Monday, September 20, 2010

What to do?

I am so darn depressed. After last month’s umpteen million egg recall and finishing Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer I am no longer comfortable eating anywhere but my home. I can at least control and garner some knowledge of the foods I use to feed myself, and the ones I love. Then there is the phone call suggesting a rendezvous for dinner given that I live in New York City, and this is part and parcel of our social dance. Panic is now settling in as I do a quick assessment – are these friends who care about the foods they put in their bodies; is the political impact of industrialized food production a conscience concern of theirs. Of course, then there is the consideration of the financial burden that is taken on by caring.

Why have we made it so difficult for us to secure edibles that are not overly manipulated; that cause us to worry about hidden contaminants, or just lose touch the basic joy that food and community should bring?

Now, I fully understand the turn of the corner when economy of scale took hold, and the promise that antibiotics would allow animals to survive an infection and just as its human owner would. As with our own lives things have clearly gotten way out of control, and it is time we seek to rein in the large, international food producers. For me, that means using the most powerful weapon I have – what and where I purchase. Fortunately, I am still able to derive about 90% of what I am eating from my farmer’s market, but come winter when my vegetable farmers are resting, and my local meat sources get more difficult to find I am doubly committed to finding sources for my table -- perhaps it is time to find a CSA that supplies meat.

I will most likely freeze more corn nibblets than last year and spend a Sunday shelling various beans to squirrel away, and continue to give thanks for a hot, sunny summer and the five one-gallon-sized freezer bags bulging with almost every conceivable tomato waiting.

While I actively work to protect my small little word I hope that the day we decide to re-structure our food industry is not to far into the future. How much longer do we suffer these now to common recalls and horrendous food production practices? I dream of a future where the country is divide into agri-zones allowing areas to feed itself permitting economy of scale to still be satisfied, but not ever allowing a farmer or rancher to become such a behemoth that they can cause an outbreak from coast to coast.

Braised Short Ribs – yields 6
5 pounds short ribs – trimmed of excess fat
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
2-teaspoons canola oil
2 large onions – diced
4 ribs celery – diced
2 small carrots - diced
3-inch piece fresh ginger – peeled and diced
1/4-cup diced dried dates
1/4-cup cup fresh thyme leaves – chopped
Large pinch of saffron
4 whole black cardamom pods
1-bottle red wine
1/2-cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dust the short ribs with the flour.

In a 12-quart over a high heat, and add the oil. Brown the ribs in two batches. Remove the browned ribs, and pour off any oil that pooled in the bottom of the pot.

Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pot, and cook until lightly browned. Then add the ginger, dates, and the browned short ribs. Mix to combine.

Add the thyme, saffron, cardamom and pour over the wine. Bring the wine to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cover with a lid, and simmer for three to three and half hours. Add the parsley, salt and pepper, and cook uncovered for an additional half hour.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

a market in a new land

A farmer’s market offers a universal experience for me-- smiles and enthusiasm radiates from vendors to the shoppers from freshly dug potato to canvas bags brimming over. For me there is no more fulfilling day then a jaunt through a market on a mission of discovery. Late summer in the northern hemisphere is bringing tomatoes, ears of corn, blueberries, and peppers galore all to feed the insatiable hunger of a growing worldwide army of locavores. Here in Tokyo baby ginger and lotus root are popping up everywhere but the also found was black fermented garlic bulbs, sesame oil extracted to order and a new variety of plum the was a cross between a green gage and elephant heart, all most exciting. It is great to see the vertically stacked denizens of a densely packed city grabbing their re-useable bags and desire; starting their day squeezing through aisles flanked by stalks displaying local initiative and subsequent bounty. Root vegetables crusted with dried earth, artisinal breads and muffins, hand-thrown crockery perfectly askew all vie for our attention and love.

As so many times before for me when I have been traveling, I am confronted with my usual dilemma – desire out weighing the practical. I am not home so buying more than can be eaten raw or nibbled on the spot must be stored in my warehouse of memory for a future use. But this time I may just be a very temporary cog in this urban wheel, but I went with the absolute intention of buying and I did. Arriving back home at my friend’s house with corn, red okra, tomatoes, Japanese leeks, peppery green sprouts and of course, the garlic and bottle of black sesame oil. Dinner was going to be my pleasure.

It is our collective pleasure to enjoy a meal with good friends, family and even strangers. Though what is also evident is that we, as a people, respond to the fruits of the earth intrinsically understanding the language of good food.