The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

Farmers Market Cooking – the Right Way August 3, 2010

As you know, I’ve had several forays into farmers market cooking. It is usually sporadic, however, and often involves potatoes. They keep well and need nothing more than olive oil. But lately I’ve been seriously lagging, mostly because all the farmers markets close at five. Five! Unless I make it there on Saturday or Sunday, well, than it’s off to Whole Foods, or – even lazier – my corner grocery store for pesticide laden produce from California.

I’m a bad person. I know!

Anyway, in an attempt to redeem myself I signed up for a cooking class with the owner of Home Cooking NYC, Jennifer Clair. The menu was composed almost entirely of farmers market goodies, save the lemon, sugar, salt, and flour. Hmm, maybe the butter too. But really, it was a very small percentage wasn’t fresh from the stalls.

Jennifer is extremely knowledgeable. In contrast to my last cooking class, which was long on knife technique and short on instruction on high quality ingredients, Jennifer was all about getting the best stuff. She talked about the meaty wonderfullness of heirloom tomatoes, the robust flavor of fresh garlic, the dense nutritional value of farro (an “uber grain” she called it), the merits of salt, and the demerits of processed food, how to store various fresh herbs, and the importance of choosing sustainable fish and humanely raised meat.

In short, she imparted a gold mine of information about how to cook and eat healthfully. She agrees with Michael Pollan on many points, including the fact that Americans devote a too small percentage of their budget to food. “I spend most of my money on food,” she said. As someone who enjoys paying $4 for an heirloom tomato so she can bite into like an apple, she was definitely telling the truth.

So what goodies did she demonstrate? Check out these photos of the fresh ingredients before they were whipped into munch-worthy shape by Jennifer:

Fresh Tomato, Fennel and Corn Relish over tilapia fish. Lightly floured and tossed in a non-stick pan with olive oil, tilapia is an easy cook – it holds together well and is always a good choice for the cook who is conscientious of depleted fish stocks.

Roasted Ratatouille with eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, bell peppers, thyme, tomatoes, basil, and – a untraditional addition which really amped up the flavor – kalamata olives, all spooned over farro. A great choice for this time of year, ratatouille brings together a bounty harvest of mid-summer flavors. It may be a “peasant dish” but it tastes like royalty.

Magret duck with a summer fruit compote. Seeing that the Columbia farmers market near me has no chicken, but has duck, I was grateful for this recipe. It combines savory duck, with sweet fruit in a way I didn’t think possible. It wasn’t quite as good as the duck from Bobo in the West Village, but that is a really, really high bar. You can also try the compote over chicken or pork, or mix it up with other fruit, even apples. Tasty!

The empanada and the peach pie met, fell in love, and had a little bastard child called “hand pie.” It’s got it’s momma’s good looks and it’s daddy’s money, and it’s flaky, buttery crust encases a sweet fruit filling that will knock you out. Did I mention it was yummy?

The end result was a family-style lunch that was just the right amount of filling, and good conversation with other aware foodies from NYC and Connecticut.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t reproduce her recipes here, well, a. it doesn’t do them justice, and b. I don’t want to steal her thunder! I highly recommend Jennifer’s classes. Find more here, including private lessons in the home and lessons in her home kitchen in the Hudson Valley.

P.S. It’s National Farmers Market Week!

 

Sushi: A Great Cooking Project for Two People August 2, 2010

Filed under: Food,recipes — Alden @ 1:01 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve always heard that making sushi is really, really hard. That unless you have tons of practice, your rolls turn out messy and unappetizing and you might as just give up and order some take out. Well, I’m here to report that it is not as bad as all that.

I’ve been adding some random stuff to my Amazon wishlist. Things like heart-shaped ice cube trays, books that look interesting but aren’t must-reads, and a sushi mat. Oops, I accidentally added this little sushi-rolling doodad to my cart, and it showed up at my door along with an organic cookbook a few weeks ago.

Mike loves sushi, and when yesterday morning I casually suggested we could make sushi for dinner, his eyes lit up. I mean, Mike is a super-positive guy, but more in a “I’ll do anything once” sort of way – when I suggest going to a good restaurant, or biking out to Coney Island, he smiles and says, “Sure! Sounds fun!” No, this time, it was different. He pounced on that idea like spaz-attack cat Luca pounces on a laser pointer. (Ever seen that? It’s pretty funny. But I digress.) There was no reneging on this idea.

We stopped at Whole Foods on the way home and picked up the ingredients. I already had sesame seeds, wasabi powder, sugar, soy sauce, and nori, so we chose a tuna steak and salmon, some sushi rice, rice vinegar, some cheap caviar (or roe, as they call it in sushi restaurants, and it was 11 bucks y’all, don’t get excited) a couple avocados, and convinced the lady at the sushi counter to part with a little bit of spicy sauce.

A google search found this stellar all things sushi website with detailed instruction on every step.

We rinsed, soaked, and cooked the rice, mixed in the vinegar, sugar, and salt, sliced up the fish and avocado, spread the rice on the nori, and used the mat to roll it all up in different variations.

The result was delicioso. (Sorry, I don’t know the Japanese word for “awesomeness in my mouth”) Yes, my rolls were a bit fat. “I don’t know if this is going to fit in my mouth,” Mike said as he contemplated my overly rice-y roll. “I’m not going to say it,” I said, but then couldn’t help my self and yelled “That’s what she said!!!!” as he placed it in his mouth. Then I started laughing so hard, because he looked like a chipmunk. Sorry, no pics of that, which is unfortunate, really. Luckily Mike was able to chew  it and swallow it, as hard as I was making it for him.

Also, we had a lot of sushi. FYI, three cups of uncooked rice is excessive for two people, as is a pound of fish. Who knew?

But overall, it was super fun. We took turns spreading the rice, and choosing our own favorite garnishes. One hiccup was that Mike forgot to keep track of which rolls were heavy on the wasabi, which was an unpleasant surprise for me. And no, I did not get sick, thanks for asking! Now if you will excuse me, I need to go eat my leftovers!

 

Looking for Some Yum Organic Food in NYC? July 31, 2010

I’m an avid user and reviewer of Yelp, so I decided to highlight some of my reviews of organic, local, and sustainable eats in NYC and Brooklyn. This is by no means comprehensive though! On my to-do list:  The Good Fork, ABC Restaurant, Xoom, and so. many. others. Good sustainable food is everywhere, you just need to know where to look!

Bobo

West Village

7/31/10

As a huge local food fan, I’m always excited to hear about a restaurant with a relationship with the farmers. You won’t see a Cisco food truck outside of this place. Every dish is lovingly crafted from artisinal cheeses, locally-grown produce, and delicious humanly raised meats. It makes it all the better than the owner, Carlos Suarez, quit finance (“a lack of values” he said) to open this restaurant.

We arrived just a few minutes later for our 7:45 reservation, and an older gentleman led us up the painted wood stairs lined with flickering candles to a romantic dining room. The handcrafted quality of the restaurant shines through even in the decor. Fashioned from what was obviously a townhouse at some point, the dining room is romantically lit, with bookshelves stocked with old tomes, heavy draperies, and candles everywhere.

We hit a hiccup when our waiter forgot to provide us with a wine list, but he apologized when he realized 10 minutes later and was quickly back to take our order of an artisinal and biodynamic malbec. There was also a short list of cocktails, bottled and draft beers, and aperitifs. I hardly noticed the less than stellar service because he was so friendly, and even made me laugh a few times.

We provided the waiter with a coupon from Blackboard eats, and received in return a plate of fig leaf wraps with brown rice and a sweet sauce, and three “shooters” of pepper and zucchini infused non-alcoholic drink. They have a long list of canapes that comes in singles for about $3 a piece, so you can mix and match.

The star of the night was the duck breast with chorizo that my boyfriend ordered – it was an eyes-rolling-back-my-head moment. My brook trout wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, unfortunately. And at one point I had to pull a small bone out of my mouth. Yuck.

However, you must order something from the dessert menu. We had a trio of ice cream sandwich sliders: gingerbread-oatmeal-raisin cookies with a mildly fruity ice cream, chocolate with what I think was a cookies and cream ice cream, and and a classic chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. We made a huge mess, but since they put down paper on the tables instead of white cloth, I didn’t feel so bad.

As we left we noticed that the downstairs bar was booming. And it looks like you can order some food at the stand up tables by the window as well.

A word on the prices – they are very reasonable. I was suprised that the bill wasn’t more, given that we ordered so much, and the quality of the restaurant. Add in the fact that all ingredients are local and organic, well it’s practically a steal. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but the value is definitely there.

All in all I would definitely come back here, but it hasn’t quite made my list of favorites.

The Farm on Adderley

Neighborhood: Flatbush

7/28/2010

Oh man does my boyfriend know me well. I’m a huge local/organic/sustainable food buff, and at his suggestion we came to The Farm on Adderly for a casual after work dinner.

We ate inside, since there was a short wait for the garden out back. The tables are well spaced so you aren’t elbowing your neighbor, and the whole space has a cozy feel.

When the waiter (friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt) described their steak special of the night, I wondered to myself if the meat was grass-fed or local. Imagine my delight when I spied the footnote on the menu: “All the meat on the menu has been sourced locally, is pasture-raised and humanely cared for.” Score!

The menu itself is short and sweet, with an assortment of cheeses, not more than five salads, and some entrees. But the beer and wine menu looked extensive. We ordered cocktails – he got the cucumber lemonade and I ordered the grapefruit Blue Ridge Parkway (a reference to a scenic drive through the Appalachians.)

For non-alcoholic beverages, they had some interesting choices, including Fentiman’s Brewed Cola, Zico Coconut Water, Fever Tree Tonic, and even homemade kombucha.  This place is a hippie paradise. At the bottom, as if they are ashamed to admit it, there is diet coke too.

I ordered the special, which was… hmmm… what did they call it… a crepette I think? It was a meat dish with tripe. The waiter was nice enough to warn me about the tripe, but really, you can’t even tell it’s there. It wasn’t the best meat dish I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t bad either, and was very filling.

My bf ordered the butcher’s meatballs, which he reported being quite satisfied with. We took a glance at the dessert menu, just to see what was on there. Mistake. I had to shove it away so I wouldn’t be tempted by all the delicious confections on there, including banana chocolate upside down cake. Another time, for sure.

Bonus, go a few doors down to Sycamore for a follow-up drink in their garden. It’s equally enjoyable.

Community Food & Juice

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

7/26/2010

I had heard such wonderful things about this place, and after coming here both for dinner and brunch, I’ve gotten a 360 view.

They have a wonderful selection of organic and local beers to start off with. I didn’t try the cocktails, but they were tempting, to say the least. In fact, they have a lot of local and sustainable fair on the menu, which is always very nice.

I had a delicious salmon and fried potato salad over a bed of parsley, which just blew my mind. I’m not a huge salad person, but I left feeling very full.

I came here a few days later for brunch. We managed to snag a table in the shade outside (the wait for an indoor table looked long) but not all tables are shaded, so watch out on a hot summer day.

We saw several B.E.L.T.s walk by (bacon lettuce tomato and egg on sourdough, yum!)  But I opted for a more traditional house-made apple sausage and eggs with carrot hashbrowns. Filling and delicious. My friend had the blueberry pancakes, which came with a syrup that tasted like brown sugar and butter. So decadent, and so good!

The service was great both times. The waiters quickly came by, and so did our food. I will be eating here whenever I get the chance!

Tangled Vine

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

6/18/2010

My friend and I were lured here by the promise of organic and biodynamic wines. The menu was full of organic wines by the glass as promised, but I had a hard time ferreting out a biodynamic wine. Too bad. If you are looking for an extensive wine list, you’ve got it here. It goes on for pages and pages.

I know this might not matter, but I noticed the menus are cheap photo albums with printed paper slid into the plastic pockets. Small things like that really factor into my experience. That, along with the unfinished awning out front, gave me the feeling that they weren’t quite finished putting the place together.

The food (all meant to be shared) was delicious, and the service good. We ordered the organic veal meatballs and asparagus and peas risotto. I could have licked the plate!

My one big complaint was the tight space. It was a crowded Thursday night, so we sat at a high communal table with five others. In order to leave, everyone on one side of the table had to climb down from their stool to let the person pass.

It was super loud in there, but my friend and I had to strike a careful balance between speaking loud enough to here each other, and not offending our neighbors, who we knocked elbows with the whole meal.

I’ll probably go back for a casual glass of wine and some plates with a friend since it’s in my ‘hood, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a romantic date, and I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

The Castello Plan

Neighborhood: Flatbush

6/14/2010

I am so happy this is right around the corner from my boyfriend’s place, because we both agree we’ll be going back soon!When the sommelier came over, he inquired after my preferences, and then went to get three bottles and three glasses. “I think I’ll taste some with you,” he told us.

Each glass he would give an abbreviated, broad description, (“full, fruity, bold) which was nice because it’s a proven scientific fact that you cannot detect five different notes in every wine, no matter how romantic it sounds. Then while my boyfriend and I followed protocol (swirl, smell, taste) he would knock it back like a frat boy taking a shot. We suspected he might be drunk, or maybe he didn’t even work there and was just hanging out. Doesn’t matter because we were super happy with the wine he helped us choose. He also pointed at the Brooklyn borough president who was schmoozing at a nearby table.

When our friends joined us, we ordered two appetizer plates, and an assortment of cheeses and prosciutto. The wooden platter of prosciutto and cheeses was amazing, but the duck really took the award for the night. I’ve never had such a sumptuous mouth-feel before. We tasted our friends’ sweet potato dish, it was hard to refrain from stealing their plate and eating the rest! Dessert was amazing too: bite-sized chocolate tulips. I would give you a fuller description, but by this point my faculties were severely impaired.

I also liked their presentation: vintage-looking silver and raw cut wood platters. We all had such a great time, I couldn’t imagine a nicer night.

Juice Generation

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

5/28/2010

As far as smoothie places go, this is the best.My reasons? Voila:

1. They use fresh, local-when-possible, organic ingredients.

2. They have delicious smoothies with ingredients like acai, goji berry, ginger, or just your regular strawberries and banana, plus boosters.

3. They use recycled plastic cups that – unlike Jamba Juice’s – don’t leach chemicals into your yummy smoothie.

4. Their sandwiches are fresh-made, and delicious, especially when grilled and cheesy-melty.

5. If you need a snack, they have crazy healthy raw food bars, trail mix, and protein muffins.

6. The people who work there are always friendly and helpful. They deserve all the tips they get and more!

7. In the winter, you can get a hot drink like their cold-busting ginger and orange juice drink. Peps you right up.

8. Everything always looks hyper-sterilized and organized.

This place costs me seven extra blocks of walking before work, but it’s totally worth it. I love starting my day with a smoothie or (if I’m hungover) a muffin.

 

Put it on the To Do List: The Hester Street Fair July 27, 2010

Sunday, after having a delicious brunch at the sustainable and organic Community Food and Juice in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side, Vicki (the roomie) and I set out on an adventure all the way down to the Lower East Side. I was actually just there Saturday night with Agatha, my friend from work. But I wasn’t going down there on Sunday for Ommegang beer and gin and tonics. Nope, I was headed down to sample hand crafted macarons, spicy popsicles, and peruse some vintage wares and locally-made crafts.

Allow me this rant first: Sometimes I really hate the MTA. New York’s transportation system is like a five year old’s birthday party run by a drunk grown up: nobody knows what is going on, it’s always a mess, and there ends up being a lot of pissed off people.

I had gone jogging earlier in the morning at 9, and reported back to Vicki that it wasn’t “that bad. It’s doable.” But as we came closer to noon, the heat became close to unbearable. Vicki and I found that the subway 1 line was not stopping at 125th, 116th, 110th, or 103 going downtown. Since we live at 110th, this put us in a predicament. We waited at the bus stop, panting like poodles in the heat. One bus rumbled by, too full to stop. Another pulled over to let over a little old Asian couple, but didn’t allow anyone on. Our trip to the fair seemed like it might be a huge mistake. Vicki suggested we walk east to the AC line, four long blocks West. Peering out from our shady spot under the bus shelter was like gazing from an oasis across a parched desert. But I finally agreed. We passed through a pedestrian fairway with shady trees, and finally managed to get a train going in the right direction, cooling off in the wonderfully icy interior of the subway car. From the Grand St subway stop, the fair was only a few blocks away.

The Hester Street fair is deceptively small. With only a hundred yards of grounds, you would think you would get bored quickly. And yeah, you might if you like to speed shop and you aren’t hungry. But Vicki and I spent nearly an hour as we hopped from booth to booth, gossiping with the vendors, asking them about their foods and crafts, and nibbling on the tasties.

After passing by some cute stationary (which is getting old, I feel like a see at least one – if not three – hand printed stationary table at every fair in New York) we stopped at DBA. I thought DBA only produces beautifully simple biodegradable pens, but upon visiting their site right now, I’ve found all sorts of nice little sustainable things that are “forthcoming,” like a dishrack, an extension cord, and a heater. Ok, sounds boring, but it would be the most stylish extension cord you ever owned, trust me. But right now, besides the matte black pen that uses non-toxic ink and is 98% biodegradable, they also have an “endless notebook” that can

be combined and rearranged to create your perfect little notebook. It’s 100% post-consumer waste and chlorine free. If you don’t have a compost bin, you can just send the pen back, and they’ll take care of it for you!

I scribbled a bit using the pen and chatted with Niamh (pronounced Neev – she’s one of those Irish beauties whose name is crazily spelled) Hughes, the Business Development Manager. She tried on my Kayu glasses, saying she had  been salivating over them for some time. I think they actually looked cuter on her than on I…Obviously, I bought a pack of the pens, happy to support the venture.

Next door: the Macaron Parlour with Simon Tung manning the table. We’re lucky we didn’t come Friday, because the shop had sold out, riding on a wave of customers after a mention in the Daily Candy. But today he had lots of flavors. I tried the lemon macaron, which seems silly in hindsight, with flavors like candied bacon with maple cream cheese, thai chili, and earl grey available. I mean, I’m not saying was disappointed with my choice. I bit in

to the flaky crust which melted away to reveal the ganache filling – tart and tasty. “This is better than Laduree!” I declared. He practically blushed. “No way, that isn’t true. Though Christina [Christina Ha, his business partner] did study under Pierre Herme in Paris.” I nodded like I knew what he was talking about. It sounded impressive, at least.

Vicki ordered the cinnamon pistachio with morello cherries, which I nibbled on as well. Not bad!

Moving on to the next yummy thing, I had a iced lychee white tea, then a delicious waffle with sweet red bean in the center. A bean filling sounds savory, but this one was sweet, almost like a fruit filling. And they were shaped like fish! Charming. I felt bad for the pair manning the griddle, in the 90 degree heat though. Luckily nearby there was a tent whose sole purpose was to cover visitors with a cool mist.

Also, I almost got a ping pong ball the to the face, but luckily one of the players snatched it from the air by my head. Of course, I had no clue until they both started laughing. Typically me.

Vicki and I perused some vintage jewelry and dishes, marveling at an old butter churn and examining old postcards. I gave some serious thought to getting some lovely jars (something I’ve been obsessed with lately) but the swing-top lid was so rusty it was a struggle to get it open and that’s not something I wanted to deal with on a daily basis.

I passed by Laura Fisk’s table and fell in love with her printed cotton accessories. There were classy cobalt blue napkins with ruby pomegranates. “If I had a real house with more than two seats at a table, I would get those,” I told Vicki. Instead I opted for a pretty little apron with an adjustable neck, and cupcakes on the front. I was giddy when Laura yanked on the strings and the apron slid up. “We short people always have to fold it up,” she said. I totally agree. It gets annoying that normal aprons starts right under my boobs. She also had a children’s book, stationary, and some children’s-sized aprons. They’re printed with non-toxic inks as well, though I wish it was organic cotton. Can’t win ’em all!

You can see her stuff at fiskandfern.com.

Of course, it wasn’t all stuffing my face with food and shopping for myself. I shopped for other people too! I bought Mike a very manly belt from Feur Wear made from out-of-commission German fire hoses. That’s Dave, above, posing with the belt. His company, Holstee, is selling the belts for Feur Wear, because they like the German company’s stuff so much and wants to see them in the US. Holstee designs and curates beautifully designed sustainable goods, and you should really give their website a look, because there is some uber-cool stuff on there. It debunks the myth that sustainable design is all hippie skirts and fanciful stationary.

I especially love their manifesto:

“This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love…” And on. (I don’t want to brush up against copyright infringement by reprinting the whole thing here…” You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Next to Holstee was a table displaying some select stuff from Sustainable NYC: adorable fold-up reusable bags, Toms shoes, soy candles, and upcycled purses. I did not even know this place existed, but now I feel like I have to go there! It’s at Avenue A and 9th St. A bit out of the way for me, but still….

At this point another vendor piped up, saying a huge rain storm was about ten minutes away. To the West the sky was dark and ominous. Vicki wanted to leave right then, but I wanted to stay a little longer.

Finally we stopped at Xoom for some smoothie samples. I wish this smoothie and tea shop wasn’t so far away from me, because if Xoom was on the UWS, it would replace my obsession with Juice Generation, I’m sure. Not only because the smoothies are delicious, but their green creds (to the right) are top notch.

At this point we hurried away from the fair to beat the rain. As fat raindrops spattered the sidewalk, I took one last picture of the bike valet and Vicki and I promised each other we would come back to try everything else. What we didn’t get to sample: the ice cream sandwiches, sassily flavored popsicles, and barbecue. Not to mention the adorable yoga bags I forgot to go back for. Another day, another time…

Vicki set off in a dead run for the subway, with me calling after her. “Wait up!” as I struggled to run in my Jack Rogers. You would think she would melt or something. We waited on the platform for a full twenty minutes, watching train after train go by on the opposite platform. Finally a voice over the intercom. “Wah wah wah Brooklyn bound only wah wah.”

That’s when we saw a sign saying no north-bound trains at that station. Awesome. We emerged, walked ten steps and then the skies let loose. Luckily the Green Market farmers market was right next to use, so we hid under a tent and chatted with the Green Market worker about her time in India while waiting for the downpour to ease. (I love New York!)

When the rain eased up a little, we walked on, stopping at The Pickle Guys for Vicki, and then we hopped a bus and took it up to The Strand. Can you believe I’ve never been to this bookstore before? I could spend hours in there, but I stuck to my shopping list and walked away with Markets of New York City (natch), 101 Things I learned in Culinary School, and Remember Be Here Now, the classic hippie tome about the spiritual life. That and psychedelic drugs, ha.

Finally we hopped on the subway and came home. I cooked some stir fry up for Vicki and Mike, Vicki made mimosas, and it was a good day.

 

How to Grocery Shop the Green Way, and My New Fave Grocery Store July 24, 2010

Last Friday evening I had plans to go see a movie (or two) with Vicki, but she had come down with strep throat. As I rode the elevator down to the lobby at my work, I wondered what I would do with my night. I could call some friends, but instead I decided to have a low key night in, and cook for myself.

I hardly ever cook. I know that it’s a great thing to do, but when I get home at eight every night, and want to get up at 6 the next morning…well, I have my priorities. So I relished the thought of having an evening to practice my cooking skills and get a good night’s sleep. (Yes, this is old woman behavior. No, I am not ashamed.)

I had visited the Westerly Natural Market a few times before, but in a slap-dash, grab-and-go sort of way. Located at 54th and 7th Avenue, Westerly Natural Market is like a more authentic version of Whole Foods. Instead of well-dressed, gossipy girls, there was a pair of old woman trading witty banter as they perused the full four aisles of natural supplements. Instead of women dressed head to toe in Lululemon, there was a woman dressed in t-shirts and jeans, with a fair-trade looking purse slung over their shoulder. There was a guy wandering around with both a shopping bag and his bicycle helmet slung over his arm.

I enlisted my iPhone to help me with my mission to cook something easy and healthy. I’ve been saving recipes on Delicious, and now pulled them up using the Delicious App. I chose Lamp Chops with Pistachio Tapenade, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

Westerly Natural Market has a basic produce aisle, four aisle of supplements and pills, and three or four aisles of both gourmet and beautifully packaged foods, and foods that looked like they had been lovingly cooked and packaged in someone’s apartment in Brooklyn. I wandered up and down, looking for my ingredients. (“Mmmm, homemade peanut butter granola! FOCUS Alden”.) When I couldn’t find the garlic, the manager cheerfully showed me to them, piled in a cardboard box on the floor, underneath the apples.

I picked up organic pork chops instead of the lamb, filled a reusable produce bag with bulk pistachios, grabbed a glass jar of green olives (instead of plastic, my dears), and a jar of capers. The recipe also called for fresh oregano and parsley, but seeing that those herbs were packaged in styrene and plastic, I decided to try it without.

And check this out! Westerly has a NUT BUTTER MAKER. Oh my gosh, it makes me so excited. I tried to make my own almond butter the other night at home, but I got bored with the process and didn’t want to subject Vicki to more than 15 minutes of the high-pitched food processor. So the result wasn’t awesome. So here was the solution: at the top, a whole bunch of nuts. You just press down the lever and out the bottom comes nut butter. I can’t wait to come back with an empty jar and fill it up with this stuff. (Little things get me excited, yall.)

I wasn’t even finished. I rounded a corner and saw a shelf of sun tan lotions. I’ve been meaning to get new sunscreen, since apparently skin cancer is on the rise partly because of tanning bed, and partly because sunscreen itself can give you cancer. Oh, but life has a sense of irony.

I whipped out my Good Guide iPhone app and started scanning. Nature’s Gate got a 1 for health out of 10. Really??? That’s worse than conventional make up and shampoo. I mean, this is supposed to be organic stuff! I picked up another “organic” brand and it also got a 1. I scanned another – Kiss My Face – and this one got a 3. At this point I was bored with the process, and figured, what the heck, a 3 is better than a 1. I tossed it in my basket.

(If you want to do better than I, check out Good Guide’s online guide to sunscreens. Hint: Coppertone sucks.)

Finally, I tossed some Burt’s Bees Radiance Day spf 15 in my basket (Good Guide score of 6.8 overall, 5 for health) and paid for my items. I was so freakin pleased with myself, what a green shopper I was!

In summary, for a great green shopping experience:

1. Use your iPhone’s helpful apps for identifying healthy and genuine products. The iPhone also has some fun price comparison apps.

2. Go organic, free range, cage free, and hormone free.

3. Come prepared with produce bags and reusable shopping bags. I keep my reusable Lululemon fold-up bag in my purse at all times, with a produce bag tucked in the outside pocket.

4. Avoid plastic packaging where possible. Embrace the shabby chic aesthetic of jars on your shelves.

5. Read the ingredient label. A long list of scientific gibberish is NOT a good sign. Also, avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. In fact, if the food does not come with an ingredient list at all(“peanuts.” “grapes.” “wild rice.”) that’s the best. (Trust me, this is good for your long-term health AND your waistline.)

6. Unless you are in a lovely health foods store, stick to the edges of the grocery store like it’s the shopping district and and the center is a dangerous food ghetto. That’s where they stick on the deceptively delicious and highly-processed crap that you are better without.

7. If you don’t see a healthy and conscious brand, ask for it. They might take a hint and start carrying Burt’s Bees and Method like so many conventional convenience and grocery stores.

Anyway, I am happy to report that my pistachio tapenade pork chops turned out beautifully, even without fresh parsley, and Vicki scarfed hers down even with the strep throat. Really, if you have any brains you’ll try this simple recipe. Unless you are like Vicki, who apparently is afraid of anything involving heat. In that case, pass the recipe along to your roommate and have her cook it for you.

 

Rep yo’ Cause July 12, 2010

Filed under: activism,Food — Alden @ 9:53 pm

I’ve written before about how important it is to let your representatives know you care. It’s super easy to write an email, (your fave issues will probably have pre-written emails for you.) But if you want to give a little extra something, handwritten is the way to go.

I was inspired by this video:

So I wrote this to NY Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, and House Rep Rangel:

Dear [Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, Representative Rangel],

My name is Alden Wicker. I just moved to New York a year ago, and I write a blog on sustainability issues and living in New York. As I’ve become more aware and more involved in the politics of sustainability and health, I’ve become more and more worried about the state of our food system. I know that you are a big supporter of working families. Well, I think one of the biggest issues facing families today is how we feed ourselves.

Our food system is so broken; it makes the healthcare system look like a well-oiled health-giving machine. I could cite a lot of statistics here about food borne illnesses bred in Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations, the unsettling rise of antibiotic resistance as drugs are steadily poured into the feed of animals, the extreme subsidies for corn that prop up ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, and the unnecessarily high carbon emissions from shipping and fossil fuel-intense farming, and so many other disturbing facts about how our food system undermines our health, natural world, and happiness.

But I think it all comes down to this: it is cheaper for a family to buy hamburgers and fries with a coke than it is to buy whole vegetables, lean protein, and some milk for dinner. I am so lucky that I can afford to buy produce that doesn’t have pesticides on it, that I can peruse the farmers market of nutritious offerings that weren’t shipped from South America, and that I can make smart choices about what I put in my body. But there are so many people out there who don’t have a choice. They are forced into diabetes and heart disease because of government subsidies and regulation. It’s a sad paradox that the lowest income areas of New York have the highest rates of obesity. This is an issue that affects many of your constituents. I believe America is the best country in the world, but if we can’t even give a large swath of our population the chance at health anymore, then what does that mean?

Here’s what should happen in order to restore America to health, in this order:

  • Shift subsidies away from corn and toward other vegetables and fruit
  • Support FDA regulation that allows small farmers to process animals safely and cheaply
  • Support stricter regulation of pesticides that are carcinogenic, undermine local, beneficial insect populations, or breed “superweeds.”
  • Support the overhaul of school lunch programs away from junk food and toward whole, fresh foods

I sincerely hope this letter finds its way into your hands. I’ll be watching to see how everything plays out.

Thank you,

Alden Wicker

I printed them, put them in envelopes, and sent it off to their offices in Washington DC. Nothing will probably come of it. But I know if I keep writing, if I show up regularly in their inbox, they will know I care. It’s a tiny thing, but it means a lot to me.

Here’s hoping I can keep it up!

 

What’s Organic About Organic? Well, I’ll Tell You July 9, 2010

“The pesticides are made to stay on even in a rainstorm….So how big of a rainstorm are you giving in your kitchen?” – A farmer on pesticide use in apple orchards

Whew, this post is late. Things just got a little out of hand, what with my trip out of town and all that stuff I had to attend to, like watching ten episodes of Lost. (I have a lot of catching up to do.)

Anyhoo, last Thursday – shoot, the Thursday before, actually, I scooted down to the Here Theater to see What’s Organic About Organic? a sort of low-budget Food Inc. The little theater was packed with people, despite it being the fourth showing of a whole week. Apparently there are a lot of very aware and curious people in NYC.

The movie didn’t teach me a lot of things I didn’t already know, since I’m already a voracious reader of blogs on the topic. Still, it’s good for me to watch this stuff, because sometimes I need a boost in my determination to be more aware about what I eat. It’s like going on a diet – you need to keep trying on those skinny jeans in order to remember why you gave up dessert….and hamburgers…and anything not organic…

I did pick up some choice facts about conventional farming (aka, “not organic.”) THey’re a swift kick in the pants to all you Luddites still enjoying McDonald’s. Please enjoy:

  • Farmers and their families on conventional farms frequently suffer from pesticide poisoning
  • Pesticides are the same chemicals used in chemical warfare. They are just watered down to put on our food.
  • Chemicals from those pesticides can get into our water supply
  • The estimated health and environmental costs of our farm chemical usage in the US is estimated at $9 billion
  • Arsenic is often put in chicken feed. The chicken poop is then fed to other animals.
  • Industrialized farming (think large-scale farms with produced shipped hundreds of miles) currently depends on cheap fossil fuel, something that is getting harder and harder to come by.
  • Switching to all organic farming could reduce 25% of our carbon emissions
  • Produce loses 40% of its nutrients within three days of being picked. Unfortunately, most produce doesn’t reach your shopping cart until after that.
  • 70% of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals. (Which makes your next round of needed antibiotics less effective, by the way.)
  • Sewage sludge is used as fertilizer in conventional agriculture

The movie was equal parts hope and frustration. Farmers talked with a fierce pride about sticking to their guns, even as everyone told them they would do better if they used fancy pesticides and GMOs. They tut-tutted other farmers who are deep in debt and battling super weeds and crazy infestations of bugs, even as they douse fields with Roundup. They talked about their hope for the future, about the quality and beauty of their food. But even so, the sheer scale of the problem was sobering. Sadly, one farming cooperative that the movie focused on had shut down by the time the movie was done being produced.

After the lights came up I chatted with a girl my age next to me with masses of long curly hair and fun bracelets that clinked on her wrist. Her name was Rose, and she is even more into food issues than I am. She also already knew about most of what the movie had to say, “I mean, images of CAFOs are burned into my brain,” she said “so…”

While we talked the panelists came up on stage. Restaurants was the topic of the night. I was curious to hear more about sustainable restaurants, but even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have left. Not a person in the theater budged from their seats, eagerly looking up at some of the most well-respected members of the farm-to-table movement.

Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group

My ears perked up at the name Batali. I had just written a post about his wonderful pizzeria, Otto Enoteca, where I enjoyed some of the best pizza I had ever had, and heavenly cheese with truffle honey. Of course if you’ve heard of Mario Batali, you might know he has a small restaurant empire. I was so pleased to know that his restaurants embrace sustainability. They source from local farms, use organic produce, and avoid using fish that are being overfished. In order to convince all of the chefs – chefs always being averse to being told what to do – Elizabeth brought them all in and showed them videos of the impact of food decisions. They were converted. I think I have found my new favorite restaurant.

Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s No. 43

Jimmy’s love of good quality food came through as he talked. Far from being a gimmick, his seasonal variations on his menu evolved slowly as he acquired more and more food from local farms. One day, he said, he woke up and realized his summertime menu is composed almost entirely of food from within a hundred miles, save for the olive oil and lemon. Now he gets CSA deliveries right to his restaurant, which has become a hub of activity has other restaurants stop by to pick up their own produce. His fave farm? The Piggery.

Carlos Suarez, owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant

Love this guy. He worked in finance for a year, but decided it had a lack of value (no, really??), so he quit and started a restaurant, Bobo. I had never heard of this West Village restaurant before, but believe me, it’s on my list. His restaurant doesn’t even serve bottled water.

Ian Marvey, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Added Value

Added Value is an urban farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and from what I can tell it is an amazing venture. Teenagers staff the field and the produce table. The owners of The Good Fork, which sources from Added Value, walk three blocks in the morning from their home to open up the restaurant. The restaurant, in turn, is three blocks from Added Value. The point of Ian telling the audience this is that all that money made from the farm circulates within Red Hook. The implication? Real, local people get the benefit of this agriculture, instead of faceless corporations hundreds of miles away.

Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods

Patrick seems to be more of the pragmatic and sober type, instead of the pie-in-the-sky breed of organic evangelists. He caused a ruckus when he said that Purdue has value in that it “feeds the world.” Boy did that get everyone riled up, especially the farmer in attendance, Marty Mesh. What Patrick was trying to say is that famines used to be a way of life, and the sheer scale of conventional agriculture has made those a thing of the past. That’s a good thing, even if there are a lot of abuses and serious drawback to the system. After getting raked over the coals by other panelists, he reiterated that he dislikes Purdue and Smithfield as much as anyone. They are, after all, the enemies of the movement.

That’s Shelley Rogers by the way, the documentary maker, laughing to the left of Patrick.

Classie Parker, founder of Five Star Community Garden in Harlem

This lady was adorable. Rose and I kept on looking at each other and practically squealing with delight as she held forth about the importance of community and good food, and her jam with Southern Comfort in it. Yum. She’s a main character in the movie as well. “Not enough people are talking about it. Go on Facebook. Go on Twitter,” she exhorted the audience. “I guarantee you it will grow!”

Marty Mesh – Farmer Advocate and Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers

Marty was another main character in the movie, a grower with very strong opinions. (At one point he claimed Swine Flu was caused by conventional pig raising. Urp.) But I loved his idea of installing organic farms in low income areas and homes, a great way to improve nutrition. He got a huge round of applause from the audience when he declared we should “get corporations out of the food system.”

After the panel disbanded, Rose and I exchanged info, promising each other that we would get up to Harlem to see Classie’s Five Star Community Garden, and maybe get our hands a little dirty!