Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soda Protests

Years ago, in the late ‘80s and ‘90s I was dumbfounded to realize that our kids’ schools had soda dispensing machines in their cafeterias. I suggested that this was not a good thing, and that they should discontinue the practice and take those machines out because soda was about the worst thing kids could consume. I didn’t keep it in MY fridge! The schools told me that it wasn’t tenable to take them out because the contracts with the soda companies and distributors were very lucrative for the schools. My answer to that was a shrug. So what? The mere fact that the school had those dispensing machines within its walls gave all appearances that they were condoning the use of soda. It would be more expensive in the long run to keep them. At that point we didn’t know HOW expensive.

Skip forward a few years, er, ah, decades, and what do we have? Suggestions that soda should be taxed! I think that nothing any one of us decides to put into our mouths should be taxed. Namely because you never know what someone is going to decide we need to be protected from next. It might be cauliflower. Or radishes. Or good healthy hog fat. But wait, they already subsidized that out of existence. “The other white meat,” indeed – the hogs are so skinny now nobody wants to eat pork!

Judith Levine in an article she wrote in Seven Days, says it well. “So, keep the junk off the market. Pour on the industry regulation. End the corn subsidies that siphon high-fructose corn syrup into virtually every U.S.-made processed food and thence into the bloodstreams of American eaters. Support organic farms. Require schools to serve lentils and whole-grain bread, broccoli and watermelon.”

In other words, teach your children well, by example and not by punishment.  Sin Taxes are ... yucky.  They have that singy smell of outraged morality – the ‘I’m better than you are’ syndrome.

That is not to say that I agree with a very conservative woman by the name of Kate O'Beirne, who reportedly said, at a Republican Strategy Meeting, “Obesity is a substantial national problem that the federal government should have nothing to do with. It is largely a cultural problem.” 

Because the Federal government IS directly responsible for obesity, for paying farmers to grow corn and soy and changing our wheat so that our bodies don’t even recognize it and telling people not to eat animal fat, and then foisting the genetically modified grains, sugars, and fat back into our diets, very often hidden.

Oxymoron of the moment? The fact that since warning people that dairy fat is going to give us heart attacks people have turned to 1% or 2% milk. That’s ancient history, and the people have gotten fat without the dairy fat and had the heart attacks, too! But whatever happened to the cream? The fat? Well, we know now that it’s consolidated into some kind of weird machine-made cheese, and they’re slathering humongous portions of it over commercially made pizzas and who knows what else! But I mean where did it go all these years past? You can bet it was coming back to us in some hidden form. Better to drink your nature-ly balanced whole milk than only parts of it here and there.

Things get very crazy when the government gets involved in our food.

And that’s why it’s a very good thing that Vermont is reclaiming its ability to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” as Michael Pollan put it so simply. When everything comes to your table whole and fresh and unadulterated and you cook it and sauce it and butter it to your own taste, then you’re kicking the government right out the window.

Many people are taking the “mostly plants” part of that exhortation quite seriously, and more people are becoming vegetarian for one day a week or every day until supper – partial vegetarians – because they will not eat CAFO* meat –  supermarket meats; and grass-fed and free-range meat is expensive – for some people, too expensive and they can’t afford it at all.

O’Beirne touched on this affordability angle. She said that parents who couldn’t  stuff at least a bowl of cereal and a banana down their kids’ throats in the morning are criminally negligent.  She was saying that in defense of her position that schools should not be feeding kids breakfast. Is it criminally negligent to be poor, to be sleeping in a car, to not have a bowl, to live in a food wasteland, to not be able to afford a fast-disappearing species of banana? I think it’s tragic, but criminally negligent?

People are very, very upset about her elitist words.

As for Vermonters, if we become the breadbasket for the northeast – Montreal, Boston and New York City – maybe with those economics of scale we will be about to afford our own good food and help feed those who can’t, too. That’s what the Executive Summary of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan is hinting at, and we’ve got farmers and fooders who will be very happy to spend their lives making it come true. 
It’s all coming together, folks, but don’t take your shoulder from that boulder – keep it moving, however slightly, up.

*Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation

So, how ‘bout some fat...
I’m here to tell you that cooking for two is lots easier than cooking for four. Coring two apples is not a chore, while coring four begins to be. Making an apple pie? Priceless.  I am coring two apples to roast the halves, and serve them with this lovely pasta dish that’s made with potatoes as well as pasta, caramelized onions, and three kinds of cheese. It appeared in Esquire magazine back in the dark ages, I think maybe even 1979. It is scrumptious and once or twice every decade I bring it out and make an utter flurry of appelzangrubincheeser.  You can make half a recipe for 2 people, and you can serve it with baked apples instead of sauce, and you can use any kind of cheeses you like – last time I used Parmesan, Cabot, and Gruyere.  It’s a Swiss Alpine dish, and it calls itself rugged.

Use cheeses from mild to strong, such as Emmentaler, Gruyere, Sbrinz (hard).  Served with big bowls of applesauce.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 large  onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces potatoes, peeled, quartered, sliced thickly (1 very large)
  • 10 ounces tubular macaroni such as penne or elbow
  • 4 ounces shredded Emmentaler
  • 4 ounces shredded Gruyere
  • 3 ounces grated Sbrinz (or Parmesan or Romano)
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large skillet melt butter and oil over low heat.  Add onion and sauté slowly, turning frequently to brown evenly.  Cook about twenty minutes or until the onions have turned a rich brown.  Set aside.
Cook potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes, then add macaroni and cook 6 to 8 minutes, until nearly done but still firm.  Drain under cold running water and set aside.

Mix together three cheeses in a small bowl.  Heat cream in small saucepan just until barely simmering.  Whisk in 1/3 of the cheese until sauce is melted and smooth.  Set aside.

Heat oven to 375°.  Butter bottom and sides of a large, rather deep baking dish.  In large bowl toss together potato/macaroni with second third of cheese, salt and pepper.  Place in baking dish.  Pour cheese sauce evenly over the mixture, sprinkle with remaining cheese, arrange onion slices on top.

Cover dish with aluminum foil.  Bake fifteen to twenty minutes until the cheese is melted and the mixture thoroughly hot.  Serve at once with tart applesauce.  Makes four servings.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

doin’ that crazy hambone

recently decanted cherry heering

Yawn. Oh, hi. Yup, I know, welcome to 2011, a whole new bright untarnished year rolling out in front of us, ready to be marred, patterned, designed, pleated, planted, cooked, harvested and, finally, composted..

But wouldn’t it make more sense for New Year’s to be celebrated on Winter Solstice, or on Spring’s, for that matter? The beginning of lengthening light or the beginning of the planting season? A localvore would never have chosen January 1 as the New Year. It’s arbitrary. A simple matter of paper. Just because January is when the Gregorian calendar makes the months begin anew. So it is literally if not intuitively the New Year. Oh well – gave us a chance to fill the still-dark season with yet more mindless and desperate gaiety. To be gay! ‘Tis devoutly to be wisht! And, truth be told, we do feel the beginning of something after the holidays, if only the need to sort out the detritus of the last twelve months and begin organizing for the next dozen.

Bah. It's enough to drive you to drink!

In the meantime, if you are like me, you are feeling a little tender, having been dumped into these new days that are not noticeably lighter longer. We’re in need of some quiet and simple kitchen time, and there IS that hambone.  Hambone, hambone, where have  you been? I sing as I dig that juicy thing out of the fridge.

Been all around the world and back again, it says to me in a gristly voice.

Well, that was surprising! My eyes flicker from side to side: hope no one heard. From the timbre of that voice looks like it’d rather be swimming with some collard greens and beans, but I intend to turn it into split pea soup. With dumplings.

But first have a cherry. Because this afternoon I decanted the Cherry Heering* that I started steeping last July with those sour cherries from Champlain Orchards. I’d decided to take the cherries to a party tonight as a snack, and I couldn’t resist trying them. Let’s have another one while we get busy on that soup. They’re so small they can’t do much harm, can they?

Okay then. Big pan, hambone in it, cover with water, about 2 1/2 quarts, drop a bay leaf into it, cover atilt, over high heat until it begins to spatter, then turn it to a low medium and let it simmer away for an hour or so.

Once you’ve got the hambone over the heat, chop up a fairly large onion and a clove of garlic. Cut the onion in half and then slice each half thinly, sprinkle the slices with some coarse salt and chop them fine.

We’re singing now: Hambone, Hambone where did you go?/ I hopped up to Miss Lucy's door. Where. Is this coming from? In any case, add the onions to the simmering hambone and have another cherry.

Then , measure out 3 cups of split peas, rinse them a couple of times and leave them to soak in water to cover. Sing: I asked Miss Lucy would she marry me? Make her say back, Well I don't care if Papa don't care! Roll your eyes like you were young Miss Lucy. Hambone. Hambone.

When the hambone has simmered for an hour to an hour and a half, and the meat separates easily from the bone, lift it out of the broth with some tongs and put it on a plate to cool. Drain the split peas and add them to the broth. And GIT your hands out of those cherries. Keep those peas and broth simmering.

Now. Scrape or scrub a large carrot and a medium-sized potato and make very small squares out of them. We will call them a brunoise. Now do the same with a stalk of celery and be sure to include the leaves. Very small squares, like quarter inch squares.

When you’re making squares out of oblong things like potatoes and carrots, take a thin slice off of one long side to give you a level resting edge; cut in quarter inch slices, then stack the slices and cut them into quarter inch logs, then stack the logs and cut them crosswise into quarter inch squares.

Those of you who already know how to cut a brunoise? Please bear with me. Here, make yourself comfortable. Have another cherry. Oh, what’d I do with them. Mm, I put ‘em away. Here, the dangerous part’s done. Have another.

Check the peas and broth. Add water if it’s too thick. Take the meat from the hambone, chop it up and put it back into the soup.

When the peas begin to lose their shape, after about 45 minutes, and when you taste one it’s al dente or just chewy in the center, drain the brunoise and add it to the pot. And while you tasted, did it need more salt? Add it, and some ground pepper, too. Want a little curry in there? Now’s the time. I’ll add a teaspoon of 5-Spice powder. Doin’ that Crazy Hambone.

Now for the dumplings. Break an egg into a small bowl, shmear it up with a fork, and sprinkle in some flour and stir it in with the fork. Add more and stir and more and stir, until you have a thick paste as for pasta. When the dough won’t incorporate any more flour, then take this up in your hands and knead it, dipping your hands in flour to ward off the stickiness, and when you have a smooth, non-sticky ball of dough flatten it out on a board or counter until it’s about, oh, a third of an inch thick reaching towards a half.  Cut into small squares. These little pillows will probably still be clinging to each other, so take up a hambone, er, ah, a handful, and pinch them into the bubbling soup. They’ll take 15 to 20 minutes to cook and then you can serve it up.
Pass me those cherries, would you? What? They’re all gone? Well, that’s okay. I don’t give diddley...Bo Diddley, of course... Let me just pour us a little bit of this Cherry Heering now.

Hambone, Hambone, where you been? ’Round the world and goin’ again!

Here’s to a jazzy Year!

*Cherry Heering -- cover 2 quarts of pitted sour cherries (save the pits) with 1 cup of sugar and a couple quarts of rum. Or vodka. Put the pits in some cheesecloth and put them to steep with the cherries. Cover and put aside until winter. Be careful!