Category Archives: food

Making Oven-Dried Tomatoes

We can’t really buy anything fancy down here (yes, dried cherries, rye flour, and rice vinegar fall in that category) plus making stuff from scratch is fun, so we (meaning I) make oven-dried tomatoes every week, for sandwiches and pizza.

Here’s how. Take some sliced tomatoes, and squeeze out the part with the seeds. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little brown sugar if you are so inclined. In a few minutes the tomatoes will begin sweating our their juices.
Oven-dried Tomatoes Step 1

All right, then put them in an oven at 200F. After a few hours, the tomatoes’ liquid has evaporated off, leaving sweet, richly flavored, tomato-y goodness.
Oven-dried Tomatoes Step 2

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Some thoughts on Salt

I just finished reading “Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky. Having started but never quite finished a few of his books including “Cod” and “A Basque History of the World,” it felt good to finally make it to the last page of this one.For me, reading this book was like a continuation of “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, another book that mixes history and ideas with recipes, and talks a lot about salt. I read “Wild Fermentation” about 4 years ago and began a fermentation kick that hasn’t really stopped since. I followed Sandor’s advice in that book to make my first batch of sauerkraut, measuring the cabbage, water, and salt very carefully. I was nervous that somehow, something would go wrong, and I remember setting aside a ridiculously large amount of time.

Today, having pickled many a cucumber, cabbage, pepper, garlic, and what have you, I realize how simple the process really is. Take vegetable, add salt and water. Cover. Wait. Eat.

The first thing that struck me when reading “Salt” was how incredibly old and widespread is the use of salt to preserve food. People have been pickling food and preserving meat for millennia. What’s amazing is how arcane and mysterious these techniques have become in such a short period of time. I’ve had my share of smoked salmon and other fish, but I’ve never even seen salt cod, which was a huge part of people’s diets and until recently. The use of salt to preserve food quickly became unnecessary for many people after the invention of the tin can and then refrigeration, two inventions which significantly changed the way people eat.

I probably won’t think about this every time I make sauerkraut (we’ve been ordering way too much cabbage at the place where I’m working now, I’m not a total kraut-fiend) but last time I thought how what I was doing was the exact same process that people have been using for thousands of years.

Another interesting part of the “Salt” story was how, there used to be hundreds of different kinds of salt, identified by where the salt was made and known by their different characteristics and impurities. Some were better for cooking, some for curing or preserving, etc. Different saltworks made salts of different qualities, and they had different values to a consumer. Now, there are basically two kinds of salt, kosher and iodized. Of course there are high-end salts like fleur de sel and whatnot also (produced by the same companies that make the cheap salt). A few months ago I was at a restaurant in Portland where they had a salt bar, where you could sample different kinds of salt. At the time I thought it was pretentious and didn’t pay much attention to it (the food was delicious and interesting though) but having read “Salt” I think I might give it a chance, since I think maybe what they were trying to do was recreate some of the diversity of salts that existed until only about 100 years ago or so (although I still think it’s a little pretentious).

Twelve Ways to Eat Chickpeas

subjatlasofpalestine-chickpeas.jpg

Is only one of the features in a new book “Subjective Atlas of Palestine,” designed by Annelys de Vet, in collaboration with Palestinian artists. From their release:

Sublime landscapes, tranquil urban scenes, frolicking children; who would associate these images with Palestine? All too often the Western media show the country’s gloomy side, and Palestinians as aggressors. It is this that makes identifying with them virtually impossible. If we are to relate to the Palestinians other images are needed, images seen from a cultural and more human vantage point.

The Dutch designer Annelys de Vet invited Palestinian artists, photographers and designers to map their country as they see it. Given their closeness to the subject, this has resulted in unconventional, very human impressions of the landscape and the architecture, the cuisine, the music and the poetry of thought and expression. The drawings, photographs, maps and narratives made for this atlas reveal individual life experiences, from preparing chickpeas to a manual on water pipe smoking, from historic dress to modern music. Pages containing humorous and caustic newspaper cartoons and invented Palestinian currency followed by colourful cultural diaries and moving letters from prisoners.

All in all, the contributions give an entirely different angle on a nation in occupied territory. In this subjective atlas it is the Palestinians themselves who show the disarming reverse side of the black-and-white image generally resorted to by the media.

While I think that sometimes culture is overly focused upon in order to divert attention away from political realities, this project doesn’t seem like it falls into that trap (just from the info on their website). Looking forward to reading this book.

(Thanks to Culibog for the tip).

Brines Farm Open House

Today, Kate, Eitan, some other people without blogs and I went to Brines Farm. Shannon Brines has a passive solar greenhouse and has been growing organic greens and other produce through the winter for the last couple years. Lately I’ve been having lots of conversations with friends about local produce and what it would mean to eat seasonally in an area when it’s really really cold for about half the year.

I was surprised to learn that you could grow produce during the coldest winter months in Michigan. It seems that the biggest obstacle to eating local (our relatively short growing season) is really (mostly) an illusion. Brines’ greenhouse was big, since he started it as a commercial venture and is selling at the Farmers’ Market in Ann Arbor. But you can do this in your backyard, and even if your plants stop growing in January or February, you can still increase your personal growing season by 3-4 months at least. It really doesn’t have to do with the temperature so much as the daylight hours.

Another thing was that there was minimal energy input–heat and electricity. During the hottest part of the summer they use some fans for circulation but that’s about it. In other words, there’s no cost beyond maintenance once it’s set up. It’s really underwhelming once you realize how simple the model is–just build a structure and drape some plastic over it. If you want to make a solar greenhouse, there’s lots of links and resources at the Brines Farm website.

More of my pictures.

Two Food Blogs

I found two blogs the other day that deal with food and food politics, The Ethicurean and Chews Wise. I’ve become interested in the relationship and contrast between different food ideologies, including organic, local, sustainable, grass-fed, etc. I don’t think that just because something is organic or even local means it’s necessarily better for the world. It’s a lot more complicated than that. I’m glad I found some sites that seem to agree with me on that. I liked this post critiquing Alice Water’s involvement in a gated community development. I also found about this documentary “King Corn,” about agriculture and related issues, through the lens of  through about two friends who decide to start farming cor.

Do you know of any good political food blogs? Post ’em here.

Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill

Michael Pollan (author of the Omnivore’s Dilemna) wrote a good op-ed in the New York Times about the Farm Bill going through the House and Senate right now.

Americans have begun to ask why the farm bill is subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils at a time when rates of diabetes and obesity among children are soaring, or why the farm bill is underwriting factory farming (with subsidized grain) when feedlot wastes are polluting the countryside and, all too often, the meat supply. For the first time, the public health community has raised its voice in support of overturning farm policies that subsidize precisely the wrong kind of calories (added fat and added sugar), helping to make Twinkies cheaper than carrots and Coca-Cola competitive with water. Also for the first time, the international development community has weighed in on the debate, arguing that subsidized American exports are hobbling cotton farmers in Nigeria and corn farmers in Mexico.

On Capitol Hill, hearings on the farm bill have been packed, and newspapers like The San Francisco Chronicle are covering the legislation as closely as The Des Moines Register, bringing an unprecedented level of attention to what has long been one of the most obscure and least sexy pieces of legislation in Congress. Sensing the winds of reform at his back, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told a reporter in July: “This is not just a farm bill. It’s a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it.”

Got a Job

pat_ga4.jpgI got a job in Chile, as a sous chef at the Martin Pescador Fishing Lodge. I’ll be going down there in December and coming back probably sometime around May. So I get two summers basically.
According to my future boss who is the chef, we will be making everything from scratch, since the lodge is essentially in the middle of nowhere. This includes stuff you might expect in an upscale restaurant like pastries, stocks, and sauces, but also some things taken for granted, like bread, crackers, pasta. Also some things I’ve never made before that I’m looking forward to learning more about like making cheese and sausage.

The lodge takes people on flyfishing trips through Patagonia. All the fishing is catch and release. I don’t really know anything about fishing.

I’m also hoping to travel a bit afterwards so if you know anyone in South America let me know.