January 28, 2011
Supposedly I was gonna get snowed in this weekend, but glassland weathermen being what they are, that didn’t happen. Still, on the off chance they’d made a mistake and were actually accurate this time, I stocked up at the grocery store…and saw a packet of smoked hamhocks.
Hamhocks & beans. If there’s a more perfect snowed-in supper, I’m not sure what it is.
They came out well, too, though a bit salty. Mom and Dad drove through the drizzle to share them with me tonight, so I thought I oughta share them with you, too. [Read more]
July 19, 2009
Robyn and Jeff and I met up at the Portland Farmers Market Saturday (I think I’m addicted to that place), did some breakfast, strolled the booths and stocked up on berries. (It’s nice to have a muscular cousin who can carry berry flats three blocks to your car, right in the middle of your shopping trip, so that you can keep shopping)
We were about to head for home when I saw a box of small, curiously translucent cherries. Regular bing cherries are a rich, opaque burgundy; these were unabashedly scarlet and glowed in the sunlight:
Montmorencies. Pie cherries.
Montmorencies are too sour for most people, but for me they’re the true cherry flavor, and they’re hard to find. These were fresh, heavy with juice and bore about as much resemblance to the stuff you find in a can of cherry pie filling as fresh chevre does to Velveeta. And I had a cherry pitter at home that hasn’t been used in about seven years…
Obviously, there was only one thing to do: Make fresh cherry pie.
September 6, 2008
I spent it with my friend Monica at the Portland Farmers Market just outside of PSU. When she heard I’d never been there she was shocked, and we made a date to meet there for coffee and people watching this morning. [Read more]
October 13, 2007
My friend and colleague Jason, an SEM wizard who can make search engine bots sit up and beg (really), is also a sustainable foodie. He keeps chickens in his backyard, exotic varieties that lay delicious celadon and brown and aqua eggs.
(I asked Jason if the chickens were as delicious as the eggs and he gave me a pitying look. “When you have children,” he explained carefully, “you don’t generally eat their pets.”)
Anyway, Jason mentioned that Portland recently passed a law restricting the number of chickens that its residents could keep within city limits to three. Since most of the Portlanders I’ve met think chickens grow in little yellow packages marked “Tyson,” I didn’t think this would be a huge issue, but it did impact Jason’s little family: One of his four chicken pets needed to find a good home. Due to the afore-mentioned children, the frying pan was not an option.
They took the chicken to a farm on Sauvie Island and visit her on the weekends. “YOU haven’t been to Sauvie Island?” he gasped, “It’s great. You’ve gotta go, especially if you’re looking for local produce.”
September 19, 2007
Embarking on the “only local, sustainable eating” journey this week, with the following discoveries:
This ain’t gonna be cheap. My first impression, after comparing, say, beef raised in a grassy pasture vs. feedlot beef, is that this ain’t a sport for poor people. I’m hopeful, though, that when you eliminate all the waste, packaged food, meals out and stuff like that the cost will come close to parity. (Of course, there’s also the old-fashioned alternative: Save beef and chicken for special occasions and use every scrap in stews and stocks.)
Sustainable and tasty aren’t always the same thing. Tried a stuffed bell pepper from locally grown foods. Yuck. Ditto for the almond chocolate bar, which I couldn’t distinguish from Hershey’s. As for organic lentil bread, you can HAVE it–not even the birds want it.
That said, there’s a discernible plus in the taste of the produce and dairy. Wonderful artisanal cheeses around here, and the sour cream doesn’t even taste like sour cream. But either I’m not eating the right poultry or my “free-range” expectations have come to naught. I’ve eaten free-roaming chickens in France. These ain’t it.
The best farms are full-up. Assuming they’re charging enough to make a profit, there’s no need to have a Farmer’s Aid Relief Concert around here. Buying a subscription to one of the farms near Glassland is proving a challenge–I can’t get them to return my calls, and I may wind up reserving a spot for 2009, not 2008.
I will be shopping more often. The upside to preservative-laden, feedlot-produced, “fortified” food is that you can leave it on the counter for a month and it’s still as fresh as the day you bought it. Not gonna happen with this organic sustainable stuff. EVERYthing seems to spoil more quickly. This stuff may taste better because if it’s three days old, it’s too fuzzy to taste.
My freezer has decided to help. The fridge freezer did a meltdown on Monday, sending assorted frozen chickens, stews, chops and such to the trash. Gave it a good scrubbing, and am now free to fill it up with good stuff, I suppose.
The freezer (and possibly the food dryer) looks to play an important role in this–the only way I can figure to have a life and food at the same time is to cook in batches and save stuff for future meals.
I am but a babe in the sustainable food world. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m living in Oregon or just what, but I feel as if I’m about 90 years behind the curve. Mentioning this experiment to colleagues, friends and neighbors has so far produced the sort of expressions I’d get if I announced I’d discovered how much brighter the room is when I turn on the lights.
So, baby steps for now.
September 14, 2007
Apparently I’m eating sludge.
I’m just finishing Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and having a lot of duh moments. Also a lot of eeeeeeeeuw moments. And this is compounded by discussions with colleagues, grocery store produce managers and a nice lady at the train station, all of whom seem to have read this book and have at least one gruesome, gory anecdote to support its conclusions.
Remember The Jungle by Upton Sinclair? Kinda like that.
I can say with some confidence that the less you know about the production side of the US food chain, the better. Otherwise you’re pretty much obliged to change your ways, i.e., find alternatives to highly industrialized agriculture, which appears to be a daunting task.
But that’s what I’m going to be doing for awhile. Like Pollan, I want to know where my food came from. Unlike Pollan, I’m not going to travel across the continent to find out. If a food’s origins are murky (or unsatisfactory) after a reasonable investigation, out it goes. Into its place goes stuff I can trace and trust, stuff that’s hopefully sustainable.
I’ve been warned that this is not easy, it’s more expensive and requires a lot more time than just running to Safeway, and it requires a lot more prep. I’m told that I’m like 90-gazillion others who’ve also read this book and suddenly decided they need to think as much about what goes into their mouths as what goes on their hair, so I may need to go on a waiting list to buy groceries. This will be a novel experience.
I don’t want to be unreasonable about it–I’m not going to insist that friends and family only serve me “good stuff,” which, knowing my friends, would likely be met with a laugh anyway. And I’m going to eat in a nice restaurant every once in awhile, whether or not I get to meet the farmer who raised the chicken. Also, if it looks like my only option is berries and grubs from my own backyard, I will acknowledge defeat and head for Taco Bell.
But I’m also counting on a very big ace up my sleeve: Oregon. Oregon is one of the most earth-conscious places I’ve ever encountered (an ex-hippie friend calls it “the place where the hippies went to die…and didn’t”). I’m counting on enough of that consciousness being around to sustain sustainable agriculture, sufficient to meet my needs.
I’ve also got a second ace, New Seasons Market. It’s a local grocery store chain that appears to strongly support local, sustainable farmers. There’s a New Seasons within driving distance, the people are fantastic, the food’s good, and I already enjoy going there on “market day.”
That’s when the local farmers come out with their produce, spread it out in front of the store, cook it and pass out samples. They’re fun to talk to, and I can HEARTILY recommend the pink grape tomatoes. Best tomatoes I’ve ever bought, so good that masking them with salad greens is probably blasphemy. And with a bit of balsamic vinegar, a little olive oil, maybe some home-made mozarell…
So. First thing to do is draw up a set of rules. Then I’ll assemble my resources, and see where they lead.
Rule #1: No more fast food, or food processed to the point that I need a dictionary to understand the label.
Rule #2: I will confine my food buying to products harvested within a day’s drive from my refrigerator.
Rule #3: I will eat a completely balanced diet. No cheating by living on rutabagas simply because they were the only thing that fit rules 1 and 2. No additional complications, i.e., no diets, sudden-death vegetarianism, etc.
Rule #4: No food out of season unless–like olives and tomatoes–it’s been appropriately preserved. Appropriately does not mean came off the tin can assembly line at Del Monte.
Rule #5: I will make an exception for the necessities of life, i.e., chocolate, popcorn (unless it’s grown locally, which I doubt), lemonade, and other stuff as I think of it.
Rule #6: I will spend no more than an hour of my day (hopefully much less) in researching, collecting and preparing food.
Rule #7: I will not become a food bore, and annoy my friends with smug little factoids such as “Did you know that your steak came from a cow standing in its own waste, chewing food that made it so sick it had to be pumped full of antibiotics to keep the pus levels down?” (Actually this won’t be a problem, as my friends would have knocked me unconscious by the second prepositional phrase.)
The rest I’ll make up as I go along. More later.
September 12, 2007
As a newlywed, I needed a job. Badly. My new hubby was still in school in hyperexpensive Santa Barbara and we were living on whatever I could make. Trouble was, employers weren’t exactly beating down doors with offers for fresh-out-of-school journalism majors like me.
I finally found work as an Orkin commercial pest control rep. Now, I was the chick who slept in the cook tent rather than risk a buggy sleeping bag at camp. But 800 bucks a month was enough to pay Santa Barbara rent and gas with $50 left over for groceries, so I plunged into the world of supersized cockroaches, rats and other creepy-crawlies in LA Chinatown.
In many ways that job was a first: First brush with sexual harassment (a 20-year old coed in high heels was not exactly the norm on the LA warehouse circuit), first encounter with ex-cons (most of the “pest technicians” I worked with were just-paroled felons who tended to regard me as a not-too-bright daughter), first awareness of rats bigger than my cat, first discovery of the delightful habits of the Oriental cockroach, etc., etc.
I also developed a unique skill, the ability to instantly identify cockroach hideouts. (Hint: Look for the moistest, darkest, warmest crevice in a refrigeration unit, generally next to the motor) It was a huge hit with supermarket managers and restaurant owners, although I don’t recommend it as a party trick. No matter how many times you explain to your host that it’s perfectly normal for cockroaches to live under his refrigerator, you can kiss subsequent party invitations goodbye, and there’s a high likelihood that the cleaning lady will be fired.
Anyway, after visiting a dozen Southern California restaurants and viewing the pest pantheon munching on, living in and leaving waste in the cuisine, I gave up restaurant eating for several years.
(And, BTW, these weren’t the archetypical filthy greasy spoons, either. The worst pest problem I encountered was in a VERY chi-chi French restaurant in Montecito, selling $200 dinners and thousand-buck bottles of wine. I was called in because the extremely expensive chef threatened to go back to France when he discovered he couldn’t tell the capers from the ….never mind).
The restaurants didn’t get cleaner, but I eventually resumed eating in them because it was either that or cook. And, I reasoned, if all that restaurant-eating prior to Orkin hadn’t killed me, how bad could it really be?
I’m bringing this up now because I’m reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History in Four Meals, and so far I’m deciding I’d rather eat cockroaches than some of the stuff the author says is part of my regular diet right now.
The book’s primarily about corn and its role in the US food chain. I’m only halfway through the book–so maybe it has a happier ending than I think–but at this point the cockroaches are looking mighty wholesome.
Here’s what I’m getting so far:
- The vast majority of food in US grocery stores has its origins in corn, petroleum and/or soybeans, not whatever the label says
- “Organic food” ain’t necessarily organic, at least not as you and I think of it, and free range essentially means that the chicken (or whoever) was given “access” to a lawn at some point in its life
- Corn-fed beef is an oxymoron; the only way that cows can eat corn without getting sick is if you stuff them full of antibiotics
- There are measurable differences in nutrients (and taste) between food grown on a modern commercial farm and food grown almost anywhere else
- The twin epidemics of obesity and type II diabetes track almost perfectly with the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup in place of sugar
Yuck. When you can’t trust your Big Mac, what can you trust?
Proof positive that you need to pay attention to EVERYthing, I guess. So here I go, into the wide world of old-fashioned food.
April 7, 2007
I’m in the process of rebuilding cynthiamorgan.com to give me a business site as well as a fun site (more on that later)…and while wrestling with setup on a new hosting service last night I kept a marathon Food Network session going on background TV. (i.e., television that functions as subliminal entertainment while you do something more worthwhile)
What I mostly (didn’t) watch was Rachel Ray, the perky princess of postprandial paradise, running around spending 40 bucks on a day’s worth of eats. And (not) watching her, I suddenly realized why I don’t much care for her show. It’s not because of the perkiness or the fact that she’s more overexposed than a nudist in a Minnesota winter:
She’s not really a foodie.