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I wrote on this topic a month or so ago, but check out this article on species preservation from the New York times.

“SOME people would just as soon ignore the culinary potential of the Carolina flying squirrel or the Waldoboro green neck rutabaga. To them, the creamy Hutterite soup bean is too obscure and the Tennessee fainting goat, which keels over when startled, sounds more like a sideshow act than the centerpiece of a barbecue.

But not Gary Paul Nabhan. He has spent most of the past four years compiling a list of endangered plants and animals that were once fairly commonplace in American kitchens but are now threatened, endangered or essentially extinct in the marketplace. He has set out to save them, which often involves urging people to eat them.”  Read more here!

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Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life chronicles her family’s story of moving from New Mexico to the southern Appalachians. In their new Virginia home they learn to live on the foods they grow and raise themselves. For one year, Kingsolver along with her husband and two daughters, take on the challenge of locavore living. The story demonstrates the hardships and joys that arise when growing, nurturing, slaughtering, cooking, and eating your own food. This traditional and tight-knit relationship with food is what people experienced for centuries before food industrialists began separating consumers from the source of their nourishment. Kingsolver and her family rediscover the power that food possesses to create connection, nourishment, and growth within a family and community.

While preparing a meal for a birthday party Kingsolver realizes that living her life with a deep connection to the food she eats and feeds her family gives it more meaning. She expresses her awe at the process that begins with seeds and ends with the elaborate birthday meal enjoyed by her loved ones. Seeing the “genesis and connection with the annual cycles” allows the birthday celebration to have more meaning than a “slap on the back and jokes about memory loss.” The family begins to feel connected in a meaningful way, supported by their new natural connection to the earth’s cyclical patterns.

Kingsolver feels a connection to different generations and historical times during the process of making cheese from scratch. While making her dairy delight she reflects upon the preceding generations of cheese makers — artisans of Camembert, Greek shepherds, and Mongols. While stretching her Mozzarella she feels part of a timeless tradition of people enjoying the art of simple foods and their preparation. Kingsolver also comments on her deceased mother in law Nonnie, who was famed for her fresh Mozzarella. As Kingsolver sits there in her kitchen with her daughters, making cheese with the same recipe as her mother in law she can’t help but feel Nonnie’s presence. Food traditions create connection to the earth, but also to the people we love.

tRAWditional FOOD

What is the most traditional way to eat? According to Raw Foodism, eating only raw and living foods is the most traditional and healthful diet. Brian Clement, a raw foodist and owner of the famed Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida spoke at a lecture I attended last night. Clement says, “the new trend of Raw Foodism isn’t new at all—it’s been resurrected.” He, like all raw foodists, believes that eating raw and living food that are not heated above 116 degrees is the most natural way to eat. Clement blames the introduction of processed foods (i.e. heating, chemically altering, genetically modifying, etc.) for the cancers, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases that plague our current population.

A scale certainly exists in the raw foodist spectrum and Clement is situated at the extremist end. He eats only vegan, organic raw and living foods. This excludes animal and dairy products from the diet, raw or not. In his lecture he sited Colin Campbell’s The China Study, which apparently makes claim to the correlation between animal products (meat and dairy) to cancer. Such a statement is certainly controversial, especially for a proud omnivore such as myself. I am adding the book to my current reading list, and will hope to post on it soon. But the exclusion of meat and dairy isn’t inherent to the raw food lifestyle. Natalia Rose, an author of two books on raw food, suggests eating a balance of raw and cooked foods with the occasional inclusion of cooked fish and raw dairy in the diet. All raw foodists need not be as dogmatic or extremist to reap the benefits of this traditional eating plan.

Whether raw foodism is the healthiest diet can be contested certainly, but one thing is sure — the movement is thriving. It has been gaining steam over the past fifteen years with Hollywood stars paving the raw path. It is still considered alternative, but even restaurants like Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago have added raw options to its menu, catering to a raw clientele. While perusing the food stacks in Barnes and Nobles I discovered that Trotter co authored a raw cookbook with Roxanne Klein titled Raw. The trend is permeating the kitchens of the world’s top chefs — that certainly says something about its popularity.

And gourmet raw food is surprisingly satisfying! My first meal at Pure Food and Wine in New York’s Gramercy Park neighborhood was a pleasant surprise. The tepid foods were delicious. The zucchini and roma tomato lasagna was sweetly acidic and balanced with a creamy pignoli ricotta cheese. Accompanied with basil pistachio pesto this dish would satisfy a craving for pasta even if the dish didn’t contain any (the “pasta” in this dish were thinly sliced zucchinis). The dessert was an artful experience. I ordered a traditional ice cream sundae that came in a martini glass, adding to the decadence of the dessert. Two scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream (made with coconut water), cherry framboise, bananas, candied almonds, and macadamia nut whipped cream made this dessert heavenly no-dairy goodness. I love dairy, and although I’m not yet convinced it is bad for me, if I had to choose a substitute this sundae could certainly suffice.

Passover began last night with the traditional Seder at sundown.  Passover, more than any other Jewish holiday, revolves around food.  Upon arriving to Seder there is an hour or so of rituals and prayers before the celebrants eat, and this delay can certainly build an appetite.  But Passover is about the food because the holiday commemorates and celebrates the freedom of the enslaved Israelites — a holiday about the Exodus and the subsequent discovery of the land of milk and honey, must be celebrated with extravagant culinary treasures that prompt feelings of prosperity.  Moreover, because there are special dietary restrictions during the week of Passover (i.e. no unleavened bread) the restricted menu narrows the possible options, making every Seder similar in its culinary offerings. 

 

Every Seder has a “Seder Plate,” which holds symbolic foods used during the rituals preceding the feast.  Maror is a bitter herb, often horseradish, which symbolizes the bitterness and harshness of slavery. It is eaten by itself and alongside Charoset, a delicious apple, nut, and cinnamon mixture, representative of the mortar used by the slaves.  Karpas is a vegetable dipped in saltwater as part of the cleansing ritual of the Seder.  Matzo is eaten in place of bread as a reminder that upon leaving Egypt, there was not time to bake bread. Each item has a place in the Seder, prompting some families to create an abridged version.  

 

The meal following the service counters any feelings of deprivation evoked by the reminders of slavery.  The meal often begins with gefilte fish, which I personally still have mixed feelings about –– though I know plenty (my boyfriend included) who swear by the stuff. Matzo ball soup is next.  This soup, filled with little doughy Matzo balls is so delicious that many people enjoy it more than once a year.  Then, of course, comes the sweet brisket, rich and juicy.  It’s accompanied by some array of delicious seasonal vegetables, often early spring root varieties.  At the Seder I went to last night they offered a large salad (of mixed lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and multi colored carrots), roasted asparagus, sweet potato cakes, turkey (for those who didn’t eat red meat), a roasted root vegetable medley, and an apple bake.  Dessert follows predictably with coconut macaroons and flowerless chocolate cake with whipped cream.  You leave Seder stuffed and completely satisfied, relieved of hunger as the Jews of Egypt were relieved of slavery. 

 

Passover is a holiday in commemoration of pain and suffering, but it is more about the freedom, evidenced in the bountiful and delicious meal at Seder.  

 

“MY peas are coming up — sugar snaps and snow peas — and the seeds I scattered out in my cold frame a month ago are now a blanket of baby greens. A few mornings ago, while weeding, I popped a tiny bok choy seedling into my mouth and let its peppery, sweet flavor explode on my tongue.

It’s hard to describe the flavor of something so alive, hardly 10 seconds out of the earth. I want to say that it tastes green, but a grass blade does not taste like bok choy.”  More on home farming here!

Although Mexican food doesn’t possess the worldly prestige of French cuisine, its bright, vibrant, and layered flavors mark it as an epicurean culture worthy of more critical attention, and is certainly a cuisine worth salivating over.   

            Growing up in southern California, my love for Mexican food began at a young age.  Some form of it appeared on my family’s dining room table at least once a week. Tamales, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, guacamole, or chiles rellenos frequented our midweek family dinners. I think this is common practice in many southern California homes, whether it’s a homemade meal or from one of many local take-out joints. Mexican food has its home with families close the border.  Due to my early exposure and appreciation, when my mother decided to move our family for the summer to San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, my palate had little trouble adjusting.   

The restaurants in San Miguel were delicious.  Many of them specialized in only one specific dish, like a shop that served up two items in their cramped, four table dining space—enchiladas con mole rojo or verde.  Both dishes arrived dripping with thick sauce spiced perfectly with either pungent tomatillo or rich, earthy chocolate.  Establishments like this lined the cobblestone streets around the jardín, or central garden, where locals enjoyed unusual ice creams like helado de camarones  (shrimp ice cream) in the balmy summer evenings. 

Despite the delicious cuisine that was found in local restaurants, my most memorable meals were inside our brightly painted home with Josefina as the cook.  Josefina was the housekeeper who worked for the family whom we rented our house from.  Every day she went to the local Mercado and shopped for fresh meats, vegetables, and tropical fruits.  When she didn’t make tortillas herself she would buy them from the tortilla factory down the block—a small storefront where women from many generations sat forming tortillas by hand and cooking them right in front of you.  The smell of warm maize would waft down the block in the mornings, rousing us from our beds to buy some.  A warm, fresh tortilla with a drag of sweet cream mantaquilla is about as good as breakfast can get.  But even a breakfast as special as this is an afterthought to Josefina’s lunches.  They were always extravagant, leisurely affairs where the food took center stage.  Nearly every meal began with her famous chicken soup, a Mexican specialty, with homemade broth and abundant lime, epazote, cilantro, parsley, and roasted poblano peppers.  The flavors haunt me to this day.  And then there was her guacamole made with the most buttery, flavorful avocados.  A spoonful of this green goodness, wrapped in a fresh tortilla and dragged along the bottom of a nearly empty bowl of chicken soup, sopping up the fragrant broth is an experience like none other. 

The Mexican food tradition prides itself on fresh ingredients and family recipes.  It may not have the credentials of the Cordon Bleu, but when it comes down to food they’ve got my vote. 

 The closest thing to the real deal in NYC: Café El Portal more on them to come!

 

 

“When I first walked into Grom on Broadway at 76th Street a year ago, I was skeptical. Another chain trying to make it in New York City. Another lousy gelato shop tricking us into thinking it’s the real deal.

So, upon meeting the two young Italian owners, Federico Grom — who is tall, dark and handsome — and Guido Martinetti — who could pass as an Italian version of Brad Pitt — I had some questions.

“Where do you get your lemons from?” The answer: “Amalfi.” Check!

“Where do you get your pistachios?” Answer “From Bronte.” (A town in eastern Sicily famous for their flavorful, pea-green pistachios.) Good answer! Check, again.

They explained that they conduct side-by-side taste tests to select every raw product, from the chocolate to the water. When Amalfi lemons are not in season, they stop making lemon sorbet. They are so obsessed with quality ingredients that they are in the process of starting their own dairy and organic fruit farm. My fears were quelled and, frankly, I found myself enamored — not only by their charisma and good looks, but by their story and quest for top ingredients. Oh, and the gelato too. It’s excellent.” Read more about this traditional treat here!