How to Make Jam

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 6.50.51 PMThis is the time of year to make jam. Find the nearest bush or tree, go to a farmers’ market or pray that your local C.S.A. comes through in the next couple of weeks, but get it done.

You might never have considered making jam. You might be wary of it. But this isn’t old-fashioned jam we’re talking about, with Mason jars, canning tongs, pots of steam, near-guaranteed burns, loads of sweat and possibly even tears. This isn’t so much about preserving the harvest (that’s what freezers are for) but about making the kind of jam you keep in your fridge for a week or two. All that is needed is delicious fresh fruit and a half-hour of your time.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Not All Industrial Food Is Evil

I’VE long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?

The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s Wild-Salmon Season

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Atlantic salmon is an endangered species, but it’s also always in season: we have fish farming to thank for that, if “thank” is the word.

Therefore almost all wild salmon is Pacific. And in flavor, texture and color, the Pacific species of king (or Chinook), sockeye and coho are all superior to any farmed salmon.

Wild salmon is seasonal, and we’re smack in the middle of that season. Unless you live in Alaska or the Northwest, where fresh wild salmon are practically flung onto your doorstep along with the morning paper, these fish remain a rare treat, shipped to markets around the country for a few precious weeks in mid- to late summer.

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11 Trillion Reasons

Here’s a good line: “[U]nenlightened farm policy — with its massive subsidies for junk food ingredients — has played a pivotal role in shaping our food system over the past century. But that policy can readily be changed.”

With the possible substitution of the word “might” for “can,” this is pretty much an inarguable statement. It comes from “The $11 Trillion Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Money and Lives, and How We Get There,” a report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists (U.C.S.) to be introduced at the farmers’ market[1] at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital Wednesday.

That’s a big number, $11 trillion, but even if it’s off by 90 percent (it’s difficult to put a value on lives), who’s to scoff at a trillion bucks? In any case, this summary of current research, which contains the argument that even a tiny increase in our consumption of fruits and vegetables would have a powerful impact on health and its costs, agriculture and the economy, is compelling.

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Farmers’ Market Recipe Generator

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When the farmers’ markets are full of white eggplants, shell beans, baby squash, multicolored carrots and greens whose names you don’t even know, it’s time to go shopping: without knowing what you’re looking for, without any kind of plan, just shopping to buy what looks or tastes good — or what the farmer tells you is good. The Recipe Generator is essentially a one-armed bandit of ingredients and techniques, offering more than 50 combinations of things you’re most likely to find in a market or your C.S.A. basket, with recipes that make wonderful use of them.

See the Farmers’ Market Recipe Generator, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s a Buyer’s Market!

Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 9.45.55 AMAlthough there are areas of the country where farmers’ markets feature loads of fresh vegetables year round, those of us who live in regions with a different set of blessings experience long stretches when farmers’ markets (at least those that remain open) offer only cider, apples, root vegetables, frozen meat and things like candles and sweaters made of the coarsest wool. Which is all fine, but it mostly serves to enhance the excitement we can feel when we hit the big time: a farmers’ market loaded with stuff that was picked not only nearby but yesterday.

When you see mini-cucumbers, white eggplants, shell beans, baby squash, multicolored carrots and greens whose names you don’t even know (and which can be up for debate — I’ve seen mizuna referred to as “spider mustard”), it’s time to go shopping: without knowing what you’re looking for, without any kind of plan, just shopping to buy what looks or tastes good — or what the farmer tells you is good. This is food shopping at its best, and right now you don’t need to go to California or even Union Square to get it done. (If you belong to a community-supported-agriculture farm or have a garden, you may not even need to do the shopping.)

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Fast Food, Low Pay

Last November, following the Black Friday protests by Walmart employees, 200 workers at 30 New York fast-food restaurantswalked off their jobs.

Not much happened immediately. There was press and vocal support from organized labor and the nascent food movement. But the strike didn’t spread like wildfire.

Something else didn’t happen, however: no one lost his job. And that was a huge deal.

As far as I can determine, only one worker was permanently terminated as a result of the many actions that have followed nationwide. Usually, the striking fast-food workers are escorted back to work by co-workers, clergy, union leaders and even elected officials, who together insist that there be no retribution. That’s worked.

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This Armenian Life

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Greater Los Angeles is a collection of not just smaller cities but also exotic populations. Among those cities is Glendale (not so small: it would be the second-most-populous city in New England), a center of the Armenian diaspora and home to one of the world’s largest Armenian populations outside Armenia. Fleeing religious violence in the late 19th century, genocide in the early 20th or the Soviet Union after that, Armenian Californians became integral in the development of the fig, raisin and bulgur businesses.

Edward Khechemyan came to Burbank, which borders on Glendale, in 1991 — the same year Armenia left the U.S.S.R. He was 17 then, and of the move, he says simply, “We didn’t like the Communist system.” His father, who left Iran for Armenia — the home of his ancestors — in 1974, was a chef who dreamed of opening a restaurant, and in 1997, he did just that.

The name of the restaurant, which is on the terminally unhip San Fernando Road right near the Burbank border, has changed twice; it is now called Adana. The food-and-travel writer David Latt, a friend who has never steered me wrong, listed it as among his favorite restaurants when I was picking his brain last year, and we ate there together last fall. It was so good that I’ve visited Adana on each of my four subsequent trips to Los Angeles.

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Posted in Spices, Travel

The Whole Story

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Whole grains, whether truly “whole” or not, have gone mainstream.

You can’t mention quinoa without hearing about the plight of the Bolivians who can no longer afford to buy their crop because we’re willing to pay so much for it. The word “rice” has become loaded: there are more colors (red? black?) and types (extra-long brown Basmati?) than those of us who grew up knowing only Carolina and Uncle Ben’s could have ever imagined. The other day I heard half a talk show devoted to what couscous really is. (Pasta, and I don’t know why it was so hard to figure out.)

It gets more complicated. Manufacturers claim processed foods are, or contain, whole grains when it isn’t true. Debates rage about the relative benefits of “whole grain” pasta versus the real thing. Then there’s the “are whole grains even good for you?” thing.

Feh. You shouldn’t care. They’re fantastic.

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Posted in Recipes

Midsummer Links

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U.S. agriculture and food companies are struggling to attract enough workers, a problem the industry concedes is getting worse.

Twenty-two primary-school children died in India after eating free lunch prepared with oil that was believed to have been stored in an empty insecticide container.

In a setback, the House approved a bill that would prevent California from requiring that eggs imported into the state be produced under standards ensuring that hens have room to spread their wings. Related: Yet another study has reinforced the idea that keeping animals in confinement and feeding them antibiotics prophylactically breeds varieties of bacteria that cause disease in humans.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics