment. Our nutritionist was the most cautiously optimistic among us.

    The bottom line? Eat whole grains, vary your vegetables, focus on fruits, find calcium-rich foods, eat lean proteins, know the difference between fats, and exercise every day.

    I haven't yet found a mention about remembering to floss and getting eight hours of sleep every night, but I'm sure that's in here somewhere...

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    4.19.2005