The Last Blackberry

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By Kerri Conan 

The garden has been behaving so strangely this year that we actually ate the last blackberry before the first tomato. Let me tell you: plucking that final berry was a big bummer. 

I usually roll with the ebb and flow of the seasons and never get too attached to any one crop. But without tomatoes to pick up the slack a juiciness vacuum suddenly loomed large. I looked down at the handful of motley berries in my colander and made one last pass through the patch, lifting branches, looking for one more that might have eluded my glance. Funny how wacky weather makes you pay more attention to every bite. 

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Shiso Fine

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by Kerri Conan 

There are a lot of things we could do with the purple shiso in our herb garden. My husband Sean and I have tried several: like marinate the leaves whole in a sesame-soy concoction, shred a few into salads and stir-fries, and scrunch several into a jar of carrot pickles. Other ideas we have yet to explore: shiso pesto, tempura, or tea. 

But we usually enjoy these sturdy leaves plain, to transport food from plate to mouth, as if you were eating with castanets. (Is this how shiso is often used in Japan? I’ve never been, but whenever the leaves are used to garnish my sushi, it never goes to waste.) 

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Cilantro Growers Unite!

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by Kerri Conan 

Maybe all summer long, gentle costal breezes caress the lush foliage on your cilantro plant. Perhaps you’ve never seen the stalk suddenly shoot up a tuft of flowers and spindly leaves, signaling it’s decided to go to seed. If so, congratulations. For the rest of us—who cuss this natural phenomena and the so-called “slow-bolt” varieties it rode in on—the shock of having a carefully cultivated plant rendered useless literally overnight is enough to make you put parsley in your salsa. 

But I say: Embrace the bolt. Grow as much cilantro as the garden will accommodate, savor the leaves for the five minutes they appear in June, and when the flowers bud out, start eating those. When they turn to green seeds, eat those, too. (Their flavor is a perfect blend of the soapy notes from the leaves and the sharp citrus flavors in the seeds; I crush them a bit with the side of a knife then use them the same way I’d use both.) Then at the end of summer, after the plant has been ravaged by heat, insects, disease, and your renaissance appetite, pick through and pluck (or thresh) off the dried, brown coriander seeds to sustain you through winter. 

There. Problem solved. Now who’s with me?

Posted in Farming

Mobile Farm or Vending Machine?

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By Suzanne Lenzer

It seems like a good thing: Lay’s–the potato chip people–have a mobile farm set up in Times Square to help educate people about where their food comes from. It’s cute. There’s the “mobile farm” itself, with live plants and nice baskets of vegetables next to each one to help identify what’s actually growing; there’s a section where you can have your picture taken with a farmer (or at least someone wearing a straw hat); and there are a couple of very nice people handing out plastic cups with basil seeds inside so you can grow your own fresh herbs at  
home.

Sadly I was alone at the basil handout table, and the mobile farm wasn’t exactly packed either. The crowd was swarming a guy under a sign that read “Proudly supporting America’s potato farmers” who was handing out bags of Lays chips. The best of intentions I suppose, but if they really wanted to get people into planting basil they probably should have left the free chips back at the farm.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

On Finding and Shucking Oysters

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by Cathy Erway

It was something I would have normally found awe-inspiring: a platter of freshly shucked oysters, placed ceremoniously on a chrome stand. The opened half shells dotted the perimeter of the dish, sunken into a bed of crushed ice. In the center lay lemon wedges and small cups of cocktail sauce, horseradish and vinaigrette, with spoons dug provocatively down in. In their pools of clear brine, the silver flesh of the oysters seemed to quiver gently even seconds after being set down, and their juices threatened to drip into the ice. These were served up at a well-heeled restaurant with much recent hype, no less, at a table that was the envy of every person waiting patiently outside. It was, by all standards, a real foodie’s dream. But it just wasn’t the same for me.  

You see, the day before, I had foraged for oysters on a calm and sandy beach. I wasn’t expecting to find them, nor the quahogs, hermit crabs and miniature shellfish that lay half-hidden at my feet. But I recognized the teardrop shape and craggy surface of the first oyster from afar, and spent the next hour or so peeling the beach for more. Once home, I shucked them open one by one, to enjoy with friends. I’d collected ten oysters in total, and they ranged wildly in stature: the smallest being the size of a baby’s ear and the largest one, a round and deep-bowled object that held a mouthful-sized mollusk. Some had translucent green strands of seaweed clinging to its shells, which I could never get off. One had another oyster shell impossibly stuck against it like a Siamese twin. Slipped into the mouth, some oysters gave with a subtle crunch, like a softened piece of cartilage, while others went down as a smooth, cold lobe of blubber. All of them were very easy to shuck. Perhaps it was this particular species, but the way the tiny crevice between the pointed ends of both shells – the sweet spot – gave so easily with the shove of a shucker made it seem as if they had been waiting to be opened, too.  

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Posted in Farming, Seafood

Fracking Cattle

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by Ulla Kjarval

[Ulla Kjarval is a photographer, food blogger and grass-fed beef advocate who blogs at Goldilocks Finds Manhattan. Her family operates Spring Lake Farm in Delaware County, New York -mb.]

The battle over gas drilling has made its way to upstate New York and many farmers, especially those that rely on grasslands, are alarmed at the possible impact fracking – the relatively new technology for gas drilling – could have on their livelihoods. Dick Cheney’s 2005 Energy Policy Act, with its “Halliburton Exemption” significantly deregulated fracking, making it exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clear Air Act. Alarmingly if not surprisingly, the dismantling of these most basic safeguards to protect us from pollution seems to have not caused our lawmakers any concern.

Fracking allows drillers to tap gas reserves deep in the ground. To do so they rely on a high pressure mix of water, sand and undisclosed chemicals pumped into the ground to collapse and crack into horizontal deposits trapped in rock. Sadly, in areas where fracking has already happened there has been widespread pollution and ruined drinking water.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Spicing Up Butter––With Herbs

By Cathy Erway

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Before we get into the how, let’s talk about why you should make herbed butter. Herbs grow, a lot. It seems a shame not to enjoy their zingy, full flavors while they’re at their prime these hot months. Yes, you can dry out the leaves and use them all year, but this usually weakens or at least alters their flavor.

And I’m not saying don’t make tub after tub of pesto, but maybe your freezer is full of those already. You could even make a tincture, or try your hand at homemade perfume. But if you like to make bread, or serve it at dinner, then it’s fun to have a host of flavored butters on hand. And chopping up herbs, storing them in fat — butter — preserves their flavor, even stretches it, as it’ll permeate the whole glob. Continue reading

Posted in Farming

A Black Market No More

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by Paula Crossfield (Civil Eats

When the New York Times reported on the growing phenomenon of underground food markets in New York City back in June, the Greenpoint Food Market was forced to shut its doors.  

The New York Times article “put us on radar with the officials,” wrote Joann Kim, the market’s organizer and founder, in an email to market devotees. “Since then we have gone back and forth with the city trying to find a solution to how the market can keep its mission while adhering to rules and regulations.” Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Solstice Greetings

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By Clotilde Hryshko   

In the 1991 movie Raise the Red Lantern, the character played by Gong Li was wife #4 to a lord of a powerful family in 1920’s China.  The wives all ate together and they knew each other’s status partially based on the food served.  Gong Li’s character always desired spinach and tofu.  The movie stuck and replayed in my head for many reasons but her continual requests for this dish became my fixation.   

Many years later at the end of a rainy June market we had lots of spinach left.  I wasn’t in the mood to freeze it and took the opportunity to finally come up with my version of “spinach and tofu”.  I crumbled tofu with scallions in a skillet and cooked them until the water had evaporated.  The spinach I steamed in batches and when cool squeezed out any excess water.  I added the chopped spinach to the tofu, salting to taste.  From there I used this as my filling for egg rolls.  It became one of my favorite dinners to make for Father’s Day.  I take no credit for how well the tofu and spinach work together.  Nor is there any claim to authenticity.  I serve the egg rolls with a sesame-chili paste, sometimes adding peanuts.  Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Produce

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Something to Squawk About

During the winter here in Vermont, my 12 laying hens seem content enough residing in a retrofitted horse stable. But when I open the henhouse door for the first time in the spring, feathers literally fly as the birds stampede to get outside. In celebration of their newfound liberty, they flap, run, peck, and scratch—in short, behave like chickens.

Which is why I’m always skeptical when a factory farm claims that hens are perfectly happy spending their entire lives crammed into barns with tens of thousands of other chickens in stacked battery cages each not much bigger than the average computer screen. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) apparently agrees. Last week, the organization filed a complaint asking the Federal Trade Commission to stop Rose Acre Farms, the country’s second largest egg producer, from making “false and misleading animal welfare claims.” Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Food Politics