When I went foraging with Philip Stark and Tom Carlson for what became the first of the California Matters series of videos, I had an idea of what to expect. I spent a lot of time in Vermont in the ’70s and, armed with Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I learned about eating dandelion leaves, roots, and the base where they met, as well as crowns and even the little balls of unbloomed flowers (actually the best part, sautéed). I learned, too, about milkweed, a plant that can be eaten at several stages.
Most of the other ostensibly easy-to-find plants, however, remained elusive, largely because I found books inadequate for identification purposes and I had no guide – I was on my own. (I was finally shown wild asparagus by Lidia Bastianich in Istria, Croatia, 30 years later.)
Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past months’ conversations.
At first, grow-your-own suggests gardening—and it seems we’re all either gardeners or one degree of separation from one—but this month, we also talked about foraging, raising animals, and eating locally in a broader sense. In response to my Times op-ed “Let’s Help Create More Farmers,” I heard from many who agree we need to create new policies that make small farms more financially viable and had great ideas about how to make that happen. Also this month, my web series, California Matters, launched with an episode about urban foraging, and you all helped ring it in with a tweetchat. We’ll be having another one next month, so stay tuned.
Here’s just a handful of my favorite comments and photos that you sent me in June. Even though the month’s over, keep tagging your photos, recipes, and relevant articles with #BittmanTopics so I can follow along:
“We need land and farmers, but we need markets and a form of shared risk. Anyone who contributes to a food hub should be eligible for the loan forgiveness-including those who market, distribute, promote, prevent loss, and process excess into value-added products that also support the local farmer. CSA member fees should be tax deductible. Small farmers have to be supported once they get the land.” –Carolyn Hennes, Facebook
“I have been growing my own vegetables for decades. When we first moved here in the “country” area of San Diego County, we also raised our own animals- it was the time of people returning to Mother Earth (early 1970s). We chose to live here so we could give our children a taste of what this type of life where we were responsible for much of what we ate. We are still here and still have chickens for eggs in addition to a very large garden. I can much of our produce for winter in things like pickles, roasted tomato sauce, salsa, jams and marmalade.I am a college professor with a degree in home economics. I have run a culinary arts program and taught adults in cooking classes much of my adult life. Food is an essential part of my life. I try to pass on this love and caring to my friends, family and students. Currently I am teaching canning classes at Olivewood Gardens for women whose first language is Spanish. Over the many years I have tried to improve my gardening methods. I learned about composting from Olivewood Gardens and have had great success with that and using the manure from my chickens. Even in the drought, I can have my garden because I have taken measures to conserve everywhere else in order to grow this food.” –Cathie Roberson, markbittman.com
I asked on Facebook what you’re all growing and you responded with full inventories of, really, everything under the sun: from tomatoes and herbs to cucuzza (“squash that looks like and grows as big as a baseball bat,” according to Marily Cura) and sea buckthorn. It seems to be growing season nearly everywhere—in driveways and studio apartments, on fire escapes and balconies, from the Bay Area to Scandinavia.
“[My garden] is not so much a ‘what’ but a ‘where’. While I fought it all the way, my husband convinced me to move the garden right outside the kitchen door here in Iowa. (It had been at the end of our lot.) I can’t believe how much it’s influencing what we eat. I get up in the morning and notice that the chard or a pepper or the dill or the beans are growing, and then I know what we’ll have for dinner.” –Kendra Hanzlik
“Delicata squash, heirloom tomato, microgreens, chard, sugar snap peas, nasturtium, lettuce, basil, parsley, hardy kiwi vine, blueberries. – All in a limited .04 acre proportion, tucked in among the perennials garden and in pots and trays. The more I try the more space I find. Maybe going more vertical next year!” –Eleni Triant LaSenna
“I dug up the front lawn of my rental home in a small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and created a large spiral garden. This year 4 families are enjoying the produce..Tomatoes, medicinal herbs, jing and burgundy okra, sunflowers, cocozelle, patty pan, kabocha and rampicante squash, scarlet kale, french gherkins, amaranth, shiso, rhubarb, japanese eggplant, beets, carrots, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom beans, cabbage, urfa biber peppers and so on…milkweed, bee balm and other flowers mixed in for the pollinators.” –Annette Abigail Wells
“Hakarei turnips. That and love are all we need.” –Elizabeth Meister
If you walk in the east side of the recently renovated Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles, you are confronted by the snaking lines at the trendy Eggslut, which sells, as far as I can tell, glorified Egg McMuffins. If you enter on the west side of the blockwide building, however, you come across a time capsule: China Café, a lunch counter that serves Chinese-American food — egg fu yeung (a.k.a. egg foo yong), chow mein, chop suey and other old-fashioned former standards — to a clientele of mostly Latinos and hipsters.
China Café opened in the basement of Grand Central Market in 1959, and moved upstairs sometime later. (The best guess seems to be the early ’70s.) The menu hasn’t changed much over the decades, making it an island of Chinese-American food in the 4,000-square-mile sea of Los Angeles County, home to what is probably the continent’s widest variety of authentic regional Chinese food.
The essence of a crisp — sweet, tender fruit and a crunchy buttery topping — done quickly on the stovetop. Soft fruit cooks faster, but you can use firm fruit like apples: Just sauté them a bit longer, but it won’t take much more time.
Skillet Fruit Crisp
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
2 pounds peaches, bananas, berries, or any combination
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
I introduced #BittmanTopics as a way to share ideas about what—and how—we’re eating, and this month, we focused on grilling. Many of you were proud to announce you have year-round cookouts while others in colder climes are just now getting back to the fire. Most of us associate grilling with meat, but throwing some vegetables on the barbecue is actually a great way to practice “less-meatarianism”:—I shared my recipe for Mexican-style corn and you all shared your own favorites here and onFacebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Below are some things you had to say and eat last month—check back tomorrow for June’s topic.
The question of the month: “Currently raising my own pork, lamb and beef, looking for best all purpose combo grill/smoker – suggestions?” –@vpfarming
One colleague, Daniel Meyer, built his own smoker, which worked well until it burnt to a crisp. We like Webers, Big Green Eggs, and old-school campfires. But I’m eager to hear what you all use.
“My grill never hibernates.” -Kathleen Harold, Facebook
“Hibernate? Nay!! I grill year round. Yet another gift of So Cal life.” -Rachel Wooster Gangsei, Facebook
“Made Grilled Broccoli With Chipotle Lime Butter for some friends a few weeks back. There was a look of despair on one guests face when I revealed there was not enough for seconds…” -Phil, markbittman.com
“I enjoy grilling Veggies after marinading and rubbing them with Himalayan pink salt, fresh napoletano basil, savory, lemon juice and Fresh lime basil.” -Bonnie Hiniker, Facebook
All the flavors of a classic baked ziti, but more bubbly crust and way less time. Crowd-pleasers don’t come much easier than this.
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking sheet
1 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound ziti
1 pound mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
4 ounces Parmesan cheese (1 cup grated)
Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works, and here’s what we talked about in April.
For many of us, May is a transitional month: it starts as spring and ends around Memorial Day, often with heat and humidity. Grills are coming out of hibernation; I’d like to hear what you’re doing about that.
There is nothing more iconic than the burger, and there’s no denying that the grilled burger is pretty tasty. But there are lots of ways to venture beyond the basic, whether you’re doing it for taste or because the true cost of a cheeseburger is so high. You don’t even need meat: I’ve been doing the less-meatarian thing for a while now (and even wrote a book on it), and most of these 101 fast recipes for grilling are vegetarian. Have a look.
Meanwhile, what’s your favorite—or most unexpected—thing to throw on the grill? How do you cook vegetables outside? Do you cut back on meat when you’re grilling, or go (forgive me) whole hog? Whether you’re a grillmaster or a first-timer, join us this month on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in the comments below with #BittmanTopics. And keep an eye out for details about a tweetchat, which I’ll be hosting later this month thanks to Natalie Shrock’s suggestion on Facebook.