Sunday, April 15, 2007

What's the official ethical blogger stance

on reposting on your blog something you posted on a discussion board? Technically okay, but tacky? Well, I'm risking it, because there's a fun conversation going on about food snobbery over on chowhound, and I want to repost my contribution:

The Eight Types of Food Snob

1) The Four-Star Snob (Or Classical Form)
No meal which costs less than $50 is worthwhile. They like to drop the names of fabulous places they've eaten. They have no idea where to get decent pizza. And don't get started with the wine.

2) The Exotic Food Snob
More commonly male than female, the exotic food snob will mention frequently how good the street food is in Thailand or Malaysian, but will snub mac and cheese, classical French cuisine or a good roast. The fewer Americans who have tasted a particular cuisine, the more status it holds. Scorns home-cooked food. Closely related to, and overlapping with the

3) Spicy Food Snob
Exotic is better, but chili and barbecue are okay, too, as long as the food is HOT!HOT!HOT! Heat is directly related to "authenticity," so the spicier the food, the more authentic (even if the dish is traditionally not that spicy), and people who have a problem with heat are to be mocked.
And speaking of authenticity...

4) The Authentic Food Snob
No substitutions accepted! The authentic food snob doesn't care what s/he eats, as long as it represents in the purest form a dish once eaten by a peasant somewhere. Is certain that there is ONE authentic version of every dish. If the authentic food snob cooks as well as eats, will worship Paula Wolfert.

5) The Reverse Food Snob
Believes that anyone who prefers "fancy" food is just putting on airs and needs to be put in place. Gets pissed off by unfamiliar foods. Insists that everyone really likes like Hellman's and Jif better than homemade mayo or natural peanut butter, but won't admit it.

6) The Fresh And Local Snob (Guilty!)
"I only eat food grown within 100 miles of home, except for spices and olive oil." "Oh, I do only 50 miles and I've given up olive oil - I only cook in local lard now." "I only eat food grown within one mile of my front yard. I've lost eighty-five pounds."

7) The Healthy Food Snob
"No meat, and you know what? I don't even miss it. No rich sauces for me - I really like things light. Only fruit for dessert. Maybe a single square of dark chocolate once a week or so, but generally, I don't have much taste for sugar any more. No, not fat either. You know, once you break your addiction to unhealthy food, you just don't want that stuff any more. You should try it."

8) The Trendy Food Snob
Genuinely thinks that someone's knowledge or interest in food can be gauged by their level of devotion to the NYTimes food section. Often cooks as well as eats; if so, owns very expensive kitchenware. Thinks that has something to do with one's abilities as a cook. I'm sorry, "chef." Thinks that formerly trendy foods like sundried tomatoes are kind of, well, funny.

Farming the City Conference

Yesterday was the Farming the City Conference sponsored by The Food Project. I attended, in my effort to educate myself as best I can about local agricultural issues. It was interesting. I was older than most of the participants by at least ten years and certainly the only one wearing pantyhose. I stuck out like an old, overdressed thumb.

I exaggerate, but only a little. There were probably twenty people there older than I am, and SEVERAL of these were attendees, rather than presenters. And I saw one other person in a skirt (no hose, though). (I carry the remnants of my Catholic upbringing with me even when I think I've rooted them out. After ten years of having to wear a skirt to school every day, and of course a dress to church on Sundays, I still am convinced on a deep level that jeans are suitable only for hanging around the house and doing grocery shopping - anything that involves meeting people calls for a proper outfit. Yeah, somehow I managed to attend high school in both the 1980s and the 1950s simultaneously. ) Anyway, to co-opt Elvis Costello - I used to be embarassed, now I try to be amused. And the sight of all those earnest college students, in their fleece and denim, devoted to the ideals of sustainable agriculture and food justice, eager to change the world in really positive, concrete ways - well, it warms the cockles of your heart, you know?

The day opened with Sandor Katz and Mark Smith (campaign director from Farm Aid). Now, here's the disappointing story about Sandor Katz - I was supposed to get to hang out with him, and I was pretty excited. I know - that's pushing the geek-o-meter to eleven. But I love his books. Wild Fermentation got me started making my own sauerkraut, and I read The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved through practically in one sitting. He's obviously a complete kook, and I mean that in the best of ways. So when I find out a co-worker knew him and would be attending his talk with plans to hang out afterwards, I was eager to tag along. Alas, my co-worker was a no-show, so I just got to hear the talk.

Which was very good, if a bit short (the same complaint I had about Mark Smith's presentation - the organizers really should have planned more time for both of these guys, who had a lot to say). Here was Katz's big message (stolen from someone else, though I've forgotten whom, because I never remember to take notes): Sustainability is participation.

I'm still mulling it over, because I think there's a lot there. His general point is that the role of consumer is a limited one. If we're going to stop the tide of destructive materialism, we need to be creators and nurturers and growers, each of us, and not just consumers. Not exactly a new concept, but still an important message, one that needs to be repeated over and over to be heard for even a moment in the din of the overall culture and its constant insistence that we buy!buy!buy!

I think that my grandfather was a relatively happy man. In no way did he live off-the-grid. His life was not exceptional for his time. He and my grandmother had a chicken farm for a while, and he worked in a lumber yard. After he had advanced in the company, they sold the farm and move to the "streetcar suburbs" of Boston (Roslindale). Then they retired to a truly suburban home in Wakefield, MA.

Sounds like a not-uncommon American life and hardly some sort of model for sustainability. After all, he sold the farm - it's probably a condo complex now. And he moved to the suburbs, where he became very attached to, of all things, Days of Our Lives.

But that suburban house had an apple tree in the yard and some blackberry bushes. My grandparents planted two big gardens and grew lettuce, spinach, zuchinni, summer squash, carrots, rhubarb, peas, green beans, yellow beans, radishes, tomatoes, and probably some other things I don't remember. My grandmother made jam from the blackberries and froze beans, peas, rhubarb and carrots for the winter. Of course, she made their meals, simple good food, nothing fancy, but all from scratch. In the basement, my grandfather had a workshop where he fixed things and built things from wood: shelves and small things for the house, dollhouse furniture for his granddaughter. I don't ever remember my grandparents playing a record, but my grandfather pulled out his guitar or his harmonica on most visits. My grandmother made quilts. And every morning they walked around the lake that sits in the middle of the town, visiting the neighbors along the way, stopping to pick up a newspaper, their mail at the post office.

In other words, their lives were defined more by what they made or what they did than what they bought. They made important contributions to their household through the work of their own hands. They had a community with whom they interacted on a regular basis. And I think their lives were so much more in balance than most people's lives are today, when spend-watch-listen has largely replaced make-play-do.

Cooking is the primary way that I participate, though I also make woodcuts and paintings. I wish I could grow things. I used to, I had a garden in my last apartment. But I made a strategic error. In my desperation to find an apartment in Cambridge that was affordable and not terribly depressing, I gave up on access to a yard. I knew that I had loved my garden, but I didn't think it was essential. I also thought that this apartment was a short-term, temporary thing, for a year or so, until I was able to find a job outside the city. Well, I was wrong. It's been three years, and I'm still here. And the loss of the garden has been very difficult. Rather than moving forward, into a life of greater participation, I have moved back, into a greater reliance on being a consumer.

It's okay. I won't make that mistake again. And I've used this time to learn some other skills - I've learned how to knit (at least a little), I've improved my jam-making and canning, I've learned how to make fermented pickles (thanks, Sandor), I've assisted in beer-making, I make my own vinegar. Since I still don't know when I'm going to leave this place, I've decided this summer I'm going to focus on pickling, drying, and freezing local produce. And I'm going to learn the harmonica, because, as Maude said, "Everyone should know how to make a little music."

Hmm, I seem to have wandered from the Farming the City conference. What else to say about that? A lot of great projects are going on. I was particularly impressed by the projects described in the morning session that were aimed at getting farm produce to food-insecure communities. The problems seem insurmountable, but these projects seemed to have great success by starting very, very small and growing slowly until they are helping a lot of people. Which is its own lesson - small steps matter.

Okay, Sunday morning sermon is over. The Mass is over, go in peace to participate as fully as you can in your own life.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

You're going to have to imagine

the photo, because I am so out of touch with blogging these days that I forgot to take one. It didn't help that I was at a friend's house for Easter; there's something so awkward about photographing your food in a strange environment. So, I'll help you picutre it: a rectagnular tart, covered in rosettes of lightly browned meringue. The filling was not the expected lemon, but passionfruit curd, and there was passionfruit sauce on the side. Very elegant, a little exotic without being intimidating. Several people had seconds, and given that the dessert table also included a ricotta pie and a special Italian dove (a sweet yeast bread with chocolate filling), that was a good sign.

I used Maury Rubin's tart crust recipe, because, as I believe Jeffrey Steingarten pointed out, it's perfect and there's no need for any other recipe for tart shells. I didn't use his recipe for passionfruit filling, though. It looked a little lacking in eggy goodness. So I found a recipe online for passionfruit curd, then looked at Helen Witty's lemon curd recipe, which is my standard go-to recipe for lemon curd. I determined that the Witty recipe would work, as long as I decreased the sugar (tart though passionfruit is, it's sweeter than lemon juice). I also wanted to use Rubin's idea of including vanilla bean to add another layer of flavor. So this is what I came up with:

3 egg yolks, plus one whole egg
1 cup sugar (or 3/4 cup - I'll explain in just a minute)
1/2 cup passionfruit pulp/juice (I didn't use fresh, though that would have been great. Goya*, god bless 'em, sells frozen pure pulp. It's excellent in cocktails, smoothies and this recipe.)
1 stick plus two T butter, cut into pieces (whoo-hoo! eggs and butter! bring it on!)
2-inch piece vanilla bean

Beat the eggs and sugar together thoroughly. Add the juice, butter and vanilla bean (scrape the seeds into the mix, then throw the pod in while you're at it), and put your bowl over some simmering water. Cook and whisk seemingly endlessly, but really only for about 10-15 minutes (I recommend you put on NPR before you start) until it's nice and thick, then put through a strainer into a bowl and refrigerate.

Blind bake your tart shell, let it cool, then brush it thinly with a bit of melted white chocolate. This will seal the shell from the moisture of the filling and keep it from getting soggy. Fill the tart - you should have exactly enough for a standard tart shell.

Now, here's the question: meringue or whipped cream? For eating purposes, I prefer whipped cream, but for the baker, meringue has two advantages. One, it uses up those perfectly good egg whites. Two, you get to use the blowtorch. For me, the joy of playing with fire trumps the pleasure of butterfat (just barely), so I went with meringue. And therein lies the error I made with the recipe. It was just a little too sweet. With lightly sweetened whipped cream, the curd would have been perfect, but it wasn't quite tart enough to stand up to meringue. Therefore, I would suggest that if you want to serve the curd plain, or with raspberries (which would look and taste great) or with cream, you use 1 cup of sugar, but if you want to to cover the curd with meringue, drop the sugar down to 3/4 cup.

The sauce was my way of dealing with the overly-sweet tart. Passionfruit pulp, a little sugar, heated together, a little cornstarch to thicken (my arrowroot had something blue in it - I have NO idea), then a glug of rum. Fine, nothing exciting, but brought the sweetness back into balance. Unnecessary if you follow the sugar guidelines above, I think.

I will definitely make this tart again; it's pretty easy, the components could be made ahead, and it's a little unexpected. Plus, I think it will be fun to play around with fruit pairings. Raspberries are obvious, because raspberries and passionfruit have a special synergy, but kiwi might be nice as well, or strawberries or even possibly peaches. We shall see.

*If there's one big brand I love with a pure and untarnished love, it is Goya, maker of the only canned beans that are neither chalky nor mushy, purveyor of otherwise unattainable ingredients, my one true Goya.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I love

the Onion.

Okay, not much of a post for the first in a month, but really, click the link. It's funny.