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Union Square Farmers Market, 10/23

26 Oct

No matter how many years I’ve lived here, I always think that the growing season begins and ends much sooner than it does.


In lieu of a proper post

9 Jun

I’m hopeless this week: partial book deadline and a child with strep throat. How do you explain to a 2-year-old who wakes up at midnight screaming because his throat feels like an open wound that the screaming will only make it worse? And how to do you explain to his mom that frantically repeating “No, no…stop screaming…it only makes it worse!” only makes it worse?


I do have one very very exciting bit of food news, per my friend Jessica Battilana, a food writer and VT native who lives in San Francisco and spent some time working at Chez Panisse. Two of her friends from that famous foodie temple, Amelia O’Reilly and Nico Monday, have just (mere *days* ago!) opened a place in Gloucester called The Market Restaurant on Lobster Cove, and all signs point to this being a very, very exciting development for Massachusetts coastal cuisine. And Massachusetts dining, for that matter.

A Chez Panisse pedigree doesn’t guarantee that a place will be fabulous, of course, But it seriously ups the odds. And a quick look at a recent menu (asparagus salad with farm egg and Romesco sauce; scallop and lobster cakes with herbed aioli and picked carrots, bread pudding with orange and almonds) has all signs pointing to “yes.” More to come…and soon!

TEDx Conference Cambridge: A Bird’s-Eye View on Innovation in Food

16 May

I heard about this conference from Scott, who heard about it through the tech media world. I don’t think there was a lot of outreach to the usual suspects in the Boston food media. TED conferences are always great for inspiring big ideas. Here are a few that grabbed me:

1. From Dan Ariely, behavioral economist at Duke.

Humans are bad at resisting immediate tempatations for long-term rewards. This is why diets don’t work.What we need are strategies to work around our lizard brains.

Reward substitutions. You want the cake. Give yourself an immediate reward (fresh flowers) to substitute for the long-term one (weight loss).

Self-Control Contracts. aka “Ulysses and the Sirens.” Temptation will get you in the moment. Ward it off in advance. Maybe you remove the cake from the house. Maybe you make an accountability contract with your kid and promise you won’t eat it. You figure out a way to be accountable and prevent yourself from acting against your long-term interest.

Larger point: If you believe will power alone will save you, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

2. From Edgar Blanco, Director of MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics

Questions of Local vs. Organic vs. Fair Trade are too complicated to answer with a slogan. When you’re talking about carbon footprint, there are too many variables to answer the question easily. In the future, food products may be required to carry labels that identify their carbon footprint, much as they now carry nutritional information. A website in development at MIT, Sourcemap, is one good source.

3. David Gracer, entomophagist

We should all eat more insects. They’re good for us, cheap, tasty, and sustainable. Whether or not we will do so remains to be seen. My guess: Barring famine, not in this generation.

4. Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What you Don’t Know About Orange Juice

“Not from concentrate juice” is made from fresh-squeezed juice that must be stored in huge for up to a year. It’s stripped of oxygen to allow it to keep, which kills most of the flavor. Manufactured flavor packets are added later. North Americans flavor packets contain lots of ethyl butyrate.

5. Jennifer Hashley, Farmer and Director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at Tufts.

“Farmer” is not listed on the U.S. Census as an occupation.

1 to 2 percent of Americans grow all the food in this country. Average age of a US farmer is 60. If we don’t train more small farmers, we’ll hand production over to conglomerates. Thus, we’ll lose diversity, quality, and food security.

School gardens will help, K-University.

6. Ayr Muir, CEO, Clover Fast Food

Fast food is good. Not all fast food is KFC. Good fast food is cheap, tasty, and convenient. It can even be healthy.

Clover Food Truck serves more people in an average day than an average McDonald’s does.

To learn the business, he left McKinsey and took a job at a Burger King in Winchester (after being turned down from multiple McDonald’s around the city). Factoid: According to Muir BK Ranch dipping sauce (1 ounce) has 140 calores and 15 grams fat.

I’m going to publish this now and add to it as the day goes on…

7. Glynn Lloyd, CEO, City Fresh Foods

Community development is a design problem. You can design cities to be more self-sufficient.

One example: There’s so much vacant land in Roxbury. In the 40s and 50s, you had migration of whites out to suburbs. As left devalued property, there were many “suspicious” fires. So, challenge now is to see if you can make a living by farming a 1-acre, 1/2-acre, 1/4-acre urban plot. Answer appears to be yes, at least on paper, as long as you can get the land very cheap (or free). Test farms now in operation on Blue Hill Ave. and in Milton.

8. Fiddlefoxx, Musical Guest

Turns out you can combine fiddle, acoustic guitar, and beat box.

9. Kenji Alt, Recipe Developer, Writer, MIT Alum

[Kenji is a former Bostonian and a Cook’s Illustrated, No. 9 Park, and Clio alum (he also wrote some pieces for BMag). He’s an expert on the science of cooking —  the next Harold McGee.]

That classic technique for cooking meat isn’t the best. Traditionally, we sear meat in a hot pan, then finish it in a hot oven until it comes to temp.

Problem: Most meats behave the same way when you cook them — from the outside in. The notion that searing meat “seals in juices” is popular, but it’s not true. Liquid can come up through seared meat.

Really, the best way to cook steak is in a medium that’s the same temperature as the final temperature you want your meat to reach. So if you want your steak at 130°, you’d cook it sous vide at 130°, sear it, and you’re done. But sous vide cooking isn’t accessible to the average home cook, at least using a high-tech circulator. So what can you do? Fill a standard Thermos-style cooler with 130° water, put the meat in a bag, drop it in the cooler, then 45 minutes later, take it out, sear it, and it’s done. Problem solved.

10. Francisco Migoya, Associate Professor, Culinary Institute of America

Chocolate has properties we haven’t even yet tapped. It’s as malleable as clay. Why not think of it as an art object?

We think of chocolate with coffee, with caramel. What about foie gras, grapes, and eucalyptius. Foie gras has the same fat percentage as butter (82%), so you could replace the butter in ganache with the foie.

Or, how about maple, bacon, and french toast with white chocolate? There will be samples of this later. Sadly, I won’t be here by then. Poor Amy.

11. Dan Barber (via video), Chef/owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill Stone Barns, NY

On foie gras: “The problem with us chefs, is that it’s so friggin’ delicious.”

Barber shares his discovery of Eduardo Sousa, who makes foie gras without gavage (force feeding) in the Extremadura region of Spain. It’s the best foie Dan has ever had, made without the usual cruelty. Sousa knows that geese naturally want to gorge themselves in the fall, in anticipation of winter. Gavage isn’t needed. Barber observed wild geese actually joining the Sousa’s flock while he was there. They were flying past in formation, and the farm geese called to them. They came down and settled in to stay.

Interesting: Jews invented foie gras as an alternative to schmaltz. Rather, they observed it occurring naturally in fall geese, and harvested it. They later invented gavage was invented as a means to supply large volumes of foie to their Egyptian captors. Barber sees this as a metaphor for industrial ag: rooted in extraction to satisfy outsized demand. Take more, sell more, waste more. In the future, it won’t service.

12. Wylie Dufresne, Chef, WD-50

“I’m gonna let you in on a secret that I think some chefs would rather I not reveal: We really have no idea what we’re doing. We don’t know how to cook, and we haven’t known how to cook for a really, really, long time. And we’ve been fooling you guys. I want to thank you for not noticing.”

It’s an exaggeration, yes. In cooking school, Dufresne learned the vocabulary to get a great kitchen job. He learned the classical technique. After working with his head down for years, he got to a point where he was finally allowed to ask a few questions.

“Why are we doing it this way?”

“Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“Because when we do it that way, it works.”

“Because I said so.”

He knew how to cook, but not why.

The idea was that he wanted to create a restaurant where he could keep learning. WD-50 was about his search for answers. He reached out to food scientists. In 7 years, he’s begun to get some answers.

Consider the egg: It’s his favorite food. It’s in virtually every kitchen. Used to leaven, to emulsify, to thicken. At WD-50, they’re looking at how time, temperature, and ph affect the way they behave. And they’re using this knowledge to create dishes like deep-fried hollandaise, or ravioli in which the wrapper and filling are both made of eggs.

We’re beginning to have some answers.

13. Don Katz, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brandeis

Why do some things taste good and others taste bad?

Rats respond very consistently to sweet vs. bitter flavors. These different tastes activate different pathways to the brain. Why? Before supermarkets, we relied on our taste system to guide us to what we should and shouldn’t eat, and so this knowledge was encoded into our senses of taste.

However, our senses of taste can be modified by experience and by social cues. The thinking is that there is a switch in the brain that decides whether the stimulous should be funneled into “bad” or “good” categories.

14. Coco Krume, Wine Economist, MIT Media Lab

On a mission to cut some of the bullshit from wine marketing (and maybe help winemakers sell their product more effectively.

She looked at reams of wine reviews and compiled a database of common descriptors. Looked at how words are used to describe cheap versus expensive wines. “Expensive” words tend to fall into a few categories: dark (smoky, velvety), precise (ash, cacao), and exclusive (elegant, old).

These uses are so common that you can predict the cost of a bottle of wine based on the use of these words.

And with that, I’m out.

The Maine Line

20 Oct

MainerunAh, Portland. It’s my favorite food town in New England. Not to slam Boston—I’m very grateful to live here. But Portland makes me giddy. There’s that sense of home-grown pride that you find in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. Chefs can afford to take more risks and run smaller, more personal restaurants. They don’t have to turn out so much comfort food to make the rent. The farm-to-table networks are strong, the local aquaculture is abundant.

Of course, with all these treasures comes a fair amount of foodie preciousness and pretension. Behold the local rutabaga. Worship it! And I got a near-horrified response from the staff at Rabelais Books when I asked if they had any old-school microwave cookbooks. But that’s the price you pay to hang in a town with a restaurant devoted to fries cooked in duck fat. Incidentally, the fries were as perfect as always, though a salad with poached egg and duck confit was just bad. Bland meat that seemed more braised than confited. Overcooked egg, wan dressing. Stick with the sandwiches, which are excellent.

Back to the Rabelais—the local food/cookbook store. Aside from the microwave snafu, the staff was really helpful, especially when I told them that I’m obsessed with apples. Turns out the store is a drop-off spot for a CSA devoted entirely to rare and heirloom apples like the Keepsake, the Pomme Gris, and the Chestnut. Can you imagine? All apples! You know how with some dogs, when you hit that right scratch spot on their bellies, they start pumping a leg (we call it “playing the banjo”)? That’s how I felt when I heard about it.
Incidentally, I was in Maine to check out a newly renovated resort in Cape Elizabeth called Inn by the Sea. It was a press tour, which means we stayed the night for free. Take my advice in light of that information, but I really did think the place was terrific and fully plan to return on my own dime. Such a short trip from Portland, but set along a gorgeous mile-long beach on one side (the photo above was taken on my morning run) and a large pond on the other. The chef, Mitchell Kaldrovich, made one of the tastiest scallop dishes I’ve had in ages, served atop a silky parsnip puree.

Scenes from a cookbook

5 Aug

Scenes from a cookbook

The ultimate summer house 4-ingredient marinade

6 Jul

Is it only foodie types who find extra pleasure in vacation cooking? The unhurriedness of it, the departure from the usual routine and the usual supermarket. Even non-cooks can make an event of boiling water and corn after a day at the beach, or doing burgers on a rental house grill—if only because there are usually extra hands around for clean-up.

Scenes from Hatchs Produce

Scene's from Hatch's Produce

This is especially true if you’re in the habit of visiting a particular vacation spot with some regularity—a habit so ingrained in New Englanders  that the annual family trek to Maine or Cape Cod takes on an air of religious obligation. In the kitchens of our family and (ahem) rental cottages, a Vacation Repertoire emerges—a handful of generally easy-to-make recipes that are unique to the particular time and place. These meals get added to the list of things, like watching the sunset at Duck Harbor Beach or going to the drive-in, that absolutely must happen, lest the whole week be a complete failure.

Or maybe it’s just me who does this?

Anyway, this marinade is my vacation dinner ritual. It’s brilliant because it a) tastes great and b) as the title indicates, requires just four ingredients. Four! That leaves plenty of room in your cooler for the fancy vinegars and Splenda packets and soy milk you insist on schlepping in from home.

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Scape clause

1 Jul

Cruciferous curse?

The truth about shopping at New England farmers markets between, say, early May and mid-June, is that because it takes so long for the growing season to ramp up, farmers feature all kinds of lesser-known, semi-wacky, cold-tolerant crops. Hence the otherwise unlikely celebration of fiddlehead ferns, ramps, kale, kohlrabi (pictured at right — a close cousin of cabbage), and garlic scapes .

Things improve in June, with the onset of strawberry season. At least, in theory. This year’s berries have come through the biblical floods tasting unusually waterlogged.

So…not the best year (so far). But it does push you out of your tomato/squash/eggplant rut, right? I’ve had some tasty braised kale in recent weeks. And one truly, objectively delicious item on the tables right now? Those garlic scapes.

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First fruit

22 Jul

I couldn’t believe it: Local apples for sale at Somerville’s Union Square Farmers Market. In July! These Vistabelles came from Nicewicz Family Farm in Bolton and they were sold right next to the just-picked blueberries and the fresh corn.
I’ve never heard of this variety and the farmer was coy. I can’t find much information about it online, either, so I’ll have to do some digging. In appearance and flavor, they seem most closely related to McIntosh, which means they’d probably make a great applesauce, especially with some fresh raspberries stirred in.

I also had my first taste of B&R Artisan Bread’s fantastic levain. Big sigh of relief here. Most of the bakeries in San Francisco sell their own version of this crusty, naturally leavened bread made with a blend of white and whole wheat flours. But after trips to Hi-Rise and Iggy’s, I couldn’t find anything like the loaves we’d grown to love. All praises, then, to B&R’s Michael Rhodes, formerly head baker of Sel de la Terre and L’Espalier, for his perfect, slightly tart, toasty, gray-brown loaves. The bakery is in Framingham, but Rhodes says he’s eyeing a Boston location. Meantime, the loaves are also sold at Formaggio Kitchen, Savenor’s, Lionette’s, and Salumeria Italiana.