Saturday, July 28, 2007

draw the line

I've always considered myself a geographic bad ass.
I know, it's not much of a title. Oxymoronic to some, and just plain dumb to others.


I don't care. Those who say this can stay in their tiny little world with their spatially challenged minds, never really understanding the enormity of the mistake in native americans being called indians when first encountered by europeans. These are the type of folks who think that the north pole is terra firma, rather than an imagined bit of space contained within a lead in the ice, occasionally seen in the summer these days thanks to global warming. Or what about explaining why Greenland and Antarctica look so frickin' huge when projected onto a map to these people? Oh, wait. Am I talking about you?

My point is, that we americans in general, suck at geography. We have things fixed in our minds, that don't correspond to the reality of our planet. To me, this is the greatest challenge for people to overcome when trying to eat local. First, people have to know what local is. Then, they have to wake up and realize that local is a relative term. Defined by whatever it is you're talking about. The avocados pictured here are local. About three hundred miles away local (Ventura area) but that is waaaaay better than Chilean avocados.

Let's get tougher though and tackle chocolate for example. For all but one of the states of the union, this is not a commercial crop. Any guesses which one that might be? It's not Milwaukee! (Besides, remember, that's not a state.) It's Hawaii! Our Island state out in the middle of the biggest puddle on our planet. If you live in the islands, you can get local chocolate products in a very limited supply. But if you're here on the mainland, nope. Unless you want to call 2000+ miles local. Which I don't. The geographer in me........just can't go there.

I bring this up, because this morning I decided to make fun of my geekiness to help me solve a dilemna. I've been struggling internally with how to deal with non-local products in my diet. You know, the ones that just ain't from around here. Like chocolate, or coffee say. Or dry spices like cinnamon and pepper. Do I just ditch these things when I'm attempting to eat more local? Do I say: "I'm gonna try and eat things, whenever possible, from within 200 miles of my home" and just give up my garam masala, late night chocolate, and morning joe? Hell no.

I use my head, decide what's best to do on a case by case basis, starting with coffee. I draw an imaginary line from myself in space, extending some 2500 miles from here in the east bay. I imagine this as my "acceptable" radius of coffee. I figure this will cover Hawaii, all of Mexico, and maybe get me somewhere past Guatemala and into El Salvador. Then I bust out the technology and check my imaginings with the realities of satellite accurracy enabled mapping. Turns out Hawaii and Mexico are fine, but I'm only going to get into western Guatemala. Not too bad I tell myself. There are certainly some kick-ass coffees being produced in central america. But I really should spend more time with the map of the area. I mean, what the hell was I thinking, that maybe I'd be drinking some fine Costa Rican stuff too?

Then again, maybe I could stick to Hawaiian coffee for the month of September. My sis just got back from the islands and brought me back a taste of the volcano. Turns out this stuff is a special brand made for geographers like me.........jackasses!

Okay. So I'm sorry if I rubbed anyone the wrong way by poking fun at our collective geography skills or by mocking how ridiculous our definitions of local can be. Remember people, taken all in moderation and with a grain of local salt, the world can be a better place. Or at least a better place to make fun of it all. Can we at least agree on that?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

fresh picked produce

This past weekend, we went on down to Reedley, to my wife's folk's house. Being that it is the month of July, and her father is a gardening fiend, a trip to their house is like a trip to the market. As usual, we picked stuff for a few hours before packing the car and heading back home, this time resulting in a whopping 111 pounds of produce. Which come to think of it, is about half of our all time biggest load.

While visiting, I was speaking with my father in-law about our recent jam adventures and intentions of preserving stuff from this trip. He mentioned some of the things his mom used to "put up," including elderberry and blueberry when the berries had a good year. His reference to putting up food struck a chord with me. It reminded me of being very small and wandering into my grandma's pantry to stare at the multi-colored glass jars filled with food. He meant preserving and putting on the shelf for storage too, and coming from a child of the depression, this was something nearly everyone did. It wasn't considered liberal, or hippy or new age. You weren't considered weird or even strange in the least bit. You had an excess of a particular kind of food, so you feasted on it and then preserved it for later. No contemplating whether you needed to, or should. No pledging to folks that you would. You just did it.

So are we. I guess that makes me a child of the depression. Only this one is defined as the time when we forgot for the most part, how to grow, prepare and preserve our own food. We rely on others for our processed food needs, keeping the source obscured, cheap and distant, resulting in a massive depression of another kind marked by excess filled with emptiness.

As I write this, we have golden ketchup, seasoned tomato sauce and dried figs. There are peaches to jam, dry, or cut up for freezing. Plums to eat. Not pictured was corn and carrots. There were a number of white onions. That paper bag was half filled with green bell peppers and these light yellow, medium-hot kindamagigs. After picking up a pork roast, tomatillos and jalapeños yesterday, I've been having fun with chile verde in grandma's test kitchen today, and the aroma is making me weep with happiness.

Keeping this one short today, so I gotta go. Gotta stir, peel, chop. Salt and boil. Try not to burn the hell out of myself in the process. A lot of work, that will be yummy later. September and beyond is going to be delicious.

Time to put up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

the tao of food

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly
When people see some things are good,
other things become bad

Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow. For me, that means doing what the monkey loves best and taking a ferry ride every few weeks to the aquarium. And doing this on a Tuesday morning means hitting the market, because you always need a snack. Or maybe two. One spicy dry chorizo, tub of mozzarella balls and loaf of bread later, plus a bag of produce, we were on our way.

With our friends and goodies all collected, we crossed the embarcadero to catch the streetcar. Over on the platform, sitting on the ground near the bench was some cowgirl's bag with a pretty little wedge of cheese in it. This sounded intriguing. I'd never had Tome au Dauphine, and a receipt showing its purchase some 45 minutes earlier made us think twice about leaving it by its lonesome self out in the cold. We picked it up, reasoning that some poor soul would be having a cheese-free lunch, and boarded the next car contemplating our next move. Hmmm. Street cheese. Might want to down-play this one, so as to not encourage the monkeys from harvesting food from the street. K and I discussed whether we would really consume it later.

The car slowly pulled up to the next intersection. While we were waiting, I realized I had left our bag of groceries and snacks behind, near the cheese finding location. We asked to get off and walked back the few hundred feet, reserved that the train would pull away any second. I saw my bag, grasping it with relief and looking down the tracks for the next car. Nothing. We looked back at the car we just departed a moment before and saw it reamining still despite a green light. We made a run for it. The driver opened the door, then stood in the doorway looking around the next turn in the track at a broken down car ahead of us. A bizarre sense of fate came to mind, but we were happy to have re-boarded, with our freebie cheese and groceries now safely tucked in our backpack.

With the broken car quickly removed, our ancient Italian thing with slick seats rambled on. The varnished wooden benches have nearly nothing to hold on to. Very easy to fly from if you're little and not used to these things. A parent can only warn of this happening so many times before it actually does. On one of the next green lights the car jerked forward and I felt the monkey's hand leave my knee suddenly. I looked to my left and found her four feet away and on the floor, facing backwards. She landed like a little cat, with back arched and upright. If she had a tail, it would have been quivering no doubt. I'm pretty sure I saw some back fur standing up though.

Blemish free and no worse for the wear, she had an expression of bewilderment when I picked her up and dusted her off. Back on the seat, with her back in big city observation mode, I tried to slip in a reminder.
"Honey, you gotta hold on when the car starts and stops."
"Yeah, or you might drop your bread!"
"Well, yes honey, but you could hurt yourself real bad."
"Yeah, you could fall down and go BOOM!"
"Luckily you're just fine. Please pay more attention to holding on sweetie, these seats are slick!"

Nice priorities on that little one. Definitely my kid.
Go with the flow, I told myself, and rejoice when these lessons occur. Without injury that is. What had appeared to be a near disaster was now a bright spot in life's lessons. You gotta hold on, or your bread will be swept away in the current. Well, that and you just might smack your noggin.

Arriving without any more momentum lessons we stashed a stroller in the parking area and got down to some exploration. We saw the baby penguins and admired the fish, making sure to play in the bubble windows that allow you to feel like you are in the tanks. After burning out on watching critters, we went and horked down on cheese and bread. Upon opening the chorizo however, I was greeted with what looked like a fuzzy blanket over part of the casing. Drag. When some things are beautiful, other things become ugly, came to mind. I could eat some, maybe, but I wanted confirmation that this was normal before going any further. With the freebie cheese nearly off-setting the price of the fuzzy meat, I tried to go with the flow of food, reasoning that in the end it was a fair trade.

After lunch, we stood for a while at the models showing how the new academy is being built. As wondrous as the enormous under-construction tanks will be, I couldn't keep the possibly bad chorizo off my mind. Tired, amazed, and stuffed, we waddled out to the street and made our way back to the ferry.

Back at the ferry plaza, I returned to the site of the purchase to show them the quantity of mold involved and to ask if this was normal as I suspected. I really wanted confirmation of such. The counter help took one look and said "Oh, that's a good one. I mean, that's nothing compared to some. Some are really hairy looking, even black sometimes." I looked down and felt better about my sausage. We went and boarded the ferry, riding the waves back to the East Bay. It would take a few days to get to do anything else with the chorizo besides sample it, but that's just part of the flow of food when you have kids. I went with it, eagerly awaiting my opportunity.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your working remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

On the next baking day, I ran the experiment. I set aside some of the herbed dough that went into these focaccia and rolls with the intent of making pizza. (The english muffins were also good, but not herbed.) I took out the ingredients on hand and started to whack, chop and mince. Into a pan they went, to sauté. Then: wait a second, if I'm cooking this now, the hard will become the soft and it would make a better filling wouldn't it? The flow, the flow! Calzone it is!

I fired up the oven with a pizza stone to about 500 degrees. This would be the slow overcoming the fast, as this takes upwards of an hour. With the calzones ready to go, I popped them in, as we needed some munchies to get us through the vigorous task of brewing before dinner. Eating requires something flow through the lips to aid digestion, so we had to open a few beers. Which is a good thing, for in order to make more beer, you have to drink some too. It's part of the flow.

During the initial stages of brewing, when we got around to eating the calzone, I just had to laugh. The chorizo was fantastic, the mushroom, onion and pepper combo divine. With garlic jack and an herbed crust the flavor topped out somwhere near hugemongous. I forgot completely about the fuzzy meat. Then remembering that I had forgotten, I began to wonder why I ever questioned eating it in the first place. I mean, why is a guy who eats moldy cheese he finds on the ground so concerned about moldy meat he buys from a reputable source of salumi? Yeah.......go figure. It all comes down to being in accordance with the tao. (Or in this case, not.) When you're flowing with it, and "free" food is coming your way, you're thankful and less discerning, allowing yourself to enjoy the experience more fully. When you're paying for it, you expect the absolute best and are quick to judge. I jumped into the tao of food and had another.

So maybe I showed too much of the workings there. And not enough of the results. Oh well, that's part of the flow too.

*excerpts taken from the Tao te Ching

Sunday, July 08, 2007

blenheim bliss (or, when child labor is a good thing)

Mmmmmmm. Apricots.
A lot of apricots.

More specifically, a lot of Blenheim apricots.

Like, 11 pounds worth.
Time to get to work.

H was just dying to use the borrowed canning supplies her mom brought to us on her last visit. She announced her desire for jam. I suggested that we start with some apricot, since I knew of a few sources of these heavenly jewels at the Berkeley Farmers' Market, and know that they won't be around much longer. And if it's gonna be apricot jam, then why not go with what some (like myself) consider the definition of apricot-dom: the Blenheim.

These rose tinged marvels can be overwhelmingly good.

So good, you just might have a dozen for lunch. Along with a corndog, and maybe half a peach if you're three, working on four. Luckily for us, our monkey has a gut made of steel and ingesting a huge quantity of fruit doesn't seem to be a problem. (Kinda makes you wish you could sit down and polish off a dozen of ANY of your favorite fruit huh?) They say "youth is wasted on the young," and being the proud father of two monkeys, I'm beginning to really see where this saying comes from. But in this case, the only waste is bound for the compost.

While I cruised around the house, with the little one on my arm, we directed the elder toward helping get the fruit jammed. You see, little hands are great at ripping open apricots and tossing the seeds. Now if only we can work on the focus and get that child labor to last for more than five minutes, we'd maybe go into business making the stuff. Then again, maybe not, as it would be illegal. Besides, those little hands tend to stuff the nearest mouth (their own) with the fruit of our labor, bringing the daily consumption count to somewhere near twenty apricots. That's right: two-zero. And still no intestinal distress.

Luckily, when the jam jars are fruit filled, there is always a smidge left that should be consumed, and right away. Especially if your partner has recently had a craving for poundcake. Put some on top of the buttery block of goodness and you are at least two steps closer to heaven. Eat it and you just might feel that if a bolt of lightening were to stike you dead in the next moment.......then life had certainly been worth living. Well, that and the kids I mean. You see, I really love apricots.

So, back to that child labor thing. A few weeks ago, when I first saw Blenheims at the market, I brought only 3 pounds home. When the monkey saw them on the counter she started snarfing them down. I did too. But I also managed a bit of restraint and got about a third of them safely tucked away for making ice cream. I expalined this to the monkey and she was enthusiatic, especially when I said that she could help. Tomorrow at grandma's we would follow through.

Luckily, when we arrived, papa was outside washing the car, and since water and sponges are so much fun, our vehicle got some tender rubbing from little hands and big, while I went in the kitchen and got things ready for the cold and creamy apricot bliss.

I put some cream in a pot and added a bit of sugar. I cooked the apricots (with more sugar) into a slightly chunky syrup. With the salt ready, a waiting ball (thanks Shuna!), and a freezer filled with ice, the time was now.

Now, where did the labor go? This ice cream needs some little ones to roll it around. Make them work for their treats I say.

Grandma was blessed with both of her grand-daughters for the day. I was blessed with two little people to work for their sweets, so I packed the ball with yummy ingredients in one end and salty ice in the other. Then I set it between the girls and encouraged a game of rolling the ball between them. It took some patience, and the ball was really a bit too heavy for them to roll back and forth quickly, but it got the ice cream started all the same. After the little ones burnt out on the fun (still working on delayed gratification I guess) I sat down on the couch and practised my ballhandling skills with my feet while taking in a good book.

With the ice cream done and us now back at home, we gave it a try. It was good. But it still needed a little something.

Like maybe a little more sliced something, as I just can't get enough of these things.
Can you?

Go now.
Treat yourself to some apricot bliss. But unless you have an iron gut or are under the age of five, keep it to under twenty per day......

Monday, July 02, 2007

pasta di yardo


e v e r y t h i n g i s n i c e a n d q u i e t a r o u n d h e r e .

Both of the monkeys are asleep. I should be too.

An hour ago my wife gave me the T symbol (like for time out) indicating she was heading to Tar-zhay. If I wanted to get in an extra hour or two of sleep, now would be the time. But I'm torn you see. Between a blog and a hard space if you will. The purpose of this blog is really for me to document the grub we eat and all that entails, so at times like this I should sit down and bust out something. Don't take forever editing and rechecking. Just write it and let it be.

Today was our first real tomato harvest of the season. I had been eyeing the big one for a few days, so this meal was not a big suprise. What was is the fresh pasta we cranked out to go with it. Monkey 1 helped me assemble the gadgetry. Then after seeing the process was ready to crank and dust with flour all by her big-girl self. We worked on some whole wheat dough this time, and for me, the combination of this and using the pasta roller was taking it into uncharted territory. We brought it back to the familiar by going out back and picking our pasta garnish, with the monkey throwing in a few "extras" for her amusement and sense of further contibution to the meal.
"Oh yeah, we should put some parsley in our salad daddy!"
"Parsley is great honey, but it's really for our pasta."
"And some tomatoes too!"
"That's right sweetie. Wait, what are you picking there hon?"
"Oh.....some cilantro. That goes really well with salad."
"Yes honey, but this is for our pasta remember?"
"Yeah! And some mint too!"

You learn to edit from the ingredients so lovingly harvested by enthusiatic little paws. We don't really need 2 tablespoons of rosemary in this one. But the others........I'll give it a try and add the itsy-bitsy bit of cilantro and the two mint leaves she included.

To really impress the monkey, and try and have her first real experience with the hand crank pasta machine be guaranteed fun, I got out our pasta drying rack. I had a hunch her hands would just love the tedium of repetetive pasta placement. It's times like this that I really begin to think, hey, maybe I've learned a little something at this parenting thing, because she just ate it up. Well, almost, she wanted too, but I told her we'd have it soon enough. With the pasta on the rack, I minced our herbs and gave it a toss with olive oil and a few pinches of salt. It smelled fantastic, and the tomato fumes were just killing me. I snuck a few bites in and the prognosis for the garden this year is good. So far, the bigun 'maters are sweet and heady with tang, and the littles are just plain sweet. Yep, shaping up just fine. Well, in the flavor category at least.

With the pasta cooked and drained, tossed and served, we were in for another night of tasting our backyard, and this made me very happy. It seems that even if the stuff you can grow at home isn't all that big of pretty for that matter, diced and minced, served within an hour of being picked and it's hard to go wrong. It's gonna taste good. Then again, I'm also beginning to think that even bad produce served super fresh is better than really fantastic stuff served weeks later. My brain thinks these things late at night. Like especially when we've just had nine different species of plants plucked and tossed with homemade pasta and I'm feeling proud of our little garden that could.

This went well with a dark porter from homebrew batch 2. Oh, and you just gotta have cheese, so some fresh grated dry jack was heaped on before eating. This meal is a knockout on a warm summer evening. The pasta is a bit of work, but it cooks in about a minute and there is plenty to put in the fridge for another day. And fresh pasta is always nice. But the star of this is the fresh herbs. Because none of them are cooked, they still have all their zing and volatile compounds that release directly into your mouth and not into the air for the hour before.

If you have little ones around, and a few herbs in the yard that they can pick, bring them out back and try something like this. Involving them in the preparation of a meal is a huge bonus. Monkey always seems more interested in eating something she helped make (don't you?). If you don't have time to make the pasta, go buy some. Toss it all together with some olive oil and the minced herbs with tomato and onion and it will taste like summer in your mouth.

It's really late......goodnight.