Monday, August 31, 2009

Surf's Up

So far I have no complaints with the weather. Every day has been beautiful but on Saturday it was truly spectacular. In the afternoon I took the short 5 minute walk down the hill to the beach and at the end of the wooden plank walkway I was greeted by the bluest of skies, huge white cotton ball clouds, and big surf (by OBX standards). Tropical Storm Danny was off our coast but you’d never know it except for the 7 - 8 foot waves and a red “No Swimming” sign indicating rip currents.

Our beach is one of the best surfing beaches on the Northern Outer Banks. It runs into the 176 acres owned by the US Army Corp of Engineers Field Research Facility, one of the premier coastal observatories in the world.

There is almost always someone paddling around off the USACE pier but on Saturday there were easily two dozen guys on boards out there. I logged a lot of hours on the beach in high school watching my guy friends surf and I still love to watch. If you’re lucky enough to see good surfers on decent size waves, it’s a pretty sight. I was in luck on Saturday.

It was back in high school that I first heard about the Surfrider Foundation, a grassroots non-profit “dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.”

Started in 1984 by a bunch of local surfers in Malibu, CA who were getting sick from polluted runoff and saw the threats to the environment by unchecked coastal development, the organization is now 50,000 members strong and has a 4-star Charity Navigator rating. There are 70 chapters, mainly on the West and East Coasts.

The Outer Banks Chapter has been successful in restoring the natural dune habitat along the coast and is currently petitioning to stop offshore NC drilling. You don’t need to be a surfer to join, just someone who loves the beaches and oceans and wants to see them remain pristine and protected.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Traveling South

The Northeast Locavore is getting a southern accent for a week. I’m on vacation with my family in a place called Duck, a low-key town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We’ve been coming here for over 40 years. As a kid I can remember piling into one of those old school monster station wagons with wood panels on the side, a roof rack on top loaded up with all sorts of beach gear - boogie boards, fishing poles, water goggles, bathing suits, towels, chairs, and goodness knows what else. Down below there was me, my mom and dad, sister and brother, and family dog. Packing the car the night before was a battle, with us kids trying to sneak more stuff into the car while Dad wasn’t looking. The car always scraped bottom on the way down the driveway in the morning. It was quite a sight.

Back then the Outer Banks was still pretty desolate and the only real grocery store was in Elizabeth City, which was too far away to be an option. So a huge cooler was part of the packing mix, stuffed with as many meals as possible for our two week stay. Once we arrived in Kill Devil Hills (at that point there was only four wheel drive access to Duck) there was a store called the Trading Post where we could buy staples like bread and milk but that’s pretty much it. Oh, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Yes, there was actually a time when you could only get them in the South and it was a treat to look forward to. Now our trip is a more civilized affair; we have a house here so there’s far less “stuff” although Dad still grumbles when he packs the car the night before. Old habits die hard.

The eight or nine hour drive from New Jersey is one I enjoy, especially once we turn off Route 13 and get on Route 113 in Pocomoke, Maryland. The terrain flattens out and for the rest of the trip we see field after field of crops and white farmhouses. Shortly after Pocomoke we cross into Virginia and Accomack County, a sliver of land bordered by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The signs for fresh seafood start to appear as do roadside farm stands.

Accomack is the largest agricultural county in Virginia as well as home to many Perdue and Tyson’s processing plants. Indeed, while the scene is picturesque, this is not Organic Land. I picked up a pamphlet on the agriculture of the region at a rest stop and not only did it include the calendar seasons for the various crops, but also the pesticide spraying schedule! On this trip alone we passed a parking lot of crop dusters and saw a big John Deere pesticide spraying tractor waiting to make a left at a traffic light. I don’t like seeing these things, but it’s a good reminder of the reality of today’s agricultural system in the US.

Accomack spills into the Chesapeake Bay and the road becomes the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, a 15 mile expanse marked by seagulls on every light post and super tankers out to sea. Soon we are in North Carolina, traveling down the homestretch on Route 158 through Currituck County. The scenery is much the same as in Virginia. Even driving through in a car you can feel the pace of life slowing down; cars and stores are fewer and fewer, homes genearlly aren't as big and as fancy. People really are friendlier and take the time to say "Hello, how are you?" - and mean it. You feel you’re in the South at last.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Peach Blueberry Cake for the Birthday Girl

I swear I know how to make more than just fruit cakes! But it’s summer and there was another birthday in the office…. This time it was Liljana’s, my co-worker and dear friend. She is Albanian and a born locavore, as might be expected from a European who grew up in a Mediterranean climate. I find her stories about family members who never ate food that came out of a box or a bag, drank their fair share of homemade wine, and lived to a ripe old age (108 for Grandpa!) telling. I think I know the reason for their longevity and it’s not because there’s something in the water….

Speaking of boxes and bags, when Liljana and her husband, Alex, moved to New York City and started a family, she did what the majority of Americans do; shopped for food in a grocery store. But as someone accustomed to ultra fresh, highly flavorful ingredients, to say she was underwhelmed by the rows and rows of processed, preserved, and grown-for-transport food she found at Food Emporium and Gristedes would be an understatement.

Once Liljana realized I was a nut about good food, too, we started comparing notes on better shopping options and the Greenmarket came up immediately. Lucky for her there is an easy alternative close to her apartment on the Upper West Side. The Sunday Greenmarket alongside the American Museum of Natural History (Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street) has plenty of fresh produce, homemade breads, eggs, meat, fish, and the most delicious organic milk in the world from Milk Thistle Farm. In fact, the first time she had their milk she flipped. “It tastes just like what I drink in Albania!” Coming from her, that’s something.

Peach Blueberry Cake
Adapted from Gourmet August 2005

This cake is ALL about the fruit, especially the peaches. Every bite is pure peach. Be sure to use the freshest fruit you can find. A couple of farm stands I frequent offer bags of “soft” peaches which are usually less expensive and, while not the best for eating out of hand, are perfectly fine for baking. I picked up Jersey yellow peaches and blueberries over the weekend from Malanga’s farm stand in Warren, New Jersey. To the recipe below I added 2 extra peaches and my cup of blueberries was heaping.

For Pastry
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

For Filling
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
2 pounds firm-ripe large peaches (about 4), halved lengthwise, pitted, and each half cut lengthwise into fourths (see headnote)
1 cup blueberries (1/2 pint) (see headnote)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment: 9 – 9 ½” (24 cm) light-colored springform pan, an electric coffee/spice grinder

Make Pastry
Pulse together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Add egg and vanilla and pulse just until dough clumps and begins to form a ball, about 15 pulses.

Press dough onto bottom and evenly (about ¼” thick) all the way up side of springform pan with floured fingertips. Chill pastry in pan until firm, about 10 minutes.

Make filling while pastry chills:
Put oven rack in middle position of oven and preheat oven to 375°.

Grind 2 tablespoons sugar with flour and tapioca in grinder until tapioca is powdery, then transfer to a large bowl and stir in remaining 6 tablespoons sugar. Add peaches, blueberries, and lemon juice and gently toss to coat. Spoon filling into pastry and bake, loosely covered with a sheet of foil, until filling is bubbling in center and crust is golden, about 1 ¾ hours (my cake stayed in almost 2 ¼ hours before the center started to bubble).

Transfer cake in pan to a rack and cool, uncovered, 20 minutes, then carefully remove side of pan. Cool cake to barely warm or room temperature, then cut into thick wedges with a sharp knife before serving.

Pastry may be made and pressed into pan 1 day ahead and chilled, wrapped well in plastic wrap. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before filling.

Serves 8

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mountain Sweet Berry Farm Video by Serious Eats

Thank you, Serious Eats, for this short, very sweet docu-video. It'll transport you to upstate New York for a peek at what it takes for Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm to bring his incredible produce to the Union Square Greenmarket. With cameo appearances from top NYC chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Tom Valenti, Dan Barber, and Michael Anthony, you'll realize how lucky we are to have people like Rick out there, bringing us the best, freshest food possible. I can attest for his Tristar strawberries (and have a picture to prove it) - they are perfection!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Morning walks and storms in Central Park

I’m a walker. I’ve belonged to a gym off and on since moving to Manhattan but I inevitably end up getting my exercise for free, outside. Living here can be stressful (no kidding!) and rather than waiting in line for an elliptical machine at 6:30 in the morning, I’d rather be outside, watching the birds or boats or trees swaying in the breeze. Currently I live on the Upper East Side and while I’m itching to move back downtown, I’ll be forever grateful for living uptown because I have gotten to know Central Park.

What surprised me most about Central Park is how truly transporting it is. As soon as I get to East Drive, the traffic noise falls away and the sound of birds chirping takes over. Over 150 years ago the designer of the Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, took a derelict and undesirable swath of Manhattan and transformed it into what today has become an oasis of calm and stunning beauty. It’s hard to believe this landscape is completely man-made!

My favorite part of my morning walk is the Reservoir. I try to time it so I’m just getting there as the sun is rising and if I’m lucky, I’ll see a beautiful reflection of the sun on the windows of the apartment buildings on Central Park West.

Last week a storm burst through town that was so violent it didn't shock me to hear it downed trees in Central Park. Just how devastating became apparent when I went for my walk; it hit hardest at the Reservoir.

The storm completely destroyed over 200 trees, including a spectacular chestnut tree said to have been placed by Olmsted himself, and caused severe damage to hundreds more.

It’s a massive loss to the Central Park both aesthetically and financially. If you love the Park like I do, consider contributing to a fund set up to help defray the cost of the clean-up effort which will easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everyone who has lived in New York City knows it is the green spaces that help keep this place livable, civilized, and inspiring.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Events: New Amsterdam Market, Slow Food NYC, Saxelby Cheesemongers

New York City has a surprisingly vibrant local food movement considering the majority of what is grown here comes from window sills and rooftops. Farmer’s markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), movie screenings, panel discussions, and tastings abound. The surrounding areas – upstate New York, the North Fork, Connecticut, and New Jersey – are also all accessible (albeit not as easily) and a constant source of locavore activities. Here are a few upcoming events:

Slow Food NYC – Slow U: Ice Cream, from Sugar and Snow - Tuesday, September 1, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Astor Wine Center, 399 Lafayette Street, NYC
Learn some ice cream history from culinary historian and author Jeri Quinzio then watch one of New York City’s food truck pioneers, Ben Van Leeuwen, demonstrate how to make ice cream at home and adapt a recipe for larger scale production. Top it all off with a sundae.
Cost: $25.00 for Slow Food members, $35.00 for Non-Members. Sign up is online only on the Astor Wine Center website.

New Amsterdam Market – Sunday, September 13, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
South Street between Beekman and Peck
This market happens periodically throughout the year in an effort to raise awareness and funds to establish a year-round, permanent market place at the South Street Seaport. I’ve been to all the markets so far and enjoyed meeting new and different vendors from those I see at Greenmarket every week. There is plenty of food to sample and take home. Definitely go with an appetite!

Saxelby Cheesemongers – A Day A-Whey – Sunday, September 27, 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
Location: Bus meets at Saxelby Cheesemongers, 120 Essex Street, NYC
Spend the day in the Hudson Valley at Sprout Creek Farm and Terhune Orchard. Sprout Creek is one of the region’s top creameries; take a tour of the farm and learn how they make their farmstead cheeses. Relax and recharge with a picnic of cheese, salads, fruit, cider, and bread from Sullivan Street Bakery before taking off for apple picking at Terhune Orchard, home of some of the Empire State’s finest apples.
Cost: Tickets are $95.00 and include transportation, lunch, and apple picking. Tickets available online at Brown Paper Tickets.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

BLTs for dinner

Today I was at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza market (no clue how to pronounce that!!) at 47th Street and 2nd Avenue. This market is open year round on Wednesdays from 8 – 4. For those of you in Midtown like me (my office is 10 blocks away), this is a wonderful, good-sized market with plenty to offer, especially in the summer months.

Lucky for me,
Lani’s Farm from Bordentown, NJ (formerly known as Yuno's Farm) is there; they sell some of the freshest produce I’ve seen at any NYC greenmarket (which is saying a lot!). You can spot their stand by the striking display of colorful vegetables set against a backdrop of white linen tablecloths.

Lani’s heirloom tomatoes have been spectacular this year. Even with the poor weather conditions everything they sell at the stand reaches the market with the help of only the sun and water (no spraying - I asked). When tomatoes are at their best, in my mind it’s time for a BLT.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich
Important - Every component in a BLT is important.

Tonight I used lettuce and Brandywine and Green Zebra tomatoes from Lani’s. Don’t forget to salt and pepper the tomatoes.

I had bread in my freezer, picked up a few weeks ago at Union Square from Our Daily Bread. Toast it.

Bacon from
Flying Pigs Farm!! I’m going to write a whole post about FPF and heritage pork. Their bacon is thick and smoky and delicious. If you live in New York City, please try it. It’s not inexpensive but it will make whatever dish you’re using it in much, much better.

I don’t use mayonnaise very often so I never make my own from scratch, but one of these days I’m going to for BLTs, flavored with basil. I made it in cooking school and it’s not hard. Tonight I used Hellman’s.

That’s it. Put it all together and enjoy summertime.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Heirloom tomatoes - Snob Appeal

Another tomato article (it must be August), this time in the Washington Post about heirloom tomatoes. According to the piece, heirlooms are defined as any variety of tomato that can reproduce from seed and existed before World War II. Heirlooms have not been genetically modified and their seeds have been handed done from generation to generation. I’ve watched them gain in popularity at farmer’s markets over the years; if there is a way a tomato can be trendy, the heirloom has done it.

While I'm aware by purchasing and eating heirlooms I am helping to keep biodiversity alive and well, I was also under the impression that without fail, heirlooms have tons more flavor than their supermarket cousins. Knowing this, the last couple of summers I’ve bought them, not only enticed by the promise of far superior taste but also by their beautiful coloring and whimsical shapes and names (Banana Legs, Hillbilly, Jersey Devil and Money Maker, to name a few).

But I’ve discovered, as the author of this article points out very well, just because a tomato is an heirloom doesn’t make it good. While I’ve had wonderfully flavorful heirlooms, I’ve also had my fair share of mealy, watery ones, enough to make me skeptical. Sure, I’m helping to keep old varieties of tomatoes from disappearing, but at the end of the day, this isn’t a science experiment, it’s my food and I also want it to taste great.

I’ll stop now and let you read the article. The author does a terrific job of keeping things in perspective where heirlooms are concerned. I for one am not giving up on them; if anything, I’m even more determined to find a few varieties I enjoy and seek them out when I know the weather has been conducive to a tasty crop. This summer at the market I’ve had the most delicious Brandywines and German Goldens. If you can get your hands on a quality heirloom, you’re in for a treat.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Healthiest Foods on Earth

Is it just me or does there seem to constantly be new and often-conflicting information put out telling us what we should and should not eat? This article on highlights what I believe to be true; eat whole foods with minimal processing. It’s encouraging to see grass-fed beef and raw milk make the list.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Italian Plum Coffee Cake

Fruit desserts are my favorite. Serve them warm with a little vanilla ice cream and I’m pretty much in heaven. This year in the Northeast it’s been hard to know if it’s really summer. One sure sign is fresh fruit and the markets have been overflowing with it, despite the rain. One of my favorite recipes is Italian Plum Coffee Cake. How happy was I when I saw small plums at the Union Square market the other day? Thinking “they’re here!” I bought a dozen or so and made my way home, anticipating my scrumptious cake.

Well, whoops, they weren’t Italian plums. Honestly, I knew it when I bought them. They didn’t have deep purple, almost black, skins like Italians plums do. The plums in my bag were red. My desire to make the cake overrode the slight nagging feeling I had that they weren’t the right kind and might not work out as well.

I cut into the first plum to halve it and not only did the flesh look different, but the pit wouldn’t budge. A quick Google search uncovered why I suspect this is an Italian plum cake and not an any-old-plum-cake. Italian prune plums, like all prune plums, are freestone fruit, meaning it’s easy to separate the pits from the flesh. This makes them ideal for baking. The plums I had were clingstones, meaning the pits are not so easy to remove from its flesh. Rather than be put off by a couple of ornery, dinky pits, I pressed on. A grapefruit knife became my friend. A little quick (truly) minor surgery and I was in business. In no time I had all the plums halved and ready to go on top of the cake.

The cake looked and tasted amazing. The vibrant red color actually made it even prettier than the cake I’ve been making all these years. The lush flesh of the clingstone plums was soaked up by the simple, satisfying cake underneath. Now I know I don’t have to wait until the end of summer when Italian plums come into season to make this recipe. To be sure, I will go back to the original when the Italians make their appearance in late August, but in the meantime I have a pretty, juicy stand-in.

Italian Plum Coffee Cake
As mentioned, you can use any kind of plums for this recipe. I'd just keep them on the small side so you see more of the cake poking up between each plum half.

½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted, unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
12 Italian plums, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix only to combine. Spoon into a greased 9-inch springform pan and place plums, skin side up, on top.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the batter. Bake for 1 hour or until the crust is golden and tester comes out clean.

Serves 8

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Edible Garden at NYBG

The New York Botanical Garden will host Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel as part of their series “Edible Evenings: A Celebration of Wine, Beer, and Food”. The event, Preserving America’s Food Traditions, will be held on Thursday, August 20th from 6:00 – 9:00 PM.

Tickets are $20.00 for non-members; $10.00 for members and includes admission to all exhibitions until 8:00 PM. Seating is first-come, first-served.

Good news for anyone who lives in NYC and doesn’t have a car (like me). Getting to the Garden is really easy; from Grand Central take the Metro-North Harlem local to the Botanical Garden Station. Cross the street and you’re there. It takes about 20 minutes.

If you can’t make it on the 20th, check the NYBG website for other events to attend. Edible Evenings is just one of many offerings at the Edible Garden exhibition, a summer-long look into how to grow and serve your own home-grown food.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dan Barber – NY Times Editorial

Following celebrity chefs is really not my thing. If I watch any food TV it's usually Ina or one of those slightly musty-looking PBS shows like Jacques or Lidia. There is however one chef I have really come to appreciate and follow, but more for his words than his food (although I have had a wonderful meal at his restaurant) and that is Dan Barber.

Over the last year or two I've heard him talk a number of times and the guy really is worth listening to. He doesn't just regurgitate the same facts dressed up in a different story. He always seems to have a new angle to explore with regards to food and agriculture. I also like that DB doesn't take the easy route and fall back on nostalgia as the only reason to support your local farmer. He talks about forward-thinking farmers as being the next Bill Gates; they could have that kind of impact on society. It's clear to me he's among a group of people who have a handle on what's going on in the sustainable food movement and have the stature to make a difference.

This past Sunday in a NY Times editorial he talked about the causes, ramifications, and possible solutions to late blight, a disastrous disease that is capable of wiping out entire crops of tomatoes in just a few days. Tomatoes are a cash crop for farmers; many count on them to turn a profit.

I had already heard late blight was a big problem this year in the Northeast because of our cool, rainy weather. But he hits on a point I hadn't thought of: the irony of late blight this year is, aside from our dismal late spring, early summer weather, the spread of the disease can be attributed to a dramatic increase in the number of new home gardeners. Plants grown on industrial starter plant farms were sold to box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot who then sold the infected plants to amateur growers who don't know how to recognize the disease. As a result, the severity of the disease went undetected until it was too late. What should be a triumph for the local food movement (more people gardening) turned into a disaster for local farmers (early and prolific appearance of late blight).

Once again, he's got me thinking. And apparently others, too; at one point on Monday it was the third most emailed article on the NYTimes website. Whether you agree with him or not, he puts ideas out there and engages people, which is a good thing for a movement trying to get traction.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

“An egg is an egg.”

These are the words that got this locavore-loving blog started. My mom uttered them rather innocently a few weeks ago while I was visiting her and my dad in New Jersey. I grew up there, in Somerset County, back when it was still countryside and not developments of big houses plopped on small tracts of land. I love to visit on weekends and hit the area farm stands, of which there are still a few. This summer I also started buying food from a farmer down the road, Joe, who has been growing vegetables for over forty years. He sells eggs, too, which he gets every week from an ex-FBI agent in Pennsylvania who is “doing the same thing” as him. By this he means farming “the right way” and by this he means no chemicals, 100% organic. The blog-inspiring comment was made after I had mentioned how great it was we could get delicious eggs within walking distance of their house.

Before I go any further, here’s a little bit about me. New York City is my home and has been since graduating college. It wasn’t until I moved here and got my first apartment that I took any real interest in food and cooking. Once my interest was piqued, however, I fell hard. My dream of becoming a fashion stylist morphed into a dream of becoming a food stylist. I quit my job, went to Peter Kump’s cooking school (now ICE), got a job working on a food commercial, and the rest is history. I was a freelance food stylist for many years.

While I’ve shopped the Union Square Greenmarket since my early days in NYC, the aha! moment that drew me in and gave me a passion for supporting the local food movement happened several years ago when I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Plenty of people before him have written with eloquence about where our food comes from (Wendell Berry, anyone?) but for me this book pulled the information together in a way that opened my eyes and forever changed my outlook on the food I eat.

Since then I've happily continued investigating what it means to eat local food in the Northeast; not only where I can buy it and how to cook it, but which restaurants serve it, which organizations support it, how it makes our communities stronger, our environment and bodies healthier, and how it saves the spectacular landscape of this region from becoming a continuous run of Jersey-style McMansions.

It’s this fun, tasty journey that led me to discover an egg is not, in fact, an egg. My mom is a smart lady but like so many of us, she’s become removed from where her food comes from, how it is best grown and raised. I hope I'm not making all this sound too serious. I mean, yes, there are certainly many reasons why our current food system is bad news and we should worry. But figuring out how to beat the system - i.e. eat local - is the most delightful, mouthwatering education you'll ever receive. Hopefully by sharing what I find – recipes, sources, news, books, films, events, trips, you name it – not only will we all all grow that much wiser, we'll have a great time doing it!

Oh, and before I go, let me set the record straight. While my mom may not appreciate the origins of an egg the way her sustainable food-obsessed daughter does, she is a terrific cook who somehow found the time, energy and love to raise our family on meals made from scratch. Now that I am a cook and have an understanding of what it takes to make this happen – the shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up – I realize how lucky I was to be brought up on whole foods (and by her!) She’s an inspiration to me. If only I can inspire her to cook her pot roast with pasture-raised beef and carrots and potatoes from Joe the farmer, this blog will have all been worth it.