September 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
I wonder if I love fall so much because its beauty is surpassed by its brevity? Pretty sure there’s a steadfast equation that says: ((x > y) > (x < y)): “x” being that thing you enjoy and “y” being how much time you get with that thing. I think about this a lot – the running out of things. Mostly I think about the necessity of it. How running out of things brings to the forefront what matters. It boils to the surface the effervescent bubbles of joy and sinks the dense kernels of consequence, both perfectly visible.
On a related note, this speech by Alice Waters speaks so eloquently to convenience and subsidies in our food culture, and how it has disrupted our ability to appreciate and know the true cost and delight of food. Well worth the 20 minutes.
September 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
“Do you have one on hand that we can see?” Mike asked.
Jeff immediately pivoted and gestured us to follow along. Within twenty steps we had reached one of the outdoor trailers. Jeff swung open the door as the cool air wafted out and disappeared behind the plastic curtain into the darkness. A second later he emerged from the cooler with a beautiful frozen ribeye. It was deep red and lacked the fat marbling I had become so accustomed to seeing.
What started as a jovial conservation about Jeff’s two weeks old chicks that we had just snuck in the barn to go see, quickly became a conversation about the industrial food system. As we moved from baby chicks to the beef produced on the farm Mike asked what grade Jeff’s beef would be considered.
“Low” said Jeff. “The FDA’s grading is only based on fat marbling.” Jeff raises Piedmontese cattle – a breed that is known for its higher lean-to-fat ratio, which results in less marbling but is touted for its health benefits and taste.
Earlier in the day Mike and I, and about 100 others, biked 26 miles and visited two other farms, Willoway and Wellspring, as part of Braise’s annual Tour de Farms. It’s an event that can be summed up as: work for your food to see those who work for your food. But, let’s be honest, although the numerous hills lit small fires in my quad muscles it’s the type of work that is disguised as fun. Bucolic panoramas, the open road, and farm fresh meals cooked by some of the best restaurants in Milwaukee – it’s an ideal way to spend a Sunday. Likewise, the Tour de Farms is an ideal foray into understanding and appreciating the work and care that goes into humanely raising animals and non-toxic produce for our consumption.
I stared at Jeff’s hands as he held the frozen ribeye and debunked the notion that the FDA’s grading scale has anything to do with quality. Years of eagerly participating in the education system has ingrained in me a direct correlation between letters and achievement, “A” being the best and “F” being unthinkable. Tour de Farms and other events that put me in human contact with the people growing my food have become my classroom these days. No grades. No tests. You judge how you’re doing by how you feel. And it feels good to walk the land and see the hands that allowed me to eat the food on my plate. Really good.
Milwaukee is lucky to have leaders like Chef Dave Swanson stepping up and making it easier to seek out ways to connect with food and farmers, and for farmers close-by like Jeff who grow and raise nourishing food. Spending time with these folks and people like them is a lesson in appreciation and hope, and that what underpins both is hard work.
To sign up for next year’s Tour de Farms, which I highly recommend, go to Braise’s events page as it gets closer to September. The event has limited space and quickly sells out. Also, check out their classes and CSA – information on both can be found on their website.
Meet Jeff or his wife Kathleen at a local farmer’s market, or just go visit them at the farm!
Visit Willoway Farms at one of their events.
Wellspring Farm offers a number of classes and opportunities to visit the farm.
Edible Milwaukee sends out a fantastic weekly email on local food events in the area.
I recently stumbled upon this podcast on the industrial food system. It’s definitely worth a listen.
September 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
I forgot how much the smell of cinnamon recalls cold weather fantasies of reading books fireside and fall hikes in damp, decomposing forests. I was reminded last night when I put these in the preheated oven and let my mind go there – to fall and, dare I say it, winter. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you can’t agree on anything with the person you’re talking to talk about the weather changing from summer to fall – common ground for days. Or, hand one of these cinnamon rolls to that person and watch all animosity melt away.
I used this recipe for my first ever cinnamon rolls (!). I wasn’t feeling sassy enough for the cayenne pepper, but I’ll most likely incorporate in the future. The frosting recipe makes way too much so I’m going to cut it in half next time. These are of the gooey variety so if that’s the type of cinnamon roll you like, make these. They also have a creamy, caramel frosting that melts into the cinnamon and is so decadent.
P.S. I don’t have a stand mixer or a rolling pin. I used my hands to knead the dough after I mixed the ingredients with a wooden spoon, and jerry-rigged a large glass to use as a rolling pin.
September 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
Word on the street is that summer is on its way out, which, to me, meant one thing this past Wednesday night: cold Vietnamese rice noodle salad. It has the summer trifecta I cannot get enough of: lime, basil, mint and, oh, cilantro (quafecta?). Paired with fish sauce, brown sugar and chili paste it was the perfect summer meal swan song. A light and poppy punctuation mark to transition into the earthy meals ahead.
I’ve been thinking more about cooking these days with Mike working long summer hours and me taking the helm in the kitchen. One thing I’ve noticed is I get the most excited about cooking when I’m making something I’ve never cooked before – usually with unexpected flavor combinations. And so I’ve been spending probably way more time than I should looking up putzy recipes, fiddling with flavors, and buying specialty ingredients.
We are also in the midst of simplifying things around our house – making a place for everything, discarding anything we don’t need, and automating what we can to make our days run smooth and give us freedom to do the things we really want. And it feels really good.
Sometimes, I wonder if simplifying my cooking would make life easier and, thus, more enjoyable. I’m not entirely convinced yet. Either it’s my eagerness to try to make everything before I settle on a few staples, or it’s my inherent desire for nuance that keeps me tinkering around in the kitchen for two hours a night. Or maybe it’s pure and simple pleasure.
I feel odd saying that, I really do. My interest in food goes deep and wide. When I think of food I inevitably think about the social and economic issues that are woven into every purchase. Where does pleasure fit into it all?
Like many things in my life that I try to categorize and neatly put into labeled drawers and cabinets, food is ubiquitous and nuanced. I could put food into my “political” drawer, “health” drawer, “hobbies” drawer, “community” drawer, “stuff I want to learn more about” drawer, “lifestyle” drawer, “pleasure” drawer…
If there’s any categorization that can take place, I suppose it’s this: there’s a micro and a macro to food. There’s the dinner in front of you, and then there’s the whole system that allowed you to bring that dinner to the table.
Pleasure in the micro food realm should be easy. If the food on your plate tastes good, it should be a pleasure to eat. However, I know this isn’t true. So many of us kindle anxiety over what foods to eat and what to avoid and how both will ultimately affect how we feel about our bodies.
Pleasure in the macro realm seems damn near impossible unless you’re a farmer growing your own food and take pleasure in your work. But for the rest of us who drudgingly make our way through the aisles of our local grocery store, reading labels and trying to discern what will harm us and what will nourish us, it’s downright exhausting. Add to that certain articles that shed light on much of what we see in the grocery store and it becomes downright depressing.
I know that what I felt when I ate that cold Vietnamese noodle salad on Wednesday night was pleasure. It was delicious. I also know that some of the ingredients in that salad were part of a system that is exploitative. So how does one like myself who yearns to try worldly food and mix and match exotic flavors find pleasure in the macro? Do I subdue those impulses and cook with what is locally abundant?
I suppose there is pleasure in restraint, no?
Further fascinating food reading:
Tamar Adler’s interview in the New Yorker: “One way to get back to the stove is to treat food less fetishistically.”
Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes: “But when asked if it is reasonable to assume that an American who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or food-service company during the winter has eaten fruit picked by the hand of a slave, Molloy said, ‘It is not an assumption. It is a fact.'”
Wendell Berry: The Pleasure of Eating: “One reason to eat responsibly is to live free.”
The End of Food: “He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. ‘It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,’ he told me.”