Wednesday, February 24, 2016

New Year, New Name, New Theme

Look at this blog! I haven’t posted anything in it since 2014. And I have to say, I think about things to blog all the time. But often enough, they just don’t fit its theme.

Anyone who’s read past blogs of mine knows that I was never a purist when it comes to being a locavore. But more than that, I’ve found that there are only so many locavore adventures to write about. Over time, eventually you learn how to find almost anything you need locally, and the topic gets old.

Meanwhile, I began this blog in 2009, and it’s hard to continue calling yourself a “budding” anything when you’ve been doing it for almost seven years.

And yet.... I am still all about the food. It’s just that the over-arching theme isn’t “local” any more. And I’ve become even less of a purist locavore over time. But almost all of it does fit under the heading “antiquated.” “Vintage.” “Old-fashioned.”

More than likely, most of the food I’ll be talking about will still be local. But I think it’s time to broaden the main topic of the blog. From now on, I’ll just be Cookin’ It Old School.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Diet for a Hot Planet

Last week I finished up reading Diet for a Hot Planet, and boy did I learn a LOT. It's a book I'd recommend to anyone interested in climate change, because the production and distribution of our food is responsible for 31% or more of global warming effects world-wide. But as someone who's been a locavore for several years now, it was a book of special interest.

I became a locavore originally to reduce the fuels used up in transportation of my foods. It's been suggested to me in the past that this is misguided at best. This book backs me up to a certain extent, but also shows that distance travelled is really only part of the emissions equation. One London study found that production accounted for about half of the emissions related to the foods studied; transportation produced about one fifth.

Before I delve into some of Ms. Lappé's information, let me point out that everything I'm about to write here applies to whole foods. I’m not talking about the evils of packaging, or junk food or fast food. To consider the impact of these issues, you'd need to add a whole other layer of bad, bad, bad.

As a matter of fact, I'm not even going to start with meat. Let's talk about conventionally farmed vegetables and fruits. The best-known difference between conventional and organic produce is the use of pesticides and fertilizers. What you may not know is that, while both are made from petroleum, they also use a large quantity of energy – in the form of fossil fuels – in production. In the U.S. it's made using natural gas; in China, coal.

I think most of us also know that soil is poorer with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Healthy soil serves as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon and storing it. In unhealthy soil, stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide.

Additionally, chemical fertilizers break down and release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with the potential to produce 296 times the global warming as the same amount of carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide is the third-most significant greenhouse gas (measured in carbon dioxide equivalence). At 7.9% of all total emissions (again, by equivalence), it's not the biggest piece of the pie by a long shot – but it's still an important part of the puzzle.

Next, transportation. This is where a locavore focuses their energy. As mentioned earlier, it's likely that this is an important consideration in choosing "cool foods," but it's not the biggest. As always when considering food miles, you'll want to look at all the layers inherent in production – as the author puts it, "the food's inputs – not just the distance from the field to the plate." Fertilizer from far-flung parts of the world, feed for the animals that produced your meat and dairy products. And if it's a processed food, multiply that by each ingredient.

It's also worth noting that food is probably travelling further than you knew. In some places you will see an "average figure" of 1,500 miles that food travels – but that's related to one very limited study of a selection of foods travelling within the United States to the Chicago Terminal Market only. Ms. Lappé's best guess is that "the average food miles for typical food consumed in the United States is most likely significantly higher." (Emphasis hers.) In fact, a California study she cites elsewhere in the book found that emissions were 45 times greater for imports than for local, and up to five hundred times greater if travelling by air freight.

Finally, we can cover livestock. Livestock production in its current form creates a staggering 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. As a locavore I've eaten a lot of grass-fed beef and local milk, but the truth is, ruminants produce loads of methane no matter how they are raised. Methane is the second-most significant greenhouse gas, 23 times as powerful as carbon dioxide but mercifully less prevalent. It's the same "natural gas" that energy companies are drilling into shale for, which is why I once joked that we should raise cows to produce methane instead of milk – by volume, they certainly make more of the gas! It's almost 10:1.

If you're eating conventional meat, though, you've got more than ruminant burps to worry about. The same layering effect mentioned above applies to your meat, and it's a real doozy. Globally, half of all corn and 90% of all soy harvested is fed to animals. Two-thirds of all the agricultural land in production is used for raising meat. Half of all energy use related to agriculture goes to raising animal feed. It takes 16 pounds of soy and corn to raise one pound of feed-lot beef. (Please note that soy and corn, unlike grass, could be eaten by people directly, and much more efficiently.) Most of that corn and soy is raised conventionally, with all the related fertilizer, tilling, etc.     

Another issue with conventional meat is the waste. Animals in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) produce so much waste in so little space that in many cases it is stored in what is euphemistically termed "lagoons." Setting aside the risk of weather-related overflow (ew), manure lagoons release methane and carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere, and not a lot of the stuff gets used as fertilizer or in any other productive function.

Alarming as a lot of this information is, I experience it as empowering. It’s information that I can use moving forward to make more-knowledgeable choices when I set the table for dinner. I've learned so much from reading this book, and truthfully, I expect that I may read it multiple times.

You should definitely pick it up to at least leaf through. Happy eating!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dinner: The Recipes

The big eating is coming towards the end in this meal. When purchasing my brace of coneys from Malta Ridge, I asked for their two largest, which turned out to be kind of a LOT. I did the stewing of the actual meat a week or two ahead of time, because stew freezes so beautifully that there's no reason not to make things easy on yourself.

But, there was so much of the end product that it was days before we could come close to finishing it, and that's after inviting an extra person to this portion of the party and sending heaps of the stuff over to a friend's in a care package. So there's a lesson learned: don't ask for the biggest bunnies.

If you liked the bunny stew but don't want to pay for bunnies (or have issues with eating bunny), just do this with chicken. You can even use a leftover chicken for this method, which is great because you use the whole thing that way. When making chicken stew, I often add peas as well, and make dumplings (basically biscuits that you boil on top of the stew). I definitely recommend them!

The salad was a mix of baby lettuces from the Concourse Market, with sliced radishes and two colors of carrots. I've read that salads were really made with iceberg lettuce in the Victorian era, but sometimes accuracy just needs to bow to personal tastes. There was also a Victorian salad dressing I was going to make, but at the last minute I just plain didn't feel like it; I put out oil and vinegar instead.

Hard boiled eggs are also a staple of Victorian salad eating, but I served mine whole (though shelled) and on the side. I actually steam my eggs when hard-cooking, because it makes them spectacularly easy to shell. Also, shelling eggs is even easier if you get a house-guest to do the job, like I did.

Dinner Menu
stewed brace of coneys ("recipe" below)
hard boiled eggs
strong red wine (à la Gandalf)
root beer and ginger beer (for the non-drinking set)

Stewed Brace of Coneys
2 rabbits
several onions
poultry seasoning
water to cover
1 t. or so peppercorns

10-15 medium po-tay-toes, peeled and chunked
1+ lb. carrots (I used two colors from Gomez Veggie Ville)
1-2 c. little onions (again, shallot-sized), peeled and halved
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped up
salt and pepper to taste

I made this using the same method I used for chicken stew, because rabbits taste so similar to chicken breast meat (no, really!). You put the bunnies in lots of water with stuff that makes the broth taste good. If I'd had extra carrots and some celery, I'd have probably added them at this stage. I boil it for a couple of hours, till the meat seems loose enough to come off the bones easily.

After cooling, I strain the broth (I froze it in a big gallon container). I pick the meat off the bones and cut the big pieces into nice stew chunks and freeze them, too, discarding the veggies and bones.

When it's time to finish the stew, I get the broth going and add everything but the meat. (Bunny meat really is similar to chicken breast, and I wanted it in chunks, not shredded from stirring.) I thought about mushrooms here, but decided against them randomly.

Once the potatoes and carrots and all are cooked, I add in the meat and let it all heat up. Then serve! Om nom nom nom.

Afternoon Tea: Seedcake, Lots!

Afternoon tea was simple both because some more complex dishes were in the works (I think it was around this time that I was getting the Hotpot ready for the oven) and because people were getting simply buried in food. Two chickens were distinctly too much at Luncheon, although in my defense when I ordered the things I had no idea just how gigantic a free-range chicken could be. Usually farmer's market chickens are dinky little things, to keep them at a reasonable price I think. These were great big fat birds, completely delicious and gigantic, courtesy of Malta Ridge, from whom I also bought the coneys.

Afternoon Tea Menu
Seed Cake - Lots!
Stilton (from the co-op)

Seed Cake 
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
4 large eggs
1½ c. flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
6 T. milk
2 T. seed (I made one cardamom - make sure you crush those! - and one anise)
3 T. brandy
½ t. mace
½ t. nutmeg
sprinkling of demerara sugar (I subbed turbinado)

Pre-heat oven to 350 F and grease an 8-inch round cake pan. I also lined the bottom with parchment paper to make it come out nice, but I wouldn't have bothered if it weren't for company.

Beat the butter and sugar together until it's pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs. Mix in the spices and flour (I saved the seeds for last when I was making two kinds, just split the batter and then mixed in the seeds) and finally the brandy and milk.

Pour into the cake pan and sprinkle with the demerara (turbinado).

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until it passes the toothpick test. The recipe say that this cake will stay good for days, and I can attest to that! I think it must be the ridiculous butter level in the recipe.

Luncheon: The Recipes

Luncheon was, for the most part, a collection of cold foods. I based it on Gandalf's call fro cold chicken and pickles at the beginning of the Hobbit. I wasn't sure how much was enough, or how everyone would feel about just chicken, so I also served some cold ham, some cheddars for our vegetarian guest, and since there was so little cooking involved, chose this as the time to break out some sautéed mushrooms and of course, more bread and butter.

When I'm not fussed over getting a crispy skin, I usually "roast" my chickens in my biggest crockpot. It makes the moistest, most delicious chicken, which is important when you're eating it cold. 

Luncheon Menu
cold chicken (cooking method - not exactly a recipe - below)
cold ham (from Oscar's)
variety of pickles (from Bird Haven and Grey Mouse Farm)
sautéed mushrooms ("recipe" below for this, too)
cheddars from the co-op (1-year, 4-year, and Palatine with wild onion)
more bread and butter (Granny Omi, this round)

Cold Chicken
2 chickens
spices: poultry seasoning, onion powder, (extra) rosemary, pepper, salt

Cut chickens in half so they fit in your biggest crockpot. Sprinkle with seasoning, place in crockpot, let cook for about six hours.

Remove from juices and refrigerate overnight. Remove from bones in chunks before serving.

Sautéed Mushrooms
1 pint crimini (baby 'bella) mushrooms
1 pint white mushrooms
1 small (we're talking shallot-sized) onion
sprinkling of oregano
1-2 T. butter
splash of white cooking wine
salt to taste

Throw everything into a saucepan and cook low and slow. I think maybe, with the addition of the wine, this is more like a "stewing" or something than a sautéeing. I dunno. But they tasted good!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Elevensies: How to Make Lembas

I based my Lembas on this writer's idea here, of a nice basic scone wrapped up in some sort of mock mallorn leaf. I really didn't want to cut out all those foam sheets and hand-paint every leaf, so I printed out his template, asked Matt Martin to paint it, and used the magic of color photocopying to simplify the job. Because, really.

Elevensies Menu
scones wrapped up as Lembas (recipe below)
Wensleydale cheese with cranberries, from the co-op's fantastic selection of snooty cheeses.

Lembas Scones
(basically on this recipe here)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup butter
1/8 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and enough milk to mix to a soft dough.
Turn onto a floured surface, knead lightly and roll out to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with milk to glaze.
Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 10 minutes then cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter or clotted cream and jam.
Now, it's worth pointing out here that this is what the recipe tells us to do. It's not at all what we actually did because, while Matt Martin's daughter and high school friend were tackling the Lembas, Matt Martin's college friend and I were trying to get the steel-cut oatmeal going, because what we all really agreed we felt like doing was a nice game of Trivial Pursuit.

But, there was chaos in the kitchen trying to find the cream of tartar, then Matt's daughter threw all the milk in before they got the butter worked in, and all of this in a bowl that was really too small for the job.

Eventually I went in bare-handed and kneaded that puppy into submission. I got a cookie sheet, squooshed it out into rectanguloids, and slapped them bastards in the oven hoping for the best.

Really, they turned out quite tasty!

Second Breakfast: The Recipes

Second Breakfast was a small collection of simple breakfast foods, not that that made them simple to get together. Frying eggs was significantly harder than I expected (I usually cage those suckers in well-greased Mason jar rings, but that didn't seem hobbity - and DANG but those suckers are slippery). And I singed the bacon a little bit. But everyone was still excited.

Second Breakfast Menu
fried eggs from Buckley's
apple wood bacon from Oscar's
sausage-stuffed mushrooms (recipe below)

This really means just one recipe to share for this part of the day, because if you don't already know how to fry eggs or bacon, I am clearly not the one to show you. No expertise over here in this corner!

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
(idea from an old Fanny Farmer cookbook)
Handful of big-ass stuffing mushrooms - I think I only made 6-8
Loose breakfast sausage
Cooking spray

Spray the bejeebers out of a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Pop the stems out of the shrooms and set them aside for sautéeing later. Stuff that thing with sausage and set it in the baking pan. I like to give the shrooms a shot of cooknig spray, too; it gives the surface a nicer finish.

Bake at 350 till they seem, you know, done. I think I gave myself a margin of half an hour and they were about perfect. Enjoy!