Sunday, April 30, 2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006

at the farmers market

Today was my 1st farmers market visit this year, the North Union Market at Crocker Bassett. I'm particularly interested in the market this year because I'm doing the Eat Local Challenge, a movement to increase awareness about the perils of eating unseasonally and having our food trek around the globe to arrive on our plates weary and travel-stained (so to speak). I'm also going to be posting on a blog with other eat-local-challengers: more on that later.
I'd never been to the market this early in the year, and I was curious about what I'd find. What is there to eat in Ohio in May? There are some onionish things coming up in my yard, and some micro lettuce, but nothing much to put on a plate. Happily, the North Union farmers are more on the ball.

I bought the following
2 kinds of lettuce
2 loaves of bread (rye and some kind of multigrain)
a dozen eggs
cottage cheese (eggs and cottage cheese from an Amish farmer in a straw hat)
raw milk cheddar
a plastic bag of nettles (I don't know what to do with these yet)
a giant bunch of kale
Fuji apples
some bison sausage
a paper bag full of mushrooms
2 basil plants, one green, one green
and a chocolate-almond croissant
every single thing either grown or produced or baked or preserved in northeast Ohio: amazing.
I was most excited about the ramps (see left)--I'd read about them, but never had any before. They're a wild food, very seasonal (only early spring), supposedly very smelly, in the onion family. I'd read that they'd totally stink up your car on the way home, but neither my sister nor I noticed this. I've double-bagged them in the veg drawer--we'll see how aromatic they are tomorrow.
As often, D looked doubtful when I spread out this bounty. He worries that we won't be able to use everything when I buy a lot of stuff. He's already imagining the vegetables as slime in the bottom drawer of the fridge (and it's not like this has never happened), so I must prove him wrong.
Here's Sally of Summit Croissants--hers was the chocolate-almond croissant I bought (and almost immediately ate: mmm). I forgot to ask her why she'd named them Summit. Because they're from Summit county? they're the peak of croissants? Not sure, but they were excellent.

For more information about eating local, check out here or here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

baby food 101

I ate all my meals this last weekend with my grandson, C--he was visiting with his parents. He's just a few weeks over a year old, still eating some food specifically for babies, but venturing out into the world of grown-up food. He eats in bits and pieces--grapes bitten or cut in half by his mother, crumbs of hamburger, french fries cut in baby-size pieces (with all the sharp ends taken off). He eats with his fingers, although he's also very interested in eating by spoon. He hasn't mastered the art of putting food on the spoon, although if he's offered a spoonload of fruit or mashed potatoes, he knows how to take it in his hand and get it in his mouth.
I fed him breakfast on Saturday, and thinking back on it, it occurred to me that it was a lesson in mindful eating, something I'm trying to get better at. We had Cheerios in milk (both of us), apples and blueberries in a jar (C), toast spread with olive oil and parmesan cheese (mostly me, but a bit for C).
C's Cheerios have to be put in a bowl of milk about half a dozen at a time, since he spits them out if they get soggy. He likes the crunch, but he likes the milk accompaniment. He also likes his bites to alternate--some fruit, then some Cheerios. He likes to have some Cheerios on the table in front of him, dry, so he can pick them up if he gets bored with Cheerios in milk. He appreciated the toast, although when I gave him the first bite, he took it out of his mouth to check it out. Apparently, it passed inspection, since he ate half of my slice in bird-size bits.
When C is done eating, he's done. When he's not hungry any more, he will politely take the bite you offer him, but then he spits it out, extruding it down over his lower lip, dropping it on his bib or the high chair tray.
Or he'll start smearing the food on his tray with wide sweeps, some of which may cause food to drop onto the floor.
Then he likes to hang over in his chair and look at it on the floor. (I find all this far more amusing than his mother does.) And this happens whether it's babyfood squash or birthday cake (see C, below, with the remains of his 1st birthday cake).
A baby is a powerful teacher of mindful eating. He knows just what he wants; he won't eat something if he really doesn't like it; he stops when he's not hungry any more. I'm studying up on this for my own edification and eating/dieting pleasure. I'm usually a quick study, but I think it's going to take a lot more meals in baby company before I'm through.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter breakfast

Our family celebrates Easter with a breakfast that is like the kinds of breakfasts people might have eaten when they were going to work in the fields all day carrying a 20 pound weight. (We celebrate all holidays this way, but not otherwise at breakfast). This half-sunny, half-cloudy Easter was no exception: me and my cousins and their spouses and children at my Aunt Honey's house.
It's supposed to start at 10 sharp, but there's often a little lag time for the slightly late (no one is really late, because no one wants to miss out on the food). It used to start at 9 sharp when my mother was alive, because she was diabetic and couldn't wait until 10 to eat something substantial. Now that she's gone, the extra hour gives us time to salivate, and decide what to wear. If you haven't thrown at least 3 outfits on your bed and started to swear, you're not really trying.
The menu is traditional, but not unvarying. Always kielbasi (we're part Slovak), always ham and sausage (we like pig products); but never bacon. Scrambled eggs, done with butter and added cream cheese, as well as hardboiled colored eggs. The latter are blessed (as is the butter) and the shells can't be thrown away--they must be burnt or buried (I favor burying).
Always celery sticks and raw green onions, sometimes tomato slices, if Aunt Honey can find some good ones. Always some kind of fruit, sometimes a fruit cup, sometimes, as this year, just very nice strawberries. Always potato pancakes, browned and crispy. Horseradish? definitely.
A platter of sweets, which may vary, but must always include my aunt's famous Danish pastries (prune or apricot). This year there were also bran muffins and an iced butter ring. To finish (if you're not finished already), some jelly beans and chocolate eggs from Malleys.
There's always some discussion of the weather--is it nicer this Easter than last? remember that time it snowed a foot? An exchange of news: who's going to be stationed at Fort Huachaca, someone's new job at KeyBank, how someone else's grandsons are doing. Now that we are older there may be some discussion of blood pressure medication and a good knee surgeon.
This year Aunt Honey had a story about the Danish, and how after she'd made them all she discovered that her rolling pin had a chip out of it. She couldn't decide whether the chip had been gone before she started or not. "I thought about it all night," she said, and then she decided that she couldn't serve something to her family at a party that might have a splintery chip in it, so she made the recipe all over again. Food is important in our family. We told her that they were the better for being made twice, and it was true.
We've been having Easter breakfast at my aunt's for 30 or more years. Before she did it, it was at my grandma's house on Daisy Avenue. I suppose that sometimes traditions are a pain. When I was younger and more annoying, I sometimes postured a bit in front of my friends about having to go to this or that family occasion. My mother is making me go, I would say, probably with a cigarette drooping from my mouth. Sometimes I might have left early because there were other more exciting things I wanted to do (which often involved the opposite sex). But I always went, and now I'm glad I did.
All those earlier occasions are layered over and over themselves, all the kielbasi, the Easter snow, my mother sipping delicately at some pink champagne (only on holidays), my children clutching their money-stuffed plastic eggs, all the Easter outfits that I put together, the spring coat my sister called my "scrambled egg coat" (yellow and white tweed), my father and my uncles gathering secretly (but not really) for a shot, the greening of the lawn, the brave forsythia drowned in rain, every bite of egg and sausage and potato and chocolate--they are in my cell structure and the marrow of my bones. I have been made by them.

Friday, April 14, 2006

ancient nutmeg: circa 1985

I thought I knew nutmeg, but it turns out it's a racier and more elusive spice than I'd guessed. For instance, it was prized as an aphrodisiac by Chinese women. Scientists have found that it increases mating activity in mice. In large quantities, nutmeg can have a hallucinatory effect. The nut of a fruit, it grows on a tree fifteen feet high (Myristica fragrans). It originated in the Eastern Moluccas.
This arouses so many questions: which Chinese women, and when, and why not Chinese men? How did the scientists serve the nutmeg? Sprinkled on mice-sized custards? How large is the hallucinogenic dose? What does the nutmeg fruit look like? (see left)
Where are the Eastern Moluccas? (I've always been weak in geography.)
Not all of these questions are easily answerable, but I did find an interesting story (first published in a 1970 issue of British Medical Journal) about a young woman who ate "one ounce of nutmeg in water and orange juice." The nutmeg made her feel nauseous and see black creatures and red eyes, but even so, "her mood was one of elation." After being taken to the emergency room, "she was admitted and quickly fell into a sound sleep." Ah, the sixties.
(And I now know that the Eastern Moluccas are in Indonesia.)
I chose nutmeg as my spice of choice for my entry in Tigers and Strawberries new blogging event, The Spice is Right. My nutmeg qualifies as ancient on account of its long tenure in my household. D and I bought a jar of nutmegs sometime between 1983 and 1986, which is still with us, and still quite spicy. I got curious about the nutmegs' staying power when I started working on this and I bought several new nutmegs from the West Side Market. How would the 20 year old nutmegs stand up to fresh-bought? I grated a bit from both and taste-tested. The newer ones were maybe a mite more pungent, but not really so much. My nutmegs have stood the test of time.
I used one of the venerable '80s nutmegs (there are still 5 left) for the following dish, and it performed like a champ.

Spinach-Potato Soup
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste (the kind you can find in Indian groceries)
or, 1 clove garlic, chopped, and 1 quarter-size slice of ginger, chopped
1 tbs olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
3 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup raw spinach, roughly chopped
1 cup skim milk
1 tbs lime juice
large pinch of nutmeg (about a 1/2 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste

I sauteed the onion in the oil, added the garlic ginger paste when the onions were translucent. Then in with the broth and the potatoes, and about 10 minutes of simmering (since the potatoes were cut quite small). I added the spinach, simmered about 5 minutes more, then the milk, lime juice and nutmeg. I left it on a little longer, just to warm it up after the milk chill, and then brought out my beloved immersion blender. I only blended it a bit, just to break things up a little, but not so much that it was uniform, and then salted and peppered it lightly.
A very straightforward and simple soup, which could easily be made vegetarian with vegetable broth instead of chicken. When I went at it with the immersion blender, it worked up quite a froth, which was a little unsettling, too milkshake-like. But this settled down after a while.
I got the original recipe from a British recipe site, recipes4us, but I changed it enough that I think I can claim it as mine. It was pretty good, a lovely greenish color, tasting both like spring and winter, a nice segue into a new season, good both immediately and as leftovers the next day.
Dutch explorers brought the first nutmegs to Europe around 1608 and they were so popular that the Dutch invaded and conquered the islands so they could be the kings of nutmeg--which makes me historically regretful, but no less appreciative of its charm.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

after the dentist: soup

I originally intended this to be my IMBB entry for the 30-minute meal, but although this soup only takes 30 minutes, it isn't a meal unless you've just been to the dentist (as I had) and the dentist has filed and drilled away at the tooth which is being prepared for a cap. I didn't really want to eat anything else, but fortunately this soup sufficed.
I first ate this soup in a soup-and-sandwich place, the Emporium, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when I was there for the Antioch Writers Workshop the summer before last. It was one of the 4 soups of the day, Jamaican Tomato Soup, and alongside the name there was a card listing the ingredients. I liked it so much that I tried to get the actual recipe, but the cashier didn't know where it was and the manager wasn't there, so I wrote down the ingredients and went home and gave it a shot.
What I came up with is the recipe following, and although it isn't quite what I had in Yellow Springs, it's pretty good, and goes well with a grilled cheese and onion sandwich (if you haven't just been to the dentist, when even the slight crunch of the toasty sandwich edge is too chewy).

Spicy Tomato Soup
1-2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
a chunk of fresh ginger, chopped or grated
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1 can crushed tomatoes (the size that's abt 32 oz)
1 6 oz can tomato paste
About 4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Juice of one orange
Zest of same orange, grated or chopped
A good pinch of salt (or to taste)
Sugar to taste

I saute the first 6 ingredients until the onions look done (somewhat translucent), then add the tomatoes. (You can just as well use an equivalent amount of whole canned tomatoes chopped in the food processor). Add the tomato paste and broth, and bring to a boil, stirring to incorporate the paste. Add the orange juice and zest (this time I used a blood orange since I happened to have it

--it made the soup a little redder, but otherwise didn't make much difference. It was a lovely color in the squeezer though.).
Let everything simmer for a few minutes, and then taste before adding salt. The sugar is optional and depends on your personal taste and the sweetness of the tomatoes. I usually add about a tablespoon. I used my new hand blender on it when it was done--you don't have to, but it gives it a nice part-smooth/part-chunky texture.
The resulting soup is tomato-ey, a little spicy (you can up the pepper hit, or if you're not a fan of hot, reduce it), has the tang of orange, and a sunny, happy feel in your mouth. Guaranteed to require no chewing.
In the interests of transparency, I have to add that we never eat our soup out of martini glasses. But my actual soup bowl, a much-loved plastic bowl in a muddy yellow print (I think it's Melmac, and about 50 hard-using years old), is not at all photogenic.