good shmeats

one food-loving vegetarian taking New York City's restaurants one plate at a time.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Here's to what's next


As of July 1, I will be going part time (eep! yay! eep!) at Hazon to pursue a part time career in writing. Until then, Goodshmeats is going on hiatus once again.

However, you can still catch my food musings (and the musings of other fine food-fanatics) on Hazon's amazing new blog, The Jew and the Carrot - Jcarrot.org.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Perfect Bowl


I have a favorite bowl. It's deep, and blue, and solid. I usually grab whatever bowl or plate is closest - sitting at the front of the cupboard or resting at a precarious angle in the drying rack. But this bowl, I feel, deserves better. A random scoop of ice cream eaten while watching TV is simply not good enough for its hefty ceramic curves.

But a few nights ago, I made a meal worthy of my lovely bowl - also solid and crafted with care.

First layer: Winter vegetables rubbed with olive oil, sea salt and thyme and roasted: butternut and delicata squash, parsnips, carrots, beets, and potatoes. (This delightful melange could also be known as leftovers from dinner two nights ago.)

Second layer: A sprightly handful Tokyo Bekana, sauteed until just wilted with soy sauce, minced garlic and olive oil. I added about a quarter cup of crumbled Gimme Lean brand "ground beef" just before the greens were cooked.

The kicker: One egg, fresh from my CSA, fried over-easy until the whites puckered slightly, encasing the deep pumpkin-orange yolk like ravioli.

The winter vegetables provided a sturdy base. The greens and Gimme Lean added both additional substance and flair. The egg (oh the egg!), definitely the star of the show, perched buoyantly on top. I dusted the crest with more sea salt and fresh black pepper.

Just before eating, I speared the pocket of yolk with my fork, allowing the molton treasure to soak into the greens and find its way into the negative spaces between the vegetables.

The yolk mixed with the beets, streaking my beautiful blue bowl with an equally beautiful red memory.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Being busy, Buddha, and what's for dinner?

It's been a good, long while since I posted anything on this blog...and even longer since a post was purposefully and independently written for Goodshmeats. I suppose I'm fortunate (though also burdened) by the fact that life in New York City and working for two small, passionate non-profits like Hazon , Zeek, keep a girl completely occupied.

But I just finished a phenomenal book called If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body and Awaken Your Spirit, by Hale Sofia Schatz, and felt compelled to put aside my other projects to write. My boss gave a copy to Hazon's entire staff the day before leaving for a two-week "nourishment cleanse" in Turkey (led by Hale). I'm generally skeptical of anything that falls in the pop-psych, self-help genre, and expected to skim the first few pages and throw it on my ever-growing pile of half-read books. Instead, I finished the book in 2 days and experimented with one of the many recipes she includes in the back.

Hale's overarching thesis is that the physical body and the spiritual body are intertwined, and that damage or imbalance to one brings about damage and imbalance to the other. This is hardly a new idea. The Christian physiologists of the early 20th century (Sylvester Graham, Kellogg etc.), as well as many Eastern philosophies say a similar thing. But Hale's writing touched on something that resonates deeply for me, and that I had forgotten about in my overly hectic life. She writes about the importance of cooking as part of one's daily rhythm. She calls it the importance of spending time at the "hearth."

It is too easy to fall into the trap of rushing meals, grabbing quick and pre-packaged foods, and eating at one's desk or in the car rather than preparing a meal and sharing it with friends or family. As a result, many people end up (I know I do) - more often than they would like - eating unhealthy food that is damaging to their bodies in the long-term, that is often overly packaged, overly-processed, and ultimately, unsatisfying to anything other than the most rudimentary pangs of hunger.

I realized while reading If the Buddha Came to Dinner, that I hadn't done a substantive "food shop" in over a month. This is partly due to having a CSA share that provides a weekly influx of vegetables and fruit. But, more than that, it is because I somehow have found a way to fill my stomach during the workday by purchasing food in east Midtown (the most culinarily-uninspiring part of Manhattan), and at the myriad of restaurants I go to in the evenings. Occasionally I would run to a corner stores to buy staples like milk or a loaf of bread, but I hadn't really shopped, or cooked food for myself.

My lack of cooking was taking a toll on my available spending money, and also on my overall self-satisfaction. My body felt sluggish. I ached to chop vegetables (really!), and have the smells of garlic and browning onions filling my house.

After reading Hale's book, I felt reinspired to return hearth time into my daily routine. Cooking can be a pain to squeeze in between work, social engagement, and all of life's other commitments. And there is no way that I can completely give up the realities nasty Midtown lunch (though I shudder to think about them). But Hale reminded me that my overall happiness and productivity is actually linked to the time I spend making a pot of soup, cooking up some greens, baking challah on Shabbat, or even doctoring up a box of Annie's Macaroni and cheese with sauteed tomatoes. For those of you who remember the book testimonials on the 1980s kids' program Reading Rainbow (and equally for those who don't) "I highly recommend you go out and buy If the Buddha Came to Dinner.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

From Latkes to Lattes

What I'm working on these days...




From Latkes to Lattes: Hazon's Conference on Jews, Food, and Contemporary Life
December 14-17, 2006
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

Jewish food traditions are rich and ancient. And today, growing numbers of people are also beginning to think about contemporary food issues. Hazon is at the forefront of this emerging national movement at the intersection of Jewish life and contemporary food issues. From Latkes to Lattes: Hazon’s Conference on Jews, Food, and Contemporary Life will examine questions such as:

*How do we add a distinctly Jewish flavor to today’s healthier food?
*How do we eat sustainably while maintaining Jewish food traditions?
*What would it take to bring shleimut (wholeness) into eating, both at home and at Jewish institutions?
*How can we gain a more direct connection to where our food comes from?

This is going to be an awesome conference...or at least that's the plan. For more info or to register click here

Monday, August 21, 2006

Local is the New Organic - What on Earth am I Supposed to Eat?

This article is an excerpt from a longer article written for Hazon's New York Jewish Environmental Bike Ride’s Participant Pack.

Imagine you are standing in the aisle of a supermarket in New York City. Two adjacent bins of peaches are displayed in front of you. The sign over one bin reads “organically grown, Mexico.” Over the other, the sign reads, “low spray, upstate New York.” Which of the peaches, if either, do you put in your cart?

Over the last several decades, “organic food” has morphed from a virtually unknown idea, to a buzz phrase favored by granola-eating idealists and, more recently, into a billion dollar business. Once confined to natural food co-ops, organic foods – those grown or raised without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones or antibiotics - are now common fare at supermarkets and restaurants. The USDA certified organic logo graces the labels of mainstream products like macaroni and cheese, mayonnaise, and even decorative cake sprinkles.

As organic foods have grown more popular with consumers (they now represent the fastest-growing sector of specialty foods in America), large corporations have begun to offer organic versions of their conventional products (organic Heinz ketchup recently hit the shelves), and have started buying smaller organic companies (Stonyfield is owned by Dannon, Seeds of Change is owned by M&M/Mars). These large companies have joined the organic movement - some because they are genuinely interested in using their corporate leverage to make difference in the world, but many others simply recognize that the joining organic food sector could increase their own profit margins.

Whether or not the attention from big business will ultimately equal a victory for the organic movement is still unclear. The emergence of “big organic” does mean that organic foods are now being purchased and eaten by more families in America than ever before. But whereas organic certification standards (like the USDA organic label) were originally created to assure customers of more sustainable growing standards, their connection to big industry renders them a potential source of consumer confusion. A USDA organic label on a peach is one thing, but organically certified Oreos or Tostitos? The organic movement was pioneered by small food producers that wanted to move away from conventionally produced foods. Should food items filled with saturated fat and processed sugar grown 1,000 miles from the factory be considered organic simply because the wheat in them was grown without synthetic pesticides? A number of smaller organic certifications (e.g. NOFA, Oregon Tilth, Pennsylvania Certified Organic), which are arguably more thorough in their certification standards than the USDA, might be reluctant to certify Oreos. But according to the USDA, which is currently the most widely-recognized organic label, organic Oreos are just fine (and will hit the shelves in the near future).



A peach that tastes like a peach

More recently, the concept of eating locally – which roughly translates to eating foods grown and harvested within about a half-day’s drive from one’s table – has begun to percolate into the American food conscious. (Though, people who remember eating before World War II, which marked a major turning point in American consumerism, would rightly point out that locally grown food is not a new phenomenon.)

According to Michael Pollan, author of the current best seller, Omnivore’s Dilemma, (highly recommended by the Hazon staff!) local foods appeal to the consumer’s desire for authenticity – the idealized notion that food is more pure if it was grown by a real, hardworking farmer or caught fresh from the wild. In theory, eating local foods also connects a consumer more directly with the place the food was grown (“Poughkeepsie! We vacation right near there!), and with the people – typically small family farmers - who grow it.

Local food also attracts consumers with the promise of freshness and quality. In today’s supermarket, uniform but flavorless produce is the norm. A peach can be grown by unjustly paid migrant workers, picked before it is ripe, and shipped thousands of miles before it gets to the store, and still be labeled organic. Of course, not all conventional produce is tasteless, and not all local produce is outstanding. But in comparison to the big box options, eating a peach picked at peak freshness that very morning can be incredibly tempting. Some consumers are even willing to overlook the spraying of a few pesticides on their fruit if it was grown locally. Farmers markets and, more recently, CSA (community-supported agriculture) projects have sprouted in communities to fill the growing consumer demand for local produce grown on small family farms. Hazon’s own CSA project, Tuv Ha’Aretz follows in this tradition by enabling Jewish families to put their purchasing power behind organic family farms, and connect their purchases with Jewish values and Jewish community. (For more info go to www.hazon.org/CSA)



Local is the new Organic?

In addition to farmers markets and CSAs, local foods are starting to make their way into larger food chains. HMO Kaiser Permamente, recently started sourcing part of the produce served in their hospitals from local farms. Universities across the country have also begun to serve local foods in their cafeterias (Yale, Brown, and Middlebury have received significant press for their efforts, but many other schools are part of this trend.) Some food companies like Ronnybrook Farm and Red Jacket Orchard in the Hudson Valley now sell their products at local and regional supermarkets, as well as farmers markets.

For years, Whole Foods has been considered a pioneer of the organics movement. More recently, it has emerged as one of its most robust business partners. In Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan criticizes Whole Foods for not carrying more local products and produce. After a lengthy email exchange between Pollan and Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, Whole Foods released a statement which outlined the ways in which they plan to support local farms in the future. In addition to committing to purchase from more small farms, the statement said that “stand alone” Whole Foods stores (i.e. Whole Foods that are not connected to shopping centers) would allow a portion of their parking lot space to be used for weekly farmer’s markets.


Big Local


The upward arc in popularity of local foods seems to inversely mirror the growing skepticism towards organic food. One might even assert that, in the eye of many consumers, local is the new organic. On a recent trip to a Whole Foods in New York City, I noticed that each check out kiosk had a newly-installed screen which rotated photos of local farmers from whom Whole Foods purchased produce. The pictures were startlingly similar – white, middle aged, bearded men, some standing with their families, and all placed directly in front of their field with the farm location flashing underneath the picture. They were also mesmerizing – the woman ringing up my groceries had to snap me back to attention in order to get me to pay.

Leaving the store, I felt like I had done something noble by purchasing New York State yellow plums instead of blueberries from Vancouver. I felt this way partly because I have come to value the concept of local eating, and partly, I realized later, because Whole Foods spends a lot of money to make customers feel good about their purchases. But despite the register kiosks, I didn’t actually know my plum farmer. For some people, that hardly makes a difference, but I personally get a thrill out of cooking Farmer Ted’s kale or making an omelet with eggs from one of the Garden of Eve’s chickens. But more importantly, unlike Tuv Ha’Aretz or any other CSA or farmers market, I had no guarantee that my purchase was making a difference in the life of one of the farmers I saw on the kiosk. I also had no real guarantee that he was using sustainable growing methods– because unlike a CSA or farmers market, I couldn’t ask him.

I don’t write this to start any further Whole Foods controversy (I quite like Whole Foods). I only intend to raise the question of what would it mean if local foods went the way of organic foods? Is it possible that, if they continue to rise in popularity and demand, that local foods could be affected by same big-business pitfalls as the organic movement? It is certainly possible that the USDA could create a Local Foods certification. A national certification could turn the very intimate practice of local eating – which is currently typified by small-scale, farmer-to-consumer transactions at farmers markets and CSAs – into a government-regulated affair. It is also possible (though far less likely) that big food companies like Dannon or McDonalds could start purchasing their milk, eggs, potatoes, or fruit on a local scale, which would potentially lead to a redefinition of what was considered “local,” “seasonal” or “small-scale.”

So what about that organic peach from Mexico and the low spray peach grown in upstate New York? The answer is not multiple choice (hey, maybe you don’t even like peaches). The real question is: what do you want to be buying? What do you want to be eating and serving your family? Understanding the issues involved is the first step to making one’s own consumer decisions. Hazon’s hope for this Shabbaton is that, in addition to having a wonderful time, you have the opportunity to learn about and be inspired by your food – through conversations with the Adamah fellows, by visiting Adamah’s sadeh (field), through learning about Tuv Ha’Aretz and community-supported agriculture, or through sampling the amazing, locally grown organic produce you’ll eat in Freedman’s dining hall. We have our own conclusions about what should be considered “fit eating” (and our own challenges living up to them), and we would love to hear yours.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Kush Cafe - Clinton Hill


Kush Cafe
17 Putnam Avenue (at Fulton)

The recently opened Kush Café offers diners a touch of the exotic with the familiar charm of a neighborhood café. Named after the African civilization that flourished between the years of 1700-1500 BC, Kush’s cuisine features a Pan-African menu with French accents. But despite the ancient namesake, the welcoming staff at Kush is focused on the local community of Clinton Hill and the culinary satisfaction of their customers.

Kush displays locally produced artwork on its exposed-brick walls, interspersed with swaths of bright cloth. (I was fortunate enough to dine with the currently featured artist, Fort Greene’s Rebecca Potts, on my most recent brunch trip to Kush.) Shielded from noise and visual distraction by a 5-foot brick wall, Kush’s backyard provides a lush bit of respite in the middle of concrete Brooklyn. The copious green plants along the wall’s edges attract butterflies and other “wildlife” to the airy space. During brunch, an orange kitten appeared, darting skittishly amongst the tables before launching itself over the brick fence and out of sight.



(Gum Tree, Rebecca Potts - 2002)


Kush’s menu feels slightly sparse at first glance, but offers enough intriguing options to compensate for the lack of choices. My brunch mate sampled the sorrel and tamarind juice alongside her salad – a mixture of greens and hearts of palm. The glass of murky juice she received resembled a turn-of-the-century health elixir more than a brunch drink. Its depth and tartness tingled unfamiliarly on our tongues. Although not an unpleasant drink, it would probably be more satisfying on a crisp fall day rather than a steamy summer morning.

Feeling slightly wilted after my bike ride from Park Slope, I ordered the Salad de Chevre ($7.00) which paired fresh salad greens and slices of bright red tomato. Each tomato round was crowned with an ample spoonful of fruit and nut chutney.

Medallions of cornmeal-fried goat cheese rested along the salad’s periphery. Each medallion crunched slightly and then gave way to a rich, crumbly center. The entire salad was laced with a spice-infused balsamic dressing that highlighted the greens without overpowering the dish. Both beautifully executed and refreshing, I left feeling satiated and dreaming up ways to recreate the fried goat-cheese in my own kitchen.

Entering into the Kush Café, I felt as if I had stumbled upon an ancient treasure. Upon leaving, I realized that I actually had just dined at a soon-to-be neighborhood hotspot.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Goldbergers and Cheeseburgers...

Jew
Vegetarian
Bacon
Identity
Rugelach
Guilt

Intrigued? Read my latest article at www.zeek.net called Goldbergers and Cheeseburgers: Food and Particularism Among American Jews