Monday, July 30, 2007

I'm Almost Back

I'm excited to get back to my food blogging! Our camera was returned yesterday, so I can take pictures again. I have been hesitant about blogging specific meals without being able to take pictures. I'm not sure why. More than that, though, I was sick last week and so didn't cook much that was very interesting. That will all change now! I've been keeping my eye on upcoming food blog events and there are a few I'll probably join.

In the meantime, I've finally read The Omnivore's Dilemma (a birthday gift from clever Husband!) and I'll post a couple thoughts about that this week, too.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I (Mostly) Love Michael Pollan

After way too long a wait, I'm now in the middle of reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I read and liked Botany of Desire and his many articles in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. In virtually all his writing, I find one tiny little nugget that I strongly disagree with. I've already found it in Omnivore's Dilemma.

Let me start by reminding anyone reading this that my blog actually started as a wonkish food policy blog before I realized that my heart lay in a true food blog. So this little nugget is very little. And very particular. And very petty. See, but I recognize AND acknowledge this! It's a step in the right direction, no?

In discussing the stages of grass's domination of human food supply and the planet, Pollan refers to what he says is "usually called" the invention of agriculture. He quite rightly sees that as a pretty darn smug way of looking at it. The problem I have is that people who actually study that phenomenon (myself included) virtually never call it an invention. At most, discovery might slip. But generally, it is referred to as "origins of food production" or "the transition to food production". Researchers recognize that there were always (at least) two species involved and changing, that it was a process, not an immediate change, etc.

I realize that almost nobody else cares about a three-word phrase out of a whole book. It's my field, though, and I get irked when people writing about it for the popular press so badly misrepresent how the phenomenon is viewed within the field.

And that's the end of my rant.

Well, the end of my rant about the invention of agriculture, anyway. There is so much more to rant about in Pollan's work. Again, this is my field, so he isn't saying much I haven't heard before. That said, he puts information together in a clear, connected style that makes his reader sit up and take notice. He makes me glad, all over again, that I haven't eaten poultry or red meat in over twenty years. He reinforces my conviction that I won't eat them for another twenty unless I'm raising the animals myself, and maybe not even then.

Last night, I had to think back to the meal I had made and try to figure out how much corn and corn by-products were in it. Not many, truthfully, since we had one processed component with a big salad followed by a rhubarb/blueberry crisp. The salad dressing I made definitely had at least a little corn in it somewhere. I'm sure the packaged bread crumbs that went into the crisp topping had corn in them. The butter was no doubt from corn-fed cows. The sugar was straight cane.

My lack of a camera is starting to get to me. I really like sharing pictures of what we're eating. I'll have to watch more carefully when Husband shows me (for the third time) how I can take still photos with our digital video camera.

Bagel Dreams

I see that the best part of having people comment on my blog is following a link back to their blogs and seeing the wonderful things they've been cooking. In particular, I've seen a few of the Daring Bakers' bagel challenge over the past week. Today, I got to see the bagel party that is featured on My Kitchen in Half Cups. So much fun!

I admit to being a bit of a bagel snob. I have New York roots and a good bagel is a thing of glory. A bad bagel? At best, a decent roll. At worst, a conglomeration of bits from so many different baked goods without the glories of any of the constituent parts. When I first moved to the city I called home before moving to Isolationville, I was delighted to see lots of bagels displayed at the local chain of bakeries. Until I looked at the flavors. Blueberry, the clearly and rightly despised bane of bagels mentioned in the commentary that goes with the Daring Bakers' bagel recipe, was not even the worst.

Dutch Apple Crumb.

Three words that should never be associated with a bagel, and yet I kid you not. They made and sold Dutch Apple Crumb bagels. I still shudder. And yet what did they not have? A good, old-fashioned onion bagel. No garlic, either. What's the world coming to?

The various Daring Bakers make bagel making look so fun and easy that I need to try it myself. I've wanted to for quite a while, but this is the motivation I needed. We, of course, cannot get real bagels here in Isolationville. Thomas's and Lender's are the bagels on offer, and those hardly qualify. And they come in blueberry, too. So, with any luck at all, I'll soon be posting some bagel commentary of my own.

And, of course, enjoying the bagels with my own smoked salmon!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Week of Guests and Salmon

Ah, so woefully behind! Good friends came to visit for almost a week -- yes, all the way out here in Isolationville! (I told you they were good friends!) Their visit followed a weekend of salmon, salmon, salmon, and this all adds up to having no time to blog.

So here's a bit of a roundup of the last week:

Last Saturday, we did a little salmon netting with friends and came home with six big, beautiful salmon, caught about a mile from salt water. Some of one became dinner, some went in the freezer, and some bathed themselves in smoke for many hours before joining their friends in the deep-freeze. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of this yet. Our camera is once again gone walkabout.

Monday, our friends arrived, including a 3 1/2 year old. We dined on fresh salmon, roasted potatoes, and zucchini the first night. Breakfast the next day was English muffins with cream cheese and two kinds of smoked salmon, plain and peppered. Both were appreciated.

On Wednesday, our kitchen reverted to fish processing central after Visiting Friend caught two gorgeous king salmon (our netted fishies were sockeyes). Most of that went straight into vacuum packs and the freezer so they could transport it home to Pennsylvania at the end of their visit. A bit became dinner. Some filleting scraps did a very quick brine-and-smoke to become a quite-delicate smoked salmon that was part of two breakfasts later in the visit.

Thursday, we were out adventuring with nature and our picnic-style lunch consisted of, among other goodies, a loaf of The Bread, more smoked salmon, Maytag blue cheese, olives, sliced red peppers, avocado, and crackers. Visiting Friend caught a lovely sockeye, which was promptly filleted, brined, and smoked overnight, some plain, some peppered, so it would be at least partly frozen by yesterday afternoon when they hopped the first of their three flights home.

Friday required a late afternoon snack of reasonable proportions to keep the travelers hale and hearty until dinner in the next airport, so we had a reprise of the blueberry cornbread shortcake concoction.

And now it's Saturday and I have to decide if I'm still going to try to make a sorbet this weekend, just under the deadline, or if I'll move on to a different food blog event.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Mexican Fourth of July

DogNextDoor's person joined us for a Fourth of July meal last night. We had agreed to do this, but not discussed menus at all. On general principle, I made a loaf of The Bread, but we ended up deciding on a Mexican theme for the night. I couldn't not use The Bread, though, and my memories of glorious breakfasts of a fresh, crusty roll stuffed with avocado, lime, and salt led to our appetizer. It worked just fine. The avocado was courtesy of our grocery store's new and improved produce section, and was the second of a package of three that are good-looking and reasonably priced. It's all very exciting!

Our second/main course was fish tacos. Normally, they'd be even simpler than the picture shows because they would have just plain old shredded cabbage. But no cabbage was to be had, and a bad of cole slaw shred was the substitute, explaining the purple and orange bits. I make very simple fish tacos. When I have the option, I use tilapia because I like it's flavor and texture for tacos. I panfry fillets heavily salt-and-peppered until the tail bits get quite crispy. I flake that roughly once it's cooled a little. The sauce is a sour-cream/cilantro sauce made with jalapeno, green onion, garlic, loads of cilantro, lime juice, and sour cream. Isolationville has yet to reward me with tomatillos, but they are usually in the mix for the sauce, too.

I only got to take one picture of the tacos, because Husband was complaining to DND's person that he never gets to eat his food hot since I started blogging, so I abandoned the camera for marital harmony.

Dessert was lovely. DND's person brought a pint of Ben and Jerry's NY Super Fudge Chunk ice cream, and I heated a little goat's milk cajeta (carmelized, sweetened condensed milk) to drizzle over it. So yum!

All in all, a lovely Mexican-themed Fourth of July in one of the few parts of the country never colonized by the Spanish or owned by Mexico. Go figure.

The Dumpling Roundup and How to Shop for Isolationville

The roundup of Waiter, There's Something in My...Dumpling is up at The Passionate Cook this morning. A lot of gyoza/wonton/potsticker varieties are there keeping mine company, alongside some delicious-looking sweet dumplings.

The Passionate Cook wonders, quite sensibly, how I get gyoza wrappers in Isolationville, and the answer is that I don't. Like virtually everyone else in and around Isolationville, I have a very large deep freeze in my garage and it is a depository for all things unavailable in our isolation. Mine tends to have a pretty good stock of things like edamame, gyoza wrappers, frozen herbs, and the frozen bounty of our local landscape: fish and berries. And Trader Joe's treats, of course. The non-local stuff comes via return trips from the World Out There, when we stuff coolers and ship boxes full of all kinds of things we can't get here.

We don't do quite as much stocking-up as some people do. In part, that's because Husband's job takes him out of Isolationville with regularity, though not frequency, and so we don't usually need to keep more than two months of exotics on hand. It's also because we don't have the ready cash it takes to do it properly. Between the actual food costs and the shipping, we typically spend $400-700 on a shopping trip in The City, not counting the car rental and hotel. Some folks spend thousands.

A typical day includes two trips each to CostCo, an Asian/International grocery, a health food store, and a regular supermarket/department store. The first trips are for non-perishables, which get packed and shipped parcel post or via the airline's special food freight services. You only get the special food rates if you're shipping over a hundred pounds, so if we're taking all the perishables as checked luggage, we sometimes don't have enough for that. The second trips are last-minute for frozen stuff. We can ship that via the airline, and sometimes do, but if we've only been away for a short time and don't have a lot of luggage, it's easier to take a cooler with us and then check it on the way home, full of goodies.

Right now, we're in the middle of a four-month stretch with no relief from Isolationville, and our food stores are showing it. We've actually just placed a desperation order with one of the services that shop and ship for you. Unfortunately, there were some things I wanted (like another bottle of sweet chili sauce) that weren't available, so now I'm going to have to hope that the store in The Other Town has it. They do a very good job of trying to stock a lot of different things in a small store with a tiny customer base, so they might have it.

Living in Isolationville is a lesson in how to make do with what you can get. My cooking and eating habits have changed radically since moving here, not necessarily for the better. But I'm learning to get around the limitations, and I'm actually using this blog and especially the food blogging events to push myself to be more aggressive in pushing the limits of our food-procuring possibilities.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Corn and Salmon: Two Meals

For two nights in a row, we've been playing at eating summer. Monday was close to a real summer as it gets around Isolationville. Seventy degrees, beautiful blue skies, a light breeze to scare away the bugs. We took a long walk with Baby Girl and DogNextDoor to the public docks and let DND play in the water. When I went to the store later, I couldn't resist the corn (probably should have...the cut end was starting to ferment) and they had affordable and ripe avocados, so a summer meal was born! Our produce selection has improved dramatically over the last month. Part of that is just increased summer traffic; our store goes from one produce delivery a week to several. But there's new management, too, over the winter, and they're doing really lovely things. There was ginger. Actual, fresh ginger. I hardly know what to do with myself.

Anyway. So dinner Monday night was salmon, avocado, grape tomato, and red pepper salad with cilantro, green onion, and lime juice, and corn on the cob. Very tasty. We had some of the salmon leftover, and I had just cooked it with salt and pepper, so it was completely flexible as an ingredient the next night. We also had two ears of corn left. So for dinner last night, I combined the corn kernels, the salmon, green onions, sauteed onion and red pepper, cilantro, and a light fritter batter, and made corn-salmon fritter-cakes. The pictures didn't turn out very well, as you can see.

We ate the cakes with a big heap of finely shredded romaine, lightly dressed again with sushi vinegar, sesame oil, and salt. A sweet chile sauce finished off the meal.

As I was shredding the lettuce, I was taken back to my meat-eating days. One of my favorite sandwiches, and the last meaty meal I ate, was a good hard salami with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Now, I realize how heretical that might have been, but it was tasty! Really good delis would make their sandwiches with finely shredded lettuce rather than whole or torn leaves, and the texture added a certain something.

When people ask me if I miss eating meat, the answer is not really. I miss certain foods that happen to feature meat, but it's not necessarily the meat that I miss. This sandwich is like that. I love the spice of the salami with the crunch of the lettuce and the creaminess of the mayo, all on a good, crunchy roll. The meat was definitely part of a larger package. I haven't eaten red meat or poultry for over twenty years, and it's still very particular dishes that I think about, not the meat at their center or side or wherever it was.

All that from shredding my lettuce.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

This Isn't My Grandmother's Shortcake!

In my family, four or maybe five generations of it, strawberry shortcake is taken very, very seriously. There is A Way to make it, a time and place to eat it, and deviations are not encouraged. For the most part, I agree with that. Once you replace the strawberries with some other kind of fruit, however, anything goes!

And so, after having a lovely meal of roasted baby red potatoes, onion fritatta, and creamed spinach, I embarked on dessert. Let's call it Spiced Blueberry Corncake.

After my blueberry flavor pairing work last week, I had a combo in mind that I wanted a use for, having decided on a different one for my as-yet-to-be-made sorbet. I had tried a coriander blueberry mix and loved it, so that was my starting point. I poured about two cups of my frozen, hand-picked, wild blueberries into a small saucepan, added some sugar and the juice of a lemon, and turned on the heat. Once everything was well thawed and giving up juices, I pulled out the berries and reduced the liquid to a near-syrup, added about half a teaspoon of coriander, a pinch of salt, and the berries, and let it cool.

Meanwhile, my cake needed to be flavorful on its own. I worked all day today, and made dinner, so I cheated a bit on the cake. I used a Trader Joe's cornbread mix with an added tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of fresh lemon zest. It's great! I always seem to forget how lovely cornmeal and lemon are together.

Finally, plain-Jane whipped cream. I considered vanilla and/or orange extract and decided to just sugar it a little and be done with it.

The first piece for each of us went very quickly...Husband was stacking a second round before I'd even finished taking photos of my first helping. But I was pretty quickly back, too, once I'd started to dig into that first slice. Unfortunately, my best picture was of my second round, so it's on a dirty plate. I've decided to think of it as a wabi-sabi photograph and post it anyway.

It almost makes me want thirds, but Husband beat me to it and finished off the berries.

It Boggles My Mind: The Butter Edition

Maybe I'm not giving Daniel Patterson enough credit when I sit with a dropped jaw trying to figure out how he can not have known how to make butter. In the NYTimes Magazine, he describes his epiphany about homemade butter and provides a recipe/method.

I'll be the first to admit that I may have read Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder's food-porn biography-novel about her husband's childhood on a largely self-reliant farm, a few too many times. I've probably also visited more than my fair share of living-history museums, too. So maybe I have an advantage here and that's why my mind boggles at the thought of a chef not knowing how to make butter.

But still...I feel like I grew up knowing how to make butter. I first helped churn butter when I was not quite ten. I accidentally made butter a few years later in some of my early attempts at whipping cream without supervision. And every once in a long, long while, I've made my own. I'm not claiming that I make my own butter on a regular basis, or even that I'm a highly experienced butter maker. I'm not. It's a rare activity, mostly because of the cost.

In spite of the mind-boggling aspect of the article, I'm grateful for the reminder of just how good your own butter is. Baby Girl, as she has not yet reached the ripe old age of eight months yet, is not a candidate for butter making. She will be someday, however, and I look forward to making butter with her, if only so that she understands where butter comes from and how it gets to our table. And, of course, so she can have the sublime experience of slathering her very own butter onto a still-warm-from-the-oven slice of her very own bread.