Power Bars for The Women’s March on Washington 2017

January 8th, 2017

 

I’m reposting this recipe in case anyone is looking for a good snack to take to a protest march.  I’ll be packing these for my bus ride, leaving Gloucester at midnight, January 21st, heading to Washington, D.C.  https://www.womensmarch.com/

white_house_south_side_2011

Power Bars, nutrition bars, energy bars, fitness bars, meal bars, granola bars.  They come wrapped in many packages under many names.  Athletes eat them; people consider them a smart snack at work, and moms pack them in their kids’ lunches.  How healthy are they, and should we just be baking our own?

Along with fish tacos and caesar salad, fitness bars (the term I’m choosing here) are perhaps one of the foods that could define the 21st century lifestyle, and were probably born in the 1970’s as muesli and granola entered our culinary vocabulary.  Running, biking, workouts, fitness, and the gym became as much a part of our lives as going to the movies, and granola bars got fitter.  Grocery store shelving is evidence of how healthy the industry is, at least in sales.

But what should a fitness bar be?  It’s not a brownie.  It should be low in fat and sugar, and high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.  Most nutrition websites insist, like all prepared foods, we should be looking for a short list of ingredients we can pronounce.  Sugar, even in the form of brown rice syrup, shouldn’t be the first ingredient.  Isolates are promoted as an easy, digestible way to pack in protein, but they are controversial at best, demons at worst.  Soy and whey isolates are manufactured proteins that, because of the process in which they are produced, create a highly acidic environment.  Cancer loves an acidic environment; it’s an easy jump to why isolates are bad guys, but commercial fitness bars are often packed with them.  Also, 90 percent of the soy in this country is genetically modified; all that soy in commercially produced fitness bars, even in the form of an isolate, is a GMO product.

There is a great site called “Fooducate,” which has an app that immediately provides nutritional information for a food.  They have a long, hefty analysis of all kinds of nutrition/fitness bars.  Once quick glance at these sites makes you realize homemade is a much better nutritional choice, if not a good economic one.   Special K Protein Meal Bars, billed as a healthy “meal” bar,” for an example, is filled with transfats, sugar, inulin – not real fiber – BHT a possible carcinogen and TBHG which can cause nausea and delirium, artificial everything.  Fooducate assigned it a D, the lowest score.

I grabbed a Cliff Bar and a Larabar off the shelves, took a bite of each without studying the ingredients, and tasted pure sugar.  In fact, the Cliff Bar’s first ingredient is Brown Rice Syrup, but a further read made me think the bar was all cane syrup and soy, ingredients that repeated themselves in twenty different forms.  The Larabar was nothing but cashews and dates, but it tasted like that.  It was sweet, gummy, and not very satisfying.

I discovered Kate Baron and her Baron bars while working on this story.  Baron is a competitive runner, an organizational psychologist, and a certified holistic health counselor.  When the website “Trailblazer” published her regimen, the crowds demanded the recipe for her homemade fitness bars, something she calls Baron Bars.  I’m now a fan.

Baron is loose with her recipe, but offers a scaffolding.  I made my batch almost exactly as they are written here, using wheat germ instead of wheat bran, and equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg, which was absolutely delicious.  Baron recommends Pumpkin Pie Spice, but I didn’t have any.  I think mace might be a nice addition to the spice blend, too.  She sometimes uses sunflower seeds, and recommends you be creative.  These bars are definitely on the chewy side of a granola bar, but I like that.  Some recipes use straight granola, which has a lot of oil in it, and some recipes have you toast the grains in oil in advance, definitely making them crunchier.  The sweet, toasted taste of granola has its place, but, I eat these bars recognizing the halo of “fitness” that comes with them.  I want a healthy taste, and I don’t want to feel like I’m eating candy or a brownie.  These bars, extremely low in fat and sugar (1/2 cup of each distributed among 20 bars), and have the wholesome, healthy taste I want in something that nutritious.  One bar contains 224 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, and 7 grams of protein.

My best baking test is how well something tastes with a cup of coffee; these are outrageous with a hot cup of French Roast in the afternoon.  For those stronger than I, Kate’s husband, Michael, eats his bars slathered in peanut butter.

 

 

Baron Bars

 

Ingredients

 

4 cups whole oats (not quick-cooked)

1 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

1 1/2 cups chopped almonds (salted or not)

1 cup raisins or any dried fruit you like

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup canola or olive oil

1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon salt (sea)

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until combined.

Line a 12” x 18” cookie sheet with parchment paper.  (Kate says it’s fine to use other size sheet pans here, but you want the bars to be 1/2 inches thick.)  Wet your hands, and press the batter around in the pan to be even distributed.

Bake for until toasty brown on top.  Mine took about 15 – 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and cut into desired size squares.  (Kate is generous; hers are 3” x 5”.)

Place in a tupperware container, and freeze.  This helps the bars hold together, even after they have thawed.  Enjoy right from the freezer or thawed.

 

 

Early Spring Soup, based on Kesakeitto

March 27th, 2013

 

This is a reprint of a recipe I love.  It looks like a painting and tastes like a spring garden.  Based on a Finnish recipe called Kesakeitto, or Finnish Summer Soup, this is a small mound of the most delicate spring vegetables pooled in a broth of hot, fresh milk, garnished with smoked salmon and peas.  My version of the dish crosses the Atlantic and backs up a season; I call it “Early Spring Soup in New England.”

 

Small parsnips, baby turnips, tiny yellow beets, broccoli florets, the tiniest baby potatoes, and a dice of carrots, all cooked quickly in boiling salted water, mound in the center of each bowl.

I looked for the best vegetables I could find.  I chopped the larger vegetables like parsnips and carrots, still looking for the smallest versions of them, into a tiny dice.  If a beet or turnip was small enough, I sliced them into rounds.   Along with a variety of vegetables, I wanted a variety of shapes, not just a pile of diced Birds Eye veggies.  The only vegetable I kept whole were the tiny potatoes.

I found a treasure of root vegetables at a Winter Farmer’s Market, but if seeking freshly dug produce isn’t on your to-do list this week, a keen eye at the grocery store will allow you a beautiful palette in your bowl, and probably a delicious one.

All the vegetables are cooked in boiling, salted water, beginning with the vegetables that make take the longest, (in my case it was the potatoes,) to the vegetables that will cook the fastest, using your judgement.  My order went like this:  potatoes cooked for two minutes, then I added the diced parsnip and carrots, then the beets and turnips, then the broccoli.

Half the deliciousness of this soup is the milk broth, simply the freshest, best milk you can find heated with a tiny bit of sugar and flour, and poured hot over the vegetables.  The thirty-eight Jersey cows at Appleton Farms in Ipswich can take a bow here.

I slit open a few snap peas, and saved the tiny beads inside for a garnish, along with some thinly sliced radishes, and fresh dill.  Rosy chunks of smoked salmon crumbled over the top.  I prefer the hot-smoked chunky kind for this, and used the locally cured Sasquatch smoked salmon available at Willowrest in Gloucester, but Steve Connolly also sells excellent hot-smoked salmon.

 

 

Early Spring Soup, based on the Finnish Kesakeitto

 

serves 6-8

Ingredients

4 cups organic whole milk, preferably local

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1 tablespoon for the vegetables

8 cups of tiny, fresh vegetables:  broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, new potatoes, zucchini, carrot, onion, asparagus tips, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, fennel, radishes,  and especially peas

water to cover

for the garnish:

1/2 pound hot-smoked salmon

fresh radishes, thinly sliced

fresh peas, or the tiny peas from inside 4-5 snap peas

fresh dill, chopped

fresh pepper, use white pepper if you want to retain the whiteness of the milk

 

Instructions

In a large saucepan stir together the sugar, flour and salt.  Slowly at first, stirring to blend, add the milk.  Whisk until mixture is smooth.  Gently heat the milk, whisking it occasionally to keep the flour from cooking on the bottom of the pan. Do not let it boil.

In a separate large pot, bring the salted water to a boil.

Prep the vegetables, peeling the potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips to keep them tender, and cutting all into roughly equivalent size.

When the water boils, drop in the vegetables that will take the longest to cook, like the potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, and then add the lighter vegetables like radishes, peas, and broccoli.  Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon or sieve, and distribute them evenly into heated bowls.  Pour the hot milk over the vegetables but not to cover.  Allow the vegetables to rise attractively in a mound out of the milk.

Crumble the smoked salmon over the top, and garnish with radish, peas, and dill.  Grind some pepper over all, and serve immediately.

 

Goodbye FFT, hello The Other Cape.

March 9th, 2017

 

 

 

 

Well, it’s ALMOST time for me to say goodbye to Food for Thought. The site will still stand, and I will post the occasional OMG Recipe, the recipe so good I just have to print it, or a really good fish story, but mostly I will be working as managing editor of The Other Cape.

If you haven’t already, check it out. Today’s story is once again about Lila Deluca, the 10-year-old Rockporter competing on this season’s MasterChef Junior Thursday nights at 8:00. The photography is gorgeous, and there is a bonus video in which Lila teaches how to make Slime. Upcoming stories will be on Mayflour Confections, Lynzariums Plant Shack, and Cape Ann winter surfing. Follow us!

Nordur, the Veuve Cliquot of salt

March 5th, 2017

salt nordur

There is enough swoonable romance surrounding Nordur salt to sell it on its story alone:  Nordur salt has been harvested from the same shallow Icelandic waters of Breiðafjörður bay by the same Danish salt-harvesting methods for 260 years.

The Nordur guys – an incredibly photogenic bunch of blond brawny Icelanders – are committed to sustainable production, and use from start to finish only the region’s natural geothermal energy:  to heat the seawater, and then again to heat the open-air pans and to dry the salt.  The first heating process is done in a tank under sub-atmospheric pressures.  The seawater thus boils at a lower temperature without scorching.  The Nordur people claim this best preserves the Breiðafjörður water’s estimable trace minerals.

The resulting pans of salt are hand-raked and harvested.  The azure-tangerine packaging has won design awards.  

salt box

This is the Veuve Cliquot of salts.  It has a feathery lightness, a sweet saltiness akin to English Maldon Salt, which is similarly produced with seawater and raked by hand, but Nordur has more of all those things – more feathery flakes, like the lightest, prettiest snowflakes.  More minerality.  If salt can taste sweet, Nordur does.  Even my husband, unaware of which sodium brand filled our salt cellar, recently seasoned a piece of chicken, took a bite, and commented, “wow! – even this salt is good!”

 

salt with vanilla ice cream and olive oil

 

A bowl of Nordur on the counter called for me to recreate one of our dessert standards:  vanilla ice cream served with olive oil and sea salt.  First discovered in a Jamie Oliver cookbook, this combination is sublime:  two editions of creamy – the ice cream and olive oil –  laced with the sparkling minerality of high quality sea salt.  Simply serve the ice cream in bowls, pour about a tablespoon of fruity olive oil over each serving, then sprinkle with sea salt.  Before you arch that eyebrow, try it.

Nordur makes a wonderful gift; don’t even wrap it, the box is so pretty.  Imported by Prestige Global Inc. who found the salt while combing the world for high quality, healthy products, Nordur can be found at Salt Traders in Ipswich, MA, and can be easily purchased from their website.  

 

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

March 1st, 2017

Mahroussie's chicken

You know Mahroussie Jabba as the smiling brunette of Markouk Breads, creating her warm, paper-thin rounds painted in Lebanese aromatics at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market.  A Gloucester resident of 15 years (Jabba married Gloucester native Richard Jabba 17 years ago), Jabba creates a variety of incredibly high-quality Lebanese products, recipes from her native home in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.  My personal favorite is her Lebnah, rounds of yogurt cheese preserved in olive oil.  Jabba spreads the yogurt cheese on warm garlic bread, or on pita with cucumber, fresh tomato and a little onion or scallion.

M's labneh

I bumped into Jabba recently, and she offered me this recipe from her mother.  The basic love in this dish is much like the Singaporean “Chicken Rice” that I published recently:  poach a whole chicken and then cook the rice in that delicious broth.  The rice absorbs the chicken fat becoming a suave, luscious product, nothing at all like the bland, fluffy, white piles beside the protein on many American plates.  

But, Jabba’s mother adds aromatics – cinnamon stick, fresh rosemary, and bay leaves –  to the broth, along with tomato. The rice therefore absorbs that fragrance; it is almost more special than the chicken.  Jabba told me that her mother also makes variations of this dish, stuffing the chicken in advance with seasoned browned lamb or beef and rice, sewing the chicken closed and poaching it like that.  The chicken and meats are served beside the rice when served.  

Jabba’s mother also browns dry vermicelli noodles in butter so that they are dark and crispy, and then adds them to cook with the rice, creating a lovely texture and color to the starch.  

Sometimes Jabba’s mother adds toasted pinenuts to the dish.

Even this simplest edition, like the Singapore “chicken rice,” strikes a kind of collective, nourishing deliciousness that makes everyone keep spooning out more.

Markouk products can be found all year round at Cape Ann Fresh Catch, 46 Commercial St. in Gloucester, MA.

M's chicken and rice

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

Serves 6 with rice leftover

Ingredients

1 3-4 pound chicken

Salt

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups broth

1 can chopped tomatoes (28 ounces)

2 cups water, approximately

1 cinnamon stick

3-4 sprigs of rosemary

2 bay leaves

Salt to taste

2 cups rice

Toasted pinenuts for garnish (optional)

 

Instructions

  1. Salt the chicken all over.  Add the olive oil to a large dutch oven and heat to medium high.  Add chicken, whole.  Turning the chicken often, brown it well on all sides.  
  2. Add the broth, tomatoes, and enough water so that the liquid almost covers the chicken.  Add the cinnamon, rosemary, and bay leaves (tying them together with string makes them easier to remove.)  Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for an hour or until the chicken is almost cooked through.  This, of course, depends upon the size of your chicken.  Err on the side of the chicken being cooked completely through, as it will still be fairly moist cooked in this broth, and you don’t want to serve raw chicken.
  3. Remove herb bundle.  Taste the broth for salt and pepper.  Add the rice to the broth.  Cover again, and continue cooking for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.  
  4. To serve:  Some recipes remove the chicken from the bones, but I was going to serve my chicken immediately and it was very hot.  So I removed the chicken from the rice, and cut it into serving pieces.  Spoon all the rice out onto a platter, and cover with the chicken pieces or the boneless chicken meat.  Garnish with pinenuts if using.  

 

Donkey & Goat wines – favorites.

February 14th, 2017

D & G stonecrusher

Tracey and Jared Brandt, wife and husband winemakers, have created their Donkey & Goat wines the way most of us would want the world to be:  no plastics, all natural ingredients, structure and flavor encouraged from the vineyard’s terroir and soil, not manipulated.  These are “encouraged” wines, not produced.  

I’ve tasted six Donkey & Goat wines now, and can only describe them as uniquely dynamic; each has almost a rascally quality of surprise.   The velvety, unfiltered body and that bold balance of acid and structure just plain startles.  Their inexplicable freshness conjures a French farmer in indigo work clothes crossing a stone courtyard for this bottle of his house stuff.  

D & G box

The Brandts are minimalists:  Donkey & Goat wines ferment using only wild yeast and bacteria in the air and from the aged oak casks.  No additives are used except the tiniest bit of sulphur, far less than other wines.  No fining, cloudiness is embraced.  Like parents uninterested in test scores, the Brandts ignore their grapes’ sugar content, or brix, considered by most a cornerstone in the winemaking process.  The Brandts harvest grapes rather for flavor and variety.  

D & G wines

My affair with these wines started first with Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat, a bottle-fermented style of sparkling wine considered “Champagne’s hip younger sister” http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/07/peak-season-for-petillant-naturel.html.

Pet Nats, short for Pettilant Naturelle, are produced with only the grapes’ natural sugars and no added yeasts, ideal methodoise for the Donkey & Goat minimal intervention style.  We were not just startled but wowed by the deliciousness therein:  ginger and pear inside minerally-bubbles.   (Pet-Nats are considered rougher and thus less expensive than other sparkling wines.  Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat was on the high side for these wines at $45; Pet-Nats generally run from $18 – $28, but the Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat is truly a celebration-worthy bottle.)

“The Stone-Crusher” Roussanne is a beautiful example of an “orange wine,” meaning it has spent fermenting time with the grape’s skins, giving the wine a gauzy orange color and sometimes a cloudy cast, a wholesome “ding” that in a charming way signals the wine’s process.  Stone Crusher’s flinty feel and surprising body recall a bright cider but with the beautiful wine flavors of spice and dried apricots.  I am in love with this wine.  .

The Carignane was bright with a toothsome body, light fruit, and a little pepper.  After tonight I would nick-name it the “Shitake-Firer,” as it sent up flares of flavor around the shitake mushrooms in our dinner.  

“We make our wines for the table, not the cocktail glass,” Tracy Brandt writes on her blog.  I am not a wine writer, so I will leave more descriptions to the Donkey & Goat site, or to Robert Parker, but I can say each of the Donkey & Goat wines I tasted – including the above, “Eliza,” “The Bear,” and “Carginane” were consistently lively, dynamic, and vibrant; they are wines that drive conversation.  One sip, and suddenly everyone is trying to figure out what is going on here.  

Ranging in price from $30 – $50, Donkey & Goat wines are available on Boston’s North Shore in the Salem Cheese Shop and Savour Wines in Gloucester.  

D & G cork

 

Coq au Vin

February 9th, 2017

coq au vin

 

Perhaps the best loved French dish in America, Coq au vin, has become so iconic it needs no translation.  Menus from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon print those three little French words with confidence if not casualness.  

Coq au Vin is classically a stewed old rooster from Burgundy.  If you lived in Burgundy a hundred years ago, and didn’t want to waste a tough old bird that crowed no more, you would cook it in your famous wine.  That’s how the whole dish started.  And there are other versions from other French regions – Coq au Reisling and Coq au Champagne.  But the Burgundian version – with bacon and mushrooms – turned out to be a sublimely famous combination of flavors, something repeated around the world.

There are issues to recreating a French farmhouse dish in modern times, mostly being that it began as a way to cook old roosters.  Few people have old roosters – or old laying hens, also called “fowl” – anymore.   A burgundian grandmere might cook that rooster for hours to ease some tenderness into it, but if we did that to a Market Basket chick we would have rubber poultry very quickly.  The original recipe threaded pork lardons through the tough meat, not to add bacon flavor but as an additional means of tenderizing the meat as it simmered.  

Coq au vin owes its American fame to Julia Child, who included the recipe in her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” published first in 1961 and a second volume in 1970.  In the early 1960’s only the extreme wealthy, some journalists, and academics had traveled extensively to France.  Most Americans were just exiting the great food trend of the 1950‘s:  commercially produced, frozen, canned, prepared meals.  American kitchens had been updated to be clean, sleek labs in which good moms warmed tv dinners in immaculate ovens.  

And then, “voila!”  Julia Child, along with Louisette Berhtolde and Simone Beck, published “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” and suddenly Americans wanted copper pots.  They wanted to understand wine.  The American love affair with French cooking began, and its poster child was coq au vin.

Child knew American cooks would not be using old roosters.  Her recipe calls for a 30 minute simmer of chicken in red wine.  Truthfully, it is impossible to build the levels the true recipe created this way.  To start, an older chicken might be tough, but it inevitably has more flavor.  The dish’s complexity depends upon simmering the chicken for 2-3 hours in that pork and Pinot Noir.  Some recipes call for marinating the chickens in red wine for days in advance, but most chefs confess it does little more than stain the chicken red and make it difficult to brown as it is too moist.  Truthfully, the best coq au vin is made with an old bird – either a rooster or a fowl – that demands long, slow cooking to tenderize it.  The flavor starts with the chicken, and builds in that slow process.

The lardons concept gets adapted in dozens of ways.  Child uses bacon, but blanches it to remove some of the smoky taste.  Others use salt pork or pancetta.  The original lardon intention of adding fat to soften the meat seems to have been lost here when we have access almost singularly to fat, tender chickens.  The modern coq au vin seems to have honestly become a “bacon-flavored” dish.  So be it.

There ARE a few sources on Cape Ann for retired chickens – Seaview Farms, Salt Marsh Farms, Grant Family Farm.  It is truly worth trying to find an old bird, if only for the singular earthy, lusty bouquet coq au vin creates in a long simmer.  If you have your “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” available, by all means follow Julia Child’s.  The recipe below takes the best of many recipes, while adhering to the premise that it’s that old chicken and the wine that matter most.  If you cannot find a rooster or fowl, simply reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes, testing for doneness.  This is a dish best spent preparing on a slow, snowy day, and best served by candlelight (that wine-dark chicken and those bronzed onions!). It’s a dish that proves winter has its blessings.   

 

Coq au vin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil (to keep the butter from burning)

3 ½ -4 pound stewing hen or roasting chicken), cut in serving pieces

8 ounces good quality bacon, (not smoked, preferably uncured) cut into 1” pieces

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 bottle hearty red wine, ideally Pinot Noir

One bouquet garni (thyme, bay, parsley tied with twine)

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cups chicken stock, more if needed

 

For the mushrooms and onions:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3/4 pound pearl onions or white 2” onions, peeled and left whole

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

To thicken the sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 

Instructions:

    1. Melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. When the butter is hot, brown the chicken on all sides, doing so in two batches if necessary. 
    2. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the bacon. Brown it on all sides.
    3. When the bacon is browned, add the chicken back to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine over all. Add the bouquet garni and the garlic, and pour in just enough chicken stock to cover the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat so it is simmering, cover and cook until the chicken is tender, almost falling from the bone, 1-1/2 – 2 hours.
    4. While the chicken simmers, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. When it is foaming, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are nicely browned, 10 – 12 minutes. Season lightly, remove from the heat and reserve.
    5. In a shallow skillet put onions, 2 tablespoons butter, and water barely to cover.  Simmer until water evaporates and onions begin to brown and glaze.  Continue to cook in the remaining butter until the onions acquire a beautiful bronze color.
    6. When the chicken is done, remove the meat to a side bowl.  DIscard the bouquet garni.  
    7. Blend the last butter and flour in a small bowl to a homogeneous paste.  Add 1/4 cup of the cooking juices into the flour and butter mixture, then pour that mixture into the sauce. Stir it in and let it cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened. Return the chicken to the sauce and rewarm all.  
    8. You can serve the dish two ways:  put the warm chicken in a bowl, generously spoon sauce over it, making sure the bacon pieces land on each serving, and tumble some mushrooms around. Tuck some onions in on the side.  Or, you can add the mushrooms and onions to the whole pot, let the dish sit overnight, and serve all as a warm stew the next day.   

 

Atlantic Pollock – Pollachius virens – and a great winter recipe.

February 7th, 2017

Alaska Pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) and Atlantic Pollock (Pollachius virens) are two different species.  To compare them is a good exercise in understanding the extremes of the fishing industry.

Alaska Pollock from the northern Pacific, is one of the world’s leading industrialized fisheries with over 3 million tons landed a year.  The poster child for inexpensive, super-plain white fish, Alaska pollock is the fish in almost all commercial fish stick products; it is the fish in “fake fish,” that plastic-feeling, white and pink fish “salad” product you can buy at your grocery store, usually in a section with the smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheels.  If you don’t understand yet how big Alaska pollock is in the world, know that it is the fish in a McDonald’s fillet o’ fish sandwich.  

Trawled with enormous mid-water nets by large corporate fleets, Alaska pollock fills the world’s frozen fish cases with breaded rectangles of cheap protein.   This is the kind of fishing that undermines wild ecosystems and human communities.

Diversity and scale are the answers to much of the over-doing of anything in the world’s economy, be it industrial farming or industrial fishing.  To grow one millions of acres of one crop or fish for millions of tons of one fish exploits ecologies and destroys communities.  Industrialized farming exhausts soil, eliminates hedgerows and the bird life therein, makes seed stores, farm stores, even whole downtowns obsolete.

Industrialized fishing, fishing for millions of pounds of fish stick filler, has the same consequences.  Only the large, corporate fleets can afford this kind of fishing, and these fleets land, process and distribute their fish often on and from their own floating processing factories.  They have no need for the shore-side businesses that once supported the local fishing fleets – the lumpers who unload the catches on the dock, the fish cutters, the businesses that supply the boats with gas, food, and gear, all of which were once integral parts of fishing communities, like the farm stores in agricultural communities.  These businesses offered good, middle class wages which allowed people to own homes in the community and educate their children.  The economics of small farming and fishing built a web of connections that kept communities vital.  With the local fishing fleet gone, there is no need for any of those shore side businesses.  Harbor buildings are vacant, until the whale-watching businesses and tourist-driven agencies move in offering seasonal jobs but no long term sustainability.  

Atlantic pollock is a ground fish, and a common substitute for cod.  Actually a member of the cod family, Atlantic pollock is landed all year round in the Gulf of Maine.  The fish are landed anywhere from 6-12 pounds, providing thick, meaty fillets of a sweet, mild fish.  The raw meat is slightly gray compared to cod, but cooks to a creamy white color, and a thick, beautiful flake.  A sweet, white fish with generous, cooking-resilient fillets, Atlantic pollock are fish any cook – and chefs – can love.

Landed abundantly but not industrially on New England fishing boats, Atlantic pollock are also a fish that a fishing village can love.  These are fish landed on small boats that keep cities like Portland, Maine looking like a fishing town.  They are fish that, if given a reasonable price, an independent fisherman can make a relatively good living selling  And they are an excellent – some say preferred – alternative to haddock and cod, fish that deserve some relief from our appetites.  This is where diversity and scale come in:  if fishermen landed a little cod, a little haddock, and a bit more pollock, but not enough to injure stocks, the prices for all the species they catch would be good, and a fisherman could make a living.  He would pull into the dock, unload, and resupply his boat from the services there on the shore.  Economic connections would be made, and built.  

Here is an unusual, simple, and delicious recipe for New England pollock from Chef Annie Copps. This dish is so sweet, so white, so comforting, it doesn’t taste like a fish dish at all.  Fish dishes are rarely considered wintery comfort food, but this recipe is exactly that.

Baked in parchment, “en papillote,”  pollock retains all its moist, firm character.  Here’s the surprise:  The fish’s light, sweet flavor snuggles right up to the natural sugars in parsnips, turnips, and celeriac.  This recipe calls for a puree of parsnips and potatoes that have simmered in milk, but you could easily replace the parsnips with turnips or celeriac.  For a study in winter white, serve the fish directly on top of the puree.  It may not photograph well, but it is oh so comforting February dining, right from local waters.

Pollock en papillote with Mashed Parsnips and Potatoes

Ingredients

4 pieces of pollock, 1/2 pound each

salt and pepper

olive oil for drizzling

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

about 2 cups whole milk

kosher or sea salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

a few scrapes of nutmeg

chopped fresh parsley

Instructions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2.   Place the potatoes and parsnips in a medium pot.  Cover with milk.  (If there is not enough liquid to cover finish with water.  Liquid should JUST cover the vegetables.  Add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, 15 – 20 minutes.
  3.   Meanwhile, lay out 4 sheets of parchment, about 16″ x 20″.  Fold the parchment in half.  Basically you want to make a heart shape as you did in elementary school, by tracing just one side of the heart shape on the paper, and then cutting along that line.  Open the parchment and you have a heart, just the right shape for each pollock fillet.  Lay the each fillet on one side of each “heart.”  Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  Fold the other half of the heart over the fish, and crimp together all the edges, basically to seal each package.
  4.   Bake f0r 15 minutes.
  5.   Meanwhile, mash the potatoes and parsnips.  Add a few scraps of nutmeg and adjust seasoning.
  6.   To serve, open parchment gently, allowing steam to release.  Lay a serving of potatoes and parchment on each plate.  Serve the steaming fish beside it, drizzled with more olive oil, or lay it on top of the puree.  Serve with chopped parsley.

 

 

The Food Project Seen Through the Lens of Five Alumni

February 1st, 2017

Manny

(photo credit Ross Condit)

A vision imagined by farmer and activist Ward Cheney, The Food Project has been uniting urban and suburban youths from the Greater Boston area on farms since 1991.  

“When it was founded it was radical,” Casey Moir, 26, Food Project alumna, says.  “It was completely against what everybody else was doing.  It intentionally brought together a diverse group of people, and it did something that nobody was doing yet, which was growing food on the land in the city and outside of the city.  It was really connecting things.”  

Agriculture and kids have both changed and not changed at all in twenty-six years.  There were almost no CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture Programs) when the Food Project began.  Farmers’ markets were in their infancy, as was email.  The iphone hadn’t been invented.

Today the Food Project farms 31 acres in Lincoln, 34 acres in Wenham, 2.5 acres in Boston, 2 acres in Beverly, and an acre in Lynn, a mix of urban and suburban agriculture.  CSA programs and farmers markets are important ways the organization funnels fresh produce into communities with poor access to good food.  About iphones, there are strict rules surrounding them and headphone use:  none of it, even on the youths’ commutes to the farms together.  (Fines, deducted from their wages, are levied for abuse.)  That wasn’t an issue twenty-six years ago.

But farming is still about long days in the hot sun or cold rain, and kids still love doing things together.  Those things haven’t changed.  Many hundreds of teenagers have passed through the Food Project since those early Cheney days.  You see them in dark green Food Project t-shirts waiting on the Porter Square commuter rail platform for the train to the Lincoln farm.  You see them in Beverly, those green t-shirts bent over in the fields at Long Hill.  You see them bundling lettuces and radishes at the Dudley Town Common farmers market.  (The Food Project also has tents at the Egleston farmers market in Jamaica Plain and the Lynn Central Square farmers market in Lynn.)  You see youths in green t-shirts delivering crates of produce to the Open Door in Gloucester, one of the hunger relief organizations that receives the youth-grown food.  The Food Project aspires to donate and distribute 40 percent of its harvest to food insecure communities.  You see youths in green t-shirts shoveling compost into raised bed gardens in communities like Dorchester, Mattapan, Lynn, and Gloucester, building gardens, then teaching people how to raise their own fresh healthy food.

The Food Project teaches youth how to grow and distribute food, but it also teaches them the ways our food systems reflect this culture’s social and racial inequalities.  Social justice is as important a part of the Food Project curriculum as planting, and might be its most important mission; through meaningful work and exposure to the realities of this country’s inequities, the Food Project cultivates future leaders.

Here are the views of five Food Project alumni, examining their time at The Food Project, and how it shaped them.

 

Lucas Munson, 22

Lucas Munson, like all the alumni, started at the Food Project when he was fifteen, the summer before his sophomore year of high school.  He had never farmed and didn’t really cook.  His older sister had been part of the Food Project, and his family often talked about it around the dinner table.  

“I was a typical suburban kid from Arlington, MA; I had no connection to agriculture, but I was really excited the first day; the combination of being on a farm and not knowing a single person was really exciting.”

“We would take the train from Porter Square and then the Food Project would pick us up at the station with a bus.  We’d arrive at 8:50, and have 15 minutes of check-in.  We would work in crews of 12.  There would be the task of the day – picking potatoes, weeding carrots.  We would work with a buddy in a leap frog system.  We worked across from our buddy, one of us would hold the crate for harvest.  When we approached the team in front of us we would leap frog them farther down the field.  Depending on our energy, we would race each other.”

“At the end of the first week the Food Project people created a meal for us they called ‘Lunch from Around the World.’  I thought it was going to be stuff like Mexican food, but no.  Some people got cold, dirty old beans in a paper cup; other people got beans and rice.  And then some people were allowed to go to a cordoned off section, and have chicken and fruit.  We learned how much life is just luck; I’m just lucky to have been born into my comfortable suburban life.”

Lucas spoke to me over Skype from Rome, where he is doing an Urban Studies initiative through Cornell University where he is an undergrad.   

He said he realized after that lunch, “there’s something bigger going on here; the Food Project shows you your role in the food system.”

Lucas said the hardest part of the Food Project was when he saw blatant racism or sexism, “when I was the white guy people would come to, but I really didn’t know anything.  That was hard, really facing the reality of the world.”

“One time we were at a hunger relief organization, a Wednesday.  Some one was there serving Cambodian food.  I had just arrived, and there was a lot of confusion, but there was a black girl who had arrived ahead of me, and she had been given all the information about the event.  She was my peer, and she knew what was going on, but everyone kept coming up to me as if I should be the one to know, because I was the white guy.  It got really uncomfortable because it kept happening over and over again, even though I didn’t know anything, and she did.  People kept deferring to me as the one who should know.”

Through the Cornell Cooperative Extension, a state-wide program, Lucas has continued the kind of work he began at the Food Project, participating in nutrition education programs in Brooklyn and Queens.

“In Queens we talked to people, helped single moms think about ways to get healthy meals on the table even though they are incredibly busy, how they can get their kids to stop watching so much television even though the moms are so over stressed.  They were teaching me 80% of the time I was supposed to be teaching them!”

Lucas felt strongly that the Food Project directed the choices he has continued to make.

“The Food Project makes a craving in you.  Once you leave you seek that out.  You seek out people who don’t take the world as it is, who aren’t shut down to the problems.  The Food Project definitely fosters that mentality in individuals that I haven’t seen other institutions do.”

 

Valerie Cardoso, 24

Valerie Cardoso grew up in Dorchester, right in the neighborhood where the Food Project gardens.  Valerie’s soccer coach, Kathleen Banfield, had worked for the Food Project, and suggested Valerie apply.

She remembers her first day like this:  “I was really shy.  I was nervous.  My dad dropped me off at the Commuter Rail in Porter Square and I was so nervous, but once I got to the farm I was excited.  I was nervous about people, but excited about the work.”

“A lot of the summer is spent weeding.  You smell like garlic and onions all the time.  You get on the Commuter Rail at the end of the day and there is dirt all over your legs and shoes.  I didn’t like the smell but liked touching the dirt.  I like weeding because you can see the difference so clearly afterward.  We would set goals of weeding beds, and it felt really good to see the cleaned rows.”

One of Valerie’s favorite Food Project memories is of the day they harvested watermelons.

“We had a line of people down the bed.  Someone would pick a watermelon, and toss it to the next person, who would then toss it down the line.  I couldn’t catch them all – I’m a small person –  and would drop them occasionally, but we got to eat the dropped ones!”

“I come from a low income family, but I didn’t know (before the Food Project) that there were words for the reasons behind it.  At the Food Project I learned the vocabulary of what this is.  We had a lot of discussions on poverty, race, inequality, how that relates to food justice.  I had never thought about that before.  That was just my everyday life, the fact that my mother had to take a bus to get to a grocery store because no grocery store would come into our neighborhood.”

“When I was an intern we did an exercise in Jackson Square where there is a large Dominican community.  We had a certain amount of time to find as much quality food as we could in a certain area.  It was very hard.  This was usual for me, but eye-opening for the suburban kids.”

But privilege is nuanced, Valerie also learned; there is an “intersectionality” to it.

“We do a privilege workshop at the Food Project:  It starts with a series of statements, like ‘I was once homeless’ or ‘I come from a one parent household.’  All the participants stand in a row.  If anyone can answer one of these statements they take a step backwards.  Then there are statements like, ‘I have a college education’ or ‘I am heterosexual,’ statements which, if you can answer, you step forward.  

In the end, Valerie learned that while she is female, and a person of color, she is also heterosexual, a college graduate, Christian, and comes from a two parent household, all points that might actually advance her beyond a white gay male without a college degree.  

Valerie attended Boston College, where graduated with a major in Sociology and minor in African American Studies.

She spoke to me by phone from a two-day City Year workshop she was leading in Skowhegan, Maine.  She is now part of the City Year Team “Care Force.”  They build outdoor classrooms, garden beds, picnic tables, sandboxes, paint murals and walls for schools identified as needing “beautification.”  It was at the Food Project, Cardoso says, that she learned how to lead volunteers, a skill she employs everyday at her City Year job.

“I think the Food Project was one of the most important things I have done.  It was the first place I talked about race, class, gender, the first time I experienced nature, and even good food in general.”

Today the Food Project staff in Dorchester still wave to her dad on their way to the gardens.  

 

Emmanuel Encarnacion, 26

“The Food Project is a way of thinking,” Lynn native Emmanuel Incarnation says, “of asking the question, ‘what is really going on?’”

Emmanuel Encarnation (Manny) started working at the Food Project’s Lynn fields when he was 14.  His aunt had heard about the Food Project, and recommended it to Manny’s mother.  Manny’s first day was hot and hard.  

“It was a lot of labor outside, not what I wanted to be doing on my summer vacation.”

Manny was one of the kids who had a hard time balancing the work with the fun.  The youths spend long days with friends, but ultimately there is still a job that needs to be done.  

He described the Food Project rules, intended to create a safe workplace, one that allows youths to grow, that presses them to interact, but not too much.  Talking is good, but not too much talking.  

Youths must all meet from their transportation in Central Square, and walk together, wearing their shirts, to the fields.  They have to walk together and they can’t take off their shirts, no matter how hot it is.  They can’t swear.  They have to handle tools appropriately, as in they can’t hold shovels up high, just because they could hurt themselves or someone else.  Every violation has a step.  If you swear in week #1 you get a warning, but if you do it again $7.00 is deducted from your pay.  If you don’t swear at all the following week you get your $7.00 back.

Of course, class clowns get lower pay checks.

“The hardest moment was seeing one of my crew members fired,” Manny said.  “He was a good kid.  He had built up a lot of violations.  They just kept asking him to take it down a notch.  It affected my crew.  We were down one person, the dynamic went away, but, also, we realized ‘this can happen.’  We can get fired.”

Half way through the summer the staff started talking to them about food justice and social justice.  That’s when Manny experienced “The Lunch,” as he calls it, the exercise in which the youth are separated into the wealthy, the middle class, and the lower class.  Manny was middle class.  

“The group we had was rebellious.  There were a lot of kids who didn’t like it.  One kid walked out of the lunch; he was really upset at what was going on.  (The staff subsequently caught up with him and explained.)  Some tried to steal meat from the upper class.  Since the upper classes were also their friends, they tried to pass food over to the poor, but the staff wouldn’t allow it (as part of the lesson), faux-defending their position, “we earned this food!  We worked for this food!”

Manny came back as a crew leader.  That year the Food Project repeated this exercise with the entire summer program – 150 kids from both the Greater Boston program and the North Shore.  

“These kids didn’t know each other at all.  They were packed into the Copley Square Church.  The lower class had dirty water from buckets.  There was definitely anger, rebelling, mixes of classes trying to help each other.  It was more realistic this time because they (the participants) didn’t know each other.  It got very serious.”  

Manny continued at the Food Project through high school.  By this time he had also started seriously dancing hip-hop at the Mak’n Step Squad and Dance Team in Lynn.  He graduated from Salem State University, where he was vice president of the repertory dance theater and a Presidential Arts Scholar with a double major in business entrepreneurship and dance.   

Soon after graduation, at the recommendation of former Food Project staff, Melissa Diamond, Manny became the program coordinator for the first “Food Insecurity Program” at Chelsea HealthCare.  

Manny’s initial job was screening visitors coming in for pediatrics, pre-natal, and adult medical center appointments on food insecurity, surveying the population with two basic questions:  

#1. In the past month have you not had money to buy food?  

#2.  Do you want information on healthy eating habits on a budget?

From there Manny supported the affirmatives.

“I worked with food stamp applications.  I worked with the food pantry there (in Chelsea), which began serving 12 families a month, and now serves 120 a month.  Now it has a partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank. I helped that program to grow.”

Manny has been at the Chelsea HealthCare Center for 3 years now.

“The undertone of how much the Food Project affected me came when I got this position, I felt so strongly about it.”  Call it “The Lunch” lesson.   

Manny said that long before his Food Project experience, if he saw someone homeless on the street, he resented them, and didn’t want to give them anything.  The Food Project opened his eyes to the number and variety of roads that lead to homelessness, an education that built compassion.  Today, Manny says if he sees someone homeless on the street, he doesn’t just offer them a dollar, he says, “you want a burger?”  

Manny dances today – contemporary, modern, and jazz – with the Impact Dance Company of Boston.

 

Casey Moir, 27

Casey Moir is a head-of-the-class student of the Food Project’s social justice lessons,

actualizing exactly the expression, “ask what is really going on here.”   She speaks affectionately of the Food Project, as if it were family, but she is also a tough critic.

Casey started working at the Food Project at fifteen; she was the kid with the eye-roll, the “this is stupid, I don’t like working on a farm” line ready to zing.

“And so I missed out on some of those first inspiring moments,”  she adds with a half-smile.  At the end of the summer a supervisor called her out, saying she needed to stop having an attitude:  “Casey, I don’t think you understand.  If you put your mind to it you can achieve whatever you want.  You have all the tools for it.”

Zinged back, in a way, Casey pivoted, becoming one of Food Project’s greatest supporters.  She worked all the crews through high school, and returned for two years after graduation from Hampshire College.  The Food Project was the subject of her college thesis, entitled, “Just because I didn’t speak up didn’t mean I wasn’t paying attention’: Envisioning Youth and The Food Project.”  Casey ultimately left the Food Project at age 24, when she began teaching 12th grade English full-time at City on the Hill Charter School in Roxbury.

“The Food Project gave me an outlet when I was in high school, a place where I could be seen and heard, and I had a community.  It also gave me a sense that it is important and possible to change the systems you live in.”

Today, Casey believes the Food Project should aim higher and clarify its goals.

“The worst two moments of my time at the Food Project were both firings, firing two kids from foster care.  It was the best example of where the system is not working for these young people:  why are we hiring them if we’re not serving them?  If we’re just going to say at the end, ‘sorry, you couldn’t be part of this community, you violate the standards too many times,’ is perpetuating the same systems. Schools do this, too. I think the Food Project is taking steps to think about that, but I would like to see more.”

“What would it look like if the Food Project’s programs more directly addressed structural racism?” she demands.  “I don’t think that they are not acknowledging that, and they are doing lots of community work around that, but the question is can you direct that more at youth?  Is the Food Project doing all it wants to achieve if it’s hiring 70 percent youth of color and 30 percent white youth, and the white youth are having the more profound learning experiences, and the youth of color are saying, “Yup, already knew that?”  

Casey ignites over the problem of structural racism, the ways in which almost silently public policies, institutional practices, and cultural representations perpetuate racial inequality in this country.

“Similar to many institutions, the top staff of the Food Project does not mirror the entry level.  This is true also if you look at almost any organization, company, school, from what I can tell.  Even a place that intentionally brings in a group of diverse young people at 14-15 years old, by the time you get to the executive director, the staff is dominantly white.  And in the case of the Food Project like other non-profits, they are white and female.  So the question is how did we get to that if your are bringing in such a diverse group of people?  The answer has to be to me that whatever is happening in the youth program isn’t doing enough to resolve that inequity.

Not that it necessarily should, not that the Food Project is going to change structural racism, but this is an issue for me.”

Casey acknowledges the Food Project may be in transition going into its second quarter of a century, but she asks that they take a look at processes in play.  

“Do they care (about race?)  Is race at the heart of the organization or is food justice at the heart of the organization, in which case it’s ok that the administration is not diverse.  I don’t think they would say that it’s ok that it’s not diverse.  The people I know who are there know, and think about it, but I wonder whether or not they can make all those changes from within with limited capacity.

“It would sound like I’m really critical of the Food Project but I think that comes from two places:  one, that it is a place I care really deeply about, and when you care really deeply about a place it’s also really important to make it a place that is as good as possible.  And I want the Food Project to be that place.  And the second thing is that I have worked in a lot of other schools, non-profits, places run by the government, places not, and the Food Project is doing better work than most of them. and I think that that is the nature of the terribleness of the system we’re in currently that even in a place that is doing really good work they cannot get it all the way right because there are so many forces causing it to not work for them.”

 

Jess Liborio, 38

“I build gardens.”  

Jess Liboio spoke while sorting seedlings in a Food Project greenhouse  – tomatoes, squash, kale, and peppers.  Currently the Greater Boston Programming and Community Outreach Manager, Jess started at the Food Project when she was 15 and has never really left.

“We’ve built fifty raised beds for individuals in the Greater Boston area – Roxbury Mattapan, in public housing areas.”

When asked what it feels like to see people work their gardens over the years, Jess says,  “Oh my god!  It’s so fun!  People are so grateful to have a garden!  The families and children are so excited.  Seniors are looking to stay active.  The gardens help with the family budget.  It’s a bright spot in people’s lives.”

As a young teenager, Jess had thought farming “was a weird thing to do.”  Recalling her first Food Project day at the Lincoln farm she says, “I was from Somerville.  I had very little experience being in a big field.  There was so much more sky than there was in Somerville!”

Very quickly the Food Project’s mix of joy and valuable work captured her.  She remembers a day that first summer when she and her crew were harvesting food for the Central Square farmers‘ market.

“We were late.  My crew had to work fast and hard.  It was so fun!  We had to work together and do this really fast intense teamwork that felt really meaningful; this really mattered.  I had only experienced that on a sports team before, where it mattered, but not that much.  This was bigger than just us.”

There were hard, real lessons, too.

“That summer we were at Drumlin Farm, the Massachusetts Audubon property that leases land to many farmers.” Liborio said, her voice deflating.  “There were other farmers there that day, and they were slaughtering their chickens. That was a tough day.  I remember there was a dark mood over the farm just because all the chickens were being killed.  Parts of them went into the compost pile and we could smell that for a long time.”  

Jess studied and farmed at Hampshire College for a year, and then finished a degree in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.   She returned to the Food Project at 25.

“I remembered how much I loved working on the farm.  I didn’t think I would stay but I ended up farming for the next eight seasons.”

“For me what’s different (coming back to the Food Project) is being old!  But one thing I love is that there is an expectation that everyone who works here – young or old – is pushing themselves in evaluating their roles.  That has been true in every role I’ve been in.   The work is so challenging that no one can come into any role and say, ‘I’m good; I can do this.’ – Learning how change happens in neighborhoods, building community food systems that provide healthy food in Dudley or Lynn, opportunities for residents to be leading in that work – these are things that no one hows how to do.”

An example of this groundbreaking work is the corner store owner, Ann Sidalgo, from the Dudley neighborhood who, with Jess’s help, is opening a wholesale business selling fresh vegetables to other corner stores.  Rather than vendors – even farmers – coming into their community, selling produce, and leaving with the community’s dollars, the fresh produce business becomes integrated into the neighborhood.  Part of what makes this project function is that, because the other corner stores are close, there is not the need for expensive refrigerated trucks in the distribution.  This effort gives the community ownership of their food system.  

As a Food Project leader, Jess says her hardest moments are having to having to tell a youth they cannot be part of the next season’s returning crew.  Each season begins with 36 new youths and 22 returning youths.

“We have so many young people and cannot hire them all.  There are tears when a youth is told they cannot be part of the returning group.”

At 38, Jess already has a long view of the Food Project’s impact on her life.

“I am most grateful to Food Project founder Ward Cheney.  Ward didn’t shy away from what is unlikely – young people in Boston, out growing food – harvesting and distributing food with young people from the suburbs.  He coined the first Food Project mission statement, ‘for love of land and people.’  That is still a guiding idea for me, it’s what is important for me.”

This handful of Food Project alumni tell a consistent story of personal philosophies honed, visions expanded, and futures shaped by the simple idea of putting young people on a farm together and teaching them how to grow food.  The Food Project understands the enormous lessons shallowly buried in that vision.  Casey Moir names those lessons:  “it is about relationships and having love be something at the center of the work.”   

The Big Shindig, the annual Food Project event that funds this work, is being held April 26th at Boston’s Cyclorama.  Have a great donation idea?  Want to be a sponsor, or if you just want to purchase tickets, contact me at Haatwood@gmail.com or the Food Project here:   http://thefoodproject.org/contact-us

 

 

Local Girl goes to MasterChef Junior

January 31st, 2017

Lila

 

One young girl about to compete in this season’s Fox MasterChef Junior television series grew up among the pea tendrils, strawberry beds, and yards of chard at Appleton Farms.

Lila Deluca’s parents signed up for an Appleton Farms’ CSA share before she was born. Now ten years old, Lila has spent her whole life visiting this North Star of local foods every week, spring through fall. Kale makes Lila very happy.

“We cook kale a lot at home; we bake it, saute it, put it in smoothies; we are always looking for more recipes!” Lila says brightly, nothing kale-tired about her.

“And we cook fish a lot, too,” Lila says. “In the summer we catch fish off our boat – stripers, sometimes flounder.”

Lila grew up in Rockport. When she was only seven, Lila and her younger brother Anderson pressed their faces as closely as possible without singeing noses to the chefs’ stovetops at the Rockport Harvestfest Seafood Throwdown. Sister and brother have remained front row faces ever since.

“Every year we go to Harvestfest,” Lila says, “we watch the Seafood Throwdown because we cook fish a lot, and we are looking for ideas, and then we make them at home.”

Nurtured thus on local fare, Lila has developed a serious dedication to cooking, an excitement that has landed her sunny, bespectacled face on the Masterchef Junior promotion page with her 39 other kid competitors.

Modeled on the adult version of MasterChef (Gloucester resident Christian Collins made it to the #3 position out of 100 on MasterChef Season 2 in 2011.), Masterchef Junior takes forty talented kids between the ages of 8 and 13, and puts them through a series of whimsical challenges in which some cooks get eliminated, and the field gets more and more narrow. Ultimately one lucky child takes home the MasterChef Junior trophy and the $100,000 grand prize.

Fittingly, it was television cooking that sent Lila originally into the kitchen.

“Every summer we would go visit my mom’s college roommate on Martha’s Vineyard. She had older kids who loved watching cooking shows. That’s how my brother and I learned to love them. We started watching them at home – I liked Masterchef Junior a lot.”

“I knew something was happening,” Lila’s dad, Scott, said, “when after one evening of watching Masterchef Junior, we heard Lila down in the kitchen the next morning at 6:30. She was making croquembouche.” Croquembouche is an elaborate tower of cream-filled profiteroles held together in a crystaline web of spun sugar.

Lila now slips on an apron and turns the handle on a pasta-machine in her Rockport kitchen like a professional. She hasn’t lost that Appleton Farms good taste; when asked what some of her favorite foods are Lila says, “I really like carrots, if you mix them with butter and brown sugar and almost caramelize it. I like this with fish because the sweetness complements the fish.”

The Deluca family travel often and far, therefore Lila has picked up some favorite International cuisines; she loves the simple beans and rice from Nicaragua, enchiladas from Mexico. At home she loves to prepare with her family Chicken Tikka Masala; “We love the yogurt sauces; we marinate chicken overnight in yogurt and mint,” Lila says.

Here is one of Lila’s favorite fish preparations, a simple white fillet – Lila loves cod and striper for this – coated in a Ritz Cracker and butter crumb. What makes it a little special is the onions and lemon underneath the fish, which create a bright, fresh sauce to counter those rich crumbs.

“I love it when the lemon and onions underneath the fish make juices,” Lila says. “We pour that over the crumbs on the fish when it’s served.”

Lila recommends serving this with roasted potatoes and, of course, kale. She sautés her kale in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and garlic slices, and finishes it with lemon juice and salt.

When asked to describe her cooking style, Lila responds, “farm to table.” She’s a girl nurtured on Appleton Farms.

MasterChef Junior Season 5 starts February 9th on the Fox network.

Lila's fish and kale

Lila’s Baked Fish

Ingredients
2 pounds cod, striped bass, haddock, pollock, or substantial white fish fillets
salt
8 ounces (about 2 sleeves) Ritz crackers
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 medium onions, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
1/2 – 3/4 cup white wine

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375
Rinse the fillets under cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
In the bottom of a baking dish that will hold the fillets in one layer, lay out the onion slices, lemon slices, and pour in the white wine. Lay the fillets on top. Cover the fillets thickly in the cracker crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the fillets are cooked through and the crackers are browned. Serve with roasted potatoes and sauteed kale with garlic.

Boston Cream Pie, a history

January 22nd, 2017

BCPMysteriously, Boston Cream Pie has triumphed over far more glamorous desserts like Isles Flottante, Baked Alaska, and Chocolate Lava Cake when it comes to food trend endurance.

There is almost nothing extreme about Boston Cream Pie: it’s two layers of a butter cake filled with custard, and a runny chocolate glaze poured over it. It has not only prevailed, but it has launched a fleet of variations from Boston Cream Ice Cream to Boston Cream French Toast to a donut that is almost more famous than the cake. People seem to cling to the idea of Boston Cream Pie, and it’s not just a weird nostalgia; there are people – SOME people – for whom this semi-drab dessert appeals in a crazy way. Some people respond completely out of proportion to this cake’s humility. With its oozing custard and dripping chocolate, it is honestly not trying to win any cake plate awards.

BCP 2

Then there is the cake’s history, which Bostonians have come to proudly, confidently, possessively tell. And then there is the REAL history, which food historians have meticulously studied, proving the Boston story completely wrong.

Many people believe that the Boston Cream Pie we all know – two layers of sponge cake pressing upon a gooey layer of custard, with a sweet chocolate topping – not quite a frosting not quite a glaze – dripping across the top and down the sides – was born in Boston’s Parker House in 1856. The hotel’s French pastry chef named Sanzian created something originally called “Chocolate Cream Pie” that year. This was, and still is to this day, layers of genoise filled with creme patisserie, and topped with chocolate fondant. White chocolate fondant is sort of rippled attractively through the chocolate.

The Parker House still claims its cake is the origins of the one we know, and I think that’s really ok. Sometimes myths are just fine. Their pastry chef, Tuoic Tran, as of 2015 had created one million Boston Cream Pies. (They make individual sized cakes for each order.) According to the Omni Parker House Website, if you laid all those cakes down side by side they would stretch for 50 miles, or from the Boston Parker House Omni Hotel to their sister hotel in Providence, RI.

The Parker House even offers a recipe for making the cake on their website, and graciously gives a simple chocolate glaze alternative in case you’re not up to kneading fondant on your marble slab. All this is really quite different from the cake most of us know, although that white chocolate in dark chocolate squiggle seems to show up around Boston. The Durgin Park version has it.

The more legitimate Boston Cream Pie lineage has been played out in American cookbooks. It’s a history that runs parallel but probably always separate to the Parker House story.

Food Historian Gil Marks has explored the cookbook history of Boston Cream Pie, and writes about it in detail on the blog by Tori Avey. Here’s what he’s found:

In the early 19th century, before our French chef at the Parker House was kneading fondant, women in American kitchens were putting two cakes – baked then in something called “pie tins” which were used for both cakes and pies, as no one had yet invented a separate shape for cakes – together with jelly or jam in between them. These desserts wouldn’t be called “layer cakes” until 1870; originally these were called “jelly cakes.” By the middle of that century, those ladies were boiling together sugar and heavy cream, whipping it, and filling the cakes with that. In 1829, an English copy of the French recipe for Creme Patisserie was published in a book called “The French Cook,” by Louis Eustache Ude. Soon this fancy lighter cream was appearing between two layers of cake, and with it these names: “Washington Pie,” “Custard Pie,” and “Cream Cake.” No Boston yet.

For the next fifty years “Cream Pies” and “Washington Pies” began appearing in the new American Cookbooks like “Buckeye Cookery,” 1877, “Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book, (1871), and Mrs. Shaw’s Receipt Book and Housekeeper’s Assistant (1877), which included a recipe for Parker House Rolls “and something called a ‘Cream Pie,’ which was two layers of butter cake with a vanilla pastry cream filling. NO reference to either Boston or the Parker House or a chocolate topping.” So says Marks.

But here’s something. ALREADY, there had been something printed in cookbooks from New York and Philadelphia called “Boston Cream Cakes,” which were really a cream puff. They were wildly popular.

So, you get it? Chef Sanzian may have created his Chocolate Cream Pie in 1856, and it may have been very popular, but at the same time women in America were sharing recipes for something that had nothing to do with the Parker House story. Two Boston Cream pies were being born in parallel universes.

OUR Boston Cream Pie’s big breakout moment came with that chocolate glaze topping.

The first time anything was mentioned as going on TOP of these Jelly Cakes, or Washington Pie’s or Cream Pies, was in 1916, and it was only confectionary sugar. American Cookery magazine included a recipe for a dessert with all three names, in case you didn’t recognize the cake you had been making by the other operative names: “Washington Pie, Custard Filling, or Boston Cream Pie.” The recipe said “… sift confectioner’s sugar over the top.”

See? This is the stuff that gets food historians excited, finding the exact moment when Boston Cream Pie received its chocolate topping, but it hasn’t happened yet.

In 1934 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer included a recipe for “Cream Pie (Boston Cream Pie)” – for the first time adding the Boston part. Amazing. Seemingly, this is when those delicious cream puffs were absorbed into the idea of this cake. But, according to Marks, this Fannie Farmer edition STILL didn’t have a topping!

Finally, Finally, Finally, in 1950 the first recipe – including a glamorous photo! – including the cake, the custard, and the chocolate glaze, and NAMED “Boston Cream Pie,” appeared in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, (New York, 1950.) There is a long list of people who remember drooling over that photo as children, and maybe even as adults. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking followed with their Boston Cream Pie recipes in the 1950’s.

Meanwhile, the Parker House still bakes their genoise-style, creme-patisserie filled, fondant frosted cake with toasted almonds pressed upon the sides. You can order it with your coffee today. It still looks much more like a Viennese Pastry than the cake that Gil Marks believes rose up through the ranks of American recipe-sharers.

This really simple cake lives on. In fact, I think THIS is the best story to Boston Cream Pie:

Ask your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse how they feel about Boston Cream Pie. According to Yankee Magazine, the MOST intriguing thing about Boston Cream Pie is that it almost religiously follows the gender divide: Men love it; women just don’t get it.

BCP in kitchen

 

Betty Crocker’s Boston Cream Pie

Cream Filling
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cake
Baking spray with flour to grease pan
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour or 1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg

Chocolate Icing
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
3 to 4 tablespoons water
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions
1 In a small bowl, place the yolks. Beat the egg yolks with a fork or wire whisk until mixed. Stir in 1 1/2 cups milk; set aside.
2 In a 2-quart saucepan, stir 1/3 cup granulated sugar, the cornstarch and 1/8 teaspoon salt until mixed. Gradually stir egg mixture into sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Press plastic wrap on surface of filling to prevent a tough layer from forming on top. Refrigerate at least 2 hours until set but no longer than 24 hours. While filling is chilling, continue with recipe.
3 Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray just the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with the baking spray.
4 In a large bowl, beat all cake ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, stopping frequently to scrape batter from side and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape bowl. Pour batter into the pan; use a rubber spatula to scrape batter from bowl, spread batter evenly in pan and smooth top of batter.
5 Bake about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a cooling rack 20 minutes, then remove onto cooling rack to finish cooling completely, about 1 hour.
6. In a 1-quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter and the chocolate over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove chocolate mixture from heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in 3 tablespoons hot water. Stir in additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until icing is smooth and thin enough to spread.
7. To split cake horizontally in half, mark middle points around side of cake with toothpicks. Using toothpicks as a guide, cut through the cake with a long, sharp knife, using a back-and-forth motion. On a serving plate, place bottom layer with the cut side up. Spread filling over bottom layer. Top with top of cake, cut side down.
8. Spread glaze over top of cake, using a metal spatula or back of a spoon, letting some glaze drizzle down side of cake. Refrigerate uncovered until serving. Store any remaining cake covered in the refrigerator.

It Might Take A Fish To Save A Village.

January 20th, 2017

fish holder

 

We all know the charms of a fishing village:  the shoreside industries that make a stroll along a harbor compelling, the boats bulging with gear tied up to the pier, nets laid out to dry.  That, and the small family fishing boat, may soon be another casualty of corporate driven fishing policies.  Fishing culture – the vision of a boat chugging into port beneath a cloud of squawking seagulls, the chapel steeple pointing from the town rooftops to the skies, signaling home to the returning vessel – all this will soon be nothing more than photos in a heritage center if more effort is not made to preserve the small family boat and the rich culture that follows, just like those seagulls.

In the Good Food movement of the last thirty years we have learned that our soil, our land, our air, and our food is all healthier when farming is done in a small, manageable scale.  Farm communities are thus healthier, diverse, more interesting places, not simply animal factories or thousands of acres of corn.  The same is true of fishing: fishing on a scale that is human, supporting the small family fishing boat and its community, will make a healthier ocean, and consequently preserve the economies of fishing communities.

The United States fisheries are regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a division of the Department of Commerce.  The balance of commerce and healthy oceans has seemed like a tug-of-war since the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  An amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act –  the Sustainable Fisheries Act  – was added in 1996, strengthening the mandate to protect U.S. fisheries.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act created the 200 mile limit, declaring that no foreign boats were allowed within 200 miles of U.S. coastline. The Sustainable Fisheries Act’s was enacted “with the fundamental goals of preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, protecting essential fish habitat, minimizing bycatch, enhanced research and improved monitoring.” (From the NOAA website.)

The “days at sea” program, enacted in the mid-1990’s, was one part of many actions born from NOAA’s new sustainability mandate.  Under “days at sea,” New England groundfish boats, for example, were appointed a specific number of “days at sea” to go fishing.

In 2010, the days at sea program was replaced in the New England groundfishery (earlier in most other U.S. fisheries) under Amendment 16 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, by the Individual Transferable Quota System – now called “Catch Shares.”

Catch Shares were a relatively new market-based strategy pushed since the mid-80s primarily by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a few other big environmental groups.  Catch Shares would be – mythically – where sustainability and commerce got along.  The EDF and a few other environmental groups supported this big business agenda of deregulation, consolidation, and privatization.  Starting in New Zealand’s orange roughy fishery in 1986, then the Mid-Atlantic surf clam or ocean quahog fishery, and then Alaska halibut and sablefish fisheries, and now being pushed on most  U.S. fisheries, Catch Shares began to facilitate the big business take-over of the world’s fishing, not just America’s.

Some environmental groups, like the Environmental Defense Fund, believe only those with major investments – can be stewards of the ocean.   Catch Share have thus been the place where commerce and sustainability are being touted as married.  But here’s a fact to consider: some of these groups – like EDF – have received funding from the Walton family, and Koch Brothers and their various tentacles to support their Catch Shares agenda.

Catch Share have become a means by which fishing has become consolidated, privatized, and industrialized.  Many small and medium sized boats, assigned too small a quota to make a living, sold or leased their quota to the larger boats who could afford to buy it up.  The large corporate fleets are the ones left fishing.

As opposed to the industrialization of agriculture under President Nixon, this effort has been done under the cloak of “sustainability.”  It has been supported by certain environmental groups, groups that don’t equate small family boats to ecological sustainability.

We do.  The family farm movement taught us that although not perfect, the greatest potential in achieving our ecological sustainability AND food access goals is to support scale-appropriate independent family operations.

Even the term “fishing community” has been degraded by fishing policy: after the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act, in an effort to measure policy impacts on fishing communities, not just fishermen, NOAA attempted to define the term “fishing community.”  Under pressure from the northwest corporate-owned factory fleet led by the American Factory Trawlers Association (later renamed At Sea Processors Association), NOAA included in that definition “fishing vessels that process fish far from their homeports.”  An offshore factory fishing boat, therefore, is just as much a “fishing community,” and enjoys the same government considerations, as Stonington, Maine.

Just as we re-learned to accept whatever our local farmers were growing, picking up from our CSA’s or shopping at a farmers’ market, we must re-learn how to shop for local fish.  Fish markets today buy fish from all around the world pushed onto consumers by the globalized seafood companies.  There is almost no such thing as a “local catch.”  As a result, consumers have lost touch with the realities of the ocean’s ecosystems and its “seasons.” Customers are upset if there is no salmon, tuna, and swordfish in the case, no matter where they live, regardless of what fish is swimming in waters nearby.

We must support the small boats fishing out of a harbor, if only to protect that fishing community.  Otherwise all harbors zoned for maritime use will be rezoned for development – hotels, condominiums, and shopping – as fishing moves to offshore corporate trawlers.

Find a Community Supported Fishery, based on the same model as Community Supported Agriculture, in your community.  CSFs are now the best, most reliable way to source truly local seafood that will taste far fresher and sweeter, with less overall ecological impact than anything that flew around the world to get to you,  and you will be preserving the vision of that boat chugging into port trailed by a cloud of squawking seagulls.

Preserving the small family fishing boat may save the ocean’s health, for the exact same reasons saving the small family farm  – preventing farming from being entirely industrialized  – helps conserve the environment.

The fishing village stays just that, a fishing town that always knows its place in the ocean’s ecosystems.

Support local fishing boats, end of story.  Buy local fish, whatever it is.