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 conversations from past months.
For most of us north of the equator, it’s picnic season. I’m taking advantage with a perfectly packed basket and 101 20-minute-or-less dishes to eat outdoors. The best picnic foods get better as they sit, and since it’s summer, the less time spent in the kitchen the better—adventurous riffs on familiar foods are perfect. I bet in your neck of the woods the weather is nice enough right now that you’re also enjoying as many meals as possible outside.
There are plenty of ways to talk about food and the great outdoors: dining al fresco at restaurants, nibbling fresh harvests in the garden or market, having cookouts or going camping, and thinking and talking about the impact of our food system on climate change. Whether you’ve taken it to the streets, a boardwalk, or in a basket, I’d like to see.
Where and what are you eating outside right now? What’s fueling your adventures and vacations? Have you eaten anything good off a stick? How do you pack for a day the beach? Stay in touch this month—on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and in the comments below—and be on the lookout for details on the next tweetchat. Tag your photos, recipes, and reading with #BittmanTopics and I’ll feature my favorites back here in a few weeks.
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.
Why would you buy a processed food that tastes worse than what it was designed to replace, doesn’t exist in nature, and helps kill you?
Either because you had no choice or had been misled about its essence. And that’s exactly the situation most Americans find themselves in regarding partially hydrogenated oils and the trans fats they contain.
The good news is that — finally — the Food and Drug Administration isbanning food containing trans fats, although really only sort of, and really only after overwhelming evidence (and more than one lawsuit) made their dangers impossible to ignore. And in typical pro-industry fashion, the F.D.A. is not only allowing companies three years to get trans fats out of most foods, but will consider manufacturers’ petitions to keep them in.
Unlike Spanish chorizo, which is cured until dried, Mexican-style chorizo is a fresh sausage: essentially spiced pork you cook in a skillet. That means you can whip up a batch from scratch in no time, cooking it loose for tacos or shaping patties for chorizo burgers.
Homemade Chorizo with Pinto Beans
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of cloves
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion
2 cups cooked or canned pinto beans (one 15-ounce can)
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
Here’s the first episode of “California Matters,” a 10-part webseries I developed with the Berkeley Food Institute. To do it, I ranged throughout the state, talking to people about issues in food, from labor rights to pesticide exposure, the history of Chinese-American cooking, ocean acidification, and more. This first one — in which I roam the streets of Oakland with Berkeley professors Tom Carlson and Philip Stark — is about urban foraging and wild edibles: weeds.
Food-wise (and otherwise), what happens in California affects everyone in America (get it? California Matters), so I’m excited to share the series, and looking forward to telling more of these stories. Here’s a conversation I had recently about how and why we made the series, plus a couple podcasts for more info. Stay tuned, and click here to subscribe.