A champion of cooking that’s tasty, beautiful, and healthful, Deborah Madison got her start cooking at the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1970s. She later cooked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and then became the founding chef at the seminal vegetarian restaurant Greens in San Francisco. Madison is widely credited with helping to make vegetarian cooking both accessible and delicious, and is a pioneer in the local food movement.
Exploring the Affinities and History of the Vegetable Families, with 300 Recipes
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High-Spirited, Down-to-Earth Recipes for Savory Vegetable Dishes
75 Recipes to Cook Something You Never Thought You Would — and Love Every Bite
Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets
Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine from the Celebrated Restaurant
Well, so much for my big, beautiful lovage plant. While I was in Mexico my husband emailed that no matter how much he waters it, it’s turning yellow and limp. True the weather was in the scorching realm, but when I got back I took a look, gave a gentle tug, and the whole wilted plant came up in my hands. Heartbreak.
The hole was a big one — no furry little mole with its flipper feet did this; instead, I suspected a gopher. But in surveying the damage, I had a chance to see how far the roots of the lovage had grown and how tough they were. I took the advice of one of the people who commented on the lovage piece, rescued what leaves I could, then wrapped and froze them. If the medicinal qualities apply to gophers, this one’s going to be one mighty strong beast. And who knows what it’s eating now?
I was ready to call Critter Control and bypass those annoying traps with a does of poison when, from the kitchen, I heard my husband go “Whoa!” Going out the back door he had nearly stepped on a gopher snake! The snake hung around for a few minutes, and we admired it. It was not a huge snake, maybe a teenage snake. But the signs were good. We want gopher snakes.
A second snake, perhaps the parent for it was a great deal larger than the first snake, showed up on the porch in the middle of lunch the next day. I have to say my friends were pretty cool about having a large snake at their party, and they didn’t get all hysterical about it. We left the snake alone until he or she sidled out into the garden, hopefully in the direction of the gopher. I find it amazing how the snakes seemed to appear out of nowhere, and I’m glad I didn’t call for the poison, as tempting as it was.
So, that’s how it goes in the plant world.
I see that angelica didn’t quite grab people the same way lovage did, but I went back and looked at the plant this weekend. Its “bud” is about the size of small person’s head! It’s going to be one heck of a bloom!
I love car trips on back roads but they’re usually a disaster when it comes to food. While we never succumb to fast food or chains, we often eat more enchiladas than we want to. But our recent drive to, from and around Southern Arizona was different. For one, we made motel dinners of sliced apples, crackers and goat Cheddar instead of filling up on mediocre food. We paused for a 4-mile hike in a state park. When stuck in a town with nothing but a steakhouse we made a satisfying albeit unglamorous dinner of a glass of wine and a baked potato. But best, and most unlikely, was a restaurant that our friend Gary Nabhan took us too in Sonita, Arizona, called Canela, which means cinnamon.
We had passed through Sonita earlier in our trip and noted Canela on the edge of the highway. Basically, Sonita is a crossroads. The grasslands that surround it are vast and empty even though Tucson is only about an hour away. The chef/owners of this Southwestern Bistro are a young couple, John Hall and Joy Vargo, who went to culinary school back east then ended in what could be considered an unlikely place for trained cooks to set up shop. It turns out its rich in resources for the chef who’s looking for local foods that are part of the desert Southwest landscape.
Canela in small and charming, simple and without pretense, but comfortable. Its shady courtyard must be the most pleasant place to sit when it’s warm out, but in March the evenings were chilly. At the top of the menu it was written, “In addition to herbs & vegetables from our neighbor’s and our own gardens, we proudly feature locally grown food from an ever growing list of farmers & ranchers.” Nine ranches and farms are named.
While early spring might not be the richest time for local foods, our menu featured a soup made with the heirloom Magdalena Big Cheese squash. Radishes and chives cropped up on the menu along with local turnips, sunchokes, grilled purple scallions, chiltepin peppers, and scarlet runner beans, the latter served with local Navajo-Churro lamb. The Arizona Tempranillo wine from the area was surprisingly fine. It really was.
No doubt the local aspect of Canela’s menu ebbs and flows with the season, but we got the feeling they were using whatever they could and to good effect. And all the dishes were interesting, vegetable rich, prepared with care, and good to eat. It was especially gratifying to enjoy good food cooked by a serious chef in a setting that was friendly and relaxed and where many of the customers knew the staff as well as the other diners. Clearly locals as well as people getting out of Tucson for an evening enjoy Canela.
Canela is the kind of restaurant I’ve long been hoping to see more of—and finally am. After all where were all these chefs going to end up after culinary school? Is it written that good cooks can work only in urban areas? Here’s another good shred of evidence that this isn’t so. Check out the web site. (www.canelabistro.com) You can learn more about Canela and other places to eat and stay that are not exactly on the beaten path and you won’t have to settle for a baked potato supper. Still, you might want to pack something to eat in case the spot you’re hoping to visit is closed, or in case you drive right past it as you cruise on down the road.
I don’t usually make this a habit, but I went back to Cleveland last week (Feb. 12), this time to give a talk in the Cuyahoga National Park. What seduced me into making a second winter trip was that this national park has a farmers market, and that alone was pretty compelling. But it got better when I found out that this urban park also has a number of farms in it, (twelve, to date, and plans to add more), and a national park that includes small farms is definitely something to take a look at, even in winter.
Of course, with everything covered in deep drifts of snow, there wasn’t much to see beyond fields lying fallow and some barns and farmhouses. But Beth Knorr, of the Countryside Conservancy, a non-profit that partners with the park to help with such things as negotiating farm leases, kindly drove me around the park and pointed out the old farmhouses, barns and outbuildings that are now being used by farmers. Beth explained that it probably worked out better for the park to have farmers use the land and take care of the properties, then have that be the responsibility of the park, and that is what has happened.
Given that the Cuyahoga National Park is pretty much an urban park, one that is close to Cleveland, maintaining a landscape that includes the human imprint expressed through small, sustainable farms (and the Erie Canal) says a lot about the importance of farming itself and their place in the landscape. The farms are real. The farmers produce all kinds of food and sell it in a number of places, including the park’s farmers’ market.
Among the farming endeavors are Sarah’s Vineyard, which produces wine, Spring Hill Farm & Market featuring vegetables, flowers, eggs, and chickens, and Goatfeather’s Point Farm, a producer of livestock, including goats for ethnic markets and heritage turkeys. There is a u-pick berry farm, farms that feature herbs, lamb, different fruits, and more diversified farms that also feature vegetables. The farmhouses, which were already in the park, have been renovated for these young farmers and their families to use, (for which they pay rent), and there are still more farms available to be leased. All in all, I think this is a tremendously exciting approach to both urban parklands and farming, one that other places might consider.
In addition to seeing the park, I had another opportunity to experience some high quality, very good food, this time at a little restaurant in Hudson called Downtown 140. At the Inn at Brandywine Falls, where I stayed, the morning’s breakfast included omelets made from eggs from the owner’s chickens and homemade bread and jam. Beth gave me a parting gift of some exceptional good goat cheeses from Lake Erie Creamery, which I fiercely defended when going through security, as well as some crumbly, short lavender shortbread cookies from a Hudson bakery.
What is it with Ohio? It seemed sort of stodgy and conservative when I was researching Local Flavors, but ten years later it looks like a down-to-earth food mecca. I can’t wait to go back in August and see everything in the sunshine and shop at the farmers’ market in the park.
Wooster, a small college town about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, has a summer farmers market but nothing happens in the winter. The health food store I visited in search of a lipstick didn’t appear to be championing local foods, but Local Roots Market and Cafe is a new co-op that now fills these gaps. Located in an spacious old store-front that was once the home to farm machinery, there are wooden tables for the various farm products (the farmers need not be there), a cash-register, cold cases, the bakery area and a meeting room fitted out with information on gardens, seed catalogues, pamphlets etc. A group seed order is in the offing, and there is enough space available for future projects, such as a kitchen where people can make jams and other foods for sale. They’ve already shown Food Inc. and held a discussion following the film, something we do at our farmers market in Santa Fe.
Even though the store wasn’t officially open for business the night I visited, I saw eggs from several farmers, many different cuts of grass fed beef and lamb, maple sugar and syrup, honey, sesame crackers and spelt crackers plus some baked goodies for good dogs, corn for popping, little butternut squash as well as giant Musqee de Provence, several varieties of potatoes, beautiful plump shallots, a variety of cow’s milk cheeses and some terrific recycled but freshly printed tee shirts. I am the proud owner of one that says “Soil, Not Oil”. After reading Plenty and knowing how badly the authors yearned for flour to make bread with within the limits of their 100 mile diet, I thought it was especially auspicious for anyone trying the same experiment that Local Roots also showcased both spelt and wheat flours.
I thought this was a pretty decent showing of wholesome things to eat for February in cold, snowy Ohio, and it didn’t even include the fresh foods farmers would bring a few days later, (which they did, despite the snow) tatsoi, arugula, salad mix, radishes, turnips, and breads of all kinds. Wild black walnuts and hickory nuts, two unusual varieties that I recommend in my new book, Seasonal Fruit Desserts along with maple sugar, can also be found here. Maple sugar is hands down my favorite sweetener and hard to find outside of places like this co-op. I came home with both a bag of the sugar and a dozen gorgeous eggs from roaming chickens and have already used both. Next visit I plan to delve into the unusual selection of jams and conserves featuring local wines and other ingredients, such as a Chardonnay and Lemon Verbena jelly, or one made with Merlot and black peppercorns.
Local Roots mission is “to establish a year-round market place for the purpose of connecting consumers and producers of locally grown foods and other agricultural products. Our goals are to encourage healthy eating, expand local economic development, promote community involvement, and sustainable living.”
Membership in the co-op isn’t necessary but is encouraged, as are volunteers, for this is truly a grass roots movement. The web site, www.localrootswooster.com tells it all. Although the co-op is just getting started and figuring out what it is and wants to be, I’ll bet that within a year Local Roots will have put out runners, and it wouldn’t surprise me if before they know it, they’ll be a model for others who want to serve their own communities. For now, bravo to all who put this wonderful effort together!
I confess that I’m not a huge kale fan even though I know that I should be. I faithfully buy it every week, feed a leaf to my Zebra finches each day who pick at it with enthusiasm, and end up using the rest in a soup. But last night I solved my kale problem by cooking a “refrigerator” dish, which means, putting together what you see in the fridge and thus avoiding a trip to town in the snow.
A friend of mine said of her own blog, that “it’s not one of those ‘what I made for dinner last night’ blogs”, which embarrassed me greatly and made me ask if I had actually done that? (Yes, I have.) Her disdain for what I’m about to do has stayed with me, so maybe I should apologize in advance for telling you what I made for dinner, but when I surprise myself with a successful dish that’s good enough to repeat, I do plan to repeat this, I like to share it.
So here it is: A Surprising Winter Vegetables Sauté consisting of onion, radicchio, Brussels sprouts and the kale, plus 1 piece of bacon for the Southern husband, but this can be omitted if you don’t eat meat. (Smoked paprika stirred into the onions contributes some of the smoky flavor that bacon does.) I stripped the kale off its stems and tore it into big pieces, sliced the Brussels sprouts thinly and the radicchio more thickly, then chopped a half a red onion (which could be another color) diced into small, but not tiny pieces. The one strip of bacon got snipped with a pair of scissors into 6 or 7 pieces. Then, I cooked the onion with the bacon in olive oil for over medium heat while I blanched both the Brussels sprouts and the kale in salted water until they were pretty tender, but neither soft nor mushy. Once the onions had softened, I added the radicchio, a few pinches of salt, and once it wilted in went the remaining vegetables. I gave them a toss, admired the beautiful shades of shiny reds and greens, then seasoned them with salt and pepper. While they mingled in the pot, I browned some leftover risotto in a pan until its little bottom was gold and crispy. The risotto went on the plate, the vegetables over that, aged red wine vinegar went on the table for the Southerner. We poured the wine and didn’t even mind the snow falling down outside.
How good was this? Consider that I always give my husband any good leftovers to take with him to his studio, but when I noticed these vegetables didn’t go to town today, I was secretly pleased. I’m thinking what a good lunch they’ll make. But then he called to say the impending storm was such that he’d be coming home early today. And besides, there weren’t there some vegetables leftover from last night?
Even better, I’ve got more kale, tons of Brussels sprouts because I bought an entire stalk of them last week, and even a last head of radicchio from the farmers market, so I plan to give it another go.
After all our chatter and exchange about shishito peppers, with a nod or two to the hotter “pardrons”,
I got an e-mail from a new friend who wrote that he was introduced to shishito peppers in Korea. They came as an appetizer to the table in small porcelain dishes, along with a variety of other appetizers. “Be careful,” were the cautionary words of his host, but all went well and he fell in love with these “browned and blistered” pepper.
Sometime later he as invited to a banquet. Shishitos were offered he took a small one—the smallest one, in fact—and popped it in his mouth. “Hardly had to chew it, it was so tender. So it floated down with a sip of Chongha (Korean sake). Immediately the words came to me, ‘Be careful.’”
“I’ve had hot peppers before, but nothing like this. There was no water on the table. My contortions, frantic hand gestures, death and dying sounds only put the table into hysterics. They all KNEW the a little shishito had nailed the American.”
It took him a full 20 minutes to recover, but no lesson (what lesson?) was learned “I still pop them in my mouth like I have immortality in my pocket.”
Was it really a shishito, or another small, wrinkled pepper? I’d assumed my friend would know. But if they were shishitos, that’s pretty sobering for all of us who blithely assure our friends at the table, “No, they’re not hot. That’s another pepper.” Perhaps they can be, after all.
By the way, I took a hint from my friend and fried my shishitos (from my own plants!) in sesame oil last night, then tossed them in toasted sesame seeds. Very good and good change from olive oil.
I just saw the note on kohlrabi and it made me smile because this weird little vegetable is one that seems to show up in every CSA box and no one knows what to do with it. I know because I get a lot of e-mails about how to use this space-age looking critter - that and kale.
But it’s true— it’s delicious raw, very mild and pleasant. I serve it as a crudite with some crunchy salt and that’s that. I’ve found a lot of recipes (mostly from Germany and Austria) that call for stuffing kohlrabi, but I would never do that - it’s just not necessary in order to enjoy it. But it’s also good steamed then tossed with lemon thyme and some butter - again, very simple.
A few years ago at an Iowa farmers market I saw a kohlrabi bigger than a person’s head! It was called a Giant Kohlrabi, which indeed it was.
Last year I grew purple ones and planted them next to yellow chard and in front of Dark Knight spirea. It was a beautiful edible planting, but because the kohlrabi looked so good next to the chard, I never did harvest them. That’s the danger of edible landscaping.
Every time I see the my last post about that homey loaf of bread, I feel so guilty because I don’t
think I’ve made bread since. I’m appalled. I fully intended to, really!
Spring, for one. It finally got warm and suddenly bread, store bought or home made, didn’t have quite the same appeal that it did when it was cold outside and in.
Also, my new book, came out and took over my life.
But I did want to say that since that last post I’ve become aware of sources of wheat in the US - including Colorado which is pretty much just up the road. When things calm down, I’ll take a closer look and get back to you about US wheat, where it’s grown and where to find it.
In the meantime, bits of What We Eat When We Eat Alone have been posted on Culinate and a lot of you have let me know exactly what YOU do when no one is watching. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of your ideas. Truly, there seems to be no end to this subject and everyone is as eager as ever to share!
As the book makes it way into the world, I continue to learn about it and what it means for people. One who read it and said it completely freed her from the need to follow a recipe or “cook inside the box” as she put it. She says that she has suddenly become a carefree cook of the first order and is thrilled! (And that’s cooking for her husband, too, not just when she’s alone.) That makes me happy, too!
Once wasn’t enough. We ate the first loaf of bread, so I made some more. It was fine. No, it was delicious. I’ve now become reacquainted with the sheer goodness of toast with butter and honey and found that it’s good any time of day! (Maybe that’s the problem with bread!)
As I was giving a class at something called the Science Cafe to about 100 high school students that night on food and sustainability, I suddenly thought it might be useful to see where all the ingredients came from in my bread. I’m still kind of reeling from what I found.
The salt was from Spain.
The honey was from India - (a really nice fair trade product that was sent to me).
The various flours and brans were all from North America, which basically means Canada.
The organic canola oil was from Canada.
And the yeast was from Mexico.
The egg was from nowhere, apparently. I looked over any number of cartons and found no clue as to origin. Not one. (Now I really can’t wait for my own chickens!)
The water was from my well, and that was it for the US.
The ingredients for my all-organic, very affordable (about $1) big loaf of bread traveled across oceans and over entire continents — thousands and thousands of miles. I thought, “Here you try to do something right, and right away you’re participating in this huge shuffle of stuff around the world.” So that’s what we talked about in class and the bread stayed home.
A few things can be corrected. The honey can be from Northern New Mexico — even next door. There are salt beds here too; they were once used by Zuni. (I think they might be off limits, as are the salt mountains that house our nuclear waste.) There used to be hundreds of wheat fields and flour mills all over the state. There’s only one working now, and its wheat is too soft for bread, but new fields of hard wheat have been planted and were used in a local bakery until it closed this year. The egg can easily be local. The puzzling thing is the yeast. A glance at other brands this afternoon showed some from Germany and Canada, but you can always make your bread via sourdough, salt-risin,g and other naturally fermented breads. Come to think of it, after two weeks I’m starting to miss that tangy yeasty taste of a a slow risen wild yeast bread. I think that will be next.
I hadn’t meant to embark on a study of food miles when I started baking again, but there it is. I’ve always suspected that 1500 miles is low for the average distance our food travels, and if a loaf of bread is any indication, it is. Perhaps it was fitting that one of the students asked what should we consider local — North America, our continent?
In the effort to prune some food costs, I’ve found myself smarting at the standard $4 price for a loaf of bread. It’s been bugging me for weeks. I have friends who are professional bakers in Santa Fe and they have explained how their cost of doing business has soared, along with the price they now pay for flour, so I am sympathetic. Still, my labor is my own and there were those bags of various flours sitting on my shelf, so I decided to roll up my sleeves and go at it.
I got out Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone - it’s good to take a look at old recipes now and then - and decided on a molasses bread with a few additions—the leftover 7-grain cereal from breakfast, some oat bran, and oat flour along with the whole wheat and white. Interrupted during the initial mixing stage, I took a long phone call and let the yeast take its course until I was done, then finished mixing the dough and set it aside to rise. Unable to find but one empty bread pan - the rest have long been converted to other uses—I made one sandwich loaf and one round loaf. The evening was chilly and since we’ve already turned off the heat, I doubly appreciated the warmth of the oven when it was time to bake. And of course nothing smells as good as baking bread.
Was I happy with my big, dark loaves crusted with bran? You bet! I toasted a slice around 6 AM and ate it while reading about Iceland’s collapse in the New Yorker. It was so easy to do, really. And no, I haven’t figured out the cost comparison, but I know it was less. And the satisfaction was considerably more. It’s good to be back with bread.
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Flatbreads from around the continent
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The Food Corps co-founder
Flatbreads from around the continent
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