Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pet Peeve: Local Food Processed Conventionally

We all already know that I'm a persnickity eater just by virtue of the fact that I'm a locavore, yes? Now don't get me wrong, I have a love affair with fake cheese in all its forms - including spray and powdered - so I'm not a total food snob. But I have a few hypocritical pet peeves that I doubt anyone could ever talk me out of.

One is artificial sweeteners. There has never been a time, in my memory, that I haven't been suspicious of them. There must have been such a time, because I drank a lot of sugar-free soda and stuff as a kid (hyperactivity ahoy!), but I don't remember it. I won't drink diet soda these days, and I'll usually even poke fun of people that do because of the sweeteners involved. Because obviously, none of the other chemicals in it are suspect, no sir. Certainly not the high fructose corn syrup that serves to sweeten regular soda. Oh, no.

Another is new. Because eating local foods is new. This is reading the ingredients on a container you just bought because it is local, and finding that it's loaded with the same ingredients you'd get in a similar product found at Wal-Mart.

There's probably a good reason for this. There are a ton of reasons these ingredients have snuck into Wal-Mart, after all. Some of them give better shelf life. Some produce the textures to which we've all become accustomed. Many customers won't even notice, or will still feel so good about buying from a small or local company that they won't care.

I'm not part of that last group. I'm annoyed when I pick up a jar of preserves at a farmstand, and then notice HFCS in the ingredients when I get home and look closer. It bugs me to read an ice cream container I got at the farmer's market and see carageenan on the label. I've made ice cream. I don't even know where I'd get carageenan to put into it.

Note: google is my friend. Apparently, to get it, I would boil seaweed. Which could be worse. But do I want seaweed in my ice cream? The jury's out. I tend to agree with Daniel B. at Fussy Little Blog - which I'm so going to visiting again - who wrote:

Carrageenan is a food gum. If you read the labels of processed foods, you will see it everywhere. Gums act as thickening agents and stabilizers. It’s safe, but it is in your cream to give it the feeling of being fattier than it actually is. Which is really theft. Because when you are paying a premium for cream, you are paying for expensive milkfat, and not gums derived from seaweed.

Give me milkfat, or give me death!

Or more likely, give me both. At the same time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This Year's Garden

So life has settled down into something very different from this time last year. At that point I had been living in Schenectady , with just a small front area to garden in, and a yard that was large, but covered in the neighbor’s dog poop.

Now Matt and I live in a small-town duplex with a big yard. When we were over to sign the lease we saw that the landlords/next-door neighbors had a garden out back, and asked whether it would be all right for us to have one, too. Not only were they okay with that, the landlord himself broke the ground and tilled it up for us!

So we set about trying to plan, but we weren’t very good with it. We only had a faint notion of what we wanted to grow, and no concept at all of how much would fit in the space we had. We knew we could put in spinach, broccoli, and peas earlier than some other things, so the first row was split between the first two, and the second row was all peas.

Unfortunately, weeds grow really fast, and there are bunnies back there too. I was able to find three broccoli plants – still growing well right now – and some of the peas, but I literally cannot find the spinach at all. I don’t think. There are some plants that I let live on the off chance that they were spinach – but I think they’re actually some kind of weed.

After this was when I picked up my perennials, like the smart little garden planner I am. So my mint and my lavender and so forth are in the middle rows, right where it will be difficult to till around. I’ll have to move them, no doubt about it. The mint was planted inside pots before being put in the ground, to attempt to contain it a bit.

Given that our part of the garden was lawn not that long ago, the weeds are outrageous. I noted, on the phone with my mother, that there were lots of morning glories, and she said that if those were tilled in, it would have chopped up the roots and it’d be sprouting up everywhere. And boy howdy, was she ever right! It’s just everywhere, and because of what she said I dig each one up by the roots – to find that most are sprouting from a chopped-up, obviously older, thicker root, sometimes a fragment as small as an inch long. I love morning glories, but they are Hell on your garden, so out they go!

Emma is less interested in the garden than she was in previous years. I suspect this has more to do with the fact that she has Matt’s daughter and the next-door neighbors’ kids to play with, while at the old place it was just her and me while her little brother napped. That might actually be for the better, since so much of this year’s gardening is a game of “find the baby plants.” It can be a delicate operation.

It’s been wonderful for us as a family unit, though, because it gets everyone outside. The kids are always willing to run around and play, but the garden gives me something to do, too – and I’m always the reluctant one. We spent hours and hours in the yard over Memorial Day weekend, and I didn’t even mind.

Although I did have a hard time scrubbing myself clean enough for work come Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Green Tea Ice Cream

So I've had an ice cream maker for going on two years now, and never used it. I'm not generally one to keep appliances and kitchen gadgets around, but I had dreams of making ice cream with my kids and just couldn't part with it, even though I'd never once used it.

Even becoming a locavore didn't change that, because Battenkill Creamery started making ice cream last year. Between that and the knowledge that Stewart's buys milk from local dairies (including Willow Marsh), I haven't really felt the need to break it out until recently.

But this was a long weekend, and we had leftover cream from last week's strawberry shortcake (I made some at home with strawberries from the farmer's market even though I'd just eaten it Friday night at Fifty South), and children love making ice cream, right?

The only question was, which flavor?

I really didn't want to make another trip to buy ingredients, and we hadn't been able to get strawberries at the farmer's market this week - we were running late. So I settled on green tea ice cream, because we had all the ingredients in the house. I based what I did off of this recipe, using honey instead of sugar to keep it local.

Green Tea Ice Cream

2 Tablespoons green tea leaves (came out to six tea bags with the variety I had)
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cups double (heavy) cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Soak the tea leaves in the boiling water for 10 to 12 minutes.

Carefully heat the milk to boiling and add the tea mixture to it. Let stand 5 to 6 minutes. (Since I altered the recipe due to not having a vanilla pod, I see no reason why you couldn't just heat the milk up and add the tea directly to it and steep it there for 15 to 20 minutes; but this is untried at this moment.) Strain out the tea (unless you were smarter than me and left them in the tea bags).

Beat the egg yolks and add them to the milk mixture along with the honey. (I use a little cooking spray on the measuring cup so it comes out more easily.) Heat it until you're confident it's cooked; I didn't find that it got very thick, and when it started bubbling, I took it from the heat right away so it wouldn't burn.

Add the vanilla extract; cool it thoroughly.

Whip the cream and fold it in. Load it into your ice cream maker and follow manufacturer instructions.

This recipe gave great results, with a smooth texture just like ice cream you get in the store, but made with all familiar ingredients. The girls made faces when they thought I wasn't looking, and quietly turned down seconds; my son, however, ate several dishes of it.

Now I'm trying to think of what kind of ice cream to make next. I'm invited to two parties this weekend and this could be just the ticket. I have lavendar growing in our garden, which is one possibility. There's mint, but not enough of it to make ice cream. I like the idea of making chai ice cream. Another possibility is to pick up some fair trade chocolate and make that.

It's a good thing I've got all weekend to figure it out.

Not local today: green tea, vanilla extract

Local Eating Out: Fifty South

So, bored one afternoon, some googling led me to Slow Food Saratoga Region. There, I made an interesting discovery: Fifty South, a restaurant I'd passed many times on my way to and from the farmer's market, was a locavore eatery. I emailed Matt immediately and we set a date to try it out.

We were not disappointed. At the entry we were recognized as new customers and put ourselves on the email list; the hostess and a gentleman - perhaps one of the owners, from the way he was talking - talked to us enthusiastically about the restaurant. We explained our reasons for coming, and he proudly showed me where they list which ingredients are local (and from what farm) at the top of their menu.

Omelettes are served all day, and eggs are local. Local ramps and fiddleheads were on the menu in several places that night. They didn't have local meat, but the menu is full of responsible food choices like organic and biodynamic ingredients and wines,and vegan and vegetarian choices.

Since we didn't feel like eggs and the meat choices weren't local, Matt ordered linguine with clam sauce (may as well get seafood if you can't get local), and I had the beef stir fry. The linguine was absolutely incredible, served with a simple sauce made with what I'm guessing was an insane amount of delicious butter. The stir fry was very good, snow peas and fiddleheads and green and yellow squash heaped onto tender beef tips over (biodynamic) brown rice. But it was that linguine I couldn't get enough of.

They were also having a special on Otter Creek Copper Ale, perfect for us since I'd developed a sudden and intense love of beer over the winter. (This, of course, makes local drinking much easier than before, since I was a lover of mixed drinks and a hater of wine and beer before this. I don't know of a local source for grains, and I'm betting that local breweries still get their ingredients from a good distance - but at least I can support a local business with every drink.) The one thing I would like to see more of at Fifty South is more local beer choices; they have an extensive wine list and I think it would be awesome to see a beer list too. (Do restaurants do that? That would be incredible.) I was surprised not to see more New York wines on the list, but there were quite a few organic and biodynamic choices.

The dessert specials that night included strawberry shortcake and a flourless chocolate pudding, which our waitress confessed was intended to be a flourless chocolate cake but hadn't quite turned out. I was impressed by both their moxie in coming right out and saying this and their choice to serve it up rather than waste it. She did tell us it was still delicious even though it was puddingy instead of cakey.

And she was right! Matt really enjoyed the pudding, and I had a taste of it too to confirm the diagnosis. But it was the strawberry shortcake that I had in my sights. I love strawberry shortcake, in nearly all its forms, and this was a good one. The base was cakey rather than biscuity, but it was lightly sweetened, if at all, otherwise, so the balance of flavors was good. It was a little early to get local strawberries in the kind of quantity you'd need for a restaurant, but although these were from Florida they were very, very good.

We left stuffed. We also left my doggie bag on the table. Sigh.