Posts Tagged ‘food’

The forager’s feast (morel’s are a’coming!)

April 11th, 2011

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To brace myself for a productive and fruitful spring season of foraging for the elusive morel mushroom I decided to attend the Open Kitchen-Springwater Farms Forager’s feast this last Sunday night.  Chef Kathryn Yeomans (Sage Culinary Advice) kicked off the evening with a nettle flan which was creamy to the palate,  yet evocative of the deep forest at the same time.  The main course of pork belly, pork and mushroom sausage and braised pigs foot demanded that I order an entire bottle of  the Twist Reversal Syrah rather than force myself to be frugal with the meager few ounces that accompanied the plate.  I was pouring for the table after all.

I was fortunate enough to have been placed next to Roger and Norma, the farmers who brought the produce to the dinner, and was able to coax descriptions of the diet they fed the Tamworth hogs as well as farm stories ranging from the chickens roosting in the trees to suitability of llamas as a defense against coyotes.  Chef Kathryn created the sauce by first braising the pigs head with mirepoix  for hours, removing the head (to be used for carnitas by the family) and straining and reducing the resultant liquid.

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The next course was a refreshing blend of miner’s lettuce and Siberian miner’s lettuce dappled with goat feta, which was creamier and less salty than the the sheep feta that I was accustomed to.

The dessert course was an amazing blend of tart and cream: the candied violets so beautiful  it was heart wrenching to eat them (I managed to get through that dilemma…).  I overheard Roger telling Norma that, even though the hogs were from  their farm, the greens he had foraged personally, the dessert was perhaps the best course of the evening.  The overriding high point for me was hearing that Roger had developed a morel mushroom growing kit that will very soon be available on the market.  Perhaps with this ground breaking technology I can elude that empty feeling of returning from a day’s hunt with nothing but a pitiful handful of these prized mushrooms.

How do we help the hungry?

February 8th, 2011

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World food prices are rising.  Higher food prices help out the farmers, but hurt the consumers.  For many consumers even a moderate bump in prices can be devastating.  The combination of higher prices with the government subsidization of many of the food products featured in the dollar menus at the fast food shops ends up driving people to eat food that may ultimately be the cause of their death.

Governments in the western world would certainly like their citizens to feel as if they are helping the world’s hungry, but that may just be more hot air.   In the January 2009 inauguration speech President Obama promised the poor of the world to “work alongside you to make your farms flourish.”  He set up a bureau of food security to back that promise up and convinced other countries to follow suit.

Well, the promised aid has materialized, but in a trickle rather than a torrent.  Congress is hewing into the President’s budget, the United States is at a record high deficit spending, and a large part of our workforce  cannot find work.  Many of the employed are working jobs they are incredibly over qualified for.  What are we to do?

We can start by buying local and eating seasonal.  We can swear off of the fast foods (the cost of the 1$ burger is much, much higher when the costs of the tax funded subsidies, harmful farming practices, and the health effects are taken into consideration).  We can focus on helping the hungry around us.  That is the first step.  Feed those you can, and feed them well.  I am on the fence about GMOs, but if I were starving I would eat a flounder-tomato.  If my children were starving I would feed them corn grits made from modified corn. I can afford to eat local food, but what about those who can’t?

Learn to cook real food from scratch.  Trade your chicken eggs to your neighbor for her fresh baked bread loaves.  Every time you are tempted to buy an “almost” beef taco (the temptations will diminish as you eat more real food) put that dollar in a jar.  At the end of the month donate the jar’s content to a local agency that feeds the homeless.  Start small. Feed your family well.  Hold a monthly soup-a-thon and donate one portion from everyone.  Everyone should ask themselves this burning question.

How do we help the hungry?

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Monsanto gets a kick in the eggplant

March 8th, 2010

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Recently hundreds of  of farmers in India met outisde the auditorium of Bangalore University.  They waved placards and chanted praises for the new, genetically modified aubergine.  This was the final public consultation on whether the genetically altered eggplant known as BT Brinjal would be allowed access to India.  BT Brinjal is the result of a partnership between an Indian hybrid seed company and Monsanto, the giant biotech multi-national.

Environment Minister Jairam Maresh not only placed a moratorium on the implementation of BT Brinjal in India, he also ripped the propaganda curtains down: he knew that these “farmers” were really landless laborers, devoid of aubergine farming experience,  bussed in by unnamed companies.  It is obvious that Monsanto will stop at no lengths to accomplish it’s goals of world domination.(http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15498385)

While citizens of the United States may have become calloused and unnerved by the duplicitous behaviour of the USDA and the EPA, the Environment Minister of India drew a line in the sand, “It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary, principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release,” until scientific tests can guarantee the safety of the product, said Ramesh. (http://rawstory.com/2010/02/india-refuses-genetically-modified-crops-citing-inadequate-science/).  It seems the Indians are not yet in thrall to the industrialized food cabal.

Supporters suggest that research  shows that the use of BT Brinjal would reduce the amount of crop destruction from pests by 50% and the use of pesticides by 85%. (http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15498385)  This would indeed  suggest that the Indians adopt this new wonder crop.  Yet, there is always a truth behind the propaganda unfurled by such huge companies.

There exists a hope that a second, genetically induced  “green revolution” may help feed the people of India.  Saline soil is a component of this and “saline soil is caused by nitrates and over-irrigation, two essentials of the Green Revolution.” (The Little Food Book, Craig Sams, Alastair Sawday 2004).  Earth that is fertilized with nitrates require more and more fertilizer until the bio-diviersity has been purged  and the lands become barren.  These fact only come in retrospect: no independent research has been allowed on Genetically Modified Organisms.

“Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research)

The hungry of India do not need their land despoiled by petroleum products; they do not need their farmers enslaved by giant multinationals like Monsanto whose  only concern is the bottom line.  In The Hindu, Dr. V.S. Vijayan, Chair of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, said that the decision “forestalled the surrender of the country’s food security to multinational companies, such as Monsanto and Mahyco.” (http://www.panna.org/resources/panups/panup_20100212#6)

Someday, perhaps, the US appointees to the USDA and the EPA will behave with such  integrity and stand firm against the corruption of the food chain by big business.  I would not suggest that you hold your breath.

A simple bite

September 29th, 2009

A man came into the restaurant tonight with his wife and mother for his birthday dinner. They each asked me a series of questions seeking clarification about certain menu items.  Is the fried chicken traditional?   I gave the whole spiel about the chicken: how it spends 24 hours brining in salt water; 24 hours soaking in buttermilk; dredged in seasoned flour and finally fried in beef suet.  They were impressed and the gentleman asked if their were another item that was particularly special.  Hands down, the whole hog plate, I said.  We butcher a hog every week in back and you get four different cuts that we prepare four different ways.

“Over the fish and shellfish pan-roast,” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

When the plate arrived I asked him if he would like me to point out the different cuts.  In response he navigated the plate, telling me, quite correctly, the identity of each cut. When he came to the corn meal crusted head cheese he stopped and asked what it was.  I told him.

He looked at me and then told me a story of how he had had one bite of head cheese 25 years ago and had avoided it ever since.  I explained the integrity of our kitchen and he said he would try it.  He ate the whole thing and liked it.

I can’t think of a better example to illustrate my favorite moment in my restaurant life: to take a guest’s perception about an item, or the restaurant itself, and move it 180 degrees in the opposite direction.  It’s a two way street, for sure.  The guest has to be willing to taste the head cheese, even after 25 years of built up distaste.  And, of course, it has to be prepared correctly. Sometimes it seems magical what one can accomplish through doing things the right way.

A burst of epiphany

September 18th, 2009

I have had this regular guest for most of the 2 1/2 years my restaurant has been open. He’s a tad garrulous at times, overly particular about his food, and generally finds himself to be very knowledgeable. He is not overly respectful of either the back or  the front of the house. He is sometimes rude and always tips 10%.

When he came in today it was my turn in the rotation.  Actually his wife came in first and I sat her at a table by the window.  When he arrived ten or so minutes later his eyes hurt him and so he asked to move towards the back of the restaurant where it is dark.  Of course, I said, and moved the water glasses and menus over to the chosen table.

My dad once told me a story about working at the Ringside in ’71.  This fellah came in and regardless the size of the party or the bill would tip the staff $1.  My dad swore to himself that he would some day get $2.  With the correct service and real warmth, by the end of the year, the gentleman was tipping 5 bucks a dinner party.  He never went over that, but that’s not the point.

The cooks behind the line of our open kitchen bear witness to everything that happens in the room…unless, of course, they are getting their asses handed to them.  All kitchen personnel are philosophers.  They are attempting to understand our existence through the growth and preparation of the  food we eat and/or they don’t have to talk to the public.  All cooks are philosophers.

They whisper to me, over the corn grits and grilled pork, they whisper questions about the floor.

“Is that guy on 204 a total douche? Is he really paying more attention to his iphone than to his son?” or “did I really  hear chicken wing guy tell you that he could be a restaurant critic?”

See. I don’t care how decrepit the social graces or what brand of moron walks through that door.  I smile at every nitwit, jack ass, ding dong that rolls into the room…it’s the entirety of the concept that one has to embrace.  If the food is made with love then it deserves to be served with love.  Sometimes it is not received well, but then one can only produce ones best and not everyone in the world will enjoy oven smoked tomatoes with their grilled shrimp.

I busted my ass and made sure the service was genuine and Jack leaves me an astounding 12%. As he is bustling his belongings together he uses his cell phone.

“Where are we? “he asks.

“On the North side of Southeast Stark street,” is what comes to my mind.

“Don’t you know what street we are on?”

I tell him.

His brother came in for the first time about 20 minutes later and sat at the bar.  He had a martini, a two course meal with a beer, and enjoyed himself very much.  He left 20% on his bill, but that’s not really even the point.

It’s the big picture, baby…

The beauty of corn: a sustainable kitchen

September 3rd, 2009

Growing up I remember hearing that Americans believe that meat comes wrapped in plastic: that we are divorced from the relationship between the animal and our plate.
I have grown up taking salmon, crabs and other seafood apart in the kitchen, but what a joy there is in actually witnessing a half side of beef being broke down, or a hog, or a lamb. There is an empowerment that comes with understanding the tools that one work with in the kitchen.  This concept is not merely limited to carnivores, as Adam points out during his demonstration for Chef in the Market.  Using the whole product

It seems to me that with a little better information, and with government subsidies focused on local, whole foods instead of soybean and rape seed products, that perhaps we could break the strangle hold that fast food has on this nation’s people.

A little bacon in the summertime

September 1st, 2009

Adam Sappington defines Summer Succotash

Portland is such a fun city to live in if food excites you and you like to hear knowledgeable folks talk about it. I was able to film my boss, Adam, as he went to the PSU downtown Farmer’s market and demonstrated the Chef in the Market.
Shell beans and ripe corn and onion and a little love provides a beautiful summer succotash. And bacon.
Portland is a city with pork on the plate, so to speak.  Mortdadella, Proscuitto, thick cut bacon all abound in this town.
The end of summer with its baby onions and its sweet corn and bright blackberries is a lovely vehicle to add a little smoked bacon to.   That is of course if you are not vegetarian. Heck, take the bacon, cream and butter out and the fresh veggies and fruits are a vegan delight as well.  Really, anything goes if the raw product is the best available.  Interpretative Summer Succotash

A Roll of the dice

February 12th, 2009

The geographic location of your childhood forms more than your etiquette, your habits, preferences, etc…, but  your entire health.  The influence of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe and the other stars of Hollywood contributed to the reign of cigarettes as the number one cause of preventable death.  Human addictions are soon replaced.

Obesity and its family are now the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. Here in the United States we often cannot afford the continued attention of a doctor and the basic preventable care offered.   We are the only nation in the West to not have basic health care.  

In Nicaragua health services are free.  The depth of facilities, and trained staff, however, is very shallow.  Preventable medicine, while free, is not very efficacious.  Diabetes has risen 54% between 2000 and 20006 (Diabetes Voice 2007, vol 52 issue 4).

The government passes out informational leaflets and adults are rarely more than 30 minutes away from a free diabetes consultation.

If you were born in Nicaragua, and have been raised on the starch heavy foods that  folks survive on  (a major component of diabetes)  and have contracted diabetes, you would have to get that free consultation in Managua, the capital. While adults can go to a consultation in any city, children have to go to the children’s hospital in Managua.  One little girl had to travel 24 hours to get care (Diabetes Voice, ibid).  Folks can’t afford those travel expenses earning only $5 a day.

We all have different dice thrown.

Snow storm

December 23rd, 2008

I have been pained frequently over the last few days thinking about retail businesses, the losses they are experiencing right now, and how much the economy in general needs consumer spending.

This dramatic winter weather is forcing many people to stay at home. Retail stores, already reeling from the current economic turmoil, have had a last minute lifeline, holiday spending, withdrawn.

Neighborhood restaurants and businesses might feel a little upturn from local customers, especially on day 2 or day 3 of being snowed in: folks can get a bit stir crazy and desire to go out.   I have a freezer full of seafood, steaks, tomato soups, frozen berries,  yet I still went out for brunch at the local and enjoyed some outside time.

I’m getting ready to go into work now, and am very much looking forward to having the locals come in and spend a snow day with me.

food in the white house

December 18th, 2008

I hadn’t really realized until recently that the First Family actually pays for their own meals. I knew that they had a white house chef who sits with the family and plans their meals (I imagine it might be challenging having tasty snacks available for the President at all hours!).
I understand that our founding father’s did not want the first family eating caviar and sipping on champagne on the taxpayers dollar, but they pay for their own food, and the First lady doesn’t get paid for her work!
I understand in times gone by that the position of First Lady was largely ceremonial, but times are changing and with the advent of dynamic couples in the White house, maybe we should reconsider how we approach the First Family.

The first lady should receive compensation for the scrutiny of her and her children and for the relentless demand on her time.  That’s my 2 cents.